King of the Germans and Emperor of Rome, son of Otto I and Adelaide, b. 955; d. in Rome, Dec. 7, 983
Otto II, King of the Germans and Emperor of Rome, son of Otto I and Adelaide, b. 955; d. in Rome, December 7, 983. In 961 he was elected king at Worms, and was crowned at Aix, May 26. Frail in body, he possessed an intrepid and arbitrary spirit. With him began that extravagant policy of imperialism, which aimed at restoring the world boundaries of the ancients, and to encompass the Ancient Sea (the Mediterranean). Germany and Italy were to wield the balance of power. Reacting against this imperialistic policy was the revived strength of particularism. The conflict with the ducal House of Bavaria gave a dangerous aspect to affairs. In Bavaria (with Otto’s approval) the duchess dowager Judith acted as regent for her son Henry. Upon coming of age he was given the Duchy of Bavaria in fee by Otto II, who, at the same time, invested Ludolph’s son Otto with Swabia on the death of Duke Burchard, ignoring the latter’s widow, Hedwig, a daughter of Judith. Henry, named the “Quarrelsome”, supported by Abraham of Friesing, Boleslaw of Bohemia, and Mesislav of Poland, opposed this. The war finally ended by Judith being immured in a cloister and Henry declared to have forfeited his duchy. Ludolph’s son Otto received the vacant ducal throne. The Eastmark was separated from Bavaria and given in fee to Luitpold of Babenberg, who laid the foundation of the future renown of his family. In 978 Lothair, who aspired to the acquisition of Western Germany, invaded Lorraine, and pillaged Aix where Otto narrowly escaped capture. But Lothair did not advance further. In Dortmund a war of reprisal was at once decided upon; with 60,000 men, Otto marched upon Paris, which he failed to take. Lothair, however, was obliged to come to terms, and in 980 the two kings met near Sedan, where Otto obtained an agreement securing the former boundaries.
In Rome, Crescentius, a son of Theodora, headed a disorderly factional government and sought to settle the affairs of the Holy See by coercion. Otto crossed the Alps and freed the papacy. While in Rome his mind became imbued with dreams of ancient imperialism; he would give his imperialistic policy a firm foundation by bringing all Italy under subjection. In Southern Italy the Byzantines and Saracens united against the German pretensions, and in 982 the war with these ancient powers commenced. Tarentum fell into the hands of the German king, but July 15, 982, he was defeated near Capo Colonne, not far from Cotrone. This battle resulted in the surrender of Apulia and Calabria and destroyed the prestige of the imperial authority throughout Italy. The effect spread to the people of the North and the turbulent Slavs on the East, and shortly after the Danes and Wends rose up in arms. But Otto was victorious. The Christian mission, under the leadership of pilgrims of Passau, had made great progress in the territory of the Magyars. Then came the defeat in Calabria, whereupon all of
Slavonia, particularly the heathen part, revolted against German sovereignty. The promising beginnings of German and Christian culture east of the Elbe, inaugurated by Otto, were destroyed. In Bohemia the ecclesiastical organization was thoroughly established, but the emperor was unable to support the bishop whom he had placed there. On the Havel and the Spree Christianity was almost annihilated. Affairs were in equally bad condition among the Wends. The reign of Otto II has been justly called the period of martyrdom for the German Church. The missions which had been organized by Otto I were, with few exceptions, destroyed. Otto II now renewed the despotic policy towards the Saxonian border nobles and incited open discontent. In 983 he held an Imperial Diet where his son was elected king as Otto III and where the assembled nobles pledged their support. He departed with high hopes for Southern Italy. Fortune seemed to favor the imperial leader, who expected to wipe out the disgrace suffered in the south. He chose a new pope, Peter of Pavia (John XIV). While in Rome he was stricken with malaria and was buried in St. Peter’s. At the time of his death the relations of the empire towards the papacy were still undefined. He had been unable to maintain his political ascendency in Rome. His imperialistic policy had placed the restraints of progressive and pacific Christianity and Germanization on the borders; and he, pursuing fanciful dreams, believed that he might dare to transfer the goal of his policy to the south.