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Missionaries and changing views of the other from the ninth to twelfth centuries
Tim Barnwell

Between the ninth and the twelfth centuries attitudes towards the peoples of Scandinavia and the southern Baltic changed dramatically. In the ninth century, Scandinavia was discussed, even by those who visited it, in partially apocalyptic (i.e. Biblical) terms (not least because of the Viking threat): by the twelfth century the territory of Denmark together with southern Sweden and Norway was largely converted, at least in name, although some of the peoples of the eastern Baltic remained pagan.

Our understanding of these peoples has been transformed in recent years as a result of work largely by scholars from eastern Europe, whose work is now easily accessible (e.g. Garipzanov, Geary and Urbanczyk (2008)): this wealth of archaeological and historical study means that we have a very much clearer understanding of the realities of the Scandinavian and Baltic worlds than was available a decade ago.

This project aims to take advantage of this new knowledge, and of new methodological approaches to the Other, to look at changes in descriptions of the Scandinavian and Baltic worlds in missionary texts of the ninth to eleventh centuries, beginning with Rimbert's Life of Anskar, continuing through the works relating to Adalbert of Prague and Bruno of Querfurt. In order to evaluate the distinctive nature of these texts, it will continue into the Salian period, with Otto of Bamberg, Adam of Bremen (the first book of whose History of the Bishops of Hamburg depends heavily on Rimbert, while the last makes extensive use of earlier classical and Biblical ethnography), and Helmold of Bosau. For far eastern Europe comparison may also be made with the evidence provided by the Arab geographers from the tenth century onwards.

The Latin texts are all relatively well known, but much of the initial study was laid down by scholars writing either within a nationalist or within a missionary tradition (e.g. Addison (1936)): great missionaries of the past were set up as role-models for modern missionaries. In recent years there has been a spate of research on the history of medieval mission within the broader tradition of historical writing (e.g. Berend (2007)), while some of the texts (notably those relating to Anskar, Adalbert and Bruno) have received attention for what they reveal of missionary strategy (e.g. Wood, (2001)): even so, discussion of these texts has so far not considered what light they shed on changing attitudes towards neighbouring peoples. In particular, the shift between the ideas expounded by Rimbert and Bruno on the one hand and by Adam and Helmold on the other has not been properly evaluated.

This project aims to follow descriptions of alien (essentially pagan) peoples to investigate changing attitudes towards the Other. It aims to ask why, on the one hand, Rimbert and Bruno, who had personal knowledge of the peoples they were describing, still portrayed them in eschatological terms, while on the other Helmold did not even though the latter has very specific information on Slavonic paganism. The changing use of ethnographic resources is, thus, central. Alongside this, the project aims to contrast the ethnography (classical and Biblical) actually used in the period from 900 to 1200 with the now established contrast between the 'Germanic' Scandinavians and the Slavs (who at the time were settled along the southern shores of the Baltic).

In other words, this continues to follow the line of questioning set out in sub-project A, 'Defining the Other in the Merovingian and early Carolingian periods'. But whereas the earlier period seems to have marked a shift away from classical ethnography to a much more Biblical-based and indeed eschatological vision, the later period sees to have seen a steady decline of that vision.
 


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