Otto III von Sachsen
- Born: 15 Jul 975, Kessel, Germany
- Marriage: Unknown
- Died: 23 Jan 1002, Paterno, Italy at age 26
- Buried: Aachen, Rhineland, Prussia
Otto III (15 July 975 - January 23, 1002, Paterno, Italy) was the fourth ruler of the Saxon or Ottonian dynasty. He was elected king of Germany in 983 on the death of his father (Holy Roman Emperor Otto II).
Shortly after his coronation, Henry II, deposed Duke of Bavaria, seized him in an attempt to procure the regency, but in May 984 he was forced to return Otto to his mother, the Byzantine princess Theophanu, who served as regent until her death in 991. Otto II's mother, Adelaide of Italy then served as regent until Otto III reached his majority in 994.
Otto attempted to revive the glory and power of ancient Rome with himself at the head of a theocratic state. In 996, he came to the aid of Pope John XV at the pope's request to put down the rebellion of a Roman nobleman named Crescentius II. He was declared King of Lombardy at Pavia, but failed to reach Rome before the Pope died. Once in Rome, he engineered the election of his cousin Bruno of Carinthia as Pope Gregory V, the first German pope, and the new pontiff crowned Otto emperor on May 21, 996, in Rome. Here his main advisors were two of the main characters of this age, his tutor Gerbert of Aurillac and the bishop Adalbert of Prague. Together with these two visionary men, influenced by the Roman ruins and perhaps by his Byzantine mother, Otto devised a dream of restoration of a universal Empire formed by the union of the Papacy, Byzantium and Rome. He also introduced parts of court customs in Greek.
However, as soon as Otto left Rome one year later, the city magnate Crescentius II deposed Gregory and installed John XVI as pope. Otto returned to Italy and retook the city in 998: Crescentius was executed in the Castel Sant'Angelo, the antipope mutilated and blinded, and Gregory reinstated.
Otto made Rome the administrative center of his empire and revived elaborate Roman customs and Byzantine court ceremonies. He took the titles "the servant of Jesus Christ," "the servant of the apostles," and "emperor of the world." When Gregory V mysteriously died in 999, he arranged for Gerbert to be elected pope as Sylvester II. The name as Pope was not casual, as it recalled the first pope with this name, who had allegedly created the "christian empire" together with Constantine the Great. Otto therefore should have be seen as the ideal successor to Constantine in the task to unify again the Roman Empire.
Between 998 and 1000 Otto, being a fervid Christian, made several pilgrimages. He travelled to the Gargano Peninsula in Southern Italy and to Gaeta, where he met Saint Nilus, then a highly venerated religious figure. Later he left Italy to the tomb of Adalbert of Prague (who in the meantime had been martyrized by the Pagan Slavs) at Gniezno, and founded the archbishopric of Poland. In Eastern Europe Otto and his entourage streghtened the relationships with the Polish Duchy and with Stephen of Hungary, who was crowned king by Sylvester together with the Emperor himself.
Another model to which Otto strongly inspired was Charlemagne: in the year 1000 he visited his tomb in Aachen, prelevating relics from it. He had also carried back parts of the body of Adalbert: he placed them in a new splendid church he built in the Isola Tiberina in Rome, now San Bartolomeo all'Isola (Otto also added the St. Bartholomew's skin to the relics housed there).
A minor rebellion by the town of Tibur (Tivoli) in 1001 ended up being his undoing. He retook the town, but spared the inhabitants, which angered the people of Rome, as Tibur was a rival they wanted destroyed. This led to a rebellion in February: Otto was besieged in his palace and drove from the city. He withdrew to Ravenna to do penance in the monastery of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. After having summoned his army, Otto directed southwards to reconquer Rome, but died in Paterno on January 3, 1002. A Byzantine princess had just disembarked in Puglia, coming to marry him.
The causes of Otto's death had been diversely attributed: ancient sources speaks of a malaria he took in the unhealthy marshes that sorrounded Ravenna. The Romans suggested instead that Stefania, the Crescentius' widow, had made him fall in love with her and therefore poisoned him. Otto's body was carried back to Germany by his loyal soldiers, and buried in Aachen together with that of Charlemagne. His tomb, however, has been lost.
Henry succeeded him as king of Germany (and later as emperor) as Henry II.
From Quedlinburg homepage:
He was born in 980 and at the age of just three years he was already elected king, amindst fears that his father, Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, might fall victim to disease or enemy action, to prevent power struggles in the Empire. Indeed Otto II did die just a few days before his son was crowned king - the news of his death reached Germany with a few days delay. Otto III's uncle, Henry the Quarrelsome, immediately attempted to take over the throne, he kidnapped his nephew and had himself crowned king in 984. Otto's mother, Theophanu, and grandmother Adelheid rushed back to Germany to put things right, forced Henry to return the rightful heir and Theophanu was declared regent for her son until he would be able to manage the Empire himself. When Otto was just 11 his mother died and his grandmother Adelheid became regent until he was 15 and took over the regency.
Otto was educated by Bernward, who would later become bishop of Hildesheimm, and Johannes Philagathos, who was then bishop of Piacenza. He had come to the country in the court of Theophanu. It was widely whispered but never proved that Theophanu and Johannes had had an affair.
In the years even before Theophanu's death the affairs of the Popedom were very confusing. A man called Crescentius I Nomentamus, a rich and influential Roman, was mingling with the affairs and put the men he liked in office as Pope. In 996 Otto invades Rome and Crescentius is forced to flee, but he swears an oath to Otto and is pardoned. Otto imposes his cousin Gregor V as Pope (the first German Pope in history, born as Bruno of Carinthia) who immediately crowns Otto as head of the Holy Roman Empire. But as soon as Otto leaves Rome, Crescentius is back and imposes Otto's former mentor as Johannes XVI as counter-Pope, which almost immediately leads Otto to invade Italy again. As he reaches Rome, Johannes flees and Crescentius is hiding. The forces of Otto defeat Crescentius and he is being beheaded. Johannes is arrested, maimed and paraded through Rome tied to the back of a donkey, and then imprisoned in an abbey where he died, probably in 1001.
In 1000 Otto goes on pilgrimage to Poland, and shortly after he opens the tomb of Charlemagne in Aachen, a man he had always admired and an act that caused great controversy even at that time. Returning to Rome in summer 1000 he finds himself confronted by an upraising of Roman nobles. He flees Rome in 1001 together with Pope Silvester II, who had succeeded Otto's cousin Gregor V after he had died of malaria.
Otto died in 1002 of malaria, the disease which had also caused his father's death. He was just 21 years old but had been one of the most colourful people of early medieval times. He is entombed in Aachen.
Otto III was succeeded by Henry II, a son of Henry the Quarrelsome. He was the last of the Ottonian dynasty as he died childless and was then succeeded by Conrad II and with him the dynasty of the Saliers.
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