Pope John XII (Spoleto) di Spoleto

Octavianus (Spoleto) di Spoleto (abt. 0937 - 0964)

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Octavianus (Pope John XII) di Spoleto formerly Spoleto
Born about in Romemap [uncertain]
Ancestors ancestors
Died in Romemap [uncertain]
Profile last modified | Created 22 Oct 2018 | Last significant change: 12 Nov 2018
02:10: Traci Thiessen edited the Birth Place, Death Place and Status Indicators for Octavianus (Spoleto) di Spoleto (abt.0937-0964). (added Rome (uncertain) as birthplace to fix db errors 559 & 561) [Thank Traci for this]
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Categories: Notables | Popes.


Preceded by
Agapetus II
Pope of the Roman Catholic Church
16 Dec 955 – 14 May 964
Succeeded by
Benedict V

POPE JOHN XII was born about 937, his given name being Octavianus (aka Octavian). He was the son of Alberic II, Prince and ruler of Rome, and descendant of Theophylact I, progenitor of the Counts of Tusculum who, at the time, held great power in Roman and papal politics. It is said that the mother of Octavianus was Alda of Vienne, Alberic II's step-sister and the daughter of Hugh of Italy. However, some sources assert that Octavianus was illegitimate;[1] specifically, the writings of Benedict of Soracte propose that the mother of Octavianus was a concubine.[2][3]


In 954, Octavianus held the position of Cardinal Deacon at the Minor Basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica, according to the Sigeric catalog.[3] Upon the death of Alberic II that same year, Octavianus, aged about 18 years, became Prince of the Romans.[4][5] Before Alberic II died, he assured his son's total control of Rome at a meeting with Roman nobility and clergy at the Basilica of St. Peter, where they swore an oath to elect Octavianus as the next pope.[4] As expected, when Pope Agapetus II died, Octavianus was elected to head the Catholic Church. He took the papal chair on on 16 Dec 955, taking the name John XII.[1][3][6]


John XII was the third pope (after John II and John III) to use a papal name that was different than his personal name. However, he continued to conduct secular business using the name Octavianus.[3][7] Writings from the period suggest that he favored his secular role as the Prince of Rome over his spiritual role as the head of the Roman church.[6]

Early in his papacy, John marched an army of Romans, Spoletans and Tuscans toward an attack on the Lombard duchies of Beneventum and Capua, perhaps to reclaim land previously lost to the papal state.[6] John stopped the march and retreated after learning that his foes had enlisted the help of Gisulf, Prince of Salerno, who was a feared warrior and general. At Terracina, John entered into a treaty with Gisulf[5] which created a strong alliance between the two territories in exchange for the Papal States abandoning its claim on Salerno.[3] At about the same time, John lost his family's control over the Roman nobles and, in 960, Berengar II, King of Italy, along with his son Adalbert, invaded the Papal States.[6] John requested help from Otto I, King of Germany, and Otto marched his armies toward Rome. Knowing they could not defeat the German king, Berengar retreated before Otto entered Italy in 961. On 31 Jan 962, Otto arrived in Rome, where he swore an oath to John:[5]

To thee, the Lord Pope John, I, King Otto, promise and swear, by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, by the wood of the life-giving cross, and by these relics of the saints, that, if by the will of God I come to Rome, I will exalt to the best of my ability the Holy Roman Church and you its ruler; and never with my will or at my instigation shall you lose life or limb or the honour which you possess. And without your consent never, within the city of Rome, will I hold a placitum [plea] or make any regulation which affects you or the Romans. Whatever territory of St. Peter comes within my grasp, I will give up to you. And to whomsoever I shall entrust the kingdom of Italy, I will make him swear to help you as far as he can to defend the lands of St. Peter.[3]

On 2 Feb 962, Otto was crowned Emperor of the Romans by John XII,[6] uniting the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy into a realm that started (or perhaps revived) what would come to known as the Holy Roman Empire, which ruled Europe for centuries.[3] That same day, the pope and the Roman nobility swore an oath to be faithful to Otto and not provide aid to Berengar or Adalbert.[3] On 12 Feb 962, Otto I and Pope John XII called a synod (meeting of the church council) in Rome which resulted in the following: established the Archbishopric of Magdeburg and the Bishopric of Merseburg; delegated jurisdiction to the Archbishop of Salzburg and Archbishop of Trier; confirmed the Bishop of Verona;[6] and resolved to excommunicate Hugh of Vermandois as Archbishop of Reims.[3] The next day, Otto and John ratified the Diploma Ottinianum, which confirmed the Pope's control of the Papal States and possessions and also established that future popes would be elected by the clergy and people of Rome. The document also required that any new pope must issue an oath of allegiance to the emperor before his confirmation.[6]

On 14 Feb 962, Otto I left Rome to resume the war against Berengar II and Adalbert.[6] By the time Otto had successfully conquered the Italian King in 963, John realized he had made a mistake in crowning Otto emperor, and he took steps to bring about the end of Otto's reign. John started secret negotiations with Adalbert,[5] and also sent representatives to Hungary and Constantinople to form an alliance with him and Adalbert against Otto. Otto intercepted the representatives and, having learned of John's plot with Adalbert, returned to Rome, arriving in the summer of 963. John made an effort to hold off Otto's forces but quickly realized he was outnumbered so, on 1 Oct [or Nov] 963, John fled from Rome to Tivoli (aka Tibur),[1][6] taking Adalbert and the papal treasury with him.[3]

DEPOSITION in 963-964

At the Synod of Rome in Nov 963, a large assembly was held at Saint Peter's to discuss the many charges to be leveled against John. Rumors and innuendo about John XII's character were used by his political enemies as ammunition in the effort to depose John as pope. On 6 Nov 963, the assembly sent a letter to John, listing the accusations against him and asking him to return to Rome to clear his name.[3] This letter, the writ of citations, was written by Liutprand of Cremona, and read:

To the supreme the Pope. Pontifex and Universal Pope, to the Lord John, Otto by the Grace of God Imperator Augustus, together with the Archbishops and Bishops of Liguria, Tuscany, Saxony and of France, greetings in the Lord. — Having come to Rome in the service of the Lord, we have questioned the Roman bishops, cardinals and deacons, moreover the people in general, as to the cause of your absence and the reasons why you will not meet us, the Defender of yourself and your Church. Charges so disgraceful are laid to your account, that were they reported of even a comedian would make us blush for shame. Since a day would not suffice to enumerate all the accusations levied against you, we shall only bring one instance before the notice of your Excellency. Learn, therefore, that you have been accused, not by a few persons only but by the world at large, by laity as well as clergy, of murder and perjury, of sacrilege, of incest with members of your own family, with your sisters themselves. Your accusers further assert that which we are unwilling to believe, that you drank a toast to the Devil, and playing at dice invoked Zeus, Venus and other demons. We therefore implore your Fatherhood to come to Rome to purge yourself from these accusations. Do you fear the excesses of the people ? We promise that nothing shall be done contrary to the Canon. — Given on the 6th November.[5]

John refused to recognize the authority of the synod and responded to their writ with a threat to excommunicate the entire group if they elected another pope in his absence.[3][6] The synod responded to John on 22 Nov 963, declaring that if John did not come to Rome and answer the charges against him, that he himself would be excommunicated. This second letter, however, was not delivered to the pope, as John could not be found at his sanctuary in Tivoli. Some say that he was hiding nearby, "lurking in the woods like a beast"[3] and others say he had gone hunting.[7]

With the emperor's approval, on 4 Dec 963, the synod held their last meeting, deposing John and crowning Leo VIII,[5] a former papal notary[1] and untrained lay person, as the new pope. Otto was aware but indifferent to the fact that the Roman people found Leo VIII to be unsuitable as pope. In Jan 964, Roman supporters of John revolted against Otto and Leo, but Otto's soldiers ended the uprising quickly. With his empire in Rome established and a new pope in place, on about 12 Jan 964, Otto I left Rome to pursue Adalbert.[3] As soon as Otto left Rome, John's supporters again rose up, but this time the Romans overthrew the imperial forces and Leo VIII was forced to flee the city. John XII was returned to the papal throne.[5] The proceedings surrounding Leo's appointment did not conform with the canons of the church and his papacy was, and remains, invalid.[6] In church history, during his month-long reign, Leo VIII was considered an Antipope.

On 26 Feb 964, John XII held a synod to repeal the decrees of the 4 Dec synod. Leo was excommunicated along with all who elected him, and John XII was restored to the papal chair. Having learned of John's restoration, Otto I prepared to march his troops back to Rome to suppress the insurgency, but fate intervened and John XII died suddenly on 14 May 964.[5][6] Benedict V was elected as successor to John XII on 22 May 964, however his papacy was brief, ending 23 Jun 964, when Otto returned to Rome and forced the Romans to accept his appointed pope, Leo VIII.[1]


There are different accounts of how John met his demise, one being that he was "stricken by paralysis during the act of adultery", another is that he died at the hands of the woman's jealous husband, who caught John in bed with his wife.[3][6] Yet another account states that a man caught John with his wife and "strangled John and tossed him out the window."[3][8] With John XII's death came the end of the Saeculum obscurum, the Dark Ages of the papacy, a period of 60 years of immoral behavior and corruption in which the papacy was heavily influenced by the family of Theophylact I.

Pope John XII was buried in a tomb at Saint John Lateran, but his remains were moved centuries later, in 1308 or 1361, after a fire destroyed the tomb. His remains were placed in a polyandrum (community tomb) at Saint Peters Basilica, "near the lesser door of the basilica," close to the tomb of Innocent III.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Flodoardi Chronicon", by Flodoard (of Reims), 1855, p.111. English translation in The Annals of Flodoard of Reims, 919-966, ed. B.S. Bachrach and S.Fanningion, 2004. View online at GoogleBooks, (search only), #189, 190, 227, 229, 231.
  2. Robertson, James C., History of the Christian Church, London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1868. Access online at GoogleBooks. Vol. II, p.431, citing Patrol cxxxix, 41.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 Mann, Horace K., The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., Ltd., 1902. Accessed online at Archive.org, pp.241-264.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Williams, George L., Papal Genealogy: The Families and Descendants of the Popes, McFarland, 2004. Access (search only) online at GoogleBooks, pp.11-15.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Gregorovius, Ferdinand. The History of Rome in the Middle Ages, Vol. III. London: George Bell & Sons, 1895. Accessed online at GoogleBooks, p.328-333, 337-352.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Pope John XII." in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Co., 1910. Accessed online at NewAdvent.org.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997. Access online at Archive.org. Vol. IV, p.287-289.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Reardon, Wendy J. The Deaths of the Popes: Comprehensive Accounts, Including Funerals, Burial Places and Epitaphs. London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2004. Accessed online (search only) at GoogleBooks, p.72, 264: Son of Alberic; murdered; burial places.

See Also:

  • Wikipedia profile of Pope John XII.
  • Wikipedia List of Popes.
  • The Holy See, the website of the Vatican.
  • Cawley, Charles and FMG, Medieval Lands, A Prosopography of Medieval European Noble and Royal Families. Database online. 2006-2018.

See WikiTree's POPE PROJECT for information on other Popes.

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