Otto Orseolo

Pietro II & Otto Orseolo

Otto Orseolo (Italian: Ottone Orseolo, also Urseolo; c. 992-1032) was the Doge of Venice from 1008 to 1026. He was the third son of Pietro II Orseolo and Maria Candiano, whom he succeeded at the age of sixteen, becoming the youngest doge in Venetian history.[1]

Early life

When the Emperor Otto III sojourned in Verona and granted many privileges to Venice in the March of Verona, he requested Pietro to send his third son to Verona, where the Emperor acted as his sponsor at his confirmation.[2] In the Emperor's honour, he was given the name Otto. In 1004, Pietro Otto, in the company of his eldest son and co-doge Giovanni, traveled to Constantinople, where Giovanni married the niece of Basil II, Maria Argyra, and Otto received several honorific titles.[3]

After Giovanni's sudden death (1006), Pietro raised Otto to the dogeship with him. He then made a testament, giving the majority of his wealth to the poor and the Church, and retired to a monastery, leaving Otto the government. When Pietro finally died in 1008, he left Otto sole doge at the meager age of sixteen.[4] Soon after the death of his father, in 1009, Otto married a daughter of the newly Christian and newly crowned Géza of Hungary and Adelaide. She was called Grimelda or Gizella (989-992 - d. 1026).[5] Because the Chronicon Venetum of John the Deacon ends in Otto's reign, it is necessary to rely on later chronicles.[4] According to the chronicler (and doge) Andrea Dandolo, writing from a vantage point three centuries ahead, Otto was:

Catholic in faith, calm in purity, strong in justice, eminent in religion, decorous in his manner of life, well-endowed with wealth and possessions, and so filled with all forms of virtue that he was universally considered to be the most fitting successor of his father and grandfather.[4]

Reign and deposition (1008–26)

Scandal marked much of Otto's reign, as he showed a clear inclination toward nepotism with the elevation of several relatives to positions of power. In 1017, Vitale Candiano, the Patriarch of Grado, died and Otto appointed his elder brother (Pietro's second son), Orso, already Bishop of Torcello, to the vacant patriarchate.[6] Otto then filled the vacant Torcello with his younger brother Vitale. These actions lost him the support of the people, though they did not yet clamour for his removal from office. The denunciations of Poppo of Treffen, the Patriarch of Aquileia, incited the Venetians to expel Otto and the patriarch of Grado from Venice, whence they took refuge in Istria from 1022 to 1023. But in that latter year, Poppo sacked the patriarchal palace and church in Grado and the Venetians recalled Otto and Orso.[6]

In 1024, Pope John XIX confirmed Orso's right to hold Grado and confirmed the patriarchal rights of his see vis-à-vis Aquileia. However, Otto continued to use church appointments to his own personal and familial advantage and the enemies of the Orseoli in Venice, with popular support, moved to depose him in 1026. They arrested him, shaved his beard, and banished him to Constantinople.[7] There he was well received by Constantine VIII, the uncle of his sister-in-law, who repealed trade privileges previously granted to the Republic under Pietro II. Not for nothing had Otto built up a good rapport with the emperors of Europe: the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II likewise revoked Venetian trade privileges in response to his deposition. His father-in-law Stephen I of Croatia, at the instigation of Otto's son Pietro, attacked the coastal cities of Dalmatia, capturing several from Venice.[7]

Death in exile (1032)

Meanwhile, the Venetians had grown sick of Otto's successor, Pietro Barbolano, and they deposed him in turn (1032). Vitale of Torcello went to Constantinople to seek out his brother to reassume the ducal throne, while Orso of Grado took the government in his own hands in the interim.[7] Vitale arrived in the Byzantine capital to find Otto on the verge of death and he died before he could return to Venice. Orso resigned the temporal power as soon as news reached Venice, while a relative, Domenico,[8] tried to usurp the throne. He failed and the Venetians turned to one Domenico Flabanico to be their doge.

Otto's son Pietro later succeeded Stephen as King of Hungary. Otto had two daughters, Frozza Orseolo and Felicia Orseolo, who married Nicolo Bembo. Their daughter Elena Bembo married Zuane Michiel, son of Vitale Michiel and Felicia Elena Cornaro, and their son was Domenico Michiel.


  1. Hazlitt, 115–133.
  2. Norwich, 50–51.
  3. Norwich, 59–61.
  4. 1 2 3 Norwich, 61.
  5. Staley, 315.
  6. 1 2 Norwich, 62.
  7. 1 2 3 Norwich, 63.
  8. Norwich, 63, calls him "an obscure offshoot of the family," while McClellan, 39–43, makes him a younger brother of Otto.


  • Hazlitt, W. Carew. (1915). The Venetian Republic: Its Rise, its Growth, and its Fall. A.D. 409–1797. London: Adam and Charles Black. LOC DG676 .H43
  • McClellan, George B. (1904). The Oligarchy of Venice. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company. LOC DG677 .M13
  • Norwich, John Julius. (1982). A History of Venice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Staley, Edgcumbe. (1910). The Dogaressas of Venice (The Wives of the Doges). London: T. W. Laurie.
  • Cawley, Charles, VENICE, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy ,
Political offices
Preceded by
Pietro II Orseolo
Doge of Venice
Succeeded by
Pietro Barbolano
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