Otto II, Emperor
OTTO II, EMPEROR
Reign: German King 961–983, Emperor 967–983. d. Rome, Italy. Buried in the Basilica of St Peter. Son of Emperor otto i and Empress Adelheid. Husband of Theophanu. Otto was elected king at the age of six years in 961 and crowned at Aachen. Following his father's death in 973, he succeeded to the throne, barely eighteen years old and unopposed. He had already acquired the title of emperor some years earlier (967), having been crowned as his father's co–emperor by Pope John XIII. Through his marriage to Theophanu, a Byzantine princess, Otto II had also secured recognition of his title by the Byzantine court. Although his succession was uncontested, Otto II, like his father, encountered opposition soon afterwards. In the south of the realm, Otto's efforts to arrange the succession to the Duchy of Swabia instigated his cousin, Duke Henry "the Quarrelsome" of Bavaria to rebel. Henry's uprising (974–978) is noteworthy, among other things, because it attracted the support of Duke Boleslav II of Bohemia and Duke Mieszko I of Poland. Following his defeat, Duke Henry lost his duchy and was imprisoned at Utrecht. Otto used the occasion to reorganize the southern duchies, granting Bavaria to Duke Otto of Swabia and combining the formerly Bavarian region of Carinthia with the Italian marches to form an independent duchy of Carinthia.
Another conflict emerged in the west, where Otto's efforts to exert his influence over the Duchy of Lotharingia incited the west Frankish ruler, Lothar, who also had a claim to the area. In 977, Otto appointed Lothar's estranged brother, Charles, as duke in lower Lotharingia. Lothar responded with a surprise attack on Aachen in 978, nearly capturing the emperor himself. Otto's counter attack, on the city of Paris, yielded little in the way of concrete results, but presumably satisfied the emperor's honor. In 980, a meeting between the two monarchs resulted in the Frankish king's surrender of any claim to Lotharingia.
In Italy, Ottonian rule appeared secure, though in Rome itself aristocratic factions such as the Crescentii continued to struggle for power and for control of the papacy, the prize that power customarily bestowed. Otto II is generally thought to have pursued the claims of the imperial office with far greater intensity that his father had. From the beginning, he apparently aimed to conquer and actually rule in southern Italy, thereby bringing the entire peninsula under his authority. This plan was reflected in a new title, Imperator Romanorum augustus, that suggested his intent to rule over all of Italy and much more clearly set his claims against those of Byzantium. Such a policy clearly would have to encounter opposition not only from the Byzantines but also from the Saracens, each of which had not only claims but also possession of actual territory in the area. In 981, Otto launched a campaign in south Italy and was initially successful. Nevertheless, an encounter with a Saracen army on the Calabrian coast ended in a complete and disastrous defeat for Otto's forces (July 13, 982). Otto managed to escape. Thereafter, an assembly of German and north Italian magnates met at Verona (May 983) and agreed to send reinforcements and also to elect the emperor's three year old son Otto III king. Clearly, Otto had by no means given up his hopes for victory, but elsewhere, the empire was encountering even more serious challenges. In the summer of 983, as Otto made plans for a new expedition
to the Italian south, the Slavic confederation of the Liutizi staged a massive uprising against German hegemony. It obliterated the results of several decades of missionary work and effectively ended German expansion in the east, at least for several generations. The emperor's death from malaria (Dec. 7, 983) brought his plans for Italy to an abrupt end and apparently left the empire's problems in the hands of his young son and his wife, the dowager empress Theophanu.
Bibliography: h. beumann, Die Ottonen 2d. ed. (Stuttgart 1991) 113–126. t. reuter, Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800–1056 (London 1991) 174–180. e. mueller–mertens, "The Ottonians as Kings and Emperors," in The New Cambridge Medieval History vol. 3. ed. t. reuter (Cambridge 1999) 233–266, at 254–257.
[d. a. warner]