Historical and Intellectual Culture in the Long Twelfth Century: The Scandinavian Connection

Edited by
Mia Münster-Swendsen, Thomas K. Heebøll-Holm, and Sigbjørn Olsen Sønnesyn

Durham Medieval and Renaissance Monographs and Essays 5. xiv, 322 pp. 2016. ISBN 978-0-88844-864-4 • Cloth • $95

In the wake of religious conversion and the establishment of more stable political systems, the outskirts of Latin Christendom produced historical narratives providing their present identities with a foundational past. The essays gathered here all seek to illuminate the emergence of a written historical culture in Denmark from the early twelfth century onwards by situating this historical culture in a wider geographical, chronological, and cultural context.

The volume as a whole aims to gain insight into Danish historical narratives written in Latin in the long twelfth century. This objective is approached through two mutually enriching perspectives: on the one hand, the Danish historical texts are analysed using the theoretical and methodological advances gained through increasing general scholarly interest in medieval historiography over the last decades, while on the other hand, these texts are also placed in a larger cultural and intellectual context through comparisons with historical narratives from other areas.

The period from c.1050 to 1225 saw the emergence of historical narratives about Danish affairs, a development mirroring both the rapid growth of historical writing in the Latin West in this period and the consolidation of Denmark as a Christian kingdom on the model of the great western monarchies. Over the past few decades, increasing interest in medieval historiography has produced a refined conceptual framework for the study of medieval historical texts as well as a rich body of knowledge on other comparable historical texts, particularly from England, France, and Germany. This has enabled deeper understanding of the genesis, form, and purpose of texts produced in Denmark, while at the same time serving to enrich our picture of more pervasive trends across political and cultural borders.

Both of these perspectives are fundamental to the conception and the goals of this collection: its sixteen essays range from detailed formal analyses to comparative studies of wider trends in the historiographical developments of the high Middle Ages.


Abbreviations • xi
Acknowledgements • xiii
Introduction • 1

The Writing of History: European Context and Points of Comparison
ELISABETH VAN HOUTS • Marriage as Inspiration for the Writing of History • 13
NORA BEREND • Writing Christianization in Medieval Hungary • 31
ALHEYDIS PLASSMANN • Corrupted by Power – Bishops in Adam of Bremen’s Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum • 51
LASSE C.A. SONNE • The Northification of the Pagan Past in Old Norse Literature • 71

The English Connection
RODNEY M. THOMSON • William of Malmesbury and the Scandinavians • 91
MICHAEL H. GELTING • Henry of Huntingdon, the Roskilde Chronicle, and the English Connection in Twelfth-Century Denmark • 104
MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM • The Style of Aelnoth • 119

Liturgy and History
SIGBJØRN OLSEN SØNNESYN • Monastic Life as a Matrix of Meaning: History, Liturgy, and Interior Reform in Early Danish Historical Texts • 131
ROMAN HANKELN • Music and Its Significance for the Articulation of History in Twelfth-Century Scandinavian Historiae for Sainted Rulers • 148
NILS HOLGER PETERSEN • Memorial Ritual and the Writing of History • 166

New Perspectives on Danish Historical Writing
MIA MÜNSTER-SWENDSEN • Lost Chronicle or Elusive Informers? Some Thoughts on the Source of Ralph Niger’s Reports from Twelfth-Century Denmark • 189
THOMAS K. HEEBØLL-HOLM • Why Was William of Aebelholt Canonized? The Two Lives of Saint William • 211
C. STEPHEN JAEGER • Dudo of St Quentin and Saxo Grammaticus: Historiography in Two Phases of Charismatic Culture • 235
THOMAS FOERSTER • Ideas of Empire: Saxo Grammaticus and Godfrey of Viterbo • 252
JENNY BENHAM • Writing Peace, Writing War: Roger of Howden and Saxo Grammaticus Compared • 272

Homage to a Great Scholar: The Unfinished Work of Karsten Friis-Jensen
MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM • Karsten Friis-Jensen’s Preliminary Findings Towards a New Edition of Sven Aggesen • 295

Index • 318


Mia Münster-Swendsen received a Cand. Mag. degree in history and her doctorate from the University of Copenhagen in 2000 and 2004 respectively. She held various teaching and research posts at the University of Copenhagen and was a visiting scholar at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the University of St Andrews before being appointed to a professorial chair at Roskilde University in 2013. She has published widely on medieval intellectual history, both Danish and continental.

Thomas K. Heebøll-Holm is an assistant professor at the Department of History at the University of Southern Denmark. He received a doctorate in medieval history from the University of Copenhagen in 2011, where he was also research assistant and later a post-doctoral fellow. In 2012 he was appointed project director of “Danish Historical Writing before 1225 and Its Intellectual Context in Medieval Europe,” sponsored by The Danish Council for Independent Research | Humanities (FKK).

Sigbjørn Olsen Sønnesyn received a Cand. Philol. degree in history, English, and Latin as well as a doctorate in history from the University of Bergen in 2002 and 2007 respectively. He has been a lecturer and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Bergen, and also held a post-doctoral fellowship at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen from 2011 to 2014. He is currently a post-doctoral research assistant in the History Department at Durham University.


“This is an exemplary and wonderfully coherent collection of essays. It offers outstanding testimony to the intellectual vibrancy of scholarship on the European Middle Ages. Its thematic coherence is underpinned by a wide range of innovative and insightful approaches to the study of culture and intellectual life, fruitfully combining several strands of enquiry that all too often have been kept separate by the conventions of contemporary academe. The book successfully challenges simplistic paradigms of centre and periphery, and firmly establishes the Danish and Scandinavian example as central participant in a wider community of Latin European networks, norms, and practices. It constitutes a fitting tribute to Karsten Friis-Jensen and should be required reading for anyone interested in the religious, literary and intellectual culture of medieval Europe.” — Björn Weiler, Aberystwyth University


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