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Adam of Bremen
Adam of Bremen (also: Adam Bremensis) was one of the most important German medieval chroniclers. He lived and worked in the second half of the 11th century. He is most famous for his chronicle Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church).
Little is known of his life other than hints from his own chronicles. He is believed to have come from Meissen (Latin Misnia) in Saxony. The dates of his birth and death are uncertain, but he was probably born before 1050 and died on October 12 of on unknown year (Possibly 1081, latest 1085). Gathering from his chronicles, he was well familiar with a number of authors. The honorary name of Magister Adam shows that he has passed through all the stages of a higher education. It is probable that he was taught at the Magdeburger Domschule.
In 1066 or 1067 he was invited by archbishop Adalbert of Bremen to join the Church of Bremen, who Adalbert believed would improve the literary reputation of his see. Adam was accepted among the capitulars of Bremen, and by 1069 he appears as director of the cathedral's school. Soon thereafter he began to write the history of Bremen/Hamburg and of the northern lands in his Gesta.
Adam of Bremen benefited from his position and the missionary activity of the church of Bremen to gather all kind of information on the history and the geography of northern Germany. He benefited from a stay at the court of Svend Estridson to find informations about the history and geography of Denmark, and the Scandinavian countries.
Bremen was a major trading town, and ships, traders and missionaries went from there to many different locations. The earlier archbishopric seat in Hamburg had been attacked and destroyed several times, and thereafter the sees of Hamburg and Bremen were combined for protection. For three hundred years Hamburg, beginning with bishop Ansgar, the Hamburg-Bremen archbishopric had been designated as the "Mission of the North" and had jurisdiction over all missions in Scandinavia, North-Western Russia, Iceland and Greenland. Then the archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen had a falling-out with the pope and in 1105 a separate archbishopric for the North was established in Lund.
Adam of Bremen's most well known work is the Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church), which he begun only after the death of the arch-bishop Adalbert. It consists of four volumes about the history of the archbishopry of Hamburg-Bremen, and the isles of the north. The first three mainly consist of history and the last one is mainly on geography. Adam based his works in part on Einhard, Cassiodorus and other earlier historians' accounts, as he had the whole library of the church of Bremen at his hands. The first edition was completed in 1075/1076, of which he continued to revise and update until his death in the 1080s.
The first book gives a history from 788 onwards of the Church in Hamburg-Bremen, and the Christian mission in the North. This is the chief source of knowledge of the north until the 13th century. The second book continues the history, and further deals with German history between 940 and 1045. The third book is about the deeds of archbishop Adalbert and is considered a milestone in medieval biographical writing.
The fourth book, Descriptio insularum Aquilonis, completed approximately in 1075, is about the geography, people and customs of Scandinavia, as well as updates of the progress of Christian missionaries there. Adam was a proponent of his Churches role in Christianizing the northern people. Scandinavia had only just recently been explored by missionaries, and while perhaps created to inspire and guide future missionaries, its balanced and accurate descriptions make it one of the most important sources about pre-Christian Scandinavia. It is also the first known European record that mentions Vinland, a land centuries later known as North America.
- Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, English translation by F.J. Tschan, Columbia UP, 2002, ISBN 0231125755 (paper).
- Adam of Bremen, Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, online version. German.
- Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, online version. Latin.
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