Magdeburg, Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen Anhalt, Rep. U 1, Tit. I, Nr. 31

firebeastThough a letter rather than a charter, the present document illustrates the approach to the issuing of royal grants prevalent in the kingdom of the eastern Franks during the 960s. It is addressed to all the emperor’s faithful men—defined as his bishops, counts and his fellow Saxons—and provides for the foundation of an archbishopric in Magdeburg, a town on the River Elbe which had long been the focus of the Emperor Otto the Great’s patronage. Its raison d’etre would be the conversion of the Slavonic peoples of the marches to the east of the River Elbe. Otto had formed his plan for founding an archbishopric there in 954, but he was prevented from carrying out this scheme until 968 by the complex ecclesiastical politics of the eastern Frankish kingdom. He had secured papal permission from Pope John XII soon after the imperial coronation in 2 February 962, but he was unable to overcome the resistance of Archbishop William of Mainz (954–68), to whose province the city of Magdeburg belonged. Canon law was on the William’s side, and even though he was Otto’s natural son, he remained implacable until his death in March 968. But this gave Otto the opportunity to replace him with a more receptive prelate, Hatto (968–70). Hatto’s assent to the scheme, given at Ravenna in the early autumn of 968, is reported in the present document alongside that of the bishop to whose diocese Magdeburg belonged, Hildeward of Halberstadt (968–96). The latter had succeeded Bernward, another opponent of the scheme, who had died in February 968. Hatto’s and Hildeward’s support was almost certainly a condition of their appointments.

The text also declares that Otto has chosen Bishop Adalbert (d. 981), a former missionary to the Rus’, to be the first archbishop of the new metropolitan see. A former monk of the monastery of St Maximin in Trier, he had travelled to Kiev in 959 at the request of Olga, the widow of Duke Igor, but he had been forced to return when he found that her son was not interested in learning about Christianity. Once Hatto and Hildeward had given their assent, Otto sent Adalbert to Rome to obtain the pallium, a white stole which the pope granted to new archbishops. Pope John XIII duly granted him the pallium on 18 October 968, and he in turn ordered two legates to go to Magdeburg with Adalbert so that the papacy would be represented at his enthronement and at the inauguration of the new province. Adalbert took with him a papal privilege recording the grant of the pallium. But the document which mattered most to the establishment of the new archbishopric was the present letter, not least because Otto I and his co-ruler Otto II were so deeply engaged with consolidating their hold on the kingdom of Italy that they could not accompany Adalbert to Magdeburg.

The letter makes various provisions for the establishment of the new province. The magnates of Saxony are ordered to express their collective assent to Adalbert’s election with their acclamations and physical participation at his enthronement. The sees of Havelburg and Brandenburg are transferred from the archbishopric of Mainz to the new province, and their incumbents, Dudo and Dodelin, are ordered to give their written assent and oaths of obedience to Adalbert. With the support of the papal legates Adalbert is to exercise his authority as archbishop to ordain bishops for three new sees based at Meissen, Merseburg and Zeitz. The margraves Günther of Merseburg, Wigbert of Meissen and Witger of Zeitz, all of whom stood to lose out with the establishment of a bishop in the principal towns of their marches, are ordered not to obstruct the archbishop. They are to accept Adalbert’s orders, as if they had been given by the emperor himself, and are to provide the new sees with an appropriate endowment. Otto ends by ordering that his letter is to be preserved in the church of Magdeburg forever together with ‘a future witness’ which is ‘to be written jointly’ by those whom he has named. It is thought that the principal scribe, who wrote all but the last line, was Adalbert himself. (He had served for a time as a notary at the imperial court.) If so, he is here providing himself with the imperial remit essential for the success of the project which had been entrusted to him.

firebeastThe document has a number of charter-like features. It begins, for example, with an arenga, a passage in which the grant is set in a religious context, here defined as the importance of the amplification of religion for the safety and welfare of the kingdom. It ends with a corroboratio, a clause which spells out the means by which an act is validated, in this case by the emperor’s signum (his monogram) written in his own hand and by a seal taken from his own ring. The letter is also written in the manner of a charter on a large, almost white piece of parchment measuring 460 × 580 milimetres. It is carefully laid out, the edges and line spaces being quite regular. In contrast to English charters of this period (the obvious document for comparison is the New Minster Foundation Charter of 966), the whole is inscribed in diplomatic script rather than in a bookhand. The opening line is given in an elongated and high-ranking majuscule script whilst the rest is written in a diplomatic minuscule (lines 2 to 16). The letters c, e, f, and s are given decorative loops, and the ascenders, especially on the d, have flourishes in diverse forms. Majuscules and letters in elongated script emphasise the beginning of new sentences or new paragraphs. But the focal point of the diploma is the seal of the emperor, which shows a frontal depiction of Otto I with his crown, sceptre and orb. The line with the monogram of Otto I almost seems to guide the viewer’s eye towards it.

Facsimile: M. Puhle (ed.), Otto der Grosse: Magdeburg und Europa, Eine Ausstellung im Kulturhistorischen Museum Magdeburg vom 27 August 2 Dezember 2001, 2 vols. (Mainz, 2001), ii, 351. +MHBE7.

Edition: T. Sickel (ed.), Die Urkunden Konrad I, Heinrich I und Otto I, Monumenta Germaniae historica: Diplomata regum et imperatorum Germaniae 1 (Hannover, 1879–84), no. 366 (pp. 502–3).

Translation: B. H. Hill, Medieval Monarchy in Action: The German Empire from Henry I to Henry IV (London, 1972), no. 12 (pp. 162–3). MHBD. The relevant section is available via moodle.


  • Althoff, G., ‘Saxony and the Elbe Slavs in the Tenth Century’, in T. Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 3, c.900–c.1024 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 267–92. MB.
  • Claude, D., Geschichte des Erzbistums Magdeburg bis in das 12. Jahrhundert, Mitteldeutsche Forschungen 67, 2 vols. (Cologne and Vienna, 1972–75), i, 117–8.
  • Huschner, W., Transalpine Kommunikation im Mittelalter: Diplomatische, kulturelle und politische Wechselwirkungen zwischen Italien und dem nordalpinen Reich (9.–11. Jahrhundert), MGH Schriften 52 (Hannover, 2003), chp. 4.2.
  • Mayr-Harting, H., ‘The Church of Magdeburg: Its Trade and its Town in the Tenth and Early Eleventh Centuries’, in D. Abulafia, M. Franklin and M. Rubin (eds), Church and City, 1000–1500: Essays in Honour of Christopher Brooke (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 129–50.
  • Puhle, Otto der Grosse, ii, 350–2.

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