Adam of Bremen

Adam of Bremen (c. AD 1040-1081) was a German monk attached to the Cathedral in Bremen – hence his name. He was responsible for writing the work The History of the Archbishops of Hamburg, but apart from that we know very little about him.

The History of the Archbishops of Hamburg dates from around AD 1070 and was originally written in Latin:Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum. Adam himself referred to it as: Historia Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae. It is one of the most important sources concerning the geographic, political and ecclesiastical situations in Northern Germany, Denmark and the other Nordic Countries in the period around AD 870-1070. Despite the title, it deals with much more than the history of the Hamburg-Bremen Archiepiscopal See. This is due to the fact that the Archiepiscopal See had been given the responsibility for spreading the Christian faith in the Nordic Countries by the Pope. As a consequence, there was great interest in all aspects of this area.

It is uncertain whether Adam ever travelled around in Denmark. He writes that he used the Danish King Svein Estridsson as a source. But he may merely have spoken with Svein during the King's travels in Southern Jutland. In addition to Svein, who supplied Adam with a great amount of information, he probably also spoke with sailors, travellers and merchants.

The work contains a great deal of information: descriptions of trade routes, reports of wars, of Christians and heathens and much more. But there are also some things that seem rather strange. For example, he writes that the Nordic countries are the home of Amazons and monsters such as – humans with dog heads. He is unlikely to have heard people foretell that they have seen these beings in the Nordic Countries. However, he could have read about them and where they were said to live in some much older texts – some as ancient as from 200 BC.

Kristian Helmersen