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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Took Crescentius prisoner and beheaded him


[Sidenote:

996. OTTO III.'S CORONATION IN ROME.]

When Otto III. was sixteen years old, in 996, he took the Imperial government in his own hands. His education had been more Greek than German; he was ashamed of his Saxon blood, and named himself, in his edicts, "a Greek by birth and a Roman by right of rule." He was a strange, unsteady, fantastic character, whose only leading idea was to surround himself with the absurd ceremonies of the Byzantine Court, and to make Rome the capital of his Empire. His reign was a farce, compared with that of his grandfather, the great Otto, and yet it was the natural consequence of the latter's perverted ambition.

Otto III.'s first act was to march to Rome, in order to be crowned as Emperor by the Pope, John XV., in exchange for assisting him against Crescentius, a Roman noble who had usurped the civil government. But the Pope died before his arrival, and Otto thereupon appointed his own cousin, Bruno, a young man of twenty-four, who took the Papal chair as Gregory V. The new-made Pope, of course, crowned him as Roman Emperor, a few days afterward. The people, in those days, were accustomed to submit to any authority, spiritual or political, which was strong enough to support its own claims, but this bargain was a little too plain and barefaced; and Otto had hardly returned to Germany, before the Roman, Crescentius, drove away Gregory V. and set up a new Pope, of his own appointment.

style="text-align: justify;">The Wends, in Prussia, were giving trouble, and the Scandinavians and Danes ravaged all the northern coast of Germany; but the boy emperor, without giving a thought to his immediate duty, hastened back to Italy in 997, took Crescentius prisoner and beheaded him, barbarously mutilated the rival Pope, and reinstated Gregory V. When the latter died, in 999, Otto made his own teacher, Gerbert of Rheims, Pope, under the name of Sylvester II. In spite of the reverence of the common people for the Papal office, they always believed Pope Sylvester to be a magician, and in league with the Devil. He was the most learned man of his day, and in his knowledge of natural science was far in advance of his time; but such accomplishments were then very rare in Italy, and unheard of in a Pope. Otto III. remained three years longer in Italy, dividing his time between pompous festivals and visits to religious anchorites.

In the year 1000 he was recalled to Germany. His father's sister, Mathilde, who had governed the country as well as she was able, during his absence, was dead, and there were difficulties, not of a political nature (for to such he paid no attention), but in the organization of the Church, which he was anxious to settle. The Poles were converted to Christianity by this time, and their spiritual head was the Archbishop of Magdeburg; but now they demanded a separate and national diocese. This Otto granted to their Duke, or king, Boleslaw, with such other independent rights, that the authority of the German Empire soon ceased to be acknowledged by the Poles. He made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Adalbert of Prague, who was slain by the Prussian pagans, then visited Aix-la-Chapelle, where, following a half-delirious fancy, he descended into the vault where lay the body of Charlemagne, in the hope of hearing a voice, or receiving a sign, which might direct him how to restore the Roman Empire.


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