Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor

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Otto III (980 – 23 January 1002) was the fourth ruler of the Saxon or Ottonian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire. He was elected king of Germany in 983 on the death of his father Otto II.


Early years

Otto was born in Kessel, near Goch, in what is now North Rhine-Westphalia.

He was acclaimed King of Germany in Verona in June 983, at the age of three, and crowned in Aachen on 25 December the same year. His father had died on 7 December in Rome, but the news did not reach Germany until after the coronation. Also in 983, the Lutici initiated a successful revolt.

In early 984 Henry the Quarrelsome, who had been deposed as Duke of Bavaria by Otto II, seized Otto and claimed the regency as a member of the reigning house. To further his object he made an alliance with Lothair of France. Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz, the leader of Otto's party, induced Henry to release the imprisoned king, for which his Duchy of Bavaria was restored. Otto was thus returned to his mother, the Byzantine princess Theophanu, who served as regent thenceforth. She abandoned her husband's imperialistic policy and devoted herself entirely to furthering an alliance between Church and Empire. She was unable, however, to prevent France from speedily freeing herself from German influence. The regent endeavoured to watch over the national questions of the Eastern Empire. One of the greatest achievements of this empress was her success in maintaining feudal supremacy over Bohemia.

After Theophanu's death in 991, Otto's grandmother, Adelaide of Italy, then served as regent together with Willigis until Otto III reached his majority in 994.

Otto's mental gifts were considerable, and were carefully cultivated by Bernward, afterwards bishop of Hildesheim, and by Gerbert of Aurillac, archbishop of Reims, so that he was called "the wonder of the world."

Already in 983, the Lutici had initiated a successful revolt in the Billung and Northern Marches. The unsuccessful attempts to reconquer these marches became a central objective of Otto's early rule, and he participated in these campaigns in person since the age of six (see Lutici).

Imperial views

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 the Roman nobleman Crescentius II. He was declared King of the Lombards 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. The new pontiff crowned Otto emperor on 21 May 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 some court customs in Greek.

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