Volume III C. 900-c. I024

TIMOTHY REUTERProfeuoraJ Medieval HistoryUnit'ersily of Southampton


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Saxony after Carolingian incorporation

The conquest and incorporation of Saxony into the Carolingian empire, whichCharles the Great achieved after long and bitter struggles, had far-reachingconsequences for the political and institutional organisation of the Saxons.The three Saxon 'armies' of the Ostfalians, Westfalians and Engrians, and the'national' assembly of all castes - nobles, free men and freed men - ceased tocontribute to the coherence of Saxon political life. From 785 all assemblies inSaxony were forbidden except for those summoned by a count or royal missus.It was the so-called comital organisation which henceforth determined thestrUcture of lordship in Saxony; but no more fundamental Frankicisation ofthe ruling strata in Saxony took place. The Saxon nobility allied itself with theFranks, presumably by ties of marriage, and the Carolingian rulers did notreplace it with Frankish magnates. A second characteristic of the Carolingianconquest was to have long-term consequences: Saxon territory did not becomea core region of the Carolingian kings, even after the divisions of the empireamong Louis the Pious' sons. Carolingian visits to Saxony remained excep-tional events. Already by the mid-ninth century we can observe nobles ineastern and western Saxony termed dux. Between Rhine and Weser in the westit is Ekbert, with his ducatus Westfolorunr, in the east it is the dux Liudolf, ancestorof the Ottonians and founder of the nunnery of Gandersheim. In Saxony,therefore, as in other parts of east Francia, we find that phenomenon known asthe 'younger tribal duchy': an aristocratic lordship claiming exclusive pre-eminence within agens (a source of lengthy feuds in Franconia and Suabia), andconsequently bound to clash with the king. In Saxony such conflicts are notrecorded at first, and it is in any case doubtful whether the dux Liudolf alreadyclaimed a leadership within the whole Saxon territory. He seems rather to haveconfined himself to his own lordship in eastern Saxony, in the Harz mountains.



Liudolf's postnon was inherited by his son Brun, who fell against theNorthmen in 880 while leading a Saxon army including the bishops ofHildesheim and Minden among others. Liudolfing predominance was appar-ently not affected by this, for Brun's brother Otto 'the Magnificent' simply tookover his position. The influence exercised by the Liudolfings is seen not least inthe way their women married east Frankish Carolingians: Liutgard marriedLouis the Younger and Oda Zwentibald. Multiple alliances with the royalfamilywere accompanied bymarriage linkswith powerful noble families outsideSaxony, for example with the Babenberger of eastern Franconia, but notapparently by marriages among the Saxon nobility itself. Several of Liudolf''sdaughters remained unmarried as abbesses of Gandersheim, a very clear indi-cation of the Liudolfings' prominent position.

Henry, son of Otto and later to become king, was the first to break withthese marriage practices. He first married awidow from the Merseburg regionsfor her rich inheritance, and then fell in love 'because of her beauty and herwealth',! with the young Matilda, a descendant of the Saxon duke Widukind,whose lands lay mainly in western Saxony. Ecclesiastical protests against thefirst marriage made possible its dissolution and Henry's remarriage; linkedwithit was a thrust into western Saxony,which soon brought Henry into conflictwith the Conradines. The Uudolfings' position was consolidated by Henry'ssuccessful conduct of his dispute with King Conrad I, who had at first tried torestrict his succession to his father after the latter's death in 912. Henry's rise isall the more remarkable when we consider that no other Saxon aristocraticgroup succeeded in continuously extending its position in this way:neither thedescendants of the dux Ekbert nor those of the Saxon leaders Widukind andHessi achieved such a continuity, though the reasons are not clear.

However, one very forcible reservation must be made when consideringSaxony in the late ninth and early tenth century: any judgements are made verydifficult by the fact that many evaluations come from the later 'Ottonian'historiography, which bathes early Liudolfing history in a flood of transfigur-ing light. This is true not only of the works written in Gandersheim but also ofWidukind of Corvey's Saxon History. It is thus ultimately unclear how theFranks and the Saxans came to elect the Saxon duke Henry as king in 9I9 fol-lowing King Conrad's death.

The Saxon dukedom in the tenth century

Henry I's elevation to kingship at Fritzlar in 919 had a less-noticed conse-quence for the Saxon people: its duke was now king. Henry I is not known to

1 Thietmar, Chronicon.l. 9.


SaxOtry and the EIbe Slavs in the tenth century

have taken any steps to install a substitute as duke in Saxony, and nor do theSaxans themselves appear to have been active in this direction. This was thestart of a development which had great significance for the tenth century. Theking, frequently absent, was able to shape Saxon politics less continuously thanwould have been possible for a duke. He nevertheless refrained from establish-ing an 'office-like' dukedom there, by contrast with the position in the southGerman duchies. This had three characteristic consequences for Saxon historyin this period: noble families forced their way into the resulting power vacuum;it became more difficult to reach an expression of political will at royal andpopular assemblies, for a number of different forces had or claimed positionsof rough equality; cooperative forms of association (coniurotiones) were wide-spread, which is probably also a result of the organisation of lordship withinSaxony.

The Ottonian rulers naturally could not avoid giving offices and tasks toSaxon nobles from which a pre-eminence within the people might have beenderived. The best-known such example was the appointment of Hermann}3illungasprinceps militiac byOtto I in 936.2This had particularly important con-sequences because with time Hermann's position gradually broadened intothat of a duke, a position which became heritable within his family.But Otto'sdecision is also of great interest because it lit the fuse for awhole series of con-flicts. These show that even in the early tenth century Saxon nobles thought ofthemselves as having claims to particular offices and were not prepared toaccept royal decisions they perceived as arbitrary. Otto I's choice was a - prob-ably deliberate - breach of the internal ranking of the Billung familyand of theSaxon nobility as awhole, intended to demonstrate his right to make such deci-sions. Resistance articulated itself immediately: Hermann's older brotherWichmann left the royal army and allied himself with Otto's enemies, while anEkkehard, 'son of Liudolf', tried by an act of hare-brained courage to showthat he was a more appropriate choice for military leadership than Hermann.With eighteen companions he risked an attack on the enemy against royalorders, and perished with all his comrades.' In the following period we can seehoW Otto I repeatedly entrusted hisprinceps militiac with representing him (pro-'limbO) in Saxony when he went to Italy. These procurationes came to be quite~~ngthy ones, for the emperor spent almost all his time in Italy after 961. It ishere fore significant that the royal chancery refers to Hermann only as comes or~tJ,.chio, while Widukind of Corvey terms him dux, though he also uses thiser1ll for other Saxon nobles of the period, such as Margraves Gero and~ietrich. In spite of this it is clear that Hermann's exalted position was alsoreflected in his titles.

2 Widukind, Res gu/ae Saxonkae 11, 4. 3 Ibid. 11, 4.



The independence with which he acted can be seen from two events fromhis second procuratio. Otto wrote to the duces Hermann and Dietrich, orderingthem not to make peace with the Redarii; although the letter was read out at apopular assembly in Werla, the peace, already concluded, was kept, since theSaxons feared to divide their forces while threatened by a war with the Danes.4Even more striking than this overriding of orders from a distant emperordetermined by the military position was a reception which Hermann arrangedfor himself in Magdeburg in 97z. Here he usurped the reception ceremonyreserved for the king, sat in his place and slept in his bed. He had, of course,assistance in this, notably from the archbishop of Magdeburg, Adalbert, whomOtto condemned to a hefty fine for his presumption.i

It is not until the time of Bernard I, however, who had inherited all hisfather's rights in 973, that we learn that the position of the Billungs withinSaxony had come to approach that of a duke. In the crisis period after thedeath of Otto Il, who had left only his three-year-old son Otto Ill, justcrowned as eo-ruler in Aachen, to succeed him, decisions by the Saxon peoplewere particularly necessary because Otto's nearest male relative and guardian,Henry the Quarrelsome, himself aspired to kingship and sought a decision inSaxony. He summoned a Saxon assembly for Palm Sunday 984, and suggestedto it that he should be elected king. Some of those present expressed reserva-tions, claiming to be unable to act without the permission (/icentia) of Otto Ill.We can tell that Duke Bernard was among them, even though this is notrecorded explicitly, from the fact that he headed the participants at an assemblyheld at the Asselburg immediately afterwards, intended to rally those whowanted to resist Henry's usurpation/' Although several Saxon counts besidesBernard took part in this meeting, they were evidently not strong enough toprevent Henry from being proclaimed king by his supporters at the Easter cel-ebrations of 984 in Quedlinburg. These supporters included the dukesBoleslav of Bohemia and Miesco of Poland and the Abodrite prince Mistui. Sowe cannot deduce an established ducal position for Bernard from these events,even though he is named among Henry the Quarrelsome's principal oppo-nents.

The Saxon opposition to Henry, in alliance with forces outside Saxony,notably Archbishop Willigis of Mainz, ultimately forced Henry to abandon hisplans for kingship and affirmed Otto Ill's succession under the regency of hismother Theophanu, while Henry was restored to the duchy of Bavaria. Thereconciliation and compromise were celebrated and publicly demonstrated atthe Easter celebrations at Quedlinburg in 986, certainly not by coincidence.Four dukes served at table, as if participating in the coronation banquet of a

4 [bid. III, 70. 5 Thietmar, Chronicon 11, z8. 6 [bid. IV, z.


Sax0'!Y and the EIbe Slavs in the tenth century

newly crowned king: Henry of Bavaria as steward, Conrad of Suabia as cham-berlain, Henry the Younger of Carinthia as butler, and Bernard I as marshal,"When four dukes had participated in the coronation feast of Otto I in 936there had been no Saxon duke present, and Widukind, to whom we owe thedescription of the scene, talks of Siegfried in this connection as the 'best ofthe Saxons and second after the king', not as dux.8 This may serve to underlinethe Billung'sgrowing into a new role.The royal succession following Otto In's death also proved difficult; it is our

next opportunity to observe whether Bernard exercised ducal functions. Firsthe favoured his relative Ekkehard of Meissen, which made him amember of agroup ultimately unable to prevail even within Saxony. It was this partisanshipwhich perhaps explains why Bernard played no speciallyprominent role in theformation of a Saxon view, for another Saxon, Margrave Liuthar from theWalbeck family,was able to raise his profile as an opponent of Ekkehard ofMeissen. The Bavarian claimant to the throne, the later Henry n, even turnedin letters to his cousins, the Ottonian abbesses Adelaide and Sophie, in order towin them and the Saxon magnates for his cause, with decisive effect. Detailslike this show what varied forces could operate within Saxony alongside andalso against the duke.

Bernard's partisanship for Ekkehard evidently did not damage him. AtHenry Il's so-called 'subsidiary election' (Nachwahl) in Merseburg, whichbrought Saxon recognition of the new king, the duke appeared as a representa-tive of the people before Henry Il,who had appeared in full regalia, set out theSaxans' view of the matter and their own position, and demanded bindingpromises. After Henry had given these, 'Duke Bernard took up the Holy Lanceand entrusted him with the care of the Reich in the name of all'.9The scene hasbecome a locus classicus for the scholarly investigation of the Saxon dukedom:the Saxon duke can here be seen transformed from a 'king's representativeamong the Saxon people' to a 'representative of the Saxon people before theking'. ID However, this is the onlY occasion when we can point to a Saxon duke'staking an important position at the head of the people. It should also be notedthat the later Ottonian rulers no longer entrusted the Billungdukes with repre-senting them in Saxony during their absences in Italy, preferring instead tomake use of people who stood closer to them. Otto III chose his aunt Matilda,abbess of Quedlinburg, famous for the care with which she presided over theSaxon assemblies, and Henry n used the archbishop of Magdeburg and hiswife Kunigunde for the purpose. Such details should make us think hard whenasked to determine the essential nature of the Billung dukedom. Signs of a

7 Ibid. IV, 9. 8 Widukind, Resgestae Saxonicae 11, z.9 'Bernhardus igitur dux, accepta in manibus sacra lancea, ex parte omnium regni curam illi 6delitercommittit': Thietmar, Chroniconv, 16-17. 10Jordan (1958), p. 8.



steady evolution of the Billungs into dukes are matched by others which castdoubt on whether kings, Billungs and other forces within the Saxon nobilityshared a consensus about the rights and duties of the Saxon duke. There is thusevery reason for modern scholarship to rethink the characteristics of ducallordship in the east Frankish/German kingdom.'!

Observations on the Saxon nobility in the tenth century

It may be dynastic coincidence or not, but apart from the Liudolfings we knowof no Saxon noble family whose genealogical connections can be traced withcertainty from the ninth through to the tenth century. This is linked withanother observation. In ninth-century Saxony we can make out five noblegroups: the Liudolfings, the Ekbertines, the descendants of Widukind, theHessi-clan and the so-called older Billungs. In the tenth century, by contrast,we can make out more than twenty-five possessing some sort of firm geneal-ogy and visible history. Such a comparison suggests fairly certainly that theSaxon nobility's lordship profited to. a considerable extent from theLiudolfings' rise to kingship and from the Ottonian dynasty. The connectionbecomes still clearer if we ask whereabouts inSaxony the families visible onlyfrom the tenth century onwards resided: for the most part they came from theLiudolfing and Ottonian core region around the Harz mountains. This wasthe home of the families associated with Margraves Siegfried and Gero, of theEkkehardines, Walbecks, Haldenslebens, of the counts of Weimar, Northeimand Katlenburg as well as others, and if one notes that it was also here that thewell-known Ottonian palaces and house monasteries like Quedlinburg,Gandersheim and Nordhausen lay and that Otto had by founding Magdeburgand its suffragans of Merseburg, Zeitz and Meissen installed further ecclesias-tical centres in the region, then one gets a picture of a concentration of lord-ship unparalleled in the rest of the Ottonian Reich. Here we should note thatthe borders between Saxony and Thuringia seem to have been permeable.There are clear signs of a specific consciousness among both Thuringians andSaxons, culminating in the election of Ekkehard of Meissen as duke ofThuringia, reported by Thietmar of Merseburg.F and the demonstrative visitby Henry II to Thuringia in the course of his itinerary round the Reich follow-ing the royal election in Mainz, But on the other hand Thuringian magnates likethe Ekkehardines or the counts of Weimar appeared at Saxon popular androyal assemblies and cannot be distinguished from the Saxon magnates there.It is more plausible to speak of a Thuringian special consciousness withinSaxony.

11 See now Becher ([996). [2 Thietmar, Chronico" v, 7.


Saxo'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century

Similar concentrations of lordship are not found in the other regions ofSaxony outside this east Saxon/fhuringian core region. In the tenth-centurynorth two noble groupings, the Billungs and the counts of Stade, achievedprominence and shared the military command on the Slav border. Even thiscannot be paralleled in western Saxony, in the bishoprics of Minden,Osnabrück, Paderborn and Münster, apart from some evidence for lordshipsheld by the wider Billung family in these regions. It thus seems reasonable tosuppose that the concentration of noble families in the east Saxon/fhuringianregion, the Ottonian heartland, is connected with the patronage of these fami-lies by the royal dynasty. It has also been noted that in the tenth century royalgifts of land to the nobility lay in the area where the recipient held office, insharp contrast to Carolingian practice. In other words, the gifts favoured thedevelopment of a centre of lordship, and so in the long term the emergence of'territorial lordships' held by nobles and prelates. Indirect evidence for suchconcentrations around a centre of lordship is also provided by the numerousmonastic foundations of the tenth-century nobility. These were mausolea,centres preserving the memoria of the family'srelatives, and so providing pointsof crystallisation around which noble familyconsciousness could be preservedand cultivated. The cultivation of memoria also allows us to see the very closeties between individual noble families. In the course of the tenth century theSaxon nobility had become quite exceptionally interrelated, even if dynasticmarriage for political reasons is hardly a Saxon invention. It is noteworthyhow closely the most eminent Saxon families were related to each other: theBillungs to the counts of Stade, the family of Margrave Gero andthe Ekkehardines; the counts of Stade in turn to the counts of Walbeck; theEkkehardines also to the counts of Walbeck.This list, owing much to the gene-alogical information provided by Thietmar of Merseburg, could easily beextended, but it can hardly be doubted that the most influential sections of theSaxon nobility in the Ottonian era were all related to one another. This did any-thing but prevent conflicts - one might offer examples from the history of thel3illungs and of others - but it also certainly offered chances for the membersof this stratum to act together and to exchange information, very necessary atroyal and popular assemblies but also for the successful conclusion of conium-liones.

Problems ofpolitical consenslls-formation in Saxony:poplllar assemblies andconiurationes

Saxony in the Ottonian era was rich in centres from which royal lordship wasexercised. For this reason it is clear that the politics of the gens were to a largeextent decided at such places, for example at the Easter palace at Quedlinburg



or the urbs regia Magdeburg. Alongside such centres, however, Weda grew inimportance as a location for Saxon popular assemblies. It must be stressed thatthe popular assemblies there of the Ottonian period all took place withoutkings: the generally held view that tenth-century kings often appeared at theseassemblies has no foundation. Weda was certainly an urbs regia, and theOttonians frequently stayed there, but their stops were spread across the yearand do not suggest regular participation at a regional popular assembly inspringtime. It is, however, very questionable whether there was ayear!J popularassembly at all. Three of the four pieces of relevant evidence come fromperiods when there were problems with royal succession following the deathsof Otto Il, Otto III and Henry Il in 984, 1002 and 1024 respectively. Thefourth piece of evidence comes from 968, when the Saxons met in Otto I'sabsence in Italy under the leadership of their duces Hermann Billung andDietrich.These instances also show that it was not the duke who summoned these

assemblies; rather, the cooperative forms of organisation among the Saxonmagnates brought about the meetings atWeda. In 984 Henry the Quarrelsomehurried toWeda in order to prevent or pacify a coniuratio which was taking placethere. In 1002 Saxon magnates pledged themselves at a seeretum colloquium inFrohse that they would elect no one as king before a meeting to take place atWeda. Thietmar of Merseburg gives us a very precise account of the course ofthis colloquium, showing the form such an assembly took. The claimant Henrysent amessenger to the assembly,in particular to the Ottonian abbesses Sophieof Gandersheim and Adelaide of Quedlinburg, as well as to the Saxon mag-nates, showing the important role played by Ottonian princesses in such meet-ings. At the meeting the messenger revealed his master's offer to rewardgenerously all who would help him to kingship. Thietmar shows that by nomeans all politically relevant forces participated, for Margrave Ekkehard ofMeissen and his followingwere absent, and it is pretty certain that this includedDuke Bernard and the bishops Arnulf of Halberstadt and Bernward ofHildesheim. Ekkehard, together with Bernard and Arnulf, provoked theOttonian ladies and their guests by usurping a festive banquet and eating up themeal probably intended in favour of those who had decided for Henry asking.13The active role played by female members of the Ottonian family in Saxon

politics is also evident in the succession of Conrad II in 1024-5. The Saxonsagain organised an assembly in Weda to discuss the royal election and otheroutstanding problems, including a reconciliation between Bishop Meinwerk ofPaderborn and the Billung count Thietmar. But the main effectof the assembly

13 Ibid. v, 4.


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century

was that the Saxons took no part in the election of Conrad II at Kamba; yetthere was, in contrast to 1002, no longer talk of a native Saxon candidate. WhenConrad then proceeded to Saxony via Lotharingia the Ottonian abbessesAdelaide and Sophie behaved differently from the other Saxon magnates, whodid homage to the king in Dortmund and Minden. The 'imperial daughters andsisters', as they are termed in the Quedlinburg annals, received the new king,their distant relative, with demonstrative affection as the ius consanguineum pre-scribes, in Vreden inwestern Saxony." It is evident that in so doing they largelypredetermined the outcome of the Saxans' decision.

All these details show that in Saxony there were traditional forms of reach-ing political decisions, held for preference in Werlabut also in other places likeFrohse, Seesen or the Asselburg. Equally clear is the fact that the Saxon dukehad no pre-eminent role in the summoning and conduct of these assemblies; itis rather the variety of political forces operating in Saxonywhich is noteworthy,including the female members of the Ottonian house in a prominent position.It was not only Sophie and Adelaide who were to be found in the first row atsuch assemblies; Matilda of Quedlinburg - as already mentioned - is alsopraised for her careful presidency over them during Otto Ill's absence, 'sittingamongst the bishops and dukes'.ls But it was not only members of the royalfamily who might take a higher profile than the dukes at these assemblies.Margrave Liuthar clearly dominated an assembly at Frohse in 1002; he sum-moned the 'better part' of the assembly from a consultation to a seeretum collo-quium, after the larger assembly had failed to reach consensus. The confidentialmeeting allowed the controversy to be worked through; it had arisen over theaspirations of Ekkehard of Meissen to kingship and culminated in the well-known piece of dialogue: 'What have you got against me, Count Uuthar?''Can't you see that your wagon is missing a fourth wheel?'16These details alsoreveal the cooperative forms and structures of such meetings, which do not fitwith a model of a popular assembly directed by the duke. It would seem thatthe lack of continuity in the duke's position on the one hand and the sense ofdignity held by margraves, archbishops, bishops and royal abbesses on theother hand both helped to shape political structures within the Saxon people.Since ducal lordship was inadequately established, the politically active forcesmade use of forms of communication and interaction customary amongcooperatively structured groups. This helps to explain why oath-takings playedsuch an important role at these assemblies. Thietmar of Merseburg calls thearrangements made by Henry the Quarrelsome's opponents at a meeting inWeda in 984 a coniuratio. Henry took it so seriously that he sent a bishop tonegotiate with it,who fixeda date for ameeting. This coniuratio had already been

14 'imperiales filiae ac sorores':AnnalesQuedJinburgensu, S.a. 1002, p. 78.IS Annaks QutdJinburgmm, S.a. 999,p. 7'. 16 Thietmar, Chroniron IV, 52.



prepared at a meeting at the Asselburg; Thietrnar names those who took part,calls them consodi and their actions conspirareY It was also an oath which boundthe participants at the meeting in Frohse to act in common at Weda in choos-ing a king; they too were a sworn confederation.

These forms of cooperative conluratio associated with the royal elections ofthe late tenth century remind us that in early tenth-century Saxony magnateconiurationes stood at the beginnings of actions against the king.For the conclu-sion of such sworn confederations there was a traditional location, Saalfeld inThuringia. The coniuratio into which Henry, Otto I's brother, entered withSaxon magnates in 939 and Liudolf, Otto's son, in 951, was marked by a conviv-ium, a festive banquet intended to create and strengthen community and gener-ally characteristic of such cooperative associations. Members of the royalhouse initiated sworn confederacies, in other words; they joined Saxon noblesin taking oaths. Contemporary historians claimed that observers regarded thevery existence of such meetings as sinister, for their purpose was evidentlyunambiguous: people met to enter into a coniuratio at a specific place, confirmeditwith a banquet and then hastened to turn their oath into reality. In both ofthe cases just mentioned this meant beginning a feud against Otto the Great.The possibility of summoning socii and toniuratores to assistance in seekingrevenge for any injustice suffered strengthened, aswill easilybe seen, the posi-tion of allmembers of such conlurationes. Even though such associations needhave had no institutionalised continuity, we should not underestimate the per-manence of the links they created. The circle of participants in tenth-centuryconspiracies against the king leaves an impression of remarkable constancy.After all,Tacitus had already pointed out that among the Germans both amici-tiae and inimicifiae were inherited from father to son. This was undoubtedlystrengthened by the fact that cooperative ties were joined by familialones. It is,of course, not a Saxon peculiarity,but we should once again stress how closelyrelated allpolitically relevant forces in Saxonywere; it can be saidwithout exag-geration that allwere locked into this network of cooperative and familial ties.Admittedly, this did not prevent conflicts, but it did create or facilitate the pos-sibility of regulating them, because comrades and relatives were familiar withthe idea of 'compensation through satisfaction'. How this worked can be seenfrom the example of the members of the Billung family Wichmann andEkbert, the 'classic' rebels of the Ottonian era. Following their feuds andactions against king or duke, they repeatedly found mediators and advocates,who secured their re-entry into the king's grace or provided them with anopportunity to flee. This 'system' of conflict resolution was so familiar intenth-century Saxony that in 984 Henry the Quarrelsome's cause was severely

17 lbid. IV, 1.


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century

damaged by his behaviour towards two Saxon counts, Dietrich and Siegbert: hespurned them as they begged forgiveness, barefooted, for earlier offences.They responded appropriately by persuading their friends and relatives to quitHenry's following.

Overall, ties of family and sworn association made a substantial contribu-tion in tenth-century Saxony to the stabilisation of political relationships. Thisis certainly due to the fact that the structures of lordship within the gens wereunderdeveloped, there being no clearly defined ducal position. The Ottoniankings from Saxony provided the people with an enhanced sense of being an'imperial people', but such a consciousness had little effect on Saxony's internalpolitical structures. This situation naturally became highly problematic as soonas Saxony ceased to provide the ruler, as happened in 1024 and already in effectin 1002, when Henry Il, a Bavarian 11udolfing, ascended the throne. His rela-tionship with the political forces in Saxony was fraught with problems.Substantial parts of the Saxon nobility and episcopate were united in rejectingHenry's policy towards the EIbe Slavs and Poland, and this led to more or lessopen conflicts throughout his reign. Henry's measures towards 'centralisationof governmental power in the Reich' thus inevitably met with severe con-straints in Saxony," It is symptomatic of this that in 1020 Duke Bernard Il'moved all Saxony with him in rebellion against the king'.19 Bernard's rebellionhad no consequences for him, for Archbishop Unwan of Hamburg-Bremenand Henry's wife Kunigunde were able to mediate a peace without any diminu-tion of the Billungs' possessions and rights. Once more we find the character-istics of Ottonian ruling practice, which owed more to mediation and royalclemency than the assertion of claims to power. But this already prefigures thesevere conflicts between the Saxons and the Salian rulers, in which the claimsof the Salians to lordship and the quite different customs of the Saxons clashedopenly. This clash between hierarchical and cooperative principles and struc-tures of lordship culminated in the 'civil war' under Henry IV and Henry V, butthese kings remained unable to destroy the established organisational forms ofthe Saxons. In the Saxon wars under the Salians we again hear of the convenliculaand colloquia of secular and ecclesiastical magnates, which led to coniurationes, inother words of cooperative forms of organisation, without the duke's playing adecisive role. Henry the 110n was ultimately to fail in the face of this inheri-


18 See the title of the article by Weinfurter (1986).19 'totam secum ad rebellandum cesari movit Saxoniam': Adam of Bremen, Gesta 11, 48.




Conquest and incorporation?

For a long time German historiography depicted the politics practised by theOttonians and Saxons towards their Slav neighbours as a particularly dynamicaspect of the 'German eastward movement', while the historians of the Slavstates took the same subject as the basis for a diagnosis of an aggressive'German drive to the east'. For the Ottonian period it was established that thekings had had a plan of expansion which aimed at extending the Reich at leastas far as the Oder, in other words to incorporate the countless small Slavpeoples between EIbe and Oder or Neisse.Scholars assumed that these expan-sionary plans were accompanied by a plan of missionary activity,as developedand realised by Otto the Great in particular, with his foundation of an arch-bishopric at Magdeburg and of suffragan bishoprics at Meissen, Zeitz,Merseburg, Brandenburg and Havelberg. Just as Charles the Great simultane-ously Christianised the Saxons and incorporated them into his empire, so theOttonians and their helpers are supposed to have intended to act similarlytowards the EIbe Slavs,perhaps even towards the already Christianised Polandand Bohemia. By contrast with Charles the Great, however, the plans of thetenth century met with little success.As early as the nineteenth century German historiography had sought and

found an explanation for this in the rulers' Italian policies,which had absorbedessential energies of both the German Reich and its rulers and distracted themfrom the national tasks awaiting them in the east. It is certainly true that theresults of both expansion and mission were only modest. The well-known Slavuprising of 983 largely destroyed what had been established before that date;the episcopal sees of Brandenburg and Havelberg remained orphaned until thetwelfth century. Only in the south did Ottonian lordship in the Slav regionshave some permanence. Astonishingly, succeeding kings did not make anyserious effort to wipe out this disgrace. In spite of a few military actions it maybe doubted whether the last Ottonian rulers even had such a recuperation astheir primary goal. Otto III enhanced the position of both the Polish and theHungarian rulers through some spectacular actions, and was prepared toconcede them an independent church organisation by helping with the foun-dation of their own archbishoprics. Henry II by contrast concluded an alliancewith the pagan Liutizi in 1003 against the Polish ruler, probably entailing arenunciation of missionary activiry/" The last two Ottonian rulers thus did notorientate themselves according to the plans which scholars have assumed to

20 Brun of Querfurt, Epislola adHeinricum "gem, ed. Karwasinka, pp. 101 If.


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century 2.79

have motivated their predecessors, and in consequence contributed not a littleto the poor balance-sheet - seen from a nationalistic perspective - of theOttonians' eastern policy.This in sum is the dominant view of Ottonian eastern policy.Since the 1960s

there have been strenuous efforts to write about the situation along theGerman-Slav borders as a history of relations, to shift attention away fromconfrontation towards varied exchange and a neighbourly living together. Thisreorientation was important and justified, but it concentrated largely on otherthemes of German-Slav history; the older view of Ottonian eastward expan-sion was not explicitly replaced by a new assessment. One may well ask,however, whether it really corresponds to the political conceptions of thetenth century to see expansion, extending of borders and incorporation of theEIbe Slavs, perhaps even the Poles, as a major goal of Ottonian and Saxonpolicy. If that had reallybeen so,we should have to ask why the military mightof the European hegemonial power was unable to conquer and incorporatethe small Slav tribes along the eastern border. One answer is readily available:itwas not brought to bear. Although this may seem at first sight surprising, theOttonian rulers did indeed refrain from applying their Reich's military powerand potential to eastward expansion. 'Imperial expeditions' eastward, byanalogy with Italian expeditions in which forces from the whole Reich partici-pated, did not exist in the Ottonian period, apart from Henry I!'s wars againstthe Poles. Military conflict with the Eibe Slavswas essentially a matter for theSaxons, and as far as we can see primarily for the Saxans living along theborders. Ottonian rulers from Henry I to Otto III certainly participated incampaigns against the Slavs, but leading Saxon contingents. Even when theSlav uprising of 983 brought the 'bold arch of Ottonian eastern policy', inBrüske's phrase, so to speak to the point of collapse, it was an exclusivelySaxon contingent under the leadership of the margraves and of the archbishopof Magdeburg which met the insurgents." In the following decades there islittle to be seen of military attempts to reconquer the areas lost in 983.

If the ineffectiveness of. the alleged expansion already suggests doubtsabout its putative dynamism, these are strengthened once one asks how con-quest and incorporation are to be envisaged in concrete terms. There is noecho of the Carolingian model of an exchange of elites based on a newly intro-duced comital system. Bycontrast with the behaviour of Carolingian armies inSaxony, Saxon contingents never remained for long stretches in the lands ofthe EIbe Slavs; they returned home successful or unsuccessful, a pattern whichhardly suggests an intention to expand permanently.

What expansionary plans can in any case be ascribed to an Ottonian king-



ship which within the Reich largely did without an administration of its own,and in many respects contented itself with an acknowledgement in principleof its overlordship or primacy, without drawing concrete advantage fromsuch an acknowledgement? Certainly, Ottonian and Saxon eastern policyaimed at recognition of its overlordship by the Slav peoples, which was tofind expression in regular tribute-payments. Certainly, Otto the Great under-took considerable efforts to create the preconditions for successful evangel-isation of the EIbe Slavs, through founding and endowing bishoprics. Hadthese peoples become substantially Christianised, their relations with theOttonian Reich would undoubtedly have had to be rethought, as the exam-ples of Bohemia and Poland show. But conquest and incorporation arenotions which characterise the aims and goals of warfare in the early modernor modern period. Their transfer to the political and military conflicts of themedieval period, especially of the tenth century, is distinctly problematic:expanding and conquering rulers like Charles the Great were the exceptionrather than the rule. Whether Otto I of all people had set himself the task ofbuilding up a 'centrally directed and firmly organised and effective administra-tion' in the lands of the EIbe Slavs is something which has to be proved indetail and not merely assumed.P not least because such an assumption isdifficult to sustain, given the other limiting conditions affecting Ottonianlordship.

If we repeatedly hear about campaigns, surrenders, payments of tribute,submissions and recognition of overlords hip, followed by renewed conflictsand submissions, without our being able to detect any steps towards more per-manent incorporation, then we must ask whether the basic aim of Ottonianrulers was not precisely to secure this recognition of overlordship, thoughthere was certainly also a missionary aim, pursued with varying degrees ofintensity. The dubious role played by the medieval eastern policy of Germanyin the political arguments and practice of the twentieth century, from theWeimar Republic through the Third Reich to the period after the SecondWorld War, makes it essential to ask whether the situation along the easternborder in the tenth century has not been fundamentally misinterpreted. Inwhat follows, the sources - not in any case numerous - will be interrogatedagain to see what they actually have to report about relations between Saxonsand EIbe Slavs. The aim is to show that contemporary reports describe theconflicts using categories which leave little room for concepts like expansionand incorporation.


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tmth century 281

Border watfare: submission, tribute, reprisals, peace

The situation along the border between Saxons and Eibe Slavs, which hadalways been characterised by plundering expeditions on both sides, changedafter Henry I became king for a specific reason: the Slavs east of the EIbeserved as a testing ground for the troops, in particular mounted soldiers,whomHenry was training for a defence against the Hungarians following his nineyears' truce with them in 926. The years 928 and 929 saw a campaign by Henryagainst the Hevelli with the conquest of the Brandenburg, another against theDaleminzi followed by the erection of the fortification at Meissen, a counter-attack by the Redarii leading to the destruction of the fortification atWalsleben, the destruction of a Slav army in the battle of Lenzen under theleadership of the 'legate' Bernard and his 'colleague' Thietmar, and finally acampaign by Henry against the Bohemians. According to Widukind,23Henry Idid not repudiate the truce with the Hungarians until he had sufficientwarriorstrained in mounted combat.

That such conflicts followed different principles from those customary inthe feuds of an aristocratic society can be seen from two examples. After theconquest of the fortification Jahna, the Saxans killed all the adults, and took offthe young boys and girls into captivity,meaning slavery. In Merseburg Henryinstalled a legion formed of thieves and robbers. He remitted their punishmentand gave them the instruction to undertake as many plundering expeditionsagainst the Slavs as possible.

We can see a similar difference under Otto the Great. In October 9ll, imme-diately after the victory at the Lechfeld, Otto moved with Saxon contingentsagainst the Wends under theirprinceps Stoinef, who by this time was harbouringthe Billung brothers Wichmann and Ekbert, members of the Saxon highnobility and relatives of the royal house. We know the details of this campaignfrom the extensive account given byWidukind of Corvey.24After the victory,in which Stoinef was killed, the Slavleader's head was hacked off and stuck on apole on the battlefield; seven hundred prisoners were beheaded. Stoinef'sadviser's eyes were gouged out, his tongue was torn from his mouth, and hewas left helpless among the dead. The cruel treatment may be explained in partby the massacre carried out by a previous Slav raiding-party, which had pre-ceded Otto the Great's reprisal expedition. Duke Hermann had ordered thegarrison of a fortifi~a~on to surrender to its Sla:-besie~~rs under Wichmann'sleadership on condition that the free and their families should have safe-conduct, and only the slaves should be left to the Slavs.However, during thedeparture there were dashes, and the Slavs promptly killed all the males and

23 Widukind,ResgestaeSaxonicaeI, 38. 24 Ibid. III, ,z-,.



took off the women and children into captivity. But this explains the crueltiesonly in part. One must also bear in mind that the normal restraint shown indealings with relatives, fellow-members of a caste or people, and Christians,did not apply to dealings with the Slavs.

Widukind's account of the negotiations between Otto and Stoinef is givenmuch space, and it shows that the campaign aimed not at incorporation butrather at satisfaction or revenge. The first step was that a Slav embassyappeared before Otto, and offered that the Slavs would pay tribute as usual, butwould exercise lordship in their lands themselves; otherwise they would fightOtto answered that he was denying them peace only because they were not pre-pared to render satisfaction for their misdeed. Then he laid waste his oppo-nents' territory, but not without in turn sending an embassy to Stoinef, led byno less a person than Margrave Gero. Otto's offer was this: if Stoinef wouldsubmit, Otto would be his friend and not treat him as an enemy. It should bestressed that here a pact of friendship was being offered to a heathen Slav prin-ceps. The friendship was not to eliminate all traces of lordship: a surrender, adeditio was to precede the grant of friendship. Yet such behaviour does notsuggest a plan of conquest.P

That rituals of friendship and treacherous cruelty were found side by side inthe conflicts between Saxons and EIbe Slavs can also be demonstrated fromGero's 'friendship banquet', in which he had thirty Slav princes killed whiledrunk. Widukind excuses this act with the argument that Gero was here merelyanticipating a trick intended by the Slavs themselves, who planned Gero'sdeath.26 Quite apart from the question of whether these accusations are jus-tified, it is noteworthy that the rituals of peace and friendship also had a placealongside bitter conflicts. The boundary conditions of these conflicts includedsituations in which Gero could invite thirty Slav princes to a convivium or Otto Ibecome the amicus of the Christian duke of the Poles, Miesco I, and make asimilar offer to the pagan Stoinef.

Nevertheless, contacts between the leading strata of the Slavs and theSaxons were, taken as a whole, very limited. Only for a few Slav magnates wereChristianity and the Saxon alliance attractive enough for them to surrendertheir traditional beliefs and their local ties. One rare example is the Hevellicprince Tugumir, held in prison by the Saxons since the time of Henry I. Hefinally allowed himself to be bribed to betray his own lordship to the Saxons;the entry of his death in the necrology of Möllenbeck shows that he must havebecome a Christian." Pretending to have fled from prison, he returned home,had his nephew and rival for lordship treacherously killed, and then submittedhimself and his people to Otto's lordship. According to Widukind, his example

25 [bid. Ill, 13-'. 26 !bid. 11, 20.

27 Das Nekrolog von Mölknbtck, ed. Schrader, p. 3j j (17 May).


Saxony and the EIbe Slavs in the tenth century

was followed by all the Slav tribes up to the Oder, who 'were ready to paytribute'.28 Here again we must stress the distinction between payments oftribute and the associations evoked by the word incorporation. Widukind'saccount makes very clear that the Slav tribes were generally prepared to paytribute, but the question was whether they would have accepted more wide-ranging restrictions on their freedom.

Apart from Tugumir, we hear of only a small number of cases of collabora-tion with the Saxons. The normal function of marriages in strengtheningpeaceful ties was here ruled out by the impossibility of marriages betweenpagans and Christians. We know nothing about the background to Otto'sliaison with a noble Slavwoman, the mother of the later archbishop of Mainz,which could take us further here. Only once do we hear of such amarriage planin Adam of Bremen's account, which he explicitly describes as based on oraltradition.29 A Slavduke is said to have sought the Saxon duke Bernard I's niecefor his son inmarriage, and this was agreed to. The Wend in return provided athousand mounted soldiers for Duke Bernard's contingent on the Italian expe-dition, where they almost all fell. Nevertheless, Margrave Dietrich frustratedthe planned marriage with the remark that the duke's kinswoman was not to begiven to a dog. This, according to Adam (and to Helmold of Bosau, whofollows him), was the reason behind the great Slavuprising of 983. It was cer-tainly not the only reason, but the anecdote demonstrates the Saxon attitudevery clearly;at allevents the peace-bringing function of marriage was little seenin relations between Saxons and Slavs.The unnamed Slav duke maywell havebeen the Abodrite Mistui, who according to Thietmar had a cape//amlS Avico inhis entourage,30 and so presumably was not wholly opposed to Christianity,which would certainly have favoured the marriage proposals. If our fragmentsof information do not deceive us, then participation in the uprising of 983 anda receptive attitude to Christianity were not mutually exclusive;certainlyMistuiappeared only a year later at an assembly held by Henry the Quarrelsome inQuedlinburg.

In assessing the nature of these conflicts we may further adduce thoseSaxon magnates who fought on the side of the Slavs.These included not onlythe Billung brothers Wichmann and Ekbert, already mentioned, but also aSaxon noble named Kizo who went over to the Liutizi out of annoyance withMargrave Dietrich. It has been argued that the inclitus miles Kizo (Christian),who came from the Merseburg region, was a member of Margrave Gero'skindred. This would show a remarkable similarity of behaviour amongmembers of the two leading margraval families, Billungs and Geronids: ineach case relatives of the margrave go over to the Slavs as a result of internal

28 'tributis regalibus se subiugarunt': Widukind, Res gestae Saxonicae 11, 11.

29 Adam of Bremen, Gesta n, 41. 30 Thietmar, Chronicon IV, 2.



Saxon conflicts, because they feel that they are not able to get justice inSaxony.

Still more significant is the fact that these magnates were entrusted by theSlavswith important command positions. Wichmann led Slav attacks againstSaxony and against Miesco I of Poland; Kizo was in charge of the garrison inthe Brandenburg, whence he also led attacks against Saxony.Even more inter-esting than the trust and esteem shown by the Slavs towards these 'traitors' isthe fact that theywere not condemned by other Saxon magnates for their beha-viour. Wichmann and Ekbert were able to flee to Hugh of Francia after themassacre of Stoinef's army in 95 5, until no less a person than ArchbishopBrun of Cologne secured Ekbert's pardon from Otto the Great. We canobserve this member of the Billung family enjoying unrestricted rights ofpolitical action in Saxony in the period which followed. Wichmann, by con-trast, who like his brother had previously been declared a 'public enemy',31wasreconciled with Otto by Margrave Gero. Even after he once again broke thereconciliation oath he had taken, Gero allowed him to go off once more to theSlavs,because he saw that Wichmann was in fact guilty. In other words, Gerohad deliberately prevented Wichmann's condemnation. Kizo offers a similarstory. After he had again changed sides in 993 and submitted himself and theBrandenburg to Otto Ill's lordship, he was allowed to retain his position andgiven support in his defence against the Liutizi. It was one of his vassals,withthe Slav name Boliliut, who made himself master of the fortification duringKizo's absence; Kizo was killed trying to reconquer his position. Thietmar ofMerseburg, who describes the episode at length, makes no criticism of Kizo'sbehaviour; he explicitly allows him the right to change sides 'to come to hisright'.32All details of the border wars as revealed byWidukind and Thietmar point in

the same direction: the wars were an exclusivelySaxon affair, concerned withsubmission - recognition of overIordship and payment of tribute - but equallyoften with revenge, for every attack demanded reprisals. Opponents weretreated savagelyand cruelly,often treacherously; but alongside this we also findnegotiations, offers and conclusions of peace agreements, rituals of solidarityand so forth, which show that all the forms of conflict familiar from the earlymiddle ages were practised here. The only thing we do not hear of explicitlyinthe narrative sources is any plan to incorporate the EIbe Slavs into theOttonian Reich, or of measures taken by the kings to do so.

31 Widukind, Rugeslae Saxollicae Ill, 60. 32 Thietmar, Chrollitoll IV, za,


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century

Organisation: legates, margraves, burgwards, bishoprics

As was said at the opening of this section, it has been customary even in recentscholarship to talk of the 'introduction of a strict military, administrative andecclesiastical organisation' intended by Otto the Great to produce a 'definitivesubjugation and incorporation into the Reich' of the districts east of theElbe.33 The sources offer no specific account of when these organisationalinnovations were introduced; the conventional view has been derived fromvarious indications offered by the sources, which require a critical examination.

The first margraves we meet in the tenth century are Hermann Billung andGem, both appointed by Otto the Great in 936 and 937, though here not yetcalled margrave. The Saxon reaction to these appointments shows that theoffices were not new ones; indeed, relatives of the appointees, the BillungWichmann the Elder and Otto's own half-brother Thankmar, displayed irrita-tion at having been passed over for positions to which they felt they had greaterclaims. The two new office-holders succeeded the Saxon magnates Bernardand Siegfried, whose position is described in the sources as a legatio. This isprobably to be understood as a military command in a border region, as exer-cised for example by Bernard at the battle of Lenzen in 919. Besides legatio(iegatus) Widukind of Corvey'" also used the term princeps militiae to describeHermann Billung's position. Until the death of these two 'margraves'Hermann and Gero, in 973 and 965 respectively, both narrative and chartersources use a whole range of titles for them, among others comes, marchio, dux,dux et marchio, but there is no reason to suppose that royal reorganisation hadchanged in any way the tasks assigned to these magnates. In other words, thesources do not suggest that Otto introduced a 'margraval organisation'. Wehave absolutely no information about any powers the two may have possessedover and beyond their military commands - whether, for example, they alsoexercised jurisdiction or command over other counts in the border regions.The rwo 'officials' gained their high profile exclusively through military activ-ities, which they evidently carried out ~th a high degree of independence.

There is also considerable uncertamty about what happened to Gero'ssphere of office after his de.ath. We ~nd no fewer. ~an six co~nts from the areaunder Gero's command WIth the title of marebio 10 the period following hisdeath, a fact very difficult to interpret. ~he sources give no indication of why a. le successor to Gero was not appointed; but to deduce that the situation

sIng. .was now so secure that a single leader was no longer needed IS hardly plausiblein view of the uprising of 983. We do not even know whether the various mar-graves were appointed by the king or not. Even after the deaths of the various

33 Ludat(1968/8Z),P.46. 34 Widukind,Ru§slatSaxonitatn,4.



marchiones we cannot observe the appointment of successors. Rather, we findfrom the beginning of the eleventh century that three large margravates hadevolved out of the area formerly under Gero's lordship: the North march, theEast march and the march of Meissen. The transition phase following Gero'sdeath does not therefore suggest that precise regions of office had been laiddown in a royal plan which would have allowed a smooth succession followingthe death of an office-holder.

The military independence of the margraves also argues against a carefullyworked out royal plan of expansion. Even substantial campaigns were not nec-essarily cleared with the king in advance, as we can see in 97z, when MargraveHodo attacked the Polish duke Miesco, even though the latter was amicus impe-ratoris and a tribute-payer. Otto the Great used messengers to threaten bothparticipants in the conflict with the withdrawal of his grace, if they should notkeep the peace until his return from Italy. Around the same time the margravesHermann and Dietrich made peace with the Redarii and kept it even whenOtto sent written orders from Italy to the contrary'! These incidents hardlyspeak for royal organisation and planning of activities east of the EIbe; theytend rather to support the view arrived at in the previous section of local forcestaking ad hoc and repressive measures.

Interestingly enough, one of the most 'well known' of these independentactions probably derives from a misunderstanding by Thietmar of Merseburg.He describes how Margrave Gero subjugated the Polish duke Miesco and hisfollowers to imperial ditio.36 This statement, which scholars have discussed atlength and controversially, is in all probability a result of Thietmar's misreadingof WidukindY Thietmar simply summarises Widukind's cc. 66-8 in two sen-tences: Gero subjugated the Lausitz and Miesco; Hermann Billung Selibur andMistui. But Widukind writes in c. 66 that Gero returned Wichmann to the Slavsto save him from being condemned, and Wichmann twice defeated Miesco; hisformulation makes it easy to confuse Gero and Wichmann. There is no reasonto suppose that Thietmar is here drawing on his own knowledge of a campaignby Gero against Miesco, and this may be struck from the record.

The origins, powers and tasks of the margravates are thus noticeably morecomplex than the picture offered by previous scholarship. This is even moretrue of the assumption that Otto the Great introduced a burgward organisationafter the marches had been set up. Certainly, the word burgwardium or burgwar-dum is found in the sources from the middle of the tenth century onwards.Certainly, fortifications had a central function for the population living in theirvicinity; in times of need the population could take refuge there and they werealso obliged to perform services and make renders. Naturally, such an organ-

35 Ibid.tu, 70. 36 Thietmar, Chronieonll, 14. 37 Widukind,ResgesfoeSaxonieoem,66.


Sax0'!Y and the EIbe Slavs in the tenth century

isation was particularly important in the marcher regions, so that the mapdrawn by Walter Schlesinger of the burgwards shows a concentration which isimpressive but hardly surprising. The question is rather how we are to visualisethe organisational measures taken by Otto the Great to install the burgwardsystem as a miniature version of the entire Ottonian state structure.l'' Fromwhich groups were the garrisons recruited? Where did the commandants comefrom? Who determined the estates and services for the maintenance of thewarriors? Such a bundle of organisational measures would have required con-siderable activity and the participation of significant numbers of people, mostprominendy the members of the Saxon nobility, in their planning and execu-tion. But such plans have left absolutely no traces in the sources. Moreover, thefact that Otto donated several of these burgwards to the newly founded bishop-ries does not suggest that there was any kind of strict organisation for thepurpose of expansion; it would have been hollowed out as soon as it was intro-duced had that been the case.

By contrast we do find organisation and planning in another aspect ofeastern politics, which must be set against the facts sketched so far: ecclesiasti-cal organisation. Scholarship has tended to see Otto's missionary and churchpolicy as a part of his expansion policy. Ottonian missionary activity cannot betreated as a whole in a chapter devoted to Saxony; but there is no doubt that it isthe history of the episcopal foundations which provides the most detailedknowledge of property-holding and lordship in the regions east of the Eibe.The foundation charters for Havelberg and Brandenburg show that Otto theGreat was able to transfer civitates and tithes in regions of Slav settlement to thenew churches. Later gifts to Magdeburg confirm the impression that the rulerdisposed of a whole range of possessions and rights east of the EIbe; that, inother words, the idea of state boundaries in our modern sense is quite anach-ronistic for this period. But equally anachronistic would be any impressiongained from such information that these rights and possessions were an indexof the success of Ottonian expansion. To deduce from the ability to found andendow bishoprics in the regions of the EIbe Slavs that there must have been anintention to expand will not work; at precisely the same time (948) threeDanish missionary bishoprics were founded as suffragans of Hamburg-Bremen, but no one has deduced similar expansionary intentions towards theDanish kingdom from these foundations. Because Charles the Great had aninterlinked strategy of mission and conquest in his Saxon wars, we do not haveto assume that this must also have been so in the Ottonian period.

There are a number of indications in the sources that ecclesiastical and mili-tary activities were not coordinated with each other, rather that the forces

38 Cf.Schlesinger(I9H/6I).



involved frequently blocked and disturbed each other's activities.Here we maymention the energetic resistance by the bishop of Halberstadt and the arch-bishop of Mainz to the plan to erect an archbishopric in Magdeburg. Wemayalso mention Otto's stern warning from Italy to the Margraves Wigger,Wigbert and Gunther that they should obey the instructions of the new arch-bishop and furthermore should endow the new bishops of Zeitz, Merseburgand Meissen adequately, so that these should not be taken to be poor peasants.The fact that this warning was evidently much needed gives a deep insight intothe contemporary situation, and it fits in well with later ecclesiastical com-plaints that it was the cruelty and greed of the Saxon margraves which pre-vented missionary successes and in the last resort was responsible for the greatSlavuprising of 983. The foundation of the archbishopric of Magdeburg wascertainly part of an organisational conception due in essence to Otto I andrealised by him in Italy.What are lacking are convincing demonstrations thatthis conception was only a part of agreater plan of expansion.


The works of so-called 'Ottonian' historiography, to which we owe most ofour knowledge of the problems discussed so far, were almost all written inSaxony, the core region of the Ottonian Reich. To characterise them as'Ottonian' implies that the works were written from the perspective of theking. But this assessment conceals essential characteristics of these works.More recently there has been a strong tendency to ask how far they witness toothers' opinions and positions, not identicalwith positions of the ruling house.The idea of an Ottonian ruling house in any case plays down the divergentforces operating within this 'house'. The new view of 'Ottonian' historio-graphy proceeds from the observation that almost all works of Ottonianhistoriography were written within ecclesiastical communities - Corvey,Quedlinburg, Gandersheim, Nordhausen, Merseburg - and often at crucialphases in the development of these communities. We are thus confronted witha basic question about the function of such historical writing, which is prob-ablymuch more linked with and aimed at influencing its own present than onenormally assumes of historical writing. In Ottonian Saxony, historiographyallowed forces to articulate themselves whose opinions and interests were verydifferent from those held by the Ottonian rulers.

The anonymous Lives of the Ottonian Queen Matilda, written in her foun-dation of Nordhausen, provide a very specific view of the history of theOttonian dynasty.The older work, written around 974, is aimed at Otto Il; theyounger was intended for Henry n,which led to the rewriting of importantpassages. Henry H's direct ancestors were transformed in the younger Life into


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century

central figures in Matilda's life. Her whole love and care was devoted to them,as were her mourning and her memory. There is thus a remarkable adjusting ofhistorical writing to accommodate its addressee. But both Lives have a centraltheme in common: Matilda devoted allher energy to ensuring that the future ofher foundation of Nordhausen should be secured by all kinds of legal protec-tion. She did this, allegedly,with the understanding and close cooperation ofher son Otto the Great. For - and this is also a central message of the works -he had learned that the preservation and well-being of his rule depended indecisive measure on whether he supported his mother's attempts to found andendow ecclesiastical communities using her dower lands. Not until his rule metwith failures and crises and he had been warned by his wife Edith did the kingchange his behaviour towards his mother.

This remarkable pointing up of Ottonian family history, accentuating thediscord between mother and son with all its consequences, becomes compre-hensible only when one realises that the two Liveswere written at a point whennew queens were about to receive their dower. In the case of Otto II and hiswife Theophanu, the dower charter has survived in the form of the famouspurple dowry charter.39 In this we read that Theophanu's dos includesNordhausen, and it is stated explicitly that this means everything which QueenMatilda possessed there. This threatened the monastic community inNordhausen, should the new queen decide to disturb Matilda's work. Toprevent this the Nordhausen community composed the Life of Matilda anddedicated it to Otto II. After the warning implicit in the Life had been success-ful, the procedure was repeated when Queen Kunigunde, wife of Henry II,came to the throne. In other words, a spiritual community used spiritual meansin a position of existential threat by depicting its founder's life as an exemplumfor the new queen, and it reinforced this admonition with the clear warningthat action contrary to Matilda's intentions would bring down God's anger andpunishment.

The depiction of the early history of Gandersheim by the nun-poetHrotsvitha starts with a redirected Annunciation. It was prophesied by no lessa person than John the Baptist to Aeda, the mother of the foundress Oda, thather seed should found a monastery, Gandersheim. This would ensure thepeace of the Reich, 'as long as its vows are protected by the kings' care'. As areward for its foundation the family would receive so high a dignity 'that noother of the kings on earth would dare to place himself alongside it in rank andpowerful maiesry'." This is of course a retrospective prophecy; but wemust ask why Hrotsvitha linked the well-being of the Ottonian house so expli-citly with the furthering of Gandersheim. Moreover, this theme shapes the

39 DOli ZI. M) Hrotsvitha, Primordia {oenob~i Gantkrsheimensis, ed. Homeyer, p. 4 j z.



subsequent account in the Primordia. The members of the Liudolfing house areimplored to do everything necessary to secure the safety, the protection and thematerial endowment of the monastery. The account lays particular stress onthe appropriate actions of Duke Liudolf and his wife Oda and those of DukeOtto, all of whom, according to Hrotsvitha, knew very well just how much thesuccess of their house depended on the merits and prayers of theGandersheim nuns. Just as in Nordhausen, so in Gandersheim a clear warningwas issued to the ruler in the form of a historiographical work which tried tooblige him to follow the example of his ancestors. Hrotsvitha's second work,the Gesta Ottonis, should also be seen in the context of this warning. It waswritten at the request of Abbess Gerberga and interestingly enough was to belaid before Archbishop William of Mainz, Otto's chief opponent in theMagdeburg question, for his approval. Unfortunately, the fragmentary natureof the work makes the author's intentions ultimately unclear, but one thing iscertain: the Gesta stress the internal crises of Otto's rule and his relatives' upris-ings against him. They also depict his opponents very positively, and they stressrepeatedly that it was God's grace alone which rescued Otto from great periland preserved his rule. If Otto is again and again compared with David in thiscontext it must be asked whether the comparisons are intended to be praisingor warning.

The most famous work of 'Ottonian' historiography, Widukind's SaxonHistory, was dedicated in 967 or 968 to Matilda, abbess of Quedlinburg anddaughter of Otto 1. Although each of the three books of the Saxon Historybegins with a prologue dedicated to Matilda, scholarship has largely ignoredthe question of why such a work should have been dedicated to an imperialdaughter, and why this should have happened in the years 967-8. The historicalcontext of the dedication offers a number of clues. The young Matilda (she waseleven years old) had been made abbess of Quedlinburg at Otto's request by allthe archbishops and bishops of the kingdom at a great festival in April 966 atQuedlinburg, before the emperor set out for his third Italian expedition. In theautumn of 967 his son and eo-ruler Otto followed him south. The onlymembers of the royal house remaining north of the Alps were William ofMainz and Queen Matilda, with William acting as regent. The old queen fellseriously ill at the beginning of 968. William hurried to her sick bed, and musthave realised that her death was imminent, but surprisingly he himself diedbefore the queen at the beginning of March; she followed him on March 14.The young Abbess Matilda was thus the only member of the royal house leftnorth of the Alps, and this remained the case for four years. She now had thetask of representing Ottonian rule in Saxony in a very difficult situation. Ottothe Great ordained the foundation of the archbishopric of Magdeburg and itssuffragans of Merseburg, Zeitz and Meissen from Italy; up to the last minute


Sax0'!Y and the Eibe Slavs in the tenth century

there had been serious opposition to these plans in Saxony. It was precisely inthis situation that Widukind dedicated his Saxon History to the abbess; it con-tained just what she needed in her current position, the knowledge of the pastrequired to be able to rule in Saxony.This was the precise function of the SaxonHistory. It allowedMatilda to act as the highest-ranking person in Saxony,as thedomina imperialis, because she had been informed about the history of theSaxon people, about her father's and grandfather's achievements, and not leastbecause she knew about the difficultieswhich her father's decisions, in Saxonyin particular, had brought about. For this purpose Widukind included anumber of pieces of information reallybelonging to the secreta regis, to that areawhich a historiographer would normally have discreetly passed over. One mustread Widukind's work in the light of the situation in which it was composed inorder to understand why it is precisely those things referred to over and overand not others which are dealt with; it was these which Matilda had to knowabout in order to act independently and as a member of the imperial house inSaxony from 968 onwards.

The Quedlinburg annals are equally shaped by their situation. They werewritten in Henry Il's reign, at a time when Quedlinburg lost its former domi-nant role as a royal centre. Among other things, Henry broke with the Ottoniantradition of celebrating Easter there and hardly visited the place at all,whichevidently wounded Quedlinburg sensibilities deeply.These were expressed bythe annals in their account of the year 936: Queen Matilda intended to makeQuedlinburg a 'kingdom for the gentiles' and had therefore collected onlywell-born persons, for these seldom go astray." The term regnumgentibus is evidentlyan echo of the title rex gentium, 'king of the peoples', used by Widukind forOtto I at the end of his Saxon history_42How did this community react to itsdowngrading by Henry Il? None of his actions finds a good word. The annalsfrom 1003 are a drastic demonstration of how openly criticism of a ruler mightbe practised in a royal monastery. A few examples: 'The king, very down-hearted because he had won no good peace, returned with a miserable armyand brought the bodies of the dead with him' (1005);43~s the king learned ofthis he was troubled in his heart and enjoined his men not to leave the matterunavenged. But - I know not for what reason - up to the present so great ananger has not been turned into deeds' (1007).44 When Henry Ilchose a differ-ent candidate for the archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen not the one electedby the chapter, the annalist commented on the events as follows: 'But the king'scrude ways/ and his thirst for gain, thrust the petitioner back.! turn from theweeping his gaze.'45Henry's Roman expedition of 1014 is summed up thus:

41 Anno/eJQuedlinburgenses,s.a. 936,P· 54.43 Anno/es QuedlinburgenseJ, s.a. 1005, p. 78.4S AnnolesQued/inburgenses,s.a. 1013,P. 81.

42 Widukind, Res gUloe Saxonica« Ill, 76.44 Anno/es Quedlinburgenses, s.a; 1007, p. 79.



'After he had ... ordained official matters well, as he thought, and collectedhuge sums of gold from everywhere, he accelerated his return homewards,though not without inflicting damage on many people'.46 Such unrestrainedcriticism of the ruler corresponded completely to the contempt which Henryhad showed towards Quedlinburg by staying in Saxony frequently enough butnever visiting the place, and bymaking it no gifts until 102 I. It is hardly possiblefor a community to lose the king's grace and presence more quickly thanQuedlinburg did. Seen in the context of other changes which Henry's reignbrought with it, such an observation also shows how far he broke with the tra-dition of his Ottonian ancestors, indeed distanced himself from them. Theloss of royal favour did not last for the whole of Henry's reign, however. In1014 he granted Abbess Adelaide of Quedlinburg the headship of the nunner-ies of Gernrode and Vreden. In 1021, at last, he attended the consecration ofthe newly built monastic church at Quedlinburg and made a rich gift to theconvent. It can thus hardly be coincidence that the negative comments onHenry II cease from 1014 onwards and that from 1021 the author is once againcapable of panegyric descriptions of Henry II's deeds of a kind familiar to usfrom the earlyyears of Ottonian rule. Historical writing thus reacted directly tochanges in the political climate.To ask about the cause and historical context for the origins of 'Ottonian'

historiography is to sharpen one's perception for the specific functions of eachof these works; none was written exclusively from the king's perspective, andsome were written directly contrary to it. Forces within Saxony with interestsnot unconditionally identical with those of the rulers could articulate them-selves in this way: ecclesiastical communities like Nordhausen, Gandersheimand Quedlinburg, and then a little later Thietmar of Merseburg, who wrote thehistory of his precarious and threatened bishopric in such away that it can alsobe written as a history of the Reich and the Saxon people. Widukind of Corveywrote not so much as a representative of the oldest monastery in Saxony as ofthose forces within Saxony who wished to avoid conflicts, and so he took careto instruct the young imperial daughter about positions and patterns of beha-viour of which her father would certainly not have approved. Saxon historiog-raphy of the tenth century can thus hardly be characterised adequately as'Ottonian' historiography, still less as 'Ottonian house tradition'. It shouldrather be seen as formulating the perspectives of forces within Saxonywhichwere certainly not fundamentally opposed to Ottonian kingship but wereequally not prepared to identify themselves unreservedly with all the positionsand decisions taken by these kings.

46 AnnaksQlltdlinbllrgenstJ,s.a. IOI4,p. 82.