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Master of Arts, University of Akron, History, 2009.


For Ottonian Germany and the Saxon Kings, one of the primary works available to modern scholars is Thietmar of Merseburg’s Chronicon, written in the early eleventh century. Thietmar was Bishop of Merseburg from 1009-1018. He wrote the Chronicon for his contemporary, King Henry II (1002-1024). The Cathedral was one of the reasons that Henry II found himself frequently in Merseburg. Thietmar’s motivations for writing the Chronicon were to convey to Henry the greatness of the Ottonian line and, accordingly, Thietmar detailed battles and the political framework of the past kings.

Thietmar also felt that it was his duty as bishop to inform the new king of incidents and actions that had not found grace in the eyes of God. Recognizing that all written documents bear the influence of their authors and are thus reflective of circumstances contemporary to the author as much as they are descriptions of the past allows one to use a source, such as the Chronicon, to explore the author’s views and understandings of his society. Thietmar’s work offers great insight into how the people of the day experienced religion and their God in their daily lives and the way that they understood their circumstances. God acted through history. It was only when people failed to adhere to the earlier examples that God had to act in the present; when he acted, it was through historical forms. Furthermore, it was through God’s historical actions that people related their experiences.

The concepts of memory and remembering are central to Thietmar’s work. He was mindful of his role in the greater picture to offer a record of past events. Thietmar declares that he wished to act “as the whetstone [sharpening] the iron but not itself.” (Thietmar, Chronicon, I. 14). His work is the whetstone and future readers are the iron, and he intended his readers to return to his work, to his examples, to find inspiration and guidance. There is a sense that Thietmar believed and recognized that events and people, who are not written about, will not be remembered.

First, I discuss and the ways that scholars have used Thietmar. Often, this has been towards understanding the political framework of Ottonian Germany, though more recently toward an understanding of medieval society from the perspective of memory and social mentalities. I also discuss Thietmar’s thoughts and beliefs on social hierarchy in the world of the living. Following this, I discuss the dead. First, I look to the dead and recently deceased to understand their place in medieval society as well as Thietmar’s own understanding of the dead. Next, I turn to discussion of relics, both of martyrs and of saints, and also the place of martyrs and saints within Thietmar’s work, including the ways that he and his contemporaries understood relics and the holy deceased. Lastly, I discuss the three ways in which Thietmar understood and experienced God: as a protector, as a God of vengeance, and as a supreme judge both in this world and the next.

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