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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century



The Holy Roman Empire in the High and

Late Middle Ages



The German High Middle Ages were marked by three successive  imperial dynasties—the Saxon, the Salian, and the Hohenstaufen—that struggled for unity of the empire and the central authority of the ruler. While the Saxons leaned on the clergy, the Salians and the Ho-henstaufens saw the enhanced status of the Church merely as further competition, added to that of the princes, for supremacy in the empire. Attempts to introduce a hereditary monarchy failed. In the Late Middle Ages, the particularism of the princes triumphed over the concept of a centralized state.


The Beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire under the Saxons

The 1 Holy Roman Empire developed out of the East Frankish empire.
The duke of Saxony, Henry I, was chosen as king and consolidated the empire.

The crown of the Holy Roman Empire made of gold,
silver and gemstones,
tenth-eleventh century


The Carolingians, descendants of the Frankish king Charles the Great and his son Louis, had quickly dismantled tribal duchies such as those of the Saxons, the Swabians, the Alemanni, the Thuringians and the Bavarians in the cast of their empire.

However, they were reintroduced for the administration of the vast realm. Facing threats from the Magyars, Slavs, and Normans, the dukes appointed by the king were granted military authority, and with the decline in royal authority, they became increasingly autonomous. With the end of the East Frankish Carolingians in 911, at a great assembly the German princes chose Duke Conrad of Franconia as king.

He was followed in 919 by 4 Henry I of Saxony, known popularly as "Henry the Fowler." This procedure instituted the concept of a monarchy that was elective rather than hereditary.

4 Quedlinburg in Saxony-Anhalt, view of the castle,
home of the Saxons under Henry I,
later a convent founded by St. Matilda and Henry's son Otto

Henry immediately signed a 2 treaty with the West Frankish—that is, French—king, Charles III (the Simple), confirming the independence of the East Frankish or Holy Roman empire.

Henry brought the West Frankish Lorraine under his control in 925.

In the Battle of Riade in Thuringia in 933, he was able to fend off the 3 Magyars, who attacked the kingdom in plundering raids.

2 Henry I and Charles the Simple meet before signing the treaty in 921

3 Henry I's victory over the Magyars,
wood engraving, 19th century

Henry's successors were remarkable for their energy. After Henry's death in 936, his son Otto I became the first German king to be crowned in Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle, thereby establishing a link to the tradition of Charlemagne.


Saxon Dynasty

Saxon Dynasty, also called Liudolfing Dynasty, ruling house of German kings (Holy Roman emperors) from 919 to 1024. It came to power when the Liudolfing duke of Saxony was elected German king as Henry I (later called the Fowler), in 919.

Henry I’s son and successor, Otto I the Great (king 936–973, western emperor from 962), won a decisive victory over the Magyars at the Battle of Lechfeld near Augsburg in 955 and continued the policy, initiated by Henry I, of German expansion into Slavic territory to the east; he also intervened in Italy and, like several of his successors, established control over the papacy. By investing churchmen in Germany with lands, he laid down a long-lasting framework of support for the crown against the lay nobility. He was crowned emperor by Pope John XII at Rome in 962. He concluded the Privilegium Ottonianum, a treaty that regulated relations between emperor and pope, and initiated a Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. His son Otto II (973–83) continued his policy, but his grandson Otto III (983–1002) was interested in Italian affairs to the detriment of Germany.

The last member of the line, Henry II (1002–24), turned his attention back to Germany. When Henry II died childless in 1024, another descendant of Henry I, Conrad II, the Salian, was elected king, thus initiating the Salian dynasty.

Encyclopædia Britannica



Henry I

Henry I, also called Henry the Fowler, German Heinrich der Vogler (born c. 876—died July 2, 936, Memleben, Saxony [now in Germany]), German king and founder of the Saxon dynasty (918–1024) who strengthened the East Frankish, or German, army, encouraged the growth of towns, brought Lotharingia (Lorraine) back under German control (925), and secured German borders against pagan incursions.

The son of Otto the Illustrious, the Liudolfing duke of Saxony, Henry became duke at his father’s death (912). His first marriage, to Hatheburg, daughter of Erwin, count of Merseburg, was declared invalid because she had become a nun after her first husband’s death. He married Matilda, daughter of Dietrich, count of Westphalia, in 909; their eldest son would rule as the Holy Roman emperor Otto I the Great (936–973).

Although at war (912–915) with Conrad I of Franconia (German king, 903–918) over title to lands in Thuringia, Henry received Conrad’s deathbed designation as heir to the throne. He was elected king of Germany (May 919) by nobles of Saxony and Franconia, two of the four most influential duchies; the other two important duchies, Swabia and Bavaria, did not recognize him as king.

Henry considered Germany a confederation of duchies rather than a nation. Having complete authority in Saxony and nominal sovereignty in Franconia, he sought to bring the duchies of Swabia and Bavaria into the confederation. After forcing the submission of Burchard, duke of Swabia (919), he allowed the duke to retain control over the civil administration of the duchy. On the basis of an election by Bavarian and East Frankish nobles (919), Arnulf, duke of Bavaria, also claimed the German throne. In 921, after two military campaigns, the king forced Arnulf to submit and relinquish his claim to the throne, though the duke retained complete internal control of Bavaria.

Henry defeated Giselbert, king of Lotharingia, in 925, and that region, which had become independent of Germany in 910, was brought back under German control. Giselbert, who was recognized as duke of Lotharingia, married the king’s daughter Gerberga in 928.

When the Magyars, barbarian warriors from Hungary, invaded Germany in 924, Henry agreed to pay tribute to them and return a captured Magyar chief in exchange for a nine-year (924–933) cession of raids on German territory. During these years the king built fortified towns and trained the cavalry force he used to defeat various Slavic tribes; he conquered the Havelli at Brandenburg and the Daleminzi at Meissen in 928 and suppressed a rebellion in Bohemia in 929. The king refused to pay more tribute when the nine-year truce ended in 933. He used his seasoned cavalry to destroy the Magyars, who had resumed their raids, at Riade on March 15, 933, and ended their threat to the German countryside. The king’s last campaign, an invasion of Denmark (934), added the territory of Schleswig to the German state.

The story that Henry received the surname Fowler because he was laying bird snares when informed of his election as king is probably a myth.

Encyclopædia Britannica



Otto I

Otto I, byname Otto the Great, German Otto der Grosse (born Nov. 23, 912—died May 7, 973, Memleben, Thuringia), duke of Saxony (as Otto II, 936–961), German king (from 936), and Holy Roman emperor (962–973) who consolidated the German Reich by his suppression of rebellious vassals and his decisive victory over the Hungarians. His use of the church as a stabilizing influence created a secure empire and stimulated a cultural renaissance.

Early years
Otto was the son of the future king Henry I, of the Liudolfing, or Saxon, dynasty, and his second wife, Matilda. Little is known of his early years, but he probably shared in some of his father’s campaigns. He married Edith, daughter of the English king Edward the Elder, in 930; she obtained as her dowry the flourishing town of Magdeburg. Nominated by Henry as his successor, Otto was elected king by the German dukes at Aachen on Aug. 7, 936, a month after Henry’s death, and crowned by the archbishops of Mainz and Cologne.

While Henry I had controlled his vassal dukes only with difficulty, the new king firmly asserted his suzerainty over them. This led immediately to war, especially with Eberhard of Franconia and his namesake, Eberhard of Bavaria, who were joined by discontented Saxon nobles under the leadership of Otto’s half-brother Thankmar. Thankmar was defeated and killed, the Franconian Eberhard submitted to the King, and Eberhard of Bavaria was deposed and outlawed. In 939, however, Otto’s younger brother Henry revolted; he was joined by Eberhard of Franconia and by Giselbert of Lotharingia and supported by the French king Louis IV. Otto was again victorious: Eberhard fell in battle, Giselbert was drowned in flight, and Henry submitted to his brother. Nevertheless, in 941 Henry joined a conspiracy to murder the King. This was discovered in time, and, whereas the other conspirators were punished, Henry was again forgiven. Thenceforward he remained faithful to his brother and, in 947, was given the dukedom of Bavaria. The other German dukedoms were likewise bestowed on relatives of Otto.

Foreign conquests
Despite these internal difficulties, Otto found time to strengthen and to extend the frontiers of the kingdom. In the east the margraves Gero and Hermann Billung were successful against the Slavs, and their gains were consolidated by the founding of the Monastery of St. Maurice in Magdeburg, in 937, and of two bishoprics, in 948. In the north, three bishoprics (followed in 968 by a fourth) were founded to extend the Christian mission in Denmark. Otto’s first campaign in Bohemia was, however, a failure, and it was not until 950 that the Bohemian prince Boleslav I was forced to submit and to pay tribute.

Having thus strengthened his own position, Otto could not only resist France’s claims to Lorraine (Lotharingia) but also act as mediator in France’s internal troubles. Similarly, he extended his influence into Burgundy. Moreover, when the Burgundian princess Adelaide, the widowed queen of Italy whom the margrave Berengar of Ivrea had taken prisoner, appealed to him for help, Otto marched into Italy in 951, assumed the title of king of the Lombards, and married Adelaide himself, his first wife having died in 946. In 952 Berengar did homage to him as his vassal for the kingdom of Italy.

Otto had to break off his first Italian campaign because of a revolt in Germany, where Liudolf, his son by Edith, had risen against him with the aid of several magnates. Otto found himself compelled to withdraw to Saxony; but the position of the rebels began to deteriorate when the Magyars invaded Germany in 954, for the rebels could now be accused of complicity with the enemies of the Reich. After prolonged fighting, Liudolf had to submit in 955. This made it possible for Otto to defeat the Magyars decisively in the Battle of the Lechfeld, near Augsburg, in August 955; they never invaded Germany again. In the same year Otto and the margrave Gero also won a victory over the Slavs. A further series of campaigns led, by 960, to the subjection of the Slavs between the middle Elbe and the middle Oder. The archbishopric of Magdeburg was founded in 968 with three suffragan bishoprics. Even Mieszko of Poland paid tribute to the German king.

Coronation as emperor
In May 961 Otto procured the election and coronation of the six-year-old Otto II, his elder son by Adelaide, as German king. Then he went for a second time to Italy on the appeal of Pope John XII, who was hard pressed by Berengar of Ivrea. Arriving in Rome on Feb. 2, 962, Otto was crowned emperor, and 11 days later a treaty, known as the Privilegium Ottonianum, was concluded, to regulate relations between emperor and pope. This confirmed and extended the temporal power of the papacy, but it is a matter of controversy whether the proviso enabling the emperor to ratify papal elections was included in the original version of the treaty or added in December 963, when Otto deposed John XII for treating with Berengar and set up Leo VIII as pope. Berengar was captured and taken to Germany, and in 964 a revolt of the Romans against Leo VIII was suppressed.

When Leo VIII died in 965, the Emperor chose John XIII for pope, but John was expelled by the Romans. Otto, therefore, marched for a third time to Italy, where he stayed from 966 to 972. He subdued Rome and even advanced into the Byzantine south of Italy. Prolonged negotiations with Byzantium resulted in the marriage of Otto II to the Byzantine princess Theophano, in 972. Having returned to Germany, the Emperor held a great assembly of his court at Quedlinburg on March 23, 973. He died in Memleben several weeks later and was buried in Magdeburg at the side of his first wife.

Otto I’s achievement rests mainly on his consolidation of the Reich. He deliberately made use of the bishops to strengthen his rule and thus created that “Ottonian church system of the Reich” that was to provide a stable and long-lasting framework for Germany. By his victorious campaigns, he gave Germany peace and security from foreign attack, and the preeminent position that he won as ruler gave him a sort of hegemony in Europe. His Italian policy and the acquisition of the imperial crown constituted a link with the old Carolingian tradition and was to prove a great responsibility for the German people in the future. All areas under Otto’s rule prospered, and the resultant flowering of culture has been called the Ottonian renaissance.

Kurt Reindel

Encyclopædia Britannica


5 Otto's seal on the document establishing the bishopric of Brandenburg, 948

As a counterbalance to the nobility, Otto relied heavily on the 5 Church for support.

He increased the Church's possessions as well as the legal authority of its dignitaries. In return, the Church was obligated to provide the ruler with to financial and military support. The celibacy of the clergy prohibited hereditary transmission of offices and fiefs, so after the death of each incumbent, these reverted to the crown. In order for this policy to work, investiture—that is, the filling of ecclesiastical offices—had to be an entitlement of the ruler, not the pope. This led to long-term disputes that resulted in the investiture controversy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.




The Ottonian Renaissance and the End of the Saxons

Otto I (the Great) prevailed in Italy and against the Slavs and was able to maintain his power. His successor, on the other hand, did not have time to consolidate his empire.


11 Otto I's victory over the Magyars in the Battle of Lechfeld, book illustration, 15th century

In order to control the fractious duchies, Otto I gave Bavaria to his brother Henry and Swabia, which had emerged out of the former Alemannia, to his eldest son Liudolf. Even they repeatedly challenged the authority of the king as did the other dukes.
Otto the Great was more successful in foreign affairs. In 950, he subjugated the Bohemians. He secured the border territories by erecting new marches and bishoprics for converting the Slavs. A plea for help from the widow of the king of Italy, Adelaide of Lombardy, took Otto across the Alps for the first time in 951. He married Adelaide and became king of Italy.

In further campaigns, Otto was once again able to repulse the Magyars in 955 at 11 Lechfeld near Augsburg, defeated the Lombard princes, and prevailed against the Byzantines.

In 962, he was crowned Holy Roman emperor by the pope. From this event dates the tradition by which the king crowned at Aachen was entitled to be crowned Holy Roman emperor at Rome. As a means of reconciliation with Byzantium, Otto's son. Otto II, married Theophano, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor.

Otto II reigned for only ten years, from 973 to 983.

Within the empire, he had to subdue his cousin Henry II (the Quarrelsome) of Bavaria. Otto's position in Italy was weakened in 982 by a defeat in Calabria at the hands of the Arabs, and the great Slavic uprising of 983 meant the loss of territories beyond the Elbe River.


Following the death of Otto II, Theophano and her mother-in-law Adelaide defended the reign of young 9 Otto III against Henry the Quarrelsome.

Otto later promoted the spread of Eastern missionary work through the founding of archbishoprics in Gniezno in Poland and Gran in Hungary.

In Italy, he succeeded in having his cousin Bruno elected as 7 Pope Gregory V—the first German pope—in 996.

9 Otto III between two clerical and two secular
gentlemen, book illustration, late tenth century

7 Pope Gregory V,
copper engraving, 16th century

Roman 10 patricians did not like the idea of a 6 German empire being ruled from Rome, however, and drove Otto out of the city in 1001.

The son of Henry the Quarrelsome, from the Bavarian line of Saxons, took the throne as Emperor 8 Henry II in 1002, but he died without issue, and the dynasty died with him.

10 Otto III punishes the leader of a rebellion in 998 by gouging out his eyes and chopping off his hands, copper engraving, 17th century

6 The four parts of the Empire; Sclavinia (Eastern Europe), Germania (Germany), Gallia (France), and Roma (Italy) pay tribute, book illustration, tenth с

8 Henry ll's tombstone, sculptures
by Tilman Riemenschneider, 1513



Otto II

Otto II, (born 955—died Dec. 7, 983, Rome), German king from 961 and Holy Roman emperor from 967, sole ruler from 973, son of Otto I and his second wife, Adelaide.

Otto, a cultivated man, continued his father’s policies of promoting a strong monarchy in Germany and of extending the influence of his house in Italy. In 961 he was crowned co-regent king of Italy and Germany with his father and was made co-regent emperor in 967. On April 14, 972, he married the Byzantine princess Theophano. At his father’s death in 973 he was accepted without opposition as successor, although revolts in the duchy of Bavaria and in Lorraine occupied the early years of his reign. Bavaria, the most independent of the duchies, rebelled in 974, under the leadership of its duke, Henry II the Quarrelsome, Otto’s cousin. It was not until 978 that Bavaria was pacified, the same year that Lothar, king of France, invaded Lorraine. In 979 Otto received the submission of Bohemia and Poland, and in 980 Lothar renounced his claim to Lorraine. Having thus secured his German dominions, Otto marched into Italy in 980, where German rule had been maintained by an imperial party headed by Hugh, marquis of Tuscany. Otto invaded southern Italy and was decisively defeated there by a Muslim army in 982. In 983 he summoned a diet at Verona, where his young son, Otto III, was crowned German king. Otto II died in 983 in Rome, of malaria. His absence from Germany had occasioned revolts along its borders, and after his defeat in Calabria in 982 the German position east of the Elbe collapsed because of a revolt by the Danes and an invasion by the Slavs. Nonetheless, Otto maintained the essential successes of his father and left a firmly established realm to his son and successor Otto III.

Encyclopædia Britannica



Otto III

Otto III, (born July 980—died Jan. 23, 1002, near Viterbo, Italy), German king and Holy Roman emperor who planned to recreate the glory and power of the ancient Roman Empire in a universal Christian state governed from Rome, in which the pope would be subordinate to the emperor in religious as well as in secular affairs.

Son of the Holy Roman emperor Otto II and Empress Theophano, Otto III was elected German king in June 983 and crowned at Aachen in December, shortly after his father’s death. But the child king was seized by Henry II the Quarrelsome, the deposed duke of Bavaria, in an attempt to secure the regency, if not the throne, for himself. In May 984, however, Henry was forced by the imperial diet to turn the child over to his mother, who served as regent until her death in 991; Otto’s grandmother, the dowager empress Adelaide, assumed the regency until the King came of age in 994.

In 996, heeding an appeal by Pope John XV for help in putting down a rebellion led by the Roman noble Crescentius II, Otto crossed the Alps. Declared king of Lombardy at Pavia, he reached Rome after the Pope’s death, whereupon he secured the election of his 23-year-old cousin, Bruno of Carinthia, as Gregory V, the first German pope. Gregory, who crowned Otto emperor on May 21, 996, was driven from Rome after the Emperor’s return to Germany by Crescentius, who then installed John XVI as pope. The Emperor marched back into Italy in late 997; taking Rome in February 998, he executed Crescentius, deposed John, and reinstated Gregory.

Otto then proceeded to make Rome his official residence and the administrative centre of the empire. Instituting elaborate Byzantine court ceremonies and reviving ancient Roman customs, he assumed the titles “the servant of Jesus Christ,” “the servant of the apostles,” and “emperor of the world” and saw himself as the leader of world Christianity. When Gregory V died (999), Otto had the Frenchman Gerbert of Aurillac, his former tutor who agreed with his concept of a theocratic emperor, installed as Pope Sylvester II.

In 1000 Otto made a pilgrimage to the tomb of the mystical archbishop Adelbert of Prague at Gniezno, which he established as the archbishopric of Poland. When in January 1001 Tibur, Italy, rebelled against Otto, he laid siege to the town, forced its surrender, and then pardoned its inhabitants. Angered by this action, the Romans, who wanted the rival town destroyed, rebelled against the Emperor (February 1001) and besieged his palace. After placating the rebels momentarily, Otto withdrew to the monastery of St. Apollinaris, near Ravenna, to do penance. Unable to regain control of the imperial city, he requested military support from his cousin Henry of Bavaria, who was to succeed him as German king and later as emperor. Shortly before the Bavarian troops arrived at his headquarters, Otto died.

Encyclopædia Britannica



Henry II

Henry II, also called Saint Henry, German Sankt Heinrich (born May 6, 973, Albach?, Bavaria—died July 13, 1024, Pfalz Grona, near Göttingen, Saxony [Germany]; canonized 1146; feast day July 13), duke of Bavaria (as Henry IV, 995–1005), German king (from 1002), and Holy Roman emperor (1014–24), last of the Saxon dynasty of emperors. He was canonized by Pope Eugenius III, more than 100 years after his death, in response to church-inspired legends. He was, in fact, far from saintly, but there is some truth in the legends concerning his religious character. Together with Henry III, he was the great architect of cooperation between church and state, following a policy inaugurated by Charlemagne and promoted by Otto I the Great (Holy Roman emperor, 962–973). His canonization is sometimes justified on the grounds that he was a great representative of the medieval German priestly kings.

Henry II became king of Germany in 1002 and Holy Roman emperor in 1014. His father, Henry II the Quarrelsome, duke of Bavaria, having been in rebellion against two preceding German kings, was forced to spend long years in exile from Bavaria. The younger Henry found refuge with Bishop Abraham of Freising and was later educated at the Cathedral School of Hildesheim. As he was exposed thus to strong church influence in his youth, religion influenced him strongly. Contemporaries observed an ironic trait in his character and were also impressed by his ability to intersperse his speeches with biblical quotations. Though devoted to church ritual and personal prayer, he was a tenacious and realistic politician, not adverse to alliances with heathen powers. Usually in poor health, he yet performed for 22 years the office of the itinerant king, riding on horseback through his dominions to judge and compose feuds, pursue rebels, and extend the power of the crown.

After the death of King Otto III in January 1002, Henry, aware of strong opposition to his succession, captured the royal insignia that were in the keeping of the dead king’s companions. At Otto’s funeral the majority of the princes declared against Henry, and only in June, with the assistance of Archbishop Willigis of Mainz, did Henry secure both election and coronation. It took another year before his recognition was final.

Henry first turned his attention to the east and made war against the Polish king Bolesław I the Brave. After a successful campaign, he marched into northern Italy to subdue Arduin of Ivrea, who had styled himself king of Italy. His sudden interference led to bitter fighting and atrocities, and although Henry was crowned king in Pavia on May 15, 1004, he returned home, without defeating Arduin, to pursue his campaigns against Bolesław. In 1003 Henry had made a pact with the Liutitian tribe against the Christian Bolesław, and he allowed the Liutitians to resist German missionaries east of the Elbe River. Henry was more interested in consolidating his own political power than in spreading Christianity. Supported by his tribal allies, he waged several campaigns against Poland, until in 1018, at Bautzen, he made a lasting compromise peace with the Poles.

Sensitive to tradition and anxious to be crowned emperor, Henry decided in late 1013 on another expedition to Italy. He marched straight to Rome, where he was crowned Holy Roman emperor by Pope Benedict VIII, on Feb. 14, 1014. By May he was back in Germany, seeking to fulfill his duties to Italy by charging German officials with the administration of the country. Henry even convened an Italian imperial court at Strassburg (now Strasbourg) in 1019. In 1020 Pope Benedict visited him in Germany and begged him to put in another appearance in Italy to fight the Greeks in the south and protect the papacy against the Lombard princes. Henry reluctantly responded the following year, fighting both Greeks and Lombards successfully; but he withdrew at the first opportunity.

Henry’s main interest and success were concentrated on the consolidation of a peaceful royal regime in Germany. He spent much time and energy in elaborating the so-called Ottonian system of government. Inaugurated by Otto I, this system was based upon the principle that the lands and the authority of the bishops ought to be at the disposal of the king. Henry made generous grants to the bishops and, by adding to their territorial holdings, helped to establish them as secular rulers as well as ecclesiastical princes. He freely availed himself of the royal right to appoint faithful followers to these bishoprics. He insisted on episcopal celibacy—to make sure that on the death of a bishop the see would not fall into the hands of the bishop’s children. In this way, he managed to create a stable body of supporters who made him more and more independent of rebellious nobles and ambitious members of his own family.

His greatest achievement was the foundation of the new bishopric of Bamberg. The upper region of the Main River was poorly populated, and Henry set aside large tracts of personal property to establish the new bishopric, much against the wishes of the bishop of Würzburg in the middle Main region. He obtained the consent of other bishops at a synod in Frankfurt in late 1007. The new bishop was consecrated on Henry’s birthday in 1012. In 1020 Bamberg was visited by the pope, and it quickly developed into a splendid cathedral town where contemporary scholastic culture and art, as well as piety, found the support of Henry and his queen, Cunegunda.

During the last years of his reign Henry planned, in concert with Pope Benedict VIII, an ecclesiastical reform council at Pavia to seal the system of ecclesiastico-political order he had perfected in Germany. But he died suddenly in July 1024, before this could be done.

Peter Munz

Encyclopædia Britannica




After the death of Otto II, Theophano, the Byzantine princess, took over the regency for the underage Otto III until her own death in 991.

During this period, Byzantine culture gained greatly in influence, as she brought many artists with her from her homeland, along with the worship of Saint Nicholas.

Her daughters, Adelaide and Sophia, became abbesses in Quedlinburg, Gandersheim, and Essen. These centers of medieval culture in Saxony remained autonomous principalities ruled over by the abbesses until 1803.

Otto II, Theophano, and her son Otto III kneel before Christ,
ivory carving in Byzantine style, ca. 983-84





(10th century)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the wife of Romanus II; wife and murderer of Nicephorus Phocas; lover of John I Tzimisces ; the mother of Basil II , Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married the Russian prince Vladimir.

Becoming Empress

This beautiful but considerably amoral woman played an important role in Byzantine history. An innkeeper's daughter by the name of Anastaso, the emperor Romanus II fell in love with her around the year 956 and married her. Romanus' father Constantine VII Porphyrogentius avoided the mistake of preventing his son to marry the girl of his choice--as had several of his precedessors, culminating in their downfalls--by blandly pretending that Anastaso was of noble birth. After their marriage, she was given the name of Romanus' grandfather's first saintly wife Theophano (whom she resembled not at all).

Partnership with Nicephorus Phocas

On March 15, 963, Emperor Romanus II unexpectedly died at the age of twenty-six. His sons Basil II and Constantine VIII were heirs and Theophano was named regent. However she realized that to secure power she needed to align her interest with the strongest general at the time, Nicephorus Phocas. As the army had already proclaimed him as an Emperor in Caesarea, Nicephorus entered Constantinople on August 15, broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas ( a eunuch palace official who had become Romanus' chief council) in bloody street fights, and on 16 August he was crowned in Hagia Sophia. After that he married Theophano, thereby legitimizing his reign by marring into the Macedonian dynasty.

The marriage proved controversial as Nicephorus had been god-father to one or more of Theophano's children, which placed them within a prohibited spiritual relationship. Nicephorus (who no doubt sincerely loved his beautiful wife) organised a council at which it was denied that he had ever been god-father to his wife's children.


However, not too long after, she became lover to a young and brilliant general, John Tzimisces. They soon began to conspire against Nicephorus . She prepared the assassination and John and his friends implemented it on the night between 10 and 11 December 969. The emperor was now John I Tzimisces (969-976)


However, Theophano badly miscalculated in the hope of becoming the wife of the new ruler. Slain Nicephorus found his avenger in the Patriarch Polyeuctus, who was determined to punish the crime. He demanded John to repent, to punish the murderers (his helpers and friends), and to remove Theophano from the court. John was forced to submit to Patriarch’s requests. Only then was he allowed to enter the church and be crowned emperor.

Theophano was first sent into exile to the island of Prinkipo, sometimes known as Prote. However, shortly afterwards, she made a reappearance in the capital, seeking asylum in the Hagia Sophia, where, however, she was forcibly removed on the orders of the Chamberlain Basil, who condemned her to exile in distant Armenia. Before this, he granted her request of an audience with the Emperor John, who surprisingly agreed to attend. Once there however, he was subjected to the former empress, who then physically attacked the chamberlain, landing several telling blows.

It is possible that after the succession of her sons to the throne that she was able to return to Constantinople.