When Emperor Otto I went looking for a wife for his son, he wanted it to be a political statement. As the first Emperor from German stock, he was looking for acknowledgement by the other half of the Roman Empire. A princess of the house of Byzantium it had to be and nothing less. Once that goal was achieved, the newcomers went out of their way to show how much they appreciated the gesture.
Emperor Otto I had been married first to Princess Edith of Wessex in 929 when his father was looking for the necessary Royal connection for the family after his own elevation to King of the Eastern Franks. After Edith’s early death, he married Queen Adelaide of Italy and thereby united their realms north and south of the Alps. In 962, they were crowned Emperor and Empress of Rome by the Pope starting off what would be known as the Holy Roman Empire to endure until 1806.
In 957, Otto’s and Edith’s son Liudolf died, making Otto’s and Adelaide’s son Otto the heir apparent to the throne. When little Otto was seven years old, he was crowned co-king to his father, and in 967 at the age of 12 he was crowned as co-emperor. Otto I and Adelaide unsurprisingly looked to the highest places to find a wife for a crowned emperor.
In Italy, they were direct neighbors to the Byzantine Empire which still held the South of Italy including Sicily. Border squabbles and frictions about spheres of influence there kept relationships frosty between the two realms. But Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas of Byzantium’s western army was no match for Otto. Nikephoros’ kinsman, murderer, and successor John I Tzimiskes therefore entered into negotiations with Otto. John refused point blank to marry off Princess Anna, the only princess porphyrogeneta (born under the purple, i.e. daughter of an emperor) outside of his realm. In a compromise, Otto finally accepted Princess Theophanu, a niece of John’s, as wife for his son. John on the other hand agreed to an immediate marriage for the 12 year old princess in lieu of waiting for her 16th birthday as was usual in Byzantium.
For the arrival of Theophanu in Rome in 972 a show of Byzantine splendor was put on by the hosts. In elaborate ceremonies, the princess was first married to Otto II and then crowned as Empress of Rome. As part of the festivities, Theophanu was issued with a document outlining her rights and the donations of lands as part of her dowry. The document is one of the most beautiful parchment documents that has come down to us from the Middle Ages. It was produced on purple parchment and written in gold ink, a process reserved for Imperial decrees of the highest order.
The document held at the State Archive of Wolfenbuttel in Germany is probably only a copy, though it might be Theophanu’s personal copy at that. The archive is the legal successor to the dissolved convent at Gandersheim where the Imperial family deposited their personal documents. The document lists the lands that passed to Theophanu by marriage and her rights as Empress and as a member of the Imperial Council. In fact, the 12 year old Theophanu was accorded the same amount of power as her mother-in-law Empress Adelaide. It has also to be noted that both Adelaide and Theophanu were crowned as Empresses regnant and not as consorts.