First Advisor

John S. Ott

Date of Publication

Summer 8-6-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Thietmar von Merseburg Bishop of Merseburg (975-1018), Clergy -- Political activity -- Europe -- History -- 10th century, Military history, Medieval



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 82 pages)


The tenth-century German bishop was more than just a spiritual leader, he was also a territorial lord with secular power. These bishops also lived in an environment where violence was sometimes a way of life. His culture contained a social dynamic that saw violence as a tool for defending and maintaining honor and as a mechanism for dispute resolution. Therefore, some bishops behaved violently, either to defend their diocese from threats or to serve their own political intrigues. In some instances bishops were said to be more skilled in warfare than secular lords. However, while some clergy participated in warfare and violence, others sought to limit it through application of canon law and peacemaking. With some clergy participating in violence and others decreeing that it be banned, there were mixed messages regarding clerical violence in this era.

The bishop's role in warfare and violence, especially in Germany, has only been partially addressed by modern scholars. This deficit is part of an overall shortage of medieval German military scholarship. Furthermore, the historiography on bishops in the central Middle Ages (c. 900-1200) has generally covered two narratives: the bishop as a territorial lord or his role as a church reformer. This leaves a gap in scholarship that describes how an individual bishop justified or rationalized clerical participation in violence and warfare, including his own. This paper addresses that need by reporting how one German bishop, Thietmar of Merseburg (b. 975, 1009-18), reflected on and portrayed clerical violence and warfare in his Chronicon.

Thietmar's attitudes towards violence were as complex as the times in which he lived, and were influenced by his secularism and religiosity. When it came to his justifications for clerical violence and warfare, Thietmar was more concerned about the clergyman's ability to perform as a military leader, and whether or not the violent actions were justified on their own merits. While he sometimes conveyed unease with some acts of clerical violence, and at times was careful to note distinctions between secular and spiritual realms, nevertheless he did not criticize a member of the clergy for violence on the basis of his religious station nor spiritual beliefs. Indeed, Thietmar was a torn individual, struggling with his religious convictions while living in a world where violence was habitual, and where he saw it as his duty to protect his flock. In this regard Thietmar should be considered a realist.


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