Imperium [Romanorum] ac  Francorum


The Ottones 919-1024




The Empire and the Kingdoms

The Ruler

The State

The Ranges of Authority

Administrative Authority

Religious Authority

Armed Authority


Back to Imperium Romanum



The Ottonian dynasty was a Saxon dynasty of German monarchs (919–1024), named after three of its kings and Emperors named Otto, especially its first Emperor Otto I. It is also known as the Saxon dynasty after the family's origin in the German stem duchy of Saxony. The family itself is also sometimes known as the Liudolfings, after its earliest known member Count Liudolf (d. 866) and one of its primary leading-names. The Ottonian rulers were successors of the Germanic king Conrad I who was the only Germanic king to rule in East Francia after the Carolingian dynasty and before this dynasty.

In the 9th century, the Saxon count Liudolf held large estates on the Leine river west of the Harz mountain range and in the adjacent Eichsfeld territory of Thuringia. His ancestors probably acted as ministeriales in the Saxon stem duchy, which had been incorporated into the Carolingian Empire after the Saxon Wars of Charlemagne. Liudolf married Oda, a member of the Frankish House of Billung. About 852 the couple together with Bishop Altfrid of Hildesheim founded Brunshausen Abbey, which, relocated to Gandersheim, rose to a family monastery and burial ground.

Liudolf already held the high social position of a Saxon dux, documented by the marriage of his daughter Liutgard with Louis the Younger, son of the Carolingian king Louis the Germanin 869. Liudolf’s sons Bruno and Otto the Illustrious ruled over large parts of Saxon Eastphalia, moreover, Otto acted as lay abbot of the Imperial abbey of Hersfeld with large estates in Thuringia. He married Hedwiga, a daughter of the Babenberg duke Henry of Franconia. Otto possibly accompanied King Arnulf on his 894 campaign to Italy; the marriage of his daughter Oda with Zwentibold, Arnulf's illegitimate son, documents the efforts of the Carolingian ruler to win the mighty Saxon dynasty over as an ally. According to the Saxon chronicler Widukind of Corvey, Otto upon the death of the last Carolingian king Louis the Child in 911 was already a candidate for the East Frankish crown, which however passed to the Franconian duke Conrad I.

Upon Otto's death in 912, his son Henry the Fowler succeeded him as Duke of Saxony. Henry had married Matilda of Ringelheim, a descendant of the legendary Saxon ruler Widukindand heiress to extended estates in Westphalia.

The Ottonian rulers of East Francia, the German kingdom and the Holy Roman Empire were:

  • Henry the Fowler (Henry I), Duke of Saxony from 912, King of East Francia from 919 until 936
  • Otto I, the Great, Duke of Saxony and King of East Francia from 936, King of Italy from 951, Emperor from 962 until 973
  • Otto II, co-ruler from 961, Emperor from 967, sole ruler from 973 until 983
  • Otto III, King of the Romans from 983, Emperor from 996 until 1002
  • Henry II,the Saint, Duke of Bavaria from 995 (as Henry IV), King of the Romans from 1002, King of Italy from 1004, Emperor from 1014 until 1024




In the Ottonian era the portraits of the kings can be found on their seals and in some manuscripts and other media. No coins with portraits have been found, those available being struck by lesser princes.

In the beginning the regalia consist of a crown to which a staff and a orb were added.

It is only by Otto III that an eagle was introduced on the consular baton and later also as a label indicating the royal presence. In fact the carolingian tradition was resumed in a way as in the 8th century eagles were also associated with  royal dignity.

From this time on the eagle was a royal emblem of the kings of Germany and their successors until the present day. The regalia on the contrary, were abandoned at the abolition of the German monarchy in 1918.


The Empire and the Kingdoms


In the Ottonian Era the Empire came to be called the Imperium Romanorum ac Francorum by Otto I who has called himself in several documents of 966 a „Imperator Augustus Romanarum ac Francorum”. At the same time Widukind of Corvey called the Ottonian Empire the „Imperium Francorum”.

For this Empire a ball and a square cross were introduced by Otto I, his orb crested with a square cross, the orb or disc of his successors being of gold and charged with a white square cross.


Orb of Otto I

Orb of Otto II & III


The kingdoms making up the Empire were represented by female personifications:


The kingdoms of the Empire pay homage to Otto III

Gospel Book of Otto III,  Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, clm 4453, fol. 23v.


The four kingdoms of Sclavonia, Germania, Gallia and Roma are crowned with specific crowns and are bearing an orb, a cornucopia, a palm-leaf and a sacrificing dish. In a later version the virgins wear uniform crowns and have orbs in their hands. In the time of Henry II the virgins are also uniformly crowned but have cornucopia in their hands.

Such female personifications reach far back into antiquity and were continued until the present time. A well known example is Marianne, personifying the french people.


The Ruler


House of Saxony / Liudolfingian House


Henry I the Fowler of Saxony


Duke of Saxony 912-936

King of Germany 919-936

Emperor 933-936



Seals of Henry I


6. Stamp (Provisional seal): Portrait.


Date:  920.03.04–925.20.03.

Staatsarchiv Marburg. 925 März 30. Stumpf (St.), Reichskanzler Nr. 10.

7. Stamp: Warrior with spear and shield


In the beginning besides n° 6 then 926.11.8 until end of rule.

Reichsarchiv München. 927 Okt. 18. St. 17. Heffner I. 11


Otto I, the Great

* 912 - † 973

King of Germany 936 - 973

Proclaimed Emperor  955

 Crowned 02.02.962

King of Italy 963

Otto II  Co-regent 961


Otto I and his successors only called themselves "Imperator Augustus" when they actually had been crowned in Rome.

They did not claim West Francia any more so that their Empire merely comprised Germany and Italy.



Representation of an emperor crowned by two angels.

Miniature from the  ‘Beneventaner Exultetrolle’ of  985-987.

Rom, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana 9820, Fragment 18.


It is the general opinion that the so-called Imperial Crown (Weltliche. & Geistliche Schatzkammer Wien, Inv. Nr. XIII 1) dates from the time of Otto the Great, reason why it is sometimes called ‘The Ottonian Crown’. Recently there are new publications ascribing the crown to the Salians [1].

The crown however seems to be a pastiche of different remains of regalia found in the treasury of Emperor Frederick III  and was styled for the main part by Albrecht Dürer.


Seal of Otto I the Great

Legend: † OTTO IM̅P AV̅G.  Date: 965.17.06 – 970.24.01.

Or. Staatsarchiv Magdeburg Ex. A. 970 Jan. 25. St. 481.


The king with crown, staff and orb.


Seal of Otto I, used by Otto II, 974


Seal: The emperor with crown, staff and orb. Legend: X otto imp avg

Dark-brown wax. Æ 6.5 cm. Magdeburg, Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen Anhalt, Rep. U9, Tit. A I a, Nr. 16: 974 Mai 13.



In the treasury of Cologne cathedral the “staff of St. Peter” with which the saints Eacharius and Valerius Maternes were supposed to have been revived from death is preserved. Indeed the turned ivory-knob is a part of a late antique consular-baton, and an imperial emblem of authority. Parts of the frame date from the  8th century. Such a staff may have been used as the imperial staff of Otto I but it is doubted that the staff from Cologne has belonged to  him.  [2]


Emperor Otto I and his spouse Adelheid, holding the successor Otto II,


Ivory relief, Milano, ca. 963. Museo del Castello Sforzesco, Milano


The persons next to Christ are probably the father of Otto I, Henry I the Fowler (†936 and dead for 27 year by then) and his mother St. Mathilda (†968), called St. Mauritius and St. Mary here.


Ciborium above the altar of the S. Ambrogio in Milan.

South-side: Otto I, Otto II and in the middle Pope John XIII (965-972).


Otto II




Co-regent 961

Romanorum Imperator 967-983

King of Germany 973-983


Fears of Byzantine interference in Roman politics and conflicting claims in southern Italy soon brought the two powers into rivalry, and the conflict proved to be the spur for a major development - the romanization of the western empire. Whereas Otto I had laid no claim to the Roman title, Otto II, to bolster his claims against Basil II, proclaimed himself Roman emperor. From this it was only a short step to describing the empire itself as the Roman Empire, and this change occurred in Conrad II’ reign.


Otto II is represented as a beardless young boy in a manuscript made for Henry V in 1112-’14, seated on his throne and with an orb and a sceptre crested with an eagle. [3] This sceptre is not confirmed by sources contemporary with Otto II but his successor Otto III is represented with such a sceptre somewhat later


The Emperor Henry II receives the commentaries

of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) on the Prophet Ezechiel

Presentation of „In Ezech. Prophetam Commentarius Gregorii Magni”. Staatsbibliothek Bamberg, Msc. Bibl. 84.


The king is seated on a lion’s throne and dressed in red and green. On his head a triple crown, called the Crown of Germania in the time of Otto III. In his hand a consular baton. The short curly beard and the baton are the main reasons why the portrait is ascribed to Otto II., probably at the age of 18 (election as a king of Germany).



Å Statue of an Emperor, probably Otto II

in the church of St. John of Müstair (Graubünden, Switzerland).








The Emperor with orb and lily-sceptre. On his head an imperial crown of Byzantine shape. The statue is announced on the spot to be the statue of Charlemagne.


Deducing from the attitude of the right hand the sceptre may be a later addition, replacing for example a flower or fleur de lis (meaning the same armed authority).

In the 12th century such a bearded man became the artistic stereotype of an Emperor.




The globe formerly held in hand

Museum stair

The lily-sceptre of the statue


The crown


Consisting of a decorated circled and four plates applied


As an emperor a hoop and pendilia were added:

Ivory relief with Otto II and Theophanu.

Southern Italy, 972-983.

Ivory, four fixing holes some broken out. H. 18,5 cm, B. 10,6 cm

Paris, Musée Nationale du Moyen Age, Thermes & l’Hôtel de Cluny, Inv. Nr. Cl. 392.


Christ blesses Otto II and Theophanu. At the feet of Otto II the artist has represented himself.

Next to the head of Christ: IC XC

On his right side: K[YPI]E BOHQ[E]IT[ѠC[Ѡ]DOYA[Ѡ]IѠ[ANNH]MONA?]XѠ AMEM (Lord, help your servant, the monk Johannes, Amen.

Above the head of Otto: OTTO IMP aC RMA  (Otto, Roman Emperor Augustus)

Above the head of Theophanu: QEOΦANѠ  IMP aC (Theophanu Empress Augusta)


The Emperor between two bishops

Seeon Pontificale. Bamberg, Staatliche Bibliothek, MSC Lit 53, fol. 2 v.


This emperor is thought to be Henry II (1002-’24)  but has the short curly beard of Otto II. The two bishops may be the archbishops of Cologne and Trier, who were struggling for the primacy of their archdioceses. Candidates are Archbishop Egbert of Trier (977-993)  and  Warin of Cologne (976-985).

The emperor is crowned and has an orb or disc in his left hand, charged with a cross. In his right hand he had a lily-sceptre which has been erased but is still vaguely visible. Probably this was done to make him Henry II who, for a short time, was denied the possession of the regalia by archbishop Heribert of Cologne.



*960 ca-†15.06.991

¥ Otto II 18.05.972

Regent 984-991


Sacramentary of Petershausen

Reichenau, 970-980. Vellum, 266 leaves. Coating paint with gold and silver.

Original oaken cover with sheepskin.  H.24 cm, W. 18,5 cm Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek, Cod. Sal. IX b.


The leaf represented here is page 40v and is supposed to be a portrait of the Virgin Mary.

Another possiblility is that the lady represented is in fact Empress Theophanu. The portrait can be compared with her portrait on the ivory from the Hôtel de Cluny but even better with the portrait of her son Otto III. Her face is painted white according Byzantine fashion and she wears a byzantine diadem in her hair. Also she has  a wide golden collar and ear-rings and in all she is dressed as a real empress.

Around her head she has a golden halo which makes her an imperial princess, the disc symbolizing the empire itself.

In her right hand she keeps a golden latin cross symbolizing religious authority which rested with the emperor and was delegated to the empress (compare for example the double cross on the dress of the Byzantine empresses).

The cross Theophanu is holding in her hand is the so-called ‘Cross of Theophanu’ which still exists and is preserved in the treasury of Essen Cathedral.





Æ Cross of Theophanu

(Treasury of Essen Cathedral). A provision to attach a staff is on the foot of the cross. [4]


Another portrait of Theophanu can be found in a church in Rome. Here she is represented with her young son.

Fresco of Empress Theophanu  as a regent of  Otto III, (984-991).

Basilica Inferiora di S. Clemente, Roma.


The Empress (here of the age of about 30) is seated on a throne and is dressed in a blueish robe. She wears a crown with prependoulia and groups of three pearls (which also can be fleurs-de-lis) on her head. This crown is to be compared with the crowns of Otto I and Otto II which have also these groups of pearls. On her lap she has Otto III, then in the age of between 3 and 10.


See also: Glory of Byzantium p. 140.


Otto III





 King of Germany 983 - 1002

Co-regent 983

Emperor 996


The first imperial dress of Otto III consisted of a white tunica and a red cloak. It was completed with a crown, a consular baton and a golden orb charged with a square cross, symbolizing the Christian empire.

The Emperor Otto III with the symbols of the four parts of his Empire.

Master of the Registrum Gregorii. Trier, ca 985, 25,5 ´ 20 cm. Musée Condé, Chantilly.


The parts of the Empire here represented are royally crowned and are holding the symbols of their kingdoms.


Ottonian Gospels. Trier?, about 996. Apotheose of  Otto III.

Aachen, Domschatzkammer n° 25


According to tradition the Gospels are a present of Otto III to the Aachen coronation abbey.

Otto III in imperial dress sieated on a throne upheld by an angel, crowned by God’s hand between the symbols of the four evangelists with a byzantine type of crown, in his right a orb with cross.

On his right and left two ensign-bearers with red banners and in base two warriors with purple shields and two clerics with their bibles.


All persons are dressed in white and have red cloaks


The Mosaic in the Apse of the S. Ambrogio in Milan.


Portrait of Saint Protasius but probably Otto III


The mosaic was thoroughly restored between 1839 and 1844 under the direction of Giovanni Moro. In August 1943 almost one sixth of the surface was lost. This part was outlined with a red line at the restoration of 1997.

The dating of both parts is controversial.  It is thought that the mosaic dates from the beginning of the 13th century after the church had been destroyed for its largest part in 1191.


Al centro, su un fondo di tessere d'oro, sormontato da un ombraciolo policromo, è il Christo pantokrator assiso su un grande trono gemmato, con nimbero crocifero, che benedice con la mano destra, mentre con la sinistra tiene il libro aperto su cui è la scritta  «Ego sum lux mundi». Ai lati del trono sono i martiri Gervaso e Protaso, sui quali planano in volo gli arcangeli Michele e Gabriele recanti corone (individuati, come Cristo, dai loro nomi in greco). Alla base del trono sono tre medaglioni con i busti dei santi Marcellina, Satiro e Candida.


The hypothesis is:

The central part with Christ Pantocrator and the two figures date from the end of the 10th or the beginning of the 11th century. Represented are Christ as supreme ruler of the Imperium Romanum  and, next to him, Otto III. He is dressed in a white tunica and a purple cloak. In his right hand he holds a latin cross, symbol of the catholic church or of religious authority. Above him the archangel Michael is hovering with a (Western) Imperial Crown. On the left side of Christ is a Byzantien co-emperor, also dressed in a white tunica and with a green cloak. On his head a crown and in his left hand a double cross, symbol of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople. Above his head the Archangel Gabriel is hovering with and Imperial diadem with a crosslet.

The representation of Otto III can be compared with other portraits of him among other things in  Ms. Clm. 4453 in the Bavarian State Library in Munich, but especially with the portrait in his gospels in the Treasury of Aachen Cathedral. For the other person Constantine VIII qualifies. He was the brother of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II and his co-regent from  962 until 1025. His portrait should be compared with the portrait of an emperor in the Book Job in the Royal Library of Kopenhagen Saml. 6,2° but also with the Veronica of St. Austremoine in the Musée des Tissus in Lyon.


Portrait of  Saint Gervasius but probably Constantine VIII


The names of the saints next to the figures are added later.


It is striking that the cloaks are decorated with a kind of tablion, much worn in Byzantium in ancient times. Also the tunica and the cloak of the Byzantine prince are decorated with a pattern resembling the pattern which decorated the dress of the Byzantine emperors and empresses in that time. For the portraits on the medallions below the throne Basil II (976-1025), Zoë and her mother qualify.

Consequently it is possible that the mosaic has been ordered by Otto III and that he himself is portrayed together with Constantine VIII. Because he was engaged with his daughter Zoë, he forcibly was his future son in law. It is to the credit of the attribution to Otto III that on the ciborium are the portraits of Otto I and Otto II and in addition the portraits of the empresses Adelheid and Theophanu. So the church was generously gifted by the Ottones and the presentation of a mosaic by Otto III would fit into this tradition.


At the end of his life the imperial style was changed in that the colors red and blue, symbolizing the armed and administartive authority were changed for green and purple which are the colors of sovereignty and supreme command. Also, the eagle was introduced which is the consular emblem and the emblem of royal command


The Emperor Otto III in Ceremony

Reichenau, end 10th century. Presented by Henry II to Bamberg Cathedral.

München, Bay. Staatsbibliothek Ms. Clm 4453.fol.24r


995 ca. Otto IIIseated  on a lion’s throne between prelates and warriors. He is dressed in a purple tunica and a green mantle. On his head a crown of three leaves, in his right hand an eagle’s sceptre and in his left an orb with cross. The warriors, i.e. the marshal and the constable, with sword, lance and a green shield

The green of the shield means that Otto III is represented as a co-emperor (983) and regent (983-996). Judging after the portrait of Otto III the picture must have been made in the last years of his regency, for example in 995 when he was of the age of fourteen.


Imperial seal of Otto III


Obv.: Portrait of the crowned emperor. Legend: OTTO IMPERATOR AVGVSTVS. Date: 998. München  Bayrisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, KS 179 (Hochstift Passau)


The Emperor, here of the age of 17, wears a short curly beard. On his head is a cap crested with three pearls and surrounded by a diadem set with groups of three pearls a little bit resembling fleurs de lis.

As Otto III is always represented beardless we may suppose that the stamp of his father, who had a short (curly) beard, was used.


Chasuble of Saint Albuin (†1006) in Bressanone.

Supposed to have belonged to Bishop Ermanno (1140-‘64).

This silk is purple red with a black design of  eagles.

Museo Diocesano, Bressanone (Brixen) [5]


The cloth may have been used for a wall- or tent-hanging before being made into a chasuble. A contemporary piece of cloth also showing large eagles is the so-called cloth of St. Germanus today in Auxerre.


Otto III died on his return from Rome in 1002 at the age of hardly 22 in Paterno castle near Civita Castellana (Lazio, prov. Viterbo). Henry II awaited the funeral procession in Polling on the Ammer (Upper Bavaria) to lay hands on the insignia. The procession for that reason has passed the Brenner- and Fern mountain passes and the monastery of Brixen. For that reason it is probable that this piece of silk has belonged to Otto III and was left in Brixen for some reason (for payement?). The silk, in any case, is of the imperial color purple and the eagle is the famous consular badge of rank fitting Otto III.


Henry II


Duke of Bavaria 995-1004

 ∞ 999 Cunigunde *975-†1040

 King of Germany 1002-1024

crowned Würzburg 06.06.1002

King of Italy, crowned Pavia 1004

Duke of Bavaria 2nd time 1009-1017

Emperor 14.02.1014-1024


1007-1012 Coronation of the ducal couple and the homage by the submitted nations.


Book of Pericopes of Henry II (*973-†1024). Reichenau, 1007-’12. From the Treasury of Bamberg Cathedral. Bayer. Staatsbibliothek München, Cod lat. 4452, fol. 2 r.


Duke Henry IV of Bavaria, the later Henry II, and Duchess Kunigunde (married 995), supported by St Peter and Paul each receive a diadem from Otto III.


The central figure below with orb and sceptre, the one on her right with a crown of laurel and the one on her left  with a white sphere with a red cross. Likely the provinces of the Lombard monarchy are represented  viz. Italy, Sclavonia (i.e. Croatia) and Rome.

L.: tractando iustum discernite semper honestv utile conveniat consultum legis ut optat. (Do justice and always grip what is honourable. The useful may be found in what the law’s council wants)

Below: solvimus ecce tibi rex censum iure perenni clemens es totuis nos reddimus ista quot annis. Siehe, (King we bring you the tax according to everlasting law. Be merciful to yours, we bring it year after year)


So-called older crown of Kunigunde

München, Schatzkammer der Residenz..


Gift of Bishop Günther to Bamberg Cathedral 1063-’65. Formerly in the Treasury of Bamberg Cathedral. Since 1805 in the Treasury of Munich Residence. This crown resembles the crowns as represented on the coronation scene. The little holes in the rim probably for hanging prependoulia



Style and technique of the crown are very much similar to the Imperial Cross in the Weltliche Schatzkammer in Vienna (1024/’25). In that case the crown was made for Queen Cunigunde for her coronation on 10 August 1002. Later the reliquiary of the empress was crowned with it. 


6 June 1002


So it was without the support of the Kingdom's nobility that Henry took the radical action of having himself anointed and crowned King of Germany (“Rex Romanorum”) by Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz on 9 July 1002 at Mainz. Henry's action marked the first time a German king was not crowned in Aachen Cathedral since Emperor Otto I began the tradition in 936 and the first time a German king assumed the throne without election by the German nobility. Under the regal name of “King Henry II”, he appeared before the Saxons in mid-July in full regal apparel. There, Henry convinced Bernard I, Duke of Saxony to support his claims to the throne. In return for his support, Henry guaranteed Bernard's right to rule the Saxons and to represent their interests before him.


Emperor Henry II sitting enthroned

In the Sacramentary of Henry II today in the  Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München (Clm 4456, Fol. 11v)


At his coronation in Rome on 14 February 1014 the pope gave the insignia of authority to Henry II. These consisted of a ring, a sword, a crown and a sceptre.

On this leaf, almost copied from a leaf from the Codex Aureus von Sankt Emmeram representing Henry II, the emperor is sitting under a ciborium (permanent baldachin) dressed in a purple tunica and a red cloak, crowned with a crown of four (three) leaves. In his right hand he has a lily-sceptre and in his left and a orb, crested with a cross.

The ring, when present, is not visible.

The emperor is assisted by his constable and his marshal carrying his sword and his shield, the shield quarterly Purpure and Vert a cross and a bordure Or. These are the Imperial colours, the purple symbolizing the imperial dignity and the green the supreme command

The Holy Lance is missing on this representation and neither has the emperor red shoes Byzantine fashion.

Also, the hoop of the crown as on the miniature of 1002 is missing, the crown continuing the tradition of Otto III.

The inscriptions read:




(See, after parts of the earth are conquered, countless peoples execute the orders of the Lord and honour the summit of honour with many presents. Be glad, blessed king that such happens now, because to your power all justice is subordinated. Take this now, in the future you will receive the heavenly Crown.)


Royal seal of Henry II



14 May 1004

Henry II receives the Lombard royal crown out of the hands of the Archbishp of Milan Arnolfo II da Arsago (998-1018).


14 February 1014


Miniature from the Sacramentary of Henry II.,

today in the  Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München (Clm 4456, Fol. 11r)


On this page from the Regensburg Sacramentary Henry II is crowned by Christ. In his right hand he has the Holy Lance and in his left hand the Imperial Sword each presented to him by an angel.

On the lower part of his tunica are little shields quarterly Azure and Gules, a cross Or, surrounded by a bordure set with precious stones. These indicate Christian (the cross) administrative (the blue) and armed (the red) authority. In fact these are the royal colors and consequently the scene depicts the inauguration of Henry II as a king of Germany on 6 June 1002.

The Holy Lance was made a part of the regalia for the first and the last time on 25 July 1002 when it was presented by Duke Bernard of Saxony to Henry II after he had made some concessions to the Saxon nobility. In a way, this miniature must be a piece of propaganda as the Holy Lance was rendered  50 days after the event depicted.

Next to him are two prelates for which archbishop Heribert of Cologne (999-1021) and archbishop Erkanbald of Mayence (1011-1021) are qualifying. [6] The Sacramentary was donated by Henry II to Bamberg Cathedral.


The inscriptions read:


Around the mandorla:




(Gracious Christ, give your anointed one a long life

that he will not waste the time given to him by you)


The horizontal and vertical lines:








(See, by God is crowned and blessed

the pious, through his ancestry highly estimated King Henry

May Ulrich bless the heart and deeds of the King

May Emmeram make him happy with sweet consolation

An angel brings the lance and averts anxious sorrow from him

The other gives him the sword with which he spreads fear)


The State


As an emblem of state the crescent is remarkably absent in the Ottonian Empire. This suggests that in fact there was no state at all. Instead we encounter the combination of Christ crucified between a sun and a moon symbolizing the realm, the state and the (spiritual-) ruler of the Empire of Christ. 

A kind of state was the court of the Ottonian House of which the head had taken the title of Imperator Augustus together with the badge of rank of a consul. To its court belonged a Seneschal, a Marshal, a Chamberlain and a Cup-bearer. The symbol of the ruler supported by any kind of animal badges of military rank developed into the achievements symbolizing the state of later empires, kingdoms duchies and other realms. In this development the crescent symbolizing the (monolithic-) state, disappeared completely in Western Europe only to survive as a symbol of the Holy Virgin. It was maintained in the successor states of the Eastern Roman empire.

The court officials each had their own badge, the seneschal a shield, the marshal a sword, the cup-bearer a chalice and the chamberlain probably a mace.


Court offices at the high medieval royal court: At the German royal court four main court offices (Truchseß, Marshal, Mundschenk, chamberlain) were formed under the Ottones, which later developed into the four arch-offices of the empire. At the coronation of Otto I in the Aachen Palace (936)  for example, the four court offices were solemnly exercised by the four tribal dukes present. In the course of the 12th century the four arch court offices came into the hands of the powerful secular princes, which was confirmed in the Sachsenspiegel. In the Golden Bull of 1356 the four court offices of the empire are then in the hereditary possession of the four secular electors. In addition, at the German royal court in the daily court service there were also four main offices, which since the 11th century were mainly provided by ministerials. Amongst the Staufers we meet in the court offices several Reichsdienstmänner (Servants of the Empire) who occupied important positions in the royal administration of the empire.


Silk weaving with achievement of Otto III

57.2 ´ 101.2 cm. Würzburg, Mainfränkisches Museum, Inv. Nr. H 5604


The achievement, which is known as the ‘Alexander the Great elevated by Eagles cloth’ consists of Otto III himself, crowned and with two scepters in saltire supported by two eagles all in full color. The text on the right reads: ...M CVM PACIS PROMERE VERSICUL[IS] // MIRACVLA POLI LIBVIT PRO SPIR [...] (with a few verses I will tell // it pleased him the miracles of heaven) [7]

This achievement may have been an experiment but has Persian and Assyrian predecessors. It was serious enough, as it symbolizes the royal/consular government of Otto III.


Such achievements were very rare in the middle ages but the idea originates in Persian and Assyrian antiquity. An ancient european is known from a tomb now in the Municipal Museum of Bourges, showing a ruler supported by two lions. In Oslo and in the Hoard of Sutton Hoo there are also representations of  rulers supported instead by two lions. 


The Ranges of Authority


Administrative Authority


Administrative autority was symbolized as usual by a square cross. Square crosses can be found on 10th century coins but these are almost all locally minted which suggests that administrative authority was distributed amongst petty rulers.


Medallions and shield of Henry II

The shield of Henry II is quarterly Purpure and Vert, by a cross Or. It is circular and slightly vaulted and has a buckle in its centre. It has a bordure Or, set with precious stones. It is likely that with the golden fitting a cross is meant because in an older manuscript medallions are represented on the dress of Henry II on which there unmistakably are crosses.


Medallions quarterly with a cross were represented in the 8th century on the frontispiece of the Sacramentary of St Gelasius (Bibl. Apostolica Vaticana). On it medallions are visible which are quarterly Or and Vert a cross purpure, and vice versa and Or and Gules (and vv.). They are mounted on a latin cross very likely meant to be  a symbol of the Pope.


Shield of the Marshal of Henry II

München. Bay. Staatsbibliothek Clm 4456 fol 11 v°.


Medallion on the tunica of Henry II

München. Bay. Staatsbibliothek Clm 4456 fol 11 r°.


Religious Authority


In the Ottonian Empire like in the rest of Western Europe the symbol of religious authority was a latin cross. This was created in christian times when it was introduced by Constantine the Great. The latin crosses made in the Ottonian Era are a confirmation of this symbol of christian faith. They are of impressive manufacture of gold and set with precious stones after the examples in mosaics in Rome. They are a croncretisation of the symbol which was also known in a more graphic form


1000 ca. Cross of Lothair.

50´38.5´2.3 cm (Treasury Aachen Cathedral).


Gold, set with precious stones. In the middle a cameo of sardonyx with a portrait of Augustus with a crown of laurel and consular baton with eagle.


This cross is supposed to be a symbol of the idea of the “renovatio imperii Romanorum” but probably it represents the Imperial church as aspired to by the Ottonian emperors. This would explain the cameo representing  an emperor with eagle’s sceptre on the place of the crucified Christ. It also explains the latin cross hold in hand by Otto IIII on the mosaic in the apse of St. Ambrgio Cathedral in Milan, and by Henry II on his Imperial Portrait.

The combination symbolizes Imperial Religious authority. With the downfall of the idea in the time of Henry V this cross became obsolete and it was not imitated later.


Armed Authority


Armed authority was symbolized by the XP-cypher but this seems to have been abandoned by the Ottones. Instead the the Holy Lance, the sword and the more Roman symbol of the fleur de lys were introduced.

Å Ceremonial Sword and Sheath, about 1000

Essen, Hohe Domkirche, Domschatzkammer.




Probably it came to be a part of the treasury of the cathedral in the time of Abbess Mathilde (973-1011), a granddaughter of Otto the Great. According to tradition it was presented by Otto III.

The chased reliefs in the sheath show regular spirals of tendrils enclosing lions, birds and dragon-like beings.

The sword carried by the constable of Otto has a similar hilt but the sheath is still covered with green velvet. [8]



The constables of Otto III and of Henry II

each bearing a sword as a badge of office


In this time the christogram as a symbol of armed authority had disappeared in Germany even when it continued its existence in Spain.

In the north we see a development of the sword as a badge of office to a symbol of  supreme command which played a  role at the inauguration of the Emperor and King. Later, when historic swords from the royal or imperial treasury were used at inauguration ceremonies, such swords were labelled “The Sword of State” and came to symbolize the armed authority of rulers in general.


Holy Lance

Imperial seal

Reverse: The Emperor with helmet, spear with pennon and shield. Legend: RENOVATIO IMPERII ROMANORVM. Date: 998. Müchen, Bayrische Hauptsaatsarchiv, KS 179 (Hochstift Passau 23)


Henry the Fowler is represented on his seal with shield and spear. The spear goes back at least to Merovingian times when Childeric was armed with spear on his seal. His shield we may suppose to have been of the color red like the shields of his predecessors. His spear, which is a pastiche of metal parts dating from the 7th or 8th century, was probably preserved by his son Otto I and was described by Liudprand of Cremona in 961. He describes it as ....having on its pin  crosses of nails which were driven through the hands and feet of our Lord Jesus Christ...’

and such crosses are on the spearhead indeed. [9]  It was later made a part of the regalia, that is to say a part of the objects playing a role in the inauguration ceremonies of his successors, symbolizing the authority inherited from their father and ancestors.

The spear of Henry the Fowler is called the Holy Spear nowadays and is preserved in the Weltliche und Geistliche Schatzkammer in Vienna (Austria).


Some diffference of opinion about the insignia had arisen after the death of Otto III. Henry II had planned to lay hands on them when the funeral of Otto III returned from Rome. For that reason he for some time imprisoned the Bishop of Cologne who controlled the insignia. The Bishop refused to hand them over because he did not agree with the candidature of Henry II. Some items, among which the Holy Lance by the way had been sent in advance already. The coronation finally took place on 6 July 1002 in Würzburg but he was given the Holy Lance (by duke Bernhard I of Saxony) only after he had made some concessions to the Saxon nobiliy, on 25 July.

The Holy Lance  was a replacement for all the other insignia when King Henry was given the care for the Empire in 1015. This was the first and only time the Holy lance was used at the imperial coronation ceremonies.


The Shields of  Otto III.


Like his father and grandfather Otto III was represented on his seals in coat of arms with a shield in his left and a pennon in his right hand.

The shields in connection with Otto III are of two kinds: circular and all purple and circular and all green.


Shield of the Guard (?) of Otto

After: Aachen, Domschatzkammer n° 25

Shield of the Marshal of Otto

After: München, Bay. Staatsbibliothek Ms. Clm 4453


The shield of the marshal of Henry II combines the imperial colors:


Shield of the Marshal of Henry II

München. Bay. Staatsbibliothek Clm 4456 fol 11 v°.


After the fall of the Roman Empire the Roman Armies disappeared from the West. The use of the  christogram however was continued by its successor states and many examples are known from the Vandal, Frankish and Visigotic kingdoms.

The christogram remained the emblem of the amed forces as long as these remained one of the institutions of the empire and a part of the state. In Byzantium such armed forces were soon replaced by an armed force strictly loyal to the emperor after the model of a Praetorian Guard or personal armed force of the ruler. The emblem of such a guard had been a thunderbolt and this emblem developed into the so-called fleur de lis which was employed as well by the Byzantine imperial guard as well as by the armed forces of many West-European rulers. As a result the christogram disappeared completely as a symbol of armed authority after the 11th-12th century, and was replaced almost everywhere by a thunderbolt/fleur de lis. 



  Back to Main Page



© Hubert de Vries 2018-01-13


[1] Schulze-Dörrlamm, Mechthild: Die Kaiserkrone Konrads II (1024-1039).

[2]  Hefele, Gabriel & Rolf Lauer: Petrusstab. In: Otto de Grosse, Magdeburg und Europa. Bd. II. Katalog. Mainz, 2001 IV. 81 pp. 305-310

[3] Imperial Chronicle for Henry V Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Ms. 373, fol. 47r.

[4] Pothmann, Alfred: Der Essener Kirchenschatz aus der Frühzeit der Stiftsgeschichte. In: Herrschaft, Bildung und Gebet. Gründung und Anfänge des Frauenstifts Essen, hrsg. v. Günter Berghaus, Thomas Schilp u. Michael Schlagheck. Essen. 200, pp. 135-153.  (Otto Essays, p. 161)

[5] Falke, Kunstgeschichte 1913, vol 2, p. 17 figs 250, 251; Beckwith, John: Byzantine Tissues. In: Actes du XIVe Congrès international des études Byzantines (Bucarest, 6-12 septembre 1971)  ed. M. Berza and E. Stanescu vol. 1, pp. 343-53. Bucharest 1974. P. 351, fig 29.

[6] The common opinion, based on the inscriptions, is that they are the bishops St. Ulrich of Augsburg and St. Emmeram of Regensburg

[7] Shorta, Regula: Seidenstickerei mit Adlerflug Alexander des Großen. In: Otto der Grosse op. cit. Katalog, IV. 65. Pp.280-281

[8] Otto de Grosse, Magdeburg und Europa. Bd. II. Katalog. Mainz, 2001.Kat III.21

[9] Thus Helmut Trnek in: Weltliche und Geistliche Schatzkammer, Wien. Bildführer.1991. Pp.159-164:  155. Die Heilige Lanze.