SEMINAR IX: Ottonian Kingship as Seen Through the Eyes of Thietmar of Merseburg (Lent, Week 6)

The subject of this week's seminar is the style of the kingship which developed under the Liudolfing dynasty (919-1024), with particular emphasis on the second half of the tenth century and the first quarter of the eleventh. The intention, moreover, is to examine that style of kingship as viewed through the eyes of Thietmar who as bishop of the frontier see of Merseburg (1009-1018) was himself a key figure in the regime of King Henry II (1002-1024). A member of a distinguished Saxon family with ties to many of the leading aristocrats of the kingdom, he is a classic example of a great bishop of the Ottonian Church. His Chronicle contains many stories that provide insights into the attitudes and anxieties of the aristocracy – about the women and men of his time, about the violent feuds amongst the members of the magnate class, about judicial duels and casual murders. In this week's seminars we look at three episodes of this kind.

Mandatory Preparation

Students are asked to read the following extracts from the Chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg, a work composed in the second decade of the eleventh century:

  1. The Rebellion of Margrave Henry of Schweinfurt (1002-1003) (Chronicle, v.14, 32).
  2. The Execution of Count Gero of Alsleben (11 August 979) (Chronicle, iii.9-10).
  3. The Abduction of Reinhild by Margrave Werner (November 1014) (Chronicle, vii.4-8).

And to come prepared with answers to the following discussion questions:

  1. What is happening in these stories?
  2. What is the author's view of these events?
  3. How does he express his views?
  4. To whose benefit, on the evidence of these episodes, did the religious content of Ottonian kingship work?
  5. What can we safely infer from these stories about the practice of kingship under the Ottonians?

The extracts may be downloaded from the Hist213 LUVLE site.

Issues for Further Consideration

  1. What were the distinguishing characteristics of the Ottonian style of kingship? How did it differ from that of the Merovingians and Carolingians?
  2. What were the factors that promoted this style of kingship? To what extent was it forced upon the Ottonians by the nature of the eastern Frankish kingdom? Or, to put the question slightly differently, can we see elements of the Ottonian style of kingship in the approach of earlier rulers of the eastern Frankish kingdom such as Louis the German (840-876), or Conrad I (911-18)?
  3. In what ways did Otto I's assumption of the imperial title in 962 bring about a change of direction in the development of the eastern Frankish kingdom?

Reading Strongly Recommended for All Students

  1. Reuter, T., Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800-1056 (London, 1991), esp. chps. 6-7. MHB.*
  2. Leyser, K., Rule and Conflict in an Early Medieval Society, Ottonian Saxony (London, 1979). MHBD.* Leyser's way of making a point is difficult to follow at first, but his work is full of important insights, including relevant comments about the passages for discussion.

In order to get a sense for how these histories were produced and transmitted it is also worth browsing the facsimile edition of the Dresden manuscript which is part of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica website:

Further Reading on Ottonian Kingship

  • Althoff, G., Otto III, trs. P. G. Jestice (University Park, PA, 2003). MHBD. Note also J. W. Bernhardt's useful review (and critique) of the German version of this book in Speculum, 73 (1998), 146-9.
  • Arnold, B., Medieval Germany: A Political Interpretation (Basingstoke, 1997). MHB.J.
  • Bosl, K., '"Noble Unfreedom": The Rise of the Ministeriales in Germany', in T. Reuter (ed.), The Medieval Nobility: Studies on the Ruling Classes of France and Germany from the Sixth to the Twelfth Century (Amsterdam, 1979), pp. 291-311. MSB.H.
  • Fleckenstein, J., Early Medieval Germany, trs. B. S. Smith (Amsterdam and New York, 1974). MHB.*
  • Gillingham, J., The Kingdom of Germany in the High Middle Ages (900-1200) (London, 1971). Pamphlets L69. . Mostly concerned with the eleventh and especially the twelfth centuries, but useful for general principles - or rather, for defining an approach to the period which prevailed in the 70s and 80s.
  • Heer, F., The Holy Roman Empire, trs. J. Sondheimer (London, 1968). Merely an introduction. MGR.
  • Hill, B. H., The Rise of the First Reich: Germany in the Tenth Century (New York, 1969). Sources in translation. MHBD.
  • Hill, B. H., Medieval Monarchy in Action: The German Empire from Henry I to Henry IV (London, 1972). Sources in translation. MHBD.
  • Leyser, K., 'Ottonian Government', English Historical Review, 96 (1981), 721-53. Journals L6. JSTOR. Rpt. in Leyser, Medieval Germany and its Neighbours (900-1250) (London, 1982). MBK.*
  • Leyser, K., 'Theophanu divina gratia imperatrix augusta: Western and Eastern Emperorship in the Later Tenth Century', in A. Davids (ed.), The Empress Theophano: Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 1-27; rpt. in K. Leyser, Communications and Power in Medieval Europe, vol. 1, The Carolingian and Ottonian Centuries (London, 1994), pp. 143-64. MBLE.
  • Mayr-Harting, H., Ottonian Book Illumination, An Historical Study, 2 vols. (London, 1992). Esp. chps. 2 and 4. Oversize, Restricted Access 98VSRk.B.
  • Müller-Mertens, E., 'The Ottonians as Kings and Emperors', in T. Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 3, c. 900–c. 1024 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 233-66. MB.*
  • Reuter, T., 'King, Nobles, Others: "Base" and "Superstructure" in the Ottonian Period', in B. Schneidmüller and S. Weinfurter (eds), Ottonische Neuanfänge (Mainz, 2001), pp. 127-51; rpt in T. Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. J. L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 300-24. MB.
  • Reuter, T., 'The "Imperial Church System" of the Ottonian and Salian Rulers: A Reconsideration', Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 33 (1982), 347-74. Journals P6. Rpt in T. Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. J. L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 325-54. MB.
  • Reuter, T., 'The Making of England and Germany, 850-1050: Points of Comparison and Difference', in A. P. Smyth (ed.), Medieval Europeans: Studies in Ethnic Identity and National Perspectives in Medieval Europe (Basingstoke and New York, 1998), pp. 53-70. MBM7. Rpt in T. Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. J. L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 284-99. MB.
  • Reuter, T., 'The Ottonians and Carolingian Tradition', in T. Reuter, Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities, ed. J. L. Nelson (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 268-83. MB.
  • Tellenbach, G., 'From the Carolingian Imperial Nobility to the German Estate of Imperial Princes', in T. Reuter (ed.), The Medieval Nobility: Studies on the Ruling Classes of France and Germany from the Sixth to the Twelfth Century (Amsterdam, 1979), pp. 203-42. MSB.H.
  • Warner, D. A., 'Ideals and Action in the Reign of Otto III', Journal of Medieval History, 25 (1999), 1-18. Online at Science Direct.
  • Warner, D. A., 'Ritual and Memory in the Ottonian Reich: The Ceremony of Adventus', Speculum, 76 (2001), 255-83. Journals LI. JSTOR.
  • Wolfram, H., Conrad II, 990-1039: Emperor of Three Kingdoms, trs. D. A. Kaiser (University Park, PA, 2006). MHBF.
  • Zotz, T., 'Carolingian Tradition and Ottonian-Salian Innovation: Comparative Observations on Palatine Policy in the Empire', in A. J. Duggan (ed.), Kings and Kingship in Medieval Europe, King's College London Medieval Studies 10 (London, 1993), pp. 69-100. MBS.

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