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06.01.13, Giese, ed., Annales Quedlinburgenses

06.01.13, Giese, ed., Annales Quedlinburgenses

As the preferred residence and center of lordship (Herrschaftszentrum) of the Ottonian dynasty, the women's community of Quedlinburg can claim to be the first German capital. [[1]] The house was richly outfitted in every way that mattered during the tenth century: with privileges, relics, books, landed property, and an impressive building complex. Quedlinburg also functioned as a premier educational institution for the female nobles of Saxony, one of whom composed a Latin history of her own multiple, overlapping communities (political, ethnic, and ecclesiastical) and their leaders. The argument that the author of the Annals of Quedlinburg was a member of the women's community, rather than one of its male associates, was first fully articulated by Käthe Sonnleitner, in the late 1980s. The female gender of the Quedlinburg annalist has since attained the status of fact. While cautioning that there is nothing definitive in the annals to indicate the gender of the author, the text's new editor persuasively argues in favor of the new orthodoxy, as well as in favor of the view that the entire narrative was produced by a single author; she refers to the anonymous annalist, accordingly, with feminine singular pronouns. In this as in other ways, Martina Giese's careful edition, thorough introduction and invaluable notes put the future use and study of the Quedlinburg annals on a firm footing.

Giese has convincingly deciphered much about the dates and methods of composition of the text, although she has not been able to elucidate every aspect of the writing process. The appellation "Annals of Quedlinburg," the one exclusively used in modern scholarship, goes back only as far as G.H. Pertz's original MGH edition, in volume 3 of the Scriptores series.[[2]] However, earlier scholars called the text a Chronicle. For instance, the title in the sole surviving direct witness to the eleventh-century text (a sixteenth-century paper copy, now Dresden, Sä:chsische Landesbibliothek, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Q.133) is "Chronicum Saxonicum Quedilnburg." There it appears alongside a collection of unpublished sixteenth-century vernacular city chronicles (of Dresden, Freiberg, Wittenberg and Zwickau). The Annals of Quedlinburg open with a world chronicle running from the time of Adam to the 3rd Council of Constantinople in 680-681 (383-417 of the edition), based on chronicles by Jerome, Isidore, and Bede (among other sources). In the year of the incarnation 702 (Nativity style), the annalistic entries begin.

The proportion of original material in the annals (as opposed to borrowings from multiple older sources) does not become significant until 1002. Nevertheless, there are scattered original reports from as early as 852 and, from 993, they represent the annalist's own eyewitness testimony concerning events at and around Quedlinburg. Giese detects a retrospective perspective until 1008, when the quality and detail of the information increase dramatically. This point forms the crux of her argument that the annalist first began to write in that year. It also brings us to the first way in which Giese's edition necessitates significant modifications in our understanding of the text. All recent scholarship on the annals (see 49 n. 36 for specific references) has mistakenly assumed the direct influence of Empress Theophanu (d. 991) and/or Abbess Mathilda (d. 999) on both the sheer composition and on the contents of the narrative.

The author of the Annals of Quedlinburg was thus a member of the community, who resided at the house from at least 993, and began to write its history in 1008. For the next eight years, she worked assiduously on her project, keeping detailed records of contemporary events. On the basis of those notes, she was able to redact polished entries for each year through 1016. She continued to make use of written sources, albeit to a far lesser degree than for previous years. Giese catalogues the annalist's many sources and assesses her precise debt to them in an exhaustive discussion (143-243); the edition itself utilizes different font sizes to distinguish between borrowed and original material. Despite her relatively detailed picture of the annalist at work, Giese makes no attempt to identify her with an individual named member of the community, or to explain why she apparently stopped work on the project between 1016 and 1021. The quality and accuracy of the entries for those years do not measure up to the extremely high standards set for 1008-1016, indicating that the annalist temporarily abandoned her practice of keeping detailed contemporary notes on which to base a finished product. Yet, 1021 boasts the longest entry in the entire narrative, and the entries for 1022-1025 again are clearly based on detailed records of contemporary events. The annalist therefore clearly was still deeply engaged in her project, rendering the five-year hiatus all the more mysterious.

Other potential mysteries concerning the narrative are better elucidated. The sole manuscript witness of the Annals of Quedlinburg, the Dresden codex cited above, was copied from an already defective (sometimes lacunary, sometimes illegible) exemplar, such that all entries after 1025, the entries for the chronological blocks 873-909 and 961-983, and the entries for the individual years 992, 1009, 1022-23 and 1025 are (wholly or partially) missing. However, all the lacunae can be filled substantially (although Giese, unlike earlier editors, resists the temptation to create verbatim reconstructions) based on citations to and utilizations of the Annals of Quedlinburg by subsequent authors such as Thietmar of Merseburg. Based on these citations, Giese concludes that the annalist continued her project until 1030, when she was able to report a military victory against Mieszko II of Poland, but abandoned it thereafter. The optimism of that moment of victory could not be sustained in succeeding years, and Giese suggests that the annalist was not interested in recording the trials and tribulations of the 1030s.

The picture of the Quedlinburg annalist, as it emerges from Giese's re-dating and analysis of the text, should stimulate lively debates. The historian only began to write when the community of Quedlinburg and the dynasty with which it was most closely associated, namely the Ottonians, had both passed their zenith in terms of political centrality. The annalist's superior, Abbess Adelheid I, saw herself as the last banner carrier of the Ottonian tradition. A tinge of dolefulness thus attaches to the narrative from its very inception, for the annalist was trying to preserve a fading heritage of Ottonian and Quedlinburgian glory, and to pass it on to younger generations (particularly students being educated at the house) who could not experience it directly. This constitutes a major revision in our understanding of the annals, which have heretofore been seen as an expression of Ottonian and Quedlinburgian sensibilities at their joint moment of greatest triumph (the 990s).

It is here crucial to underline that the triumphant Ottonians celebrated by the annalist are, first and foremost, the women of the house (Queen Matilda, Empress Adelheid, Empress Theophanu, Abbess Mathilda and Abbess Adelheid). The only male who rivals the women of the family in terms of panegyrical depiction is Otto III. Readers unfamiliar with the annals, and/or with the flood of recent scholarship on the power of medieval dominae, may even be shocked by sections of the work, such as the annalist's account of the "metropolitan" authority exercised by Abbess Matilda, the very epitome of Christian rulership, at the Magdeburg Hoftag of 999 (501-502). Giese notes, "Eine geistliche Frauengemeinschaft als Umfeld wie sie im Servatiusstift existierte, schärfte offenbar den Blick für die Taten und Verdienste gerade der weiblichen Familienangehörigen" (85). I would press the point farther. The annalist's insistence on the political power of abbesses and empresses alike is so thorough-going, that it cannot simply be the natural expression of a heightened sensitivity to female agency, particularly given the fact that the entire narrative was written after those very abbesses and empresses had lost their earlier preeminence. I therefore suspect that the desire to portray noble women as powerful and active was itself an important motivation for the Quedlinburg historian, a rationale which can account for the presence in the text of any number of otherwise apparently extraneous episodes, such as the eleven-line description of the pilgrimage to Rome made in 1008 by Bertlalis, "ancilla ancillarum sancti Servatii" (525).

Given that the annalist initially took up her pen already under the somewhat depressing circumstances of fading glory, it seems to me unlikely that she would have stopped writing, in 1030, due to bad news from the eastern front (as Giese posits)...all the more so because imperial/Saxon relations with the Slavic rulers to the east were one of her most consistent personal and institutional preoccupations throughout the political narrative. For instance, she depicts Queen Matilda's very foundation of Quedlinburg in 937, first and foremost, as a prong in her family's campaign of Christian mission to the Slavic east. Her accounts of the military confrontations and negotiations with Boleslaw Chobry and Mieszko II are virtually blow-by-blow, and she is able to offer her readers a number of exclusive reports--based on inside information available only to the court at Quedlinburg and to the inner circle of the Saxon ruling family--concerning dealings with the rulers of both Poland and Bohemia. Another source of exclusive information was probably Oda, the widow of Mieszko I (d. 992) who took refuge at Quedlinburg after being expelled from Poland, and who lived there until her death in 1023. This does not mean that the Quedlinburg annalist always depicted events accurately. Like every politically-involved and politically-aware historian of her age, she shaped her narrative to justify her own position. Thus, for instance, the ongoing battles against Boleslav Chobry are represented not as battles for the territorial aggrandizement of her Saxon lords, but rather as battles for the extension of the Christian faith. She consistently fails to mention that Boleslav was himself a Christian (as noted by Giese, 74).

Another area in which the Quedlinburg annalist was privy to, and a reporter of, exclusive information concerns historico-legendary figures such as Attila the Hun, king Theoderich/Dietrich of the Goths, Ermenrich/Ermanarich, and Odoaker, and mythical events such as the origins and settlement (Landgewinnung) of the Saxons. The amount of saga material integrated (in sophisticated ways) into the narrative of the Annals of Quedlinburg is without parallel. In many cases, the Quedlinburg annalist is the first witness to legendary materials that otherwise are known overwhelmingly from vernacular epic literature of the thirteenth century. Giese provides an extremely detailed analysis of this aspect of the text (as she does for all others), untangling what the Quedlinburg annalist reaped from older written sources (such as the Liber Historiae Francorum) and what she must have been the first to record (and shape to her own ends) from indeterminate oral sources. Where relevant, the editor also briefly summarizes the historical cores of the various legends. Finally, the annalist appears to have had a great interest in natural phenomena, such as eclipses; such events are frequently recorded in the annals, sometimes (as with the legendary and Slavic war materials) as unique reports, unattested elsewhere.

The Annals of Quedlinburg is an extraordinarily important source for German and above all Saxon history, not only during the tenth and eleventh centuries, but also of subsequent periods. During the twelfth century, for instance, the Annals of Quedlinburg was cited and utilized by at least five contemporary historians. As Giese notes, "Die Annales Quedlinburgenses haben eine relative umfangreiche Nachwirkung entfaltet, deren vollständige Dokumentation nicht Gegenstand der vorliegenden Einleitung sein kann" (258). The topic is addressed by Giese only from an editorial perspective, namely, to the extent that study of the reception of the annals enabled her to fill the lacunae in the text (258-372). But the reception of the text deserves more scholarly attention, given its resonance among later readers, and the importance of Quedlinburg itself (the first capital of Germany) in German political history. It would, for instance, be worth exploring the influence of the text during the sixteenth century, when the only surviving copy of it was produced. The Dresden codex ultimately owes its creation to the process of collection of material for a genealogical history of the house of Saxony, commissioned in 1556 by Elector August I of Saxony (1553-1586) from his official court historian, the Humanist Georg Fabricius. Fabricius' historical works owe much to and sometimes explicitly cite the Annals of Quedlinburg. Fabricius' library was acquired by August and subsequently formed part of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek established in Dresden by August's son Christian I. There, Fabricius' (lost) copy of the annals came to the attention of the Wittenberg University Professor and historian Petrus Albinus (d. 1598), who included a copy of it in his collection of city chronicles (the present Dresden manuscript). Albinus served the Saxon court for a number of decades in multiple capacities, including as the organizer of its archives. We should perhaps also ponder the fact that we now know much about the medieval historical glorification of the Saxons only because of the success of an early modern project to historically glorify the Saxons. The text also resonated enough with the early compilers of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica for them to include it in one of the very first published volumes of their collection of key sources for German history. At that point, the text had already been edited thrice (in 1710, 1730, and 1764).

Once ensconced in the MGH, and further disseminated through inclusion in Migne's PL reprint (volume 141 of 1880), the Annals of Quedlinburg must have played a key role in shaping how influential Germans of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw their medieval past. Quedlinburg itself had some extraordinary moments during the Nazi period. In 1936, the millennium of the death of Henry I, considered the first king of Germany, Heinrich Himmler transformed Quedlinburg into the premier location for SS ceremonial. Himmler believed himself to be the reincarnation of Henry I, buried in Quedlinburg's crypt, which itself became the focal point of SS rituals. This is arguably the most unusual modern utilization of any surviving medieval ecclesiastical complex. It may be that this startling modern utilization of Quedlinburg for a memorial cult has contributed to the current scholarly emphasis on Ottonian-era Quedlinburg as a memorial center for the members of the Saxon royal house who were buried in the canonesses' crypt. That is primarily how Quedlinburg appears in the works of those who have dominated our recent understanding of the house, namely, Karl Leyser and Gerd Althoff: as a commemorative center (a role with political implications) rather than as a political center, tout court (as it appears in the Annals of Quedlinburg). Martina Giese follows recent scholarly convention in asserting that a primary motivation for the composition of the Annals of Quedlinburg was as an aid for the community's key commemorative function: the annual recitation of the names of the dead and the keeping alive of their memory (98). She suggests that this task was facilitated by community members knowing as much as possible about the people they were commemorating.

Yet, there is in the annals not a single reference to or description of any commemorative or memorial activities on the part of the community. This should be seen as significant, for the annals represent an official history of the community, and accordingly include masses of information about the specifics of institutional history. There is a litany of details concerning Quedlinburg's papal privileges, imperial donations, and relic acquisitions, about the foundation and consecration of new communities subject to Quedlinburg, and about the building history of Quedlinburg's own complex. Furthermore, the annalist specifically foregrounds the Easter palace tradition, that is, the annual political assemblies held at Quedlinburg for decades on end. She dilates upon the political capabilities of empresses and abbesses, to the point that descriptions of them are effectively "Mirrors of Princes" (see Giese, 87-89). But she describes no memorial activities. I therefore, tentatively, suggest a rethinking of the Leyser-Althoff paradigm which caused Giese to engage in the following mental gymnastics: "Zwar besteht kein direkter Zusammenhang zwischen dem nekrologischen und dem historiographischen Zeugnis, doch erklärt sich das gehäufte Auftreten von Todesnachrichten in den Annalen befriedigend nur aus dem Wissen um die Funktion des Servatiusstifts als Stätte liturgischer memoria" (89-90). I would argue that the inclusion of reports of the deaths of politically significant people in a major political history can, in fact, be satisfactorily explained without recourse to the notion that the author's community was burdened with liturgical responsibilities, particularly given the fact that the obituary notices in the Quedlinburg source are recorded exclusively in annalistic, rather than calendrical, terms. Liturgical commemoration is tied to the death date (month and day) not the death year of a person, information which is not provided in the Annals of Quedlinburg which may not have been available to the Quedlinburg community. This state of affairs contrasts with the situation at the men's community at Merseburg, whose necrology recorded the death dates of members of the ruling dynasty by calendar date, in a fashion appropriate for liturgical commemoration. Indeed, Giese utilizes the Merseburg necrology in her notes to supplement the limited information on death dates provided by the Quedlinburg annalist (e.g. 536 n. 1345). Nor is the absence of calendar days in the Quedlinburg narrative due to a lack of precision on the part of the annalist, who kept extremely precise records of natural events, including the flood of Tuesday December 15 1013 (540), or the halo which appeared in the sky on Monday July 18 1020 (556). Giese notes the existence of a Wendhausen-Quedlinburg necrology of c. 1030-1060, now Braunschweig Stadtbibliothek, fr. Nr. 62 (pp. 44 and 570) but tells us nothing about it. In any case, the fact that it appears to date from 1030 or later renders it unusable as evidence of a memorial role for the Quedlinburg community during the Ottonian period.

The Annals of Quedlinburg deserves both a first translation into English, and a new translation into German (to update Eduard Winkelmann's generally unavailable 1862 version). Martina Giese's edition, produced according to the very highest possible scientific criteria, provides a solid basis on which to undertake such a task. The text is neither particularly long nor particularly difficult. Of the 680 total pages of the volume under review, only 200 of the pages contain the text itself, and on those 200 pages, an elaborate apparatus occupies fifty percent or more of each page.


[[1]] As in Uwe Gerig, Die erste Deutsche Hauptstadt Quedlinburg (Quedlinburg: Gerig, 1997).

[[2]] Giese dates this edition to 1839 on pp. 66 and 375, but to 1832 on p. 382.