Ottonian Dynasty

History of Germany between 919 AD - 1024

Ottonian dynasty

The Ottonian dynasty was a Saxon dynasty of German monarchs (919–1024), named after its first Emperor Otto I, but also known as the Saxon dynasty after the family's origin in the German stem duchy of Saxony. The Ottonian rulers were successors of the Carolingian dynasty in East Francia.

The east Frankish kingdom over which Henry I (Henry the Fowler) became king in 919 consisted of four great duchies - territories settled by tribes (such as the Baivarii and the Suebi) which have been conquered by the Franks and converted to Christianity. Their leaders, becoming dukes in the Frankish feudal system, accepted the rule of any strong Frankish king but tend to independence in other reigns. The four are Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony and the Franks' own region, Franconia. Lorraine, a fifth duchy, was a frequently disputed territory between the east and west Frankish kingdoms. Henry succeeded in asserting at least nominal control over these five duchies (often called the stem duchies). He was succeeded by his son Otto in 936.

Otto the Great

Grave of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor
Grave of Otto I in Magdeburg

Otto I, Duke of Saxony upon the death of his father in 936, was elected king within a few weeks. He continued the work of unifying all of the German tribes into a single kingdom, greatly expanding the powers of the king at the expense of the aristocracy. Through strategic marriages and personal appointments, he installed members of his own family to the kingdom's most important duchies. This, however, did not prevent his relatives from entering into civil war: both Otto's brother Duke Henry of Bavaria and his son Duke Liudolf of Swabia revolted against his rule. Otto was able to supress their uprisings, in consequence, the various dukes, who had previously been co-equals with the king, were reduced into royal subjects under the king's authority. His decisive victory over the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 ended the Hungarian invasions of Europe and secured his hold over his kingdom.

The defeat of the pagan Magyars earned King Otto the reputation as the savior of Christendom and the epithet "the Great". He transformed the Church in Germany into a kind of proprietary church and major royal power base to which he donated charity and for the creation of which his family was responsible. By 961, Otto had conquered the Kingdom of Italy, which was a troublesome inheritance that none wanted, and extended his kingdom's borders to the north, east, and south. In control of much of central and southern Europe, the patronage of Otto and his immediate successors caused a limited cultural renaissance of the arts and architecture. He confirmed the 754 Donation of Pepin and, with recourse to the concept of translatio imperii in succession of Charlemagne, proceeded to Rome to have himself crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope John XII in 962. He even reached a settlement with the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes by marrying his son and heir Otto II to John's niece Theophanu. In 968 he established the Archbishopric of Magdeburg at his long-time residence.

Descendants

Co-ruler with his father since 961 and crowned emperor in 967, Otto II ascended the throne at the age of 18. By excluding the Bavarian line of Ottonians from the line of succession, he strengthened Imperial authority and secured his own son's succession to the Imperial throne. During his reign, Otto II attempted to annex the whole of Italy into the Empire, bringing him into conflict with the Byzantine emperor and with the Saracens of the Fatimid Caliphate. His campaign against the Saracens ended in 982 with a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Stilo. Moreover in 983 Otto II experienced a Great Slav Rising against his rule.

Otto II died in 983 at the age of 28 after a ten-year reign. Succeeded by his three-year-old son Otto III as king, his sudden death plunged the Ottonian dynasty into crisis. During her regency for Otto III, the Byzantine princess Theophanu abandoned her late husband's imperialistic policy and devoted herself entirely to furthering her own agenda in Italy.

When Otto III came of age, he concentrated on securing the rule in the Italian domains, installing his confidants Bruno of Carinthia and Gerbert of Aurillac as Popes. In 1000 he made a pilgrimage to the Congress of Gniezno in Poland, establishing the Archdiocese of Gniezno and confirming the royal status of the Piast ruler Bolesław I the Brave. Expelled from Rome in 1001, Otto III died at age 21 the next year, without an opportunity to reconquer the city.

The childless Otto III was succeeded by Henry II, a son of Duke Henry II of Bavaria. He was crowned king in 1002. Henry II spent the first years of his rule consolidating his political power on the borders of the German kingdom. He waged several campaigns against Bolesław I of Poland and then moved successfully to Italy where he was crowned emperor by Pope Benedict VIII on 14 February 1014. He reinforced his rule by endowing and founding numeorus dioceses, such as the Bishopric of Bamberg in 1007, intertwining the secular and ecclesiastical authority over the Empire. Henry II was canonised by Pope Eugene III in 1146.

As his marriage with Cunigunde of Luxembourg remained childless, the Ottonian dynasty became extinct with the death of Henry II in 1024. The crown passed to Conrad II of the Salian dynasty, great-grandson of Liutgarde, a daughter of Otto I, and the Salian duke Conrad the Red of Lorraine. When King Rudolph III of Burgundy died without heirs on 2 February 1032, Conrad II successfully claimed also this kingship on the basis of an inheritance Emperor Henry II had extorted from the former in 1006, having invaded Burgundy to enforce his claim after Rudolph attempted to renounce it in 1016.

Ottonian Renaissance

Kreuzmitdengroßen Senkschmelzen
Senkschmelz Cross in
Essen Cathedral

The Ottonian Renaissance was a limited "renaissance" of Byzantine and Late Antique art that accompanied the reigns of the first three the Ottonian emperors. The Ottonian Renaissance is recognized especially in the arts and architecture, invigorated by renewed contact with Constantinople, in some revived cathedral schools, such as that of Archbishop Bruno of Cologne, in the production of illuminated manuscripts from a handful of elite scriptoria, such as Quedlinburg Abbey, founded by Otto in 936, and in political ideology. The Imperial court became the center of religious and spiritual life, led by the example of women of the royal family.

A small group of Ottonian monasteries received direct sponsorship from the Emperor and bishops and produced some magnificent medieval illuminated manuscripts, the premier art form of the time. Corvey produced some of the first manuscripts, followed by the scriptorium at Hildesheim after 1000. The most famous Ottonian scriptorium was at the island monastery of Reichenau on Lake Constance: hardly any other works have formed the image of Ottonian art as much as the miniatures which originated there. One of the greatest Reichenau works was the Codex Egberti, containing narrative miniatures of the life of Christ, the earliest such cycle, in a fusion of styles including Carolingian traditions as well as traces of insular and Byzantine influences. Other well known manuscripts included the Reichenau Evangeliary, the Liuther Codex, the Pericopes of Henry II, the Bamberg Apocalypse and the Hitda Codex.

References: Wikipedia, historyworld.net

Previous historical period: East Francia (844-918) | Next historical period: Salian Dynasty (1025-1124)

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