Visual History of the World




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Visual History of the World
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



The Holy Roman Empire in the High and Late Middle Ages



The German High Middle Ages were marked by three successive  imperial dynasties—the Saxon, the Salian, and the Hohenstaufen—that struggled for unity of the empire and the central authority of the ruler. While the Saxons leaned on the clergy, the Salians and the Ho-henstaufens saw the enhanced status of the Church merely as further competition, added to that of the princes, for supremacy in the empire. Attempts to introduce a hereditary monarchy failed. In the Late Middle Ages, the particularism of the princes triumphed over the concept of a centralized state.


The Beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire under the Saxons

The 1 Holy Roman Empire developed out of the East Frankish empire.
The duke of Saxony, Henry I, was chosen as king and consolidated the empire.

The crown of the Holy Roman Empire made of gold,
silver and gemstones,
tenth-eleventh century


The Carolingians, descendants of the Frankish king Charles the Great and his son Louis, had quickly dismantled tribal duchies such as those of the Saxons, the Swabians, the Alemanni, the Thuringians and the Bavarians in the cast of their empire. However, they were reintroduced for the administration of the vast realm. Facing threats from the Magyars, Slavs, and Normans, the dukes appointed by the king were granted military authority, and with the decline in royal authority, they became increasingly autonomous. With the end of the East Frankish Carolingians in 911, at a great assembly the German princes chose Duke Conrad of Franconia as king.
He was followed in 919 by 4 Henry I of Saxony, known popularly as "Henry the Fowler." This procedure instituted the concept of a monarchy that was elective rather than hereditary.

4 Quedlinburg in Saxony-Anhalt, view of the castle,
home of the Saxons under Henry I,
later a convent founded by St. Matilda and Henry's son Otto

Henry immediately signed a 2 treaty with the West Frankish—that is, French—king, Charles III (the Simple), confirming the independence of the East Frankish or Holy Roman empire.

Henry brought the West Frankish Lorraine under his control in 925.

In the Battle of Riade in Thuringia in 933, he was able to fend off the 3 Magyars, who attacked the kingdom in plundering raids.

2 Henry I and Charles the Simple meet before signing the treaty in 921

3 Henry I's victory over the Magyars,
wood engraving, 19th century

Henry's successors were remarkable for their energy. After Henry's death in 936, his son Otto I became the first German king to be crowned in Aachen, or Aix-la-Chapelle, thereby establishing a link to the tradition of Charlemagne.

5 Otto's seal on the document establishing the bishopric of Brandenburg, 948

As a counterbalance to the nobility, Otto relied heavily on the 5 Church for support.

He increased the Church's possessions as well as the legal authority of its dignitaries. In return, the Church was obligated to provide the ruler with to financial and military support. The celibacy of the clergy prohibited hereditary transmission of offices and fiefs, so after the death of each incumbent, these reverted to the crown. In order for this policy to work, investiture—that is, the filling of ecclesiastical offices—had to be an entitlement of the ruler, not the pope. This led to long-term disputes that resulted in the investiture controversy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.



The Ottonian Renaissance and the End of the Saxons

Otto I (the Great) prevailed in Italy and against the Slavs and was able to maintain his power. His successor, on the other hand, did not have time to consolidate his empire.


11 Otto I's victory over the Magyars in the Battle of Lechfeld, book illustration, 15th century

In order to control the fractious duchies, Otto I gave Bavaria to his brother Henry and Swabia, which had emerged out of the former Alemannia, to his eldest son Liudolf. Even they repeatedly challenged the authority of the king as did the other dukes.
Otto the Great was more successful in foreign affairs. In 950, he subjugated the Bohemians. He secured the border territories by erecting new marches and bishoprics for converting the Slavs. A plea for help from the widow of the king of Italy, Adelaide of Lombardy, took Otto across the Alps for the first time in 951. He married Adelaide and became king of Italy.

In further campaigns, Otto was once again able to repulse the Magyars in 955 at 11 Lechfeld near Augsburg, defeated the Lombard princes, and prevailed against the Byzantines.

In 962, he was crowned Holy Roman emperor by the pope. From this event dates the tradition by which the king crowned at Aachen was entitled to be crowned Holy Roman emperor at Rome. As a means of reconciliation with Byzantium, Otto's son. Otto II, married Theophano, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor.

Otto II reigned for only ten years, from 973 to 983.
Within the empire, he had to subdue his cousin Henry II (the Quarrelsome) of Bavaria. Otto's position in Italy was weakened in 982 by a defeat in Calabria at the hands of the Arabs, and the great Slavic uprising of 983 meant the loss of territories beyond the Elbe River.


Following the death of Otto II, Theophano and her mother-in-law Adelaide defended the reign of young 9 Otto III against Henry the Quarrelsome.

Otto later promoted the spread of Eastern missionary work through the founding of archbishoprics in Gniezno in Poland and Gran in Hungary.

In Italy, he succeeded in having his cousin Bruno elected as 7 Pope Gregory V—the first German pope—in 996.

9 Otto III between two clerical and two secular
gentlemen, book illustration, late tenth century

7 Pope Gregory V,
copper engraving, 16th century

Roman 10 patricians did not like the idea of a 6 German empire being ruled from Rome, however, and drove Otto out of the city in 1001.

The son of Henry the Quarrelsome, from the Bavarian line of Saxons, took the throne as Emperor 8 Henry II in 1002, but he died without issue, and the dynasty died with him.

10 Otto III punishes the leader of a rebellion in 998 by gouging out his eyes and chopping off his hands, copper engraving, 17th century

6 The four parts of the Empire; Sclavinia (Eastern Europe), Germania (Germany), Gallia (France), and Roma (Italy) pay tribute, book illustration, tenth ñ

8 Henry ll's tombstone, sculptures
by Tilman Riemenschneider, 1513




After the death of Otto II, Theophano, the Byzantine princess, took over the regency for the underage Otto III until her own death in 991.

During this period, Byzantine culture gained greatly in influence, as she brought many artists with her from her homeland, along with the worship of Saint Nicholas.

Her daughters, Adelaide and Sophia, became abbesses in Quedlinburg, Gandersheim, and Essen. These centers of medieval culture in Saxony remained autonomous principalities ruled over by the abbesses until 1803.

Otto II, Theophano, and her son Otto III kneel before Christ, ivory carving in Byzantine style, ca. 983-84





(10th century)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theophano was a Byzantine empress. She was the wife of Romanus II; wife and murderer of Nicephorus Phocas; lover of John I Tzimisces ; the mother of Basil II , Constantine VIII and the princess Anna Porphyrogenita, who later married the Russian prince Vladimir.

Becoming Empress

This beautiful but considerably amoral woman played an important role in Byzantine history. An innkeeper's daughter by the name of Anastaso, the emperor Romanus II fell in love with her around the year 956 and married her. Romanus' father Constantine VII Porphyrogentius avoided the mistake of preventing his son to marry the girl of his choice--as had several of his precedessors, culminating in their downfalls--by blandly pretending that Anastaso was of noble birth. After their marriage, she was given the name of Romanus' grandfather's first saintly wife Theophano (whom she resembled not at all).

Partnership with Nicephorus Phocas

On March 15, 963, Emperor Romanus II unexpectedly died at the age of twenty-six. His sons Basil II and Constantine VIII were heirs and Theophano was named regent. However she realized that to secure power she needed to align her interest with the strongest general at the time, Nicephorus Phocas. As the army had already proclaimed him as an Emperor in Caesarea, Nicephorus entered Constantinople on August 15, broke the resistance of Joseph Bringas ( a eunuch palace official who had become Romanus' chief council) in bloody street fights, and on 16 August he was crowned in Hagia Sophia. After that he married Theophano, thereby legitimizing his reign by marring into the Macedonian dynasty.

The marriage proved controversial as Nicephorus had been god-father to one or more of Theophano's children, which placed them within a prohibited spiritual relationship. Nicephorus (who no doubt sincerely loved his beautiful wife) organised a council at which it was denied that he had ever been god-father to his wife's children.


However, not too long after, she became lover to a young and brilliant general, John Tzimisces. They soon began to conspire against Nicephorus . She prepared the assassination and John and his friends implemented it on the night between 10 and 11 December 969. The emperor was now John I Tzimisces (969-976)


However, Theophano badly miscalculated in the hope of becoming the wife of the new ruler. Slain Nicephorus found his avenger in the Patriarch Polyeuctus, who was determined to punish the crime. He demanded John to repent, to punish the murderers (his helpers and friends), and to remove Theophano from the court. John was forced to submit to Patriarch’s requests. Only then was he allowed to enter the church and be crowned emperor.

Theophano was first sent into exile to the island of Prinkipo, sometimes known as Prote. However, shortly afterwards, she made a reappearance in the capital, seeking asylum in the Hagia Sophia, where, however, she was forcibly removed on the orders of the Chamberlain Basil, who condemned her to exile in distant Armenia. Before this, he granted her request of an audience with the Emperor John, who surprisingly agreed to attend. Once there however, he was subjected to the former empress, who then physically attacked the chamberlain, landing several telling blows.

It is possible that after the succession of her sons to the throne that she was able to return to Constantinople.



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