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21.03.08 Loud (tr.), The Chronicle of Arnold of Lübeck

The Medieval Review

21.03.08 Loud (tr.), The Chronicle of Arnold of Lübeck


Graham A. Loud offers the first English translation of the chronicle penned by Arnold of Lübeck, who saw his work as the continuation of Helmold of Bosau's Chronica Slavorum. Arnold began his account in 1172 where Helmold left off and brought the narrative down to late 1209 with an account of Otto IV's imperial coronation at the hands of Innocent III. The fact that every extant manuscript copy of Helmold's chronicle also conjoins it with Arnold's work has led early-modern and nineteenth-century editors to ascribe the earlier text's title to the later chronicle, something that Arnold never expressly did. Loud names the work simply after its author and convincingly identifies the different characteristics of the two chronicles. Arnold wrote after the great missionary efforts beyond the Elbe depicted in Helmold's chronicle and did not focus primarily on the interactions between Slavs and Germans. Arnold's treatment of contemporary history was also geographically and thematically broader and more eclectic than Helmold's. German imperial affairs in general do not monopolize his attention, for he reported primarily on northern Germany, southern Jutland (Holstein and Schleswig), and the lands just beyond the Elbe. Arnold focused on the actions and fortunes of local rulers, the affairs of local bishops and religious houses, and the events concerning Lübeck, the city founded in 1143 (about the time of his birth) where he spent much of his life. The Christianized Slavic neighbors of his day were merely one group of interest among many others. German monarchs (e.g., Frederick I, Henry VI, Philip of Swabia, and Otto IV), important northern German lay princes (e.g., Henry the Lion, Bernhard of Saxony, Adolf III of Holstein) and prelates (e.g., archbishops of Cologne and Bremen, bishops of Lübeck, Ratzeburg, Schleswig, and Hildesheim), and neighbors of the Germans (e.g., King Cnut VI of Denmark and several Mecklenburg Slavic chieftains) loom larger in his view. Nevertheless, Arnold also coupled these concerns with great interest in the Crusades and the affairs of Outremer, a feature that determined the translation's series publication as a "Crusade Text."

Loud provides several features before the translation text proper: a preface (vi); table of abbreviations (vii); maps (viii-ix) of Schleswig, Holstein, east Saxony, and the Holy Land; genealogical charts (x-xiv) of the Hohenstaufen, Welfs, Ascanians, Slavic lords of Mecklenburg, and the kings of Denmark; and a lengthy introduction (1-37). In that last-named section Loud explores in detail the data regarding Arnold's biography and suggests the possibility that the chronicler was the custos of Lübeck cathedral before becoming in 1177 the first abbot of the new Benedictine monastery of St. John in that same city. Arnold was also an accomplished poet; his only other written work was a translation into Latin verse of Hartmann von Aue's Middle High German poem Gregorius. In the chronicle the reader can also see his versifying at work, for example Arnold's eulogy for Henry the Lion (V, 24) and in his report of King Philip of Swabia's murder and the subsequent death in childbirth of the latter's widow, Queen Irene/Maria Angelos (VII, 12).

Arnold generally exhibited a friendly, at times laudatory stance toward Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, but did not evidence any undue hostility to Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, Duke Henry's ultimate condemner and banisher. Frederick's praiseworthy role as crusader and his death on crusade doubtlessly contributed to this estimation. While Arnold expressed criticism of Henry VI for his arrogance and meddling in the affairs of the Church in northern Germany, the ruler's crusading zeal near the end of his life likewise softened this judgment. Arnold also treated the Frederick's younger sons (Frederick of Swabia and Philip of Swabia) positively and adopted in his chronicle a neutral stance regarding the civil war between the latter and Otto IV; he described both men as kings. After Philip's murder, Arnold depicted Otto IV very favorably as the chronicle ends before the new emperor's break with Pope Innocent III and the resumption of civil war. By contrast, Count Adolf III of Holstein, a Hohenstaufen partisan in northern Germany who threatened the autonomy of Lübeck, generally earned Arnold's disdain, except for his heroic actions during the Crusade of 1197.

The chronicler generally discusses the Danes in a friendly manner and does not obdurately display hostility to various neighboring Slavic peoples who by his day had become Christians. His tone regarding the Byzantines was usually neutral, while his one substantial reference to Jews (V, 15)--a miraculous conversion story--contained the antisemitic trope of alleged ritual Jewish mutilation of a waxen figure of Christ. As to be expected in a work dealing partly with the Crusades, the chronicler generally treated Muslims negatively. But Arnold's stance was nuanced in that he could occasionally accord humane qualities to them, as for example by noting the cordial and hospitable attitude of Sultan Kilij Arslan II of Iconium toward the pilgrim Henry the Lion (I, 9).

The chronicle contains 144 chapters grouped in seven books. Arnold rarely reported specific dates, so the reader's close attention to context and the footnotes is needed to determine both the chronology and the identities of several similarly-named individuals or of incumbents of similar offices such as duke, count, and bishop.

The fourteen chapters of book I reported on the 1172 pilgrimage of Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, to Jerusalem and back. Loud considers unlikely the possibility that Arnold might have accompanied him. Twenty-two further chapters in book II told of the often-violent struggles in northern Germany between the returned duke and his princely opponents. The first chapter detailed Henry's infamous refusal in 1176 to give his importunate cousin Emperor Frederick any military assistance for the latter's Italian campaign, an event that surely soured the relationship between the two men. The final chapters told how Frederick subsequently returned from Italy to Germany and mounted an expedition to the north that ended in Henry's judicial condemnation, loss of his duchies, and exile. Book III's twenty-two chapters flitted back and forth between several loosely connected foci: northern German politics, relations of Germans with their Slavic neighbors, the coronation of Emperor Frederick's son Henry VI as king of the Romans, and imperial-papal relations.

Book IV was completely dedicated to the Third Crusade and to the events prompting this expedition. The first five of sixteen chapters recounted Saladin's great victory at Hattin as well as his lamentable conquest of Jerusalem and most of the Frankish territories. The next two chapters reported the papal call for a new crusade and its preparations, followed by six chapters detailing Emperor Frederick's overland expedition east to Asia Minor, his victory in battle over the sultan of Iconium, and his death by drowning – so Arnold says – in the Saleph river in southern Anatolia. The last three chapters recounted the dissolution of much of the German expedition as well as the further journey of the remnant to join the siege of Acre and await the arrival of the French and English kings.

Book V resembled Book III in its varied nature. Thirty chapters narrated both northern and southern events in the 1190s: Henry the Lion's return from exile and subsequent death, Henry VI's imperial coronation and his attempts to conquer the SicilianRegno, armed struggle between Welf and Ascanian partisans in northern Germany, the siege and ultimate surrender of Lübeck to Adolf III of Holstein, the activities of the Danish king Cnut VI in Schleswig, the crusade of 1197 and its modest success, and the beginning of German Christian missionizing efforts and the conquest of Livonia that followed the founding of the bishopric of Riga.

The final section of the chronicle--twenty chapters each in books VI and VII--concerned three themes: the civil war that erupted over the German throne between Henry the Lion's son Otto and Henry's younger brother Philip of Swabia after Henry VI's death; political and military events in northern Germany as local princes, prelates, and Cnut of Denmark jockeyed for advantage; and the fortunes of the Fourth Crusade as it intervened in Byzantine politics and eventually seized control of Constantinople, Thrace, and much of Greece proper.

Scholars interested in this period of German history will doubtlessly consider how Arnold treated three important episodes: the downfall and exile of Henry the Lion, the death of Frederick I on crusade, and the murder of Philip of Swabia at the height of his fortunes. Book II, 1-2, 10-22 related the first episode. As noted above, in 1176 Frederick fervently pleaded for his ducal cousin's military assistance against the Lombard League, even going to the extreme of throwing himself at Henry's feet. The duke refused twice to perform personal military service, pleading personal fatigue. Arnold next mistakenly reported that the emperor subsequently met with great military success in Italy. Frederick's actual defeat in battle at Legnano figured not at all in Arnold's narrative! The chronicler was on surer footing when he assumed that the emperor was resentful and later accused the duke of contempt, thus provoking Henry's princely enemies to add their own accusations, especially charging the duke with oppression of churches. When Henry refused two court summonses to answer charges, rejected the emperor's offer--to be secured at the cost of 5000 marks--of mediation, and rejected a third summons, he incurred in 1180 the princes' condemnation and a fourth summons to hear sentence. The duke declined to appear and continued warfare against his princely enemies, especially Archbishop Philip of Cologne and Bishop Udalrich of Halberstadt. When the emperor's military expedition into northern Germany met with little resistance and accelerated the defection of ducal allies, Henry submitted in 1181 without receiving any mercy, "since all the [other] princes were determined in his overthrow" (91). The duke was stripped of his ducal titles and possessions, was allowed to retain only his patrimonial properties around Brunswick, and was obliged to abjure the realm for three years.

Barbarossa's death in June 1190 received only a brief notice in IV, 13. On a hot day the German crusaders arrived at the Saleph River. The army crossed at a ford; while against advice the emperor wanted to wash and cool himself elsewhere in the strong current. He was swept away by the rapid waters, submerged before anyone could help him, and perished. Philip of Swabia's murder in June 1208 received lengthier treatment in VII, 12. Philip had promised to marry a daughter to Otto of Wittelsbach, count-palatine of Bavaria, but subsequently changed his mind upon considering Otto's cruel and violent nature. Otto then asked Philip for a letter of support to the duke of Silesia in order to secure the hand of one of the latter's daughters. Philip agreed to write such a letter, but mindful of the count's character wrote instead a negative recommendation. Otto learned of the letter's contents and resolved to kill Philip. Subsequently the count confronted the king, who was being bled for medical reasons, and slew him by a single sword stroke to the neck.

Tangential topics also figured occasionally in the chronicle, as already seen in the story mentioned above (V, 15) regarding the miraculous conversion of an otherwise unnamed Cologne Jew who witnessed two salvific visions. In another example, Arnold related an anecdote (I, 14) told in conjunction with the report of Thomas Becket's martyrdom wherein the English archbishop twice blessed some spring water for Pope Alexander III to drink and unknowingly transformed it into wine. Finally, the wicked deeds and violent death of the Byzantine usurper Emperor Andronikos Komnenos (1183-85) provided the theme for III, 8.

Besides the aforementioned misinterpretation of Frederick I's 1176 military campaign in northern Italy, Arnold committed at least one more major fumble in II, 18 when he conflated events surrounding the 1073 Saxon rebellion against King Henry IV with those surrounding the 983 accession of King Henry I to the German throne.

On four occasions Arnold inserted into his chronicle texts written originally by others. Two circular letters concerning the Fourth Crusade appeared in VI, 19-20: one in 1203 from the crusade leaders to King Otto IV describing their initial success after their arrival at Constantinople and a second in 1204 from the newly-crowned Emperor Baldwin to all Western Christians describing the conquest of the city and the erection of the Latin Empire. Bishop Conrad of Hildesheim's travelogue regarding southern Italy was reproduced in V, 19, while VII, 8 contained Burchard/Gerhard of Strasbourg's treatise describing the Middle East as he saw it in 1175 on an embassy to Saladin.

Loud rounds out the volume with an appendix (303-06) reproducing Frederick II's June 1226 recognition of Lübeck as a free imperial city with specified privileges, a bibliography (309-15), and an index of proper names (316-20). The bibliography lists printed and online-only primary sources in their original language, printed primary sources in English translation, and secondary literature. In the last-named section the modern authors are listed alphabetically by surname, but each entry itself begins with the first name.

This English translation is clear, fluent, and easy to read, although the content will often require that the reader know something about medieval Germany and the Crusades. Arnold's chronicle represents an important source for our knowledge of a four-decade-long slice of German and Crusade history. Loud now provides an Anglophone readership with a handy and accessible version suitable especially for university instruction and scholarly research.