Ottonian Germany

The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg

Author: David A. Warner

The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg has long been recognised as one of the most important sources for the history of the tenth and early eleventh centuries, especially for the history of the Ottonian Empire. Although there is sufficient evidence of continuity between the Ottonians and the early Salians to justify a long Ottonian period extending at least to 1056, it is the Ottonians alone who defined the mental landscape of Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg. Thietmar's testimony also has special value because of his geographical location, in eastern Saxony, on the boundary between German and Slavic cultures. He is arguably the single most important witness to the early history of Poland, and his detailed descriptions of Slavic folklore are the earliest on record. Among anglophone readers, Thietmar's reputation rests chiefly on the various studies of Ottonian society and politics produced by the late Karl Leyser, one of the most influential historians of his generation. Although Thietmar placed great importance on kings and royal politics, he was scarcely reticent when it came to expressing his opinions on other matters. Notwithstanding his emphasis on the Divinity's role in directing Ottonian kings, Thietmar did not conceal the fact that the effect of royal government could be disruptive.

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