Thietmar of Merseburg

Thietmar, who was Bishop of Merseburg from 1009 to 1018, was one of the most important chroniclers of the Ottonian age. Descending from the house of the Counts of Walbeck, Thietmar received a comprehensive education in Quedlinburg and Magdeburg for his later clerical career. Through the intercession of the Archbishop of Magdeburg, Tagino, he was elevated to the episcopal throne of Merseburg in 1009. Here, his main concerns were the problems surrounding the re-establishment of the bishopric in 1004 and the building of a new cathedral. In particular, he was very closely connected to King Henry II, which was also apparent in the frequency of the king’s stays in Merseburg.

Numerous documents in the Merseburg cathedral archives bear witness to Thietmar’s successful efforts to restore the original possessions of the Merseburg bishopric through royal donations. In doing so, the bishop did not shy away from forgeries, which were supported by the descriptions in his chronicle.

Thietmar’s chronicle is the most important narrative source on the foundation, dissolution and re-establishment of the Merseburg bishopric. In it, he clearly outlines the history of the Ottonian rulers and the relationship of Merseburg to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. The chronicle is therefore of great importance for the 10th and early 11th centuries, especially when it is stripped of the bishop’s partiality. It is also an important record of the life of a noble cleric, the spiritual mentality and the missionary history of the regions east of the Saale. It is no coincidence that it contains the first mentions of many places, including Leipzig.

Bishop Thietmar died in 1018. Initially buried in what was then Merseburg Cathedral, his remains were later transferred to the new cathedral. A memorial tomb was erected for him in the Bishop’s Chapel in the 13th century. Today’s design, with a surrounding band of lettering, reproduces the inscription that was still legible on the stone in the 17th century.