The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization

Francis Dvornik


11. The Baltic and Polabian Slavs: The Wends


1. The Wends’ hatred of Christianity and the causes of it

2. Political organization of the Wends

3. Abortive attempt at the formation of a Christian Slavic dukedom on the Baltic

4. The crusade against the Wends

5. Albrecht the Bear gets Brandenburg

6. Submission of the Obodrites and Rani

7. Economic changes in Germany, colonization of the East, foundation of cities and the new role of Magdeburg

8. Colonization of the Sorbs





The evolution of Western Europe and of Germany in particular during the eleventh century was of vital importance for the future of another branch of the Slavic race — the Baltic and Polabian Slavs, otherwise known as the Wends. It has been seen what an important part in German, Polish and Czech history these Slavs played during the tenth and early eleventh centuries. The Poles and the Czechs made attempts to attach some of the Wendish tribes to their own states. The Poles succeeded at least in extending their supremacy over the Pomeranians; the Czechs strove hardest to win over the Lusatian Slavs. But all these efforts were thwarted by the German kings. The first wave of the famous German Drang nach Osten helped the Germans to obtain a firm, permanent hold in Lusatia and a temporary supremacy in Brandenburg and over the Vagrian Slavs in modern Holstein. Here a bloodthirsty insurrection against German rule had the effect of retarding the German penetration for a considerable time.


But when the Germans won their first great battle for the domination of Central Europe by crushing all the prospects of the foundation of a great Slavic empire, either by the Poles or by the Czechs, the fate of the Baltic and Polabian Slavs was sealed. It was clear that sooner or later the German Drang nach Osten





would recommence and that it would bite deeply into the lands of the Wends on the Baltic and the right bank of the Elbe. The Slavic tribes of this part of Europe were faced by the two great powers of the medieval world: the Roman Empire, as renovated by the Germans, and the Papacy. And for this very reason, they were at a great disadvantage. The imperial crown indeed passed from the Saxon dynasty to that of the Salians (1024-1138) and then to that of the Hohenstaufen (1138-1268), and the main interests of the king-emperors were concentrated in the South — in Lombardy and the Papal State. But the Slavs had as their nearest neighbors Saxon dukes, counts and margraves whose greed for new possessions was in no way abated by the diversion of the emperor’s interests towards the South.


It has been shown how the Germanic ecclesiastical system was applied to the lands of the Slavs from the moment of their subjugation during the reign of Otto I. This system of proprietary churches, combined with the “land hunger" of the Saxon aristocracy, was responsible for the development of new missionary methods which were hardly calculated to appeal to the Baltic and Polabian Slavs. They saw clearly that Christianization meant submission not only to the holy Roman emperor as the head of Western Christendom, but also to Saxon nobles, and that it implied a loss of freedom and of political independence. The colonization of conquered territories by German settlers involved the danger that those territories and their peoples would lose their own nationality. These considerations made the Wends extremely hostile towards Christianity. They adhered to their own gods in opposition to the German God, who threatened to take from them their liberty, their land and their language.


Hence there arose in this part of Europe a bitter hostility towards Christianity which helps to explain the appalling extremes to which the Slavs were prepared to go in their hatred of German missionaries. The viciousness which was displayed was in no wise solely caused by the native fury of these untutored pagans, but was to a very large extent due to the new missionary methods adopted by the German Church, methods which had little in





common with those employed by the primitive Christians. It is justifiable to say that if St. Boniface of Crediton, the patron saint of the Germans, had employed similar methods, the Germans would have reacted in the same way as the Slavs did.


This, of course, made it impossible for the Slavs of these regions to seek the protection of the other medieval power, the Papacy. This was all the more dangerous in the eleventh century, when the religious enthusiasm of the recently converted Western nations was approaching frenzy. It manifested itself in the crusading movement under the leadership of the reformed Papacy, which found its first outlet in the East, where it had as its goal the liberation of the Holy Land from the Mohammedans. But once the idea of the holy war was introduced into the thought of medieval Christians, they saw no reason why it should not be applied elsewhere, such as against pagans or heretics. That is indeed what happened. From these seeds grew those abortive manifestations of medieval Christian zeal — the Crusades, the conversion of pagans and heretics by force, and the Inquisition with all its implications.





When studying the history of the Baltic and Polabian Slavs, it is necessary to bear in mind that they were grouped in several political organizations. The most westerly Slavonic outpost was the state of the Obodrites, who also ruled several other tribes, including the Vagrians, the Polabians and the Vamians. The Obodrite State was a monarchy, and during the period of its greatest extent it comprised the eastern part of Holstein and most of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It flourished during the eleventh and the first half of the twelfth century.


The State of the Veletians was a kind of republic of federated tribes, and it varied in size at different periods. Territorially, it stretched along the Baltic from the mouth of the Warnow river, near Rostock, to the mouth of the Oder, comprising further inland the region between the Elbe and the Oder and bordered by the





land of the Sorbian tribes, Silesia and central Poland. The worship of Svarožič was the principal tie binding all the tribes together. His temple in Radgošč, the capital of the Ratarians, the most powerful tribe of the confederacy, was its political center. It was the meeting place for the representatives of the various tribes who formed the supreme legislative and administrative authority of the State.


The Veletian State flourished in the tenth and the first half of the eleventh century, and during this period the Veletians played an important role in Polish and Czech history. It will be remembered that Henry II made an alliance with them against the Polish King Boleslas the Great.


During the second half of the eleventh century, serious disputes and conflicts arose among the tribes of the confederacy, resulting in a disintegration of the State, which caused some tribes to join the Obodrites, while others had to submit to the princes of Pomerania.


After the decline of the cult of Svarožič, the pagan Polabian and Baltic Slavs shifted their allegiance to the supreme god of the Ranians, a deity known as Svientovit. The Ranians inhabited the island of Rujana (Rana — Rügen). Their tiny State was a monarchy ruled by a native dynasty, which rose to be an important maritime power at the end of the eleventh and during the twelfth century. At this time, the capital, Arcona, was the holy city of all pagan Baltic and Polabian Slavs, while the powerful fleet of the Ranians enjoyed undisputed mastery in the Baltic Sea. So mighty was their reputation that even Christian rulers who wished to win their favor were obliged to send gifts to their god.


From the middle of the tenth century onwards, the Pomeranians found themselves within the orbit of Polish interests. The country seems to have been divided from the earliest days of its recorded history into two parts, Eastern and Western Pomerania. It was ruled by two dynasties, one of which may have been founded by a Piast prince to whom Mieszko I had entrusted the government of the country. The reconquest of Pomerania and its Christianization





were finally achieved by Boleslas III of Poland. [1] But by that time, the Germans had also reached the frontiers of Pomerania, and thenceforth Poland and Germany vied for its possession, Germany finally emerging as the victor.


The State of the Sorbs, which was the heir of White Serbia, played a notable role, as has been seen, in the seventh and ninth centuries. But the Sorbs lost their independence in the tenth century, when their land was engulfed by the first wave of the Drang nach Osten. German counts then governed the whole territory, parts of which were also from time to time given by the German kings as fiefs to Czech and Polish dukes.





Detailed information concerning the history of these Slavic peoples from the tenth century onwards is lacking, except in the case of the Obodrites. For this posterity is indebted to Helmold, who was a German missionary among them in the twelfth century. What he has to say about them is supplemented by the Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus. According to these two sources, the Obodrite State had become an important maritime power on the Baltic. The Slavs must have learned their seamanship from the Norsemen and the Danes, with whom their relations were in turn friendly and hostile from the beginning of the ninth century.


About the middle of the eleventh century the Obodrites had a chance of becoming a really important power on the Baltic, after their defeat at the hands of a Danish-Saxon coalition. In 1043, their duke, Gottschalk, [2] who had taken refuge at the Danish court, returned to his country and took up the reins of government.



1. For more details on the reconquest and rechristianization of Pomerania by Boleslas III, see below, p. 313.


2. Gottschalk was the grandson of Mistivoj who led the rebellion in 983 and destroyed Hamburg, whereas his father, whom Helmold calk Udo, “a bad Christian,” was murdered by a Saxon deserter. At the time of his father’s death, Gottschalk was at school at St. Michael’s Monastery in Lüneburg. He left Saxon territory and in revenge for his father’s murder wrought terrible havoc among the Saxons.





He was a Christian, and the Danes rewarded him for the services he had rendered them during his stay at their court by giving him the hand of the Danish Princess Sigrid. Gottschalk did everything in his power to spread Christianity in his own land by peaceful means and he found a valuable associate in Adalbert, Archbishop of Bremen (1045-1072), one of the best and most progressive prelates whom northern Germany had ever known. [1] The diocese of Oldenburg (Stargard) was divided, and two more bishoprics were founded at Mecklenburg and Ratzeburg, while several new religious institutions were brought into being in these regions.


The activity of this far-seeing and valiant Duke conveys the impression that he was aiming at nothing less than the creation of a powerful Slavic dukedom on the Baltic, a Christian dukedom that might have grown into a sort of northern Bohemia, in feudal relationship with Germany, but autonomous and independent. Such a scheme, with the assistance of the irresistible Archbishop, had every chance of success. It would also have fitted in well with the interests of the Emperors Henry III and Henry IV, who were both suspicious of the Saxon dukes, the famous Billungs, and would have welcomed the rise of a feudal dukedom on the Baltic, loyal to the crown and as mistrustful as they towards the Saxon rulers; for neither Gottschalk nor the Archbishop made any attempt to hide their anti-Saxon sentiments.


But in 1066 the mighty Saxon Duke and other nobles jealous of his power brought the downfall of Adalbert. This was a great blow to Gottschalk and precipitated a formidable revolt of the Veletians, who incited the Obodrites to join them. Gottschalk was killed at Lenzen, where a priest was immolated on the altar. Similar scenes were enacted at Ratzeburg and Mecklenburg.



1. Adalbert planned to transform his archdiocese into a northern patriarchate, which would include northern Germany, the dukedom of the Obodrites, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Greenland. The character sketch of this interesting personality written by his great admirer Adam of Bremen is one of the best studies of the kind composed in the Middle Ages. Adam also testifies to the friendship and good understanding that existed between the Archbishop and the Duke Gottschalk.





Bishop John was martyred with many others, and his head was offered up to the god of the Veletians. Helmold and Adam of Bremen give us vivid descriptions of the horrors of this war. Gottschalks subjects were forced to renounce their new faith; Hamburg was razed and Saxony devastated. Such was the disappointing end of the scheme of Gottschalk and Adalbert which represented the one and only opportunity these Baltic Slavs ever had to find statehood within the Christian community of nations.


The leadership of the pagan Slavs was assumed by the chief of the insurgents, one Cruto, and seemingly endless hostilities broke out between the Saxons and his Slavs. Eventually, Gottschalk’s son Henry was able, with the assistance of the Danes, the loyal Slavs and the Saxon Duke, to defeat the pagan coalition (about 1093) and to become head of the Obodrite State. As the Rani continued to raid his territory, he surprised them on their own island in the winter of 1113 or 1114 by crossing the frozen sea. Nevertheless, so firmly was paganism entrenched among the Obodrites that Henry did not dare to take any active steps for the propagation of Christianity.


After Henry’s death and the murder of his sons, the Emperor Lothair III gave the Obodrites a Danish duke; but a revolt broke out on a national scale. The Danish ruler was swept away and two of the Slav leaders, Pribislav, Henry’s nephew, and one called Niklot, divided the country between them.


Pribislav lost his independence in 1143, and the territory which he had ruled was incorporated in the county of HolsteinSturmarm. At this time St. Vicelin, a German missionary, succeeded in converting him to Christianity. But when the Bishop of Stargard visited Lübeck, where Pribislav resided, in about 1156, and exhorted him and his people to be good Christians and not to make piratical expeditions against the Danes, Pribislav answered, according to Helmold (Chap. 84):


“Your words, O venerable Bishop, are God’s words and lead us to salvation. But how shall we enter upon that way when so much evil ensnares us? .... Your princes deal so harshly and severely with us that, because of oppression by taxes and burdensome services, we had as soon





death as such life. Behold, this year .... we paid to the Duke a thousand marks, besides that to the Count (of Holstein) so many hundreds, and all this is as nothing, but every day they afflict us and oppress to the point of destruction. How can we then devote ourselves to the new faith, build churches and receive baptism, when we have daily flight before our eyes?”


Because of all this, explained the prince, the only way in which they could get an honest living was to rove the seas and plunder the Danes and any other they came upon. Pribislav’s words give a vivid picture of the missionary methods employed by the Saxons for which the Saxon Duke and the Count of Holstein were responsible. It is not surprising that the results were as they were.





The rest of the Slavs refused so stubbornly to have any dealings with the German God that the German clergy began to consider adopting really violent methods to convert them. This general feeling which was prevalent among them is reflected in a famous proclamation issued in the name of the Archbishop of Magdeburg. After describing the impiety of the Slavs, their persecution of Christians and their abominable paganism, it urges the Saxons and Germans to invade these neighboring lands and seize them. The present inhabitants are an abomination; but their country “is extremely rich in meat, honey, grain and birds, abounding in all the products of earth’s fertility . . . Therefore — so the exhortation concludes — you can both save your souls there and, if you so desire, make acquisition of the best land to live on.”


The Archbishop of Magdeburg, St. Norbert, was among the first to use force against the pagans. In 1129 he launched a military expedition against Havelberg, “the seat of iniquity”; but the raid had no durable results. In 1136 the city was recaptured by the pagans and the church which St. Norbert had built was torn down. [1]



1. Curious to relate, when Bishop Otto of Bamberg visited Havelberg on his second missionary expedition to Pomerania, the Slavic Duke and his people blamed the saintly Archbishop of Magdeburg for their hostility towards Christianity, saying: “If only we had another archbishop we would be willing to become Christians.”





These incidents were a bad omen. They show how the idea of a crusading expedition against the stubborn pagans was able to take root. However, it was St. Bernard of Clairvaux who permitted himself to be an inspiration of the crusading spirit. When he came to Germany to preach the Second Crusade, which seemed to be necessary after the fall of Edessa, the last remnant of the Christian states in the Near East, he found little enthusiasm in spite of his remarkable oratorical powers. Unfortunately, the first practical result of his preaching was the massacre of the Jews in Mainz. The Emperor Conrad III eventually succumbed to his exhortations; but the Saxons remained unmoved. They suggested that they had many infidels to deal with nearer home and that it would be much better to divert a detachment of crusaders to destroy paganism among the Slavs on the right bank of the Elbe.


Bernard must have been totally ignorant of the true conditions prevailing in the lands of the Slavs, but as is usual with born orators he was carried away by his own eloquence, his blind enthusiasm and the sublimity of his conception of the fight against anti-Christ. So when in March 1147 he was called to Frankfurt, where the King was holding his Reichstag and debating the new Crusade with his nobles, he approved the idea of taking the sword against the Slavs and addressed his notorious epistle (letter 457) to all the princes and bishops of the Reich, calling upon them to unite and fight the pagans — “until with the help of God either their religion or their nation be exterminated.” (“. . . donec auxiliante Domino aut ritus ipse aut natio deleatur.”)


These were fatal words, which still embarrass admirers of this extraordinary personality and prove once again how easy it is even for great men to be bewitched by the lure of their own fiery imaginations, to blind themselves to reality and to forget completely the very principles which they themselves advocate.


It was not until after the Frankfurt decision, and until Bernard had lavished the same blessings and privileges on the crusade





against the Slavs as upon that against the Moslems, that the Saxons really warmed up to their pious undertaking — and then it was not only the Saxons and the Germans, but the Czechs and the Poles as well. In Poland, the Second Crusade was preached by Cardinal Humbold, and the Bishop of Cracow asked Bernard not to overlook the schismatics, his neighbors the Russians, and to work for the moral regeneration of the whole of "Sclavinia.” In Bohemia, Zdík, Bishop of Olomouc, who was in close touch with Bernard and was also working to promote the Second Crusade, had some personal knowledge of both the infidels in Palestine and the pagans of the North, for not only had he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but he had also undertaken a missionary tour in 1141 among the pagan Prussians, following in this the tradition of St. Adalbert. It may be that the failure of his first venture suggested to him that some more robust methods were required to convert these tough and stubborn unbelievers.


In Germany there were a few level-headed princes who realized the foolishness of such an enterprise. Among them Adolf of Schauenburg, Count of Holstein, understood the position better than anyone else, and for this reason he looked upon the preparations for the crusade against the Slavs with the gravest misgivings; yet feeling himself unable to divert the would-be crusaders from their purpose, he preferred to stand aloof and refuse to have anything to do with the venture. Unfortunately, he had few imitators and there were many others who hoped to find profit in a venture of this sort.


The leaders of the crusade were the men who had the closest interests in extending their domination over the country of the Polabian and Baltic Slavs — Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, [1]



1. The ducal dynasty of the Billungs became extinct in 1106, and the Duchy of Saxony was given by the Emperor Henry V to Lothair of Supplinburg. When Lothair became King of Germany in 1137, he gave the Duchy to Henry the Proud, Duke of Bavaria and grandson of the last of the Billungs. King Conrad III, however, refused to allow Henry to hold two duchies and gave Saxony to Albrecht the Bear, who was also a grandson of the last Billung. Albrecht failed to maintain himself in Saxony and renounced the Duchy after Henry’s death in favor of his rival’s young son, Henry the Lion.





Albrecht the Bear of the Nordmark, Conrad Wettin of Meissen and Adalbero, Archbishop of Hamburg. The main effort was directed against the Baltic Slavs — the Obodrites and the Pomeranians. Niklot, the Duke of the Obodrites, tried to forestall the storm by a counterattack, but in the end he was hard-pressed in his fortress of Dubin, the Danes blockading him from the sea; however, the intervention of the fleet of the pagan Rani saved the situation. The Danish fleet was partly destroyed and the Danes retired from the scene. So the first of the crusaders’ attempts to besiege Niklot remained inconclusive.


The military results achieved by the crusaders’ second army, which was composed mostly of ecclesiastical contingents, were even poorer. They laid siege to Szczecin (Stettin), and the Annals of Vincentius of Prague give a lively description of the tragicomedy which Bishop Zdík of Olomouc, one of the zealous prelates in arms, witnessed, to his utter dismay, under the walls of that city. When the crusaders were investing it and planting crosses everywhere to mark their saintly intentions, they were amazed to see the supposedly pagan Slavs doing precisely the same and raising the sign of the cross upon their ramparts. A solemn embassy then approached the headquarters of the besiegers, headed, to the Bishop’s utter amazement, by a prelate in full pontificals. Some of these episcopal braves must have felt decidedly crestfallen when they realized that the prelate whom they sought to convert was a genuine bishop and none other than Adalbert, Bishop of the Pomeranians and a German to boot.


The embassy asked the besieging prelates what their intentions were. It was pointed out that if they wanted to convert the Pomeranians to Christianity they had been forestalled by another bishop, Otto of Bamberg, who had come to Szczecin (Stettin) in more suitable attire, and that if they wanted to confirm the Pomeranians in their faith they must have forgotten that such things were not done at the point of the sword but by the word of God. This opened the besieging bishops’ eyes to the real purpose of the crusade, Saxon greed for Slavic lands, and they made haste to conclude a peace with the Prince of the Pomeranians, Ratiboř,





the successor of Warcislav, and with Bishop Adalbert. Their losses had thus been in vain and the annalist adds the laconic remark: “They found it somewhat difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion an undertaking which they had not rushed into for Gods interests.”


As the sieges of Dubin and Demmin dragged on, dissensions broke out among the princes conducting them. The Saxons began to realize that the devastation which they were inflicting upon the Slavic lands was only damaging their own prospects and ruining a country whose wealth they coveted. Already famine was decimating the population and turning the country into a desert. So when the Slavic princes Niklot and Pribislav declared their willingness to embrace Christianity, the crusade was called off.


Although the Slavs had not actually suffered defeat, the crusade had a crippling effect upon their strength. The subjection of the Obodrites to Saxony was final and their power of resistance against German infiltration remained broken. The moral effect of these expeditions was equally regrettable, for the Slavs became Christians under duress and received baptism for reasons of political expediency, while obdurately clinging to their paganism in secret. [1] Neighborly intercourse, which had been so full of promise in the years preceding the crusade, was suspended again. The Slavs were sullen and seized every opportunity to vent their feelings against both the Saxons and the Christian religion. In the circumstances, there was but slender hope that the Slavs would ever accept the Christian faith of their own free will — a poor result for an undertaking started with such enthusiasm and blessed so naively by St. Bernard. It is little wonder that the great Abbot of Clairvaux was so bitterly criticized by his contemporaries, since the two ventures he so warmly recommended — the crusade against the Turks and the expedition against the Wends — had ended in disappointing failures. He was, however, right in retorting that the main responsibility for



1. Recently a short but exhaustive account of this crusade was given by N. Gracianskij in Voprosy Istorii (1940), nos. 2-3, pp. 91-105 (“Krestovyj pochod 1147g. protiv Slavjan i ego resultaty”).





the failure lay with those princes who fought principally for their own selfish ends. This was certainly true of the Slavic crusade, and the Polish incursion against the Prussians which followed it was only Boleslas the Curly’s way of punishing them for the help they had given to his rival brother Władisław and for their frequent raids on Polish territory. Here again, religion served as a pretext.


But for all their participation in the crusade, the Poles were certainly among the losers. The peace which the crusaders had forced upon Ratiboř of Pomerania only tightened the German grip on that country. Magdeburg found easier access to Pomerania, while a similar situation was created in the land of the Obodrites. Adolf of Schauenburg, whose hopes for a tolerable modus vivendi on the Saxon-Slavic borders had been shattered forever, did all he could to reorganize the devastated areas; but the principal gains fell to the Saxon Duke Henry the Lion, who collected tribute from the Obodrites without — according to Helmold — worrying about the propagation of Christianity among them, so long as he got his spoils. The Metropolitan of Hamburg-Bremen, Hartwig, was more conscientious, and in 1149 he revived the sees of Oldenburg and Mecklenburg, consecrated as their incumbents Vicelin and Emmehard and, in the words of Helmold (I, 69), “sent them into a land of want and hunger where Satan had fixed his residence followed by every foul spirit.” This may not be a very cheerful description of the renascent dioceses, but it was exactly what Helmold thought of the state of Christianity in those lands. Soon afterwards, before 1154, even the diocese of Ratzeburg had been restored.


The work of the new bishops did not progress well among the Slavs. Vicelin, the Bishop of Oldenburg, was hampered not only by the deterioration in the Slavic mentality after the crusade but also by the differences which arose between the Duke, as represented by the Count of Schauenburg, and the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen over the right of investiture in the reconstituted dioceses. Then Vicelin died in 1154.


But slow as the progress of evangelization was among the Obodrites,





the small amount achieved did bring them into conflict with some other tribes of the Veletian group under their control — the Kicini and the Circipani, who refused to become Christians and to pay their share of the tribute due to the Saxon Duke. In 1151, a joint expedition under Niklot, Adolf of Schauenburg, and the Duke defeated them. Their principal temple was destroyed and they had to pay tribute.





It was Albrecht the Bear who eventually obtained a firm foothold among the Veletians. He was befriended by the Slavic prince Pribislav, Duke of Branibor-Brandenburg, now a sincere and devout Christian. Pribislav, fearing that after his death the pagans would again get the upper hand in his country and having no direct heir, willed his territory, perhaps not entirely voluntarily, to Albrecht of the Nordmark. Albrecht took over the country in 1150 after the death of Pribislav and, after crushing a pagan reaction led by one of the late Princes relations, Jaczo, he started a campaign of Christianization and colonization.


His final capture of Brandenburg, which became the cradle of Prussia, was a turning point in the history of Central and Eastern Europe and a fresh milestone on the way of the German drive towards the East. On this territory, near the town of Spandau, lay a village called Bralin [1] which was destined to become the glittering capital of the new Germany between the Elbe and the Oder: Berlin. Near Berlin, Potsdam was destined to rise to fame as the Prussian Versailles. The glory of Potsdam was therefore raised upon foundations laid by the conquest of Brandenburg. This affiliation was unconsciously symbolized by Frederick William I — the founder of Prussian military might — when, in the



1. It was the Bear’s son, Albrecht II, left the sole margrave after the death of his brother Otto II, who captured the Slavonic settlement called Barlin or Bralin, opposite Kolno (Kölln), and bridged the Spree. The future capital of the Prussian monarchy was thus as early as 1209 in the hands of the Ascanians of Brandenburg, the forerunners of the Hohenzollems.





eighteenth century, he built a military orphanage near his royal palace of Potsdam with the stones which — as the legend says — the Wends had so painstakingly carted from the Bohemian mountains, by way of the rivers Elbe and Havel, to Branibor-Brandenburg, to erect the magnificent temple to their god Triglav on the hill which dominated the city. If the tradition is reliable, then it took the Prussian Kings execrable taste to destroy this last witness of Wendish pagan civilization, which even Albrecht the Bear and his bishop had respected when they contented themselves with transforming the temple into a church of the Blessed Virgin. [1]





The conquest of Havelberg and of its territory definitely sealed the fate of the Veletians. That of the Obodrites was sealed by another hero of this second wave of the Drang nach Osten, the famous Duke of Saxony, Henry the Lion. For some time bloody fighting raged between the Obodrites and the Duke, the latter being generally the more successful. If he had only concentrated his efforts on the conquest of the Slavic lands and had not become entangled with the Emperor and numerous German nobles because of his ambitious plans, he would doubtless have subjugated the whole coast of the Baltic, including Pomerania. The complications encountered in Germany, however, forced him to accept a compromise. The country of Pribislav became definitely German, but in Mecklenburg, Pribislav, the son of Niklot, who was slain in battle, was reinstated as the Duke’s vassal and became a Christian. So it happened that the dynasty of Mecklenburg, founded by Niklot, continued to rule over the country, even when both were Germanized, down to the year 1918.



1. Cf. C. Schuchhardt, Arkona, Rethra, Vineta, 2nd ed. (Berlin, 1926), p. 63 and J. Strzygowski, Die Altslawische Kunst (Augsburg, 1929), pp. 146 ff. T. Palm expresses his doubts about the origin of the church. His arguments are not convincing, although the problem should be re-examined by experts (Thede Palm, Wendische Kultsttätte [Lund, 1937], pp. 94-97).





The conquest of the island of Rujana (Rana — Rügen) by Waldemar of Denmark in 1168 made an end of this small Slavic maritime power. Although at first this island was placed under Danish overlordship, it was Christianized and colonized by Germans. Germanization, indeed, made such startling progress that in the fourteenth century there was on the island only one couple who still spoke the native Slavic language.





The conquest of the lands of the Obodrites and Veletians was achieved at a time when Germany was about to experience a great economic transformation. The overpopulation of the old settlements in the western part of Germany, the most developed part of the country, created a need for extending the arable land. This was done by clearing forests and draining marshes; but owing to the primitive methods of contemporary agriculture, this extension was soon found to be inadequate. The peasantry was forced to seek new opportunities, which included emigration to newly conquered lands. The overpopulation was even more marked on the coastal plain of modern Holland and Belgium, where the Flemings were particularly eager to migrate. Some of them were settled by the Archbishop of Bremen-Hamburg near Bremen and it may be that St. Vicelin, the missionary to the Obodrites, saw during his stay in that city how successful this experiment in colonization had been. This may have induced him to suggest to Adolph of Schauenburg, Count of Holstein-Sturmarm, to call foreign settlers into his lands, devastated as they were after the wars. In this manner the colonization of this part of the Slavic territory may have started. There was, however, another more important reason why the rulers of the depopulated lands called in foreign immigrants. This was the firm refusal of the native Slavic population to become Christian. In spite of their defeat and their promises to accept the new faith, the Slavs continued to give the “German God” a wide berth, showing increasing reluctance to submit to a religion that was





forced upon them at the point of the sword. In order to fill their churches, the bishops had to import foreign colonists.


The first attempts at colonization made by the Count of Holstein-Sturmarm, Henry the Lion of Saxony, and Albrecht the Bear are vividly described by Helmold. The activities of Albrecht in this field seem to have impressed the annalist most. He writes (I, 89): "He brought over large numbers of Hollanders, Zeelanders and Flemings and had them live in the strongholds and villages of the Slavs. As churches multiplied and the income from the tithes grew to enormous sums, the dioceses of Brandenburg as well as of Havelberg benefited greatly by the influx of colonists.”


That is how the great migration of Flemish and other colonists towards the East started. The process was accelerated by the foundation of new cities. The rise of a new class of the populace — the burghers — is another feature of the economic transformation of Germany which started in the twelfth century. Henry IV saw the importance of this new class in the life of the nation and he became the royal patron of the burghers on the Rhine. His example was followed by some far-seeing members of the higher aristocracy, among them Henry the Lion and Albrecht the Bear, who had assumed the title of Margrave of Brandenburg. The new Stadtrecht penetrated from Bavaria and Saxony as far as the Baltic and served as the model for the new code of urban law of Lübeck and the other foundations which derived from this city. Lübeck became in the following century the Queen of the Baltic, which became a German sea after the overthrow of Danish power at the battle of Bomhöved in 1227.


Beyond the Elbe, Magdeburg entered upon a new career. This city developed rapidly and by 1188 boasted the first written code of urban law, with its famous Schöffenkolleg or College of Aidermen. By 1241 the code was completed with a provision for a town council, the high water mark of urban legislation. Thus, the Law of Magdeburg (Magdeburger Recht) made its triumphant debut in what had been the Slavic East, to be later adopted by the new towns of the Marches of Meissen and of Brandenburg,





and eventually to penetrate into Silesia, Prussia, Poland, Bohemia and Hungary. The Magdeburg Schöffenstuhl (Bench of Jurors) functioned as a High Court, to which any town which had adopted the Magdeburger Recht could appeal in all its thorny juridical problems. Thus the idea of Otto I came to be realized in a way of which the Emperor had never dreamed. This was the more remarkable because the Landrecht (Manorial Law) which had found its readiest acceptance east of the Elbe and which contributed greatly to the juridical education of the Slavs was the famous Sachsenspiegel, also a product of Eastphalia, the eastern part of Saxony, where Magdeburg was situated.


A notable share in this German penetration of the Slavic lands fell to the new Orders: the Premonstratensians, founded by St. Norbert in 1119, and the Cistercians, founded by St. Bernard in 1113. The latter were particularly prominent. They soon developed a new kind of economic administration which was destined to revolutionize the old system, already in decay. The foundation of Cistercian abbeys contributed to the progress of colonization in the Baltic region, in Pomerania, in Brandenburg and in Lusatia.





In Lusatia, the Slavic population was reduced to serfdom, working for its masters, cultivating its lands and paying tribute for what had previously been its own property. For many years, the Slavs lived in complete isolation from their masters, under their own chiefs, the župans, who exercised the lower functions of the judiciary and policed such villages and districts as were not yet considered to be under the private ownership of the master class. It was on these general lines that the lands of the Sorbs developed until the beginning of the twelfth century, when the great colonizing drive started. The reasons for this colonization were the same as those which had been operative in the lands of the Obodrites and the Veletians: depopulation following the wars and the lamentable failure of the German





clergy in its endeavors to convert the native Wends. Churches existed only in German fortified places, and German priests served only German garrisons. The Sorbs flatly and stubbornly refused to adopt the religion of their conquerors. “This made it necessary for any further progress (of Christianity) to alter the composition of the population.” [1] The change was effected in the Sorbish country, as it had been in other regions beyond the Elbe, through colonization, since there seemed to be no other way of Christianizing the lands between the Saale, the Elbe and the Bober.


The Germanization of the country, however, made slow progress. Lusatia has a very checkered political history, having been coveted by many German princes and Czech kings. The fact that the sovereignty was frequently transferred from one duke to another partly explains why a remnant of the Sorbish nation — about 150,000 — still exists to this day.


This, briefly, is the history of the creation of the new Germany on the Baltic and between the Elbe and the Oder. It was a great achievement; but the German Reich and nation had to pay for it with the loss of the Flemish lands, of Alsace, Lorraine and Burgundy. While the attention of the nation was riveted on the East, and imperial interests in the West were neglected, nations which had long been members of the German kingdom developed their own states — Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg — or were absorbed by France. And today, possession of a great part of the new “Colonial Germany” (beyond the Elbe) is being contested once more by Slavs.



1. A. Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands (Leipzig, 1913, 4th ed.) IV. p. 578.


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