Theophanu (HRR)

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Otto II and his wife Theophanu, crowned and blessed by Christ; Ivory relief tablet, around 982/983, Milan (?), Today Musée de Cluny , Paris
Theophanu and Otto's marriage certificate
Statue of Theophanu in front of the market church in Eschwege
Figure of Theophanu on the town hall tower, Cologne

Theophanu ( Latin and Middle Greek Θεοφανώ Theophano or Θεοφάνια Theophania ; * approx. 960, according to some information, 955, in the Eastern Roman Empire ; † June 15, 991 in Nijmegen ) was the niece of the Eastern Roman Emperor John I Tzimiskes and was married to Emperor Otto II . Mitkaiserin of the Holy Roman Empire for eleven years and Empress for seven years. She was one of the most influential rulers of the Middle Ages and is one of the rulers of the empire between Otto II and Otto III.

The name comes from Byzantine Greek : Theophaneia ( Θεοφάνεια ) means " apparition of God" ( theophany ).

Live and act

There are no sources about the origin and the life of Theophanu before his marriage to Otto II. Neither the place of birth nor the date of the Theophanu's birth are therefore recorded in writing; In particular, contrary to the customs of the time , the marriage certificate does not contain any information about the parents of the bride, who is only referred to as the niece of the Eastern Roman emperor Johannes I. Tzimiskes (* 925; † 976; r. 969–976). She was probably the daughter of patrikios (general) Konstantin Skleros (* around 920, † after 989), who was a brother-in-law of Emperor Johannes Tzimiskes, since his sister Maria was his first wife. Theophanus mother, Sophia Phokaina , was the daughter of the general and Kuropalates Leon Phokas , the brother of Emperor Nikephoros II. The Emperor Johannes Tzimiskes himself came from the Armenian royal house of the Kurkuas (Armenian Gurgen).

Otto the Great had already sent two embassies to Constantinople in vain with the aim of winning a Byzantine princess as a wife for his son. Only after there was a palace revolt in Byzantium, through which John I Tzimiskes became emperor, there were renewed negotiations. The third delegation, led by the Archbishop of Cologne Gero indeed had success, but brought instead of the Ottos desired Anna (* 963, daughter of the late Emperor Romanos II. ) Theophanu to Italy, the great-niece of the deposed Emperor Nikephoros and brother-daughter of the reigning Emperor John Tzimiskes. There were voices who recommended that the bride be sent home because of the bride's non- purple descent - advice that Otto could hardly follow, given his relations with Byzantium.

Theophanu was married to Otto II on April 14, 972 in Rome and was crowned. The marriage produced five children: Sophia , the future abbess of Gandersheim and Essen , Adelheid , the future abbess of Quedlinburg , Mathilde , the future wife of Count Palatine Ezzo , the future emperor Otto III. as well as another child who apparently died early.

The Theophanu's marriage certificate shows that she was married to Pope John XIII in Rome . was crowned empress. Theophanu is often mentioned in Otto II's documents (about a quarter of all documents), which shows her preferred and influential interest in the affairs of the empire. In her day she was certainly the richest woman in the empire.

Reign of the Empresses (985-994)

After Otto II died unexpectedly on December 7th, 983 of a malaria disease that had probably been treated incorrectly , Willigis , the Archbishop of Mainz , called Theophanu and Adelheid , Otto II's mother, from Italy to Germany. At the Reichstag in Rara ( Rohr bei Meiningen) in 984, Heinrich von Bayern , also called Heinrich the Quarrel, handed over the ruling dynasty as the closest male relative, who therefore probably raised claims to guardianship and regency and Otto III. therefore kidnapped by his mother, the already crowned and anointed king, but underage three year old Otto III. to Theophanu.

After a long dispute over the crown, with Heinrich the quarrel, Theophanu was finally granted rule in Frankfurt am Main in May 985 , and the crown was hereditary in the empire. Theophanu was not related by blood to the emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII, who ruled Constantinople at the same time (corresponding assertions in the older literature are completely unfounded). Theophanu was the ruler of the East Frankish-German Empire until her death in 991, at the height of her power .

Together with her mother-in-law Adelheid, she consolidated imperial rule, particularly in Lorraine and Italy , but also on the Slavic eastern border (in 986, after several campaigns by the empress, the Slavic princes of Bohemia and Poland appeared in peace at the Quedlinburg court assembly ). Through her clever power politics she succeeded her son Otto III. secure the imperial throne.

Theophanu had official documents issued in the exercise of her governmental power, thereby breaking the political influence of the empresses of the Roman-German Empire of the 10th and 11th centuries. In the Ravennater deed of April 1, 990, she signed in the Byzantine tradition as emperor (not as empress, see: Empress Eirene and Empress Theodora , who both ruled in place of their sons), impressively as Theophanius gratia divina imperator augustus (“Theophanius, through divine grace of exalted emperors ”). The years in the document were counted after it, like a male emperor, beginning with the year 972.

Empress Theophanu died after a short illness on June 15, 991 in the Palatinate Nijmegen and was buried in the abbey church of St. Pantaleon on her widow's residence in Cologne . After Theophanus' death, her mother-in-law, Empress Adelheid, was able to reign for her grandson Otto III without difficulty. continue until the end of 994.

Art historical influence

In the period around 1000 in particular, art in the empire was based on Byzantine models of book illumination and goldsmithing ; Theophanu brought a retinue of artists, architects and craftsmen with him from Constantinople , through whom u. a. the influence of the Byzantine arts spread throughout the empire. Furthermore, the spread of the St. Nicholas tradition can be traced back to Theophanu.

St. Pantaleon's grave in Cologne

Sarcophagus of Empress Theophanu, St. Pantaleon , Cologne

Theophanu was buried at his own request in the westwork of St. Pantaleon in Cologne (her patron saint was St. Pantaleon ). Their final resting place she found (after several reburials) in the by Sepp Hürten redesigned sarcophagus made of white Naxos - marble , was embedded in the December 28, 1962, a lead container, with the few remains of the Empress.

On the front of the sarcophagus, based on the ivory relief from the 10th century shown above, a Christ crowning and blessing the ruling couple can be seen, as well as Hagia Sophia (Constantinople) and Saint Pantaleon (Cologne), as symbols of the united church Otto II and Theophanus times and today's desire for unity. The sarcophagus is surrounded by the following writing: Domina Theophanu, Imperatrix, uxor et mater Imperatoris, quae basilicam sancti Pantaleonis summo honore coluit et rebus propriis munificenter cumulavit, hic sepulcrum sibi constitui iussit ("The mistress Theophanu, empress, wife and mother of an emperor, which showed special favor to this church of St. Pantaleon and gave it generously from her property, was buried at this point ”).

Every year since 1989, on June 15, the anniversary of Theophanus' death, a Eucharistic celebration for the unity of Christians in East and West has been held on the sarcophagus of the Empress . It was not until 1965 that the mutual excommunications by Pope Paul VI. (Rome) and the Patriarch Athinagoras (Constantinople) repealed.


  • Thietmar von Merseburg, chronicle . Retransmitted and explained by Werner Trillmich . With an addendum by Steffen Patzold . (= Freiherr vom Stein memorial edition. Vol. 9). 9th, bibliographically updated edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2011, ISBN 978-3-534-24669-4 .


  • Karl UhlirzTheophanu . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 37, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1894, pp. 717-722.
  • Adelbert Davids (Ed.): The Empress Theophanu. Byzantium and the West at the turn of the first millennium. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1995 ISBN 0-521-52467-9 .
  • Ekkehard Eickhoff : Theophanu and the King. Otto III. and his world. Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-608-91798-5 .
  • Odilo Engels , Peter Schreiner (Ed.): The encounter of the West with the East. Congress files of the 4th symposium of the Medievalist Association in Cologne in 1991 on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the death of Empress Theophanu. Sigmaringen 1993.
  • Heike Hawicks: Theophanu. In: Amalie Fößel (Ed.): The Empresses of the Middle Ages. Pustet, Regensburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-7917-2360-0 , pp. 60-77.
  • Anton von Euw, Peter Schreiner (Ed.): Empress Theophanu. Meeting of the East and West at the turn of the first millennium. Commemorative publication for the 1000th year of death of the Empress. Schnütgen Museum, Cologne 1991 (2 volumes) ISBN 978-2-263-02698-0 .
  • Anton von Euw , Peter Schreiner (ed.): Art in the age of the Empress Theophanu. Locher, 1993, ISBN 978-3-9801801-4-6 .
  • Hans K. Schulze , The marriage certificate of Empress Theophanu, Hanover 2007 ISBN 978-3-7752-6124-1
  • Gunther Wolf (Ed.): Empress Theophanu. Princess from abroad - the great empress of the western empire. Böhlau, Cologne 1991, ISBN 3-412-05491-7 .

Web links

Commons : Theophanu  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. See Gunther Wolf: Again on the question: Who was Theophano? In: ders., Empress Theophanu. Princess from abroad - the great empress of the western empire , Cologne 1991, p. 67. Hans K. Schulze, The marriage certificate of Empress Theophanu. The Greek Empress and the Roman-German Empire 972–991 , Hannover 2007, p. 42.
  2. Heike Hawicks: Theophanu. In: Amalie Fößel (Ed.): The Empresses of the Middle Ages. Regensburg 2011, pp. 60–77, here p. 60.
  3. Cf. HK Ter Sahakean: The Armenian Emperors of Byzantium , Venice 1905 (in Armenian). See the review by A. Merk SJ, in: Byzantinische Zeitschrift , Volume 19, Leipzig 1910, pp. 547-550; Franz Tinnefeld : Byzantine foreign marriage policy from the 9th to the 12th century. Continuity and change in principles and practical goals. In: Byzantinoslavica. Revue Internationale des Etudes Byzantines. Prague 1993, pp. 21-28. Walter Deeters: On the marriage certificate of the Empress Theophanu . In: Braunschweigisches Jahrbuch. 54, 1973, pp. 9-23 ( online ).
  4. See Helmut Fußbroich: Theophanu. The Greek woman on the German imperial throne. Cologne 1991, p. 41.
  5. Heike Hawicks: Theophanu. In: Amalie Fößel (Ed.): The Empresses of the Middle Ages. Regensburg 2011, pp. 60–77, here p. 62.
  6. Heike Hawicks: Theophanu. In: Amalie Fößel (Ed.): The Empresses of the Middle Ages. Regensburg 2011, pp. 60–77, here p. 68.
predecessor Office Successor
Adelheid of Burgundy Roman-German queen
985 to 991
Adelheid of Burgundy (guardian)
Kunigunde of Luxembourg