The Imperial Tradition: Ottonian and
Romanesque Art in the Holy Roman Empire
The two empires—Byzantine and Ottonian—as far apart in the tenth century as the barbarians and Romans a thousand years earlier, both believed in their own superiority and their God-given right to lead the Christian world in a revival of the Empire of Constantine and in opposition to Muslims and pagan barbarians. Rival emperors considered themselves to be the political heirs of the Roman emperors and the spiritual heirs of the apostles, and they eyed each other warily but with grudging respect.
At the beginning of the tenth century, Saxon kings replaced the Carolingians as rulers of the land now called Germany. They created the political entity known as the Ottonian Empire (after three of the rulers), by 1254 called the Holy Roman Empire. In 911 the German dukes assembled according to ancient custom to elect one of their number king. Conrad, Duke of Franconia, won the election. On his deathbed, only seven years later, Conrad nominated his strongest rival, Henry the Fowler, Duke of Saxony, as his successor, and the Germans duly elected Henry. Thereafter, although the king continued to be formally elected, the office in fact became hereditary. Three powerful men named Otto ruled from 936 to 1002, giving their name in modern times to the historical period and its art and architecture.
Otto I, known as Otto the Great, chose to be crowned at Aachen, thus proclaiming himself the heir of Charlemagne in a revitalized Carolingian state. Otto wisely did not assert a claim to Carolingian West Francia (France), but turned his attention south, where he added northern Italy to his kingdom by marrying the widowed Lombard Queen Adelaide. At the invitation of the Pope, he moved on to Rome as defender of papal lands. Henceforth German and Italian history and politics became inextricably entangled, for German rulers saw themselves as the rightful heirs of Constantine, as well as Charlemagne, and their empire as the Holy Roman Empire.
Italian territories presented a problem: in this age of personal rule, a king could not reside permanently on one side of the Alps and expect to control his subjects on the other side without extraordinary assistance. To administer his diverse and widespread realm, Otto, like Charlemagne, turned to the Church for political as well as moral support. He soon filled important posts with his relatives; for example, his younger brother Bruno became both the Archbishop of Cologne and the Chancellor. Other relatives held the archbishoprics of Trier and Mainz, and women in the family became powerful abbesses. But not even family loyalty could ensure internal stability in an age when might was still usually