In 962 the pope, Johannes XII placed the crown on Otto the Great (912 – 973) and his consort Adelaide in a grand ceremony in St. Peter’s in Rome
Not long thereafter Otto had a new seal created which showed him en face and with a crown, sceptre and orb. It is probably correct to consider the new seal the nearest thing we can get to a direct presentation of the ideas, which lay behind the coronation, which Otto apparently had sought after for more than a decade. As such the seal may be explored through a direct comparison with the old one, which Otto up until then had used. This showed him in profile and carrying a spear. So to speak fit for fight.
Thus, there is no doubt that Otto the Great wished to explore another type of lordship than what pertained to be a king. While kings in the beginning of the 10th century were elected or at least had to fight for their supremacy as warlords, emperors were made out of quite another silk (preferably purple).They were first of all masters of the universe and defenders of the church and faith.
To develop and elaborate this idea, Otto the Great drew heavily upon the history of emperors from Augustus and forward. Not indiscriminately and never as a one-to-one copy. But to be emperor was to follow in the footsteps of long series of predecessors. It is definitely correct to talk about this creational stance as a reinvention of a very old tradition.
This story is the overall theme of a grand exhibition in the best of the German tradition and in Magdeburg, famous for being home to two other exhibitions of the same ilk (Otto der Grosse und Magdeburg 2001 and Das Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nation 2006.)
While both of these exhibitions took as their point of departure the life and times of Otto the Great and the aftermath of his reign, the current showcases the history behind the happenings in Rome 962. Thus the exhibition consists of five parts:
- Augustus and the origins of Emperorship in Roman Antiquity
- Constantine the great and Christian Emperorship
- Byzantium: the Continuity of Roman Emperorship in the East
- Charlemagne and the Appropriation of Roman Emperorship
- Otto the Great and the Renewal of the Roman Empire.
True to tradition a massive catalogue with fabulous illustrations accompanies the exhibition (741 pages/4.3 kilos and in German) plus there is a scientific report from a symposium, which led up to the exhibition and where specialists might delve into the ideology behind emperorship more generally. Here it is possible to read long and carefully crafted explanations about the more than 300 artifacts, some of which are quite spectacular.
What not to miss?
- The imperial insignia from Palatin found in 2005 with the blue orb on top of a sceptre (306 -312)
- The crystal orb from the grave of Childerich (481/82)
- The Holy Lance, the sword from Essen and the Imperial crown
- The purple certificate of the marriage between Otto II and the (somewhat) purple princess, Theophanu.
All are they artefacts, which symbolise the powerful aura of imperial culture. And which we normally have to travel extensively in order to see.
This exhibition is definitely a must see for anyone with an interest in medieval history – as well as our common European Future.
Otto der Grosse und das Römische Reich. Keisertum von der Antike zum Mittelalter.
Kulturhistorisches Museum Magdeburg
Otto der Große und das Römische Reich. Kaisertum von der Antike zum Mittelalter
Herausgeber: Matthias Puhle, Gabriele Köster eds
Schnell & Steiner 2012
Kaisertum im ersten Jarhtausend.
Hartmut Leppin, Bernd Schneidmüller, Stefan Weinfurter eds.
Schnell & Steiner 2012