Thursday 14 May 2015

Mission, Empire and the North: The Archdiocese of Hamburg-Bremen, c. 830–c. 1200

Dr Paul Gazzoli writes:

In connection with my British Academy-funded research project to produce a new edition of Rimbert’s Life of Anskar, I and Dr Erik Niblaeus of Durham University are hosting a conference this summer, on the 4th of July 2015 (the Saturday before the Leeds International Medieval Congress). This will focus on Hamburg-Bremen not only in Anskar’s day but through the time of the great chronicler Adam of Bremen up through the end of the twelfth century.

Bremen cathedral

Hamburg-Bremen, and the written sources it produced in the middle ages, are essential to Scandinavian historians: history-writing only began in Scandinavia in the 12th century, and the Icelandic sagas were not written until the 13th century. But Adam of Bremen wrote in the 1070s, and had the Danish King Svend Estridsen (1047–76) as his informant, while Rimbert wrote the Life of Anskar in the 860s or 870s (Anskar was the first Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen and worked as a missionary among the Danes and Swedes from the 820s through the 850s, and his Life records much about Scandinavia during that time). Thus both sources provide extremely valuable evidence for Scandinavia during the Viking Age.

Part of Anskar’s legacy was Hamburg-Bremen’s enduring claim to supremacy over all the Church in Scandinavia. The creation of the archdiocese of Lund in 1104 mostly ended this, but Hamburg-Bremen did try to regain Scandinavia through the twelfth century. As part of this struggle, documents were forged, and sorting out truth from falsehood has many important implications for the history not only of Hamburg-Bremen but of Scandinavia. Scholars have also seen distortions in Adam of Bremen’s work, and recently Eric Knibbs has argued that the falsification of history goes back to the ninth century with Anskar and Rimbert themselves.

Against this difficult background, the conference will be looking at a variety of types of evidence: Dr Britta Mischke (of the University of Cologne) will look at the evidence of diplomas, while Prof. Matthias Hardt (Leipzig) and Morten Søvsø (Sydvestjyske Museer) will be discussing the archaeological traces of Christianisation among the Baltic Slavs and southern Scandinavia respectively. Prof. Hans-Werner Goetz (Hamburg) will be discussing Hamburg-Bremen’s claim on Scandinavia through the 11th century, while Prof. Michael Gelting (Aberdeen/Danish National Archives) will address Hamburg-Bremen’s struggle to control the Nordic church in the 12th century. Dr Erik Niblaeus (Durham) will situate Hamburg-Bremen in its Salian context, while Dr John-Henry Clay (Durham) will set Anskar against the background of earlier missionaries in Germany. I (Paul Gazzoli, Cambridge) will be talking about the transmission and re-writing of the Life of Anskar at Bremen in the twelfth century. All papers will be followed by discussion. 

We hope you can join us to help make for a lively and valuable conference! More information (including the schedule) will be available at while you can register here. Registration is £18 (£13 for students) and includes morning and afternoon tea/coffee, lunch and a wine reception. There will be a conference dinner at St Catharine’s College, priced £35 (with wine £10 extra).

St Anskar, painting from the old Cathedral (torn down in the 19th century) in Hamburg

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