History Of The Archbishops Of Hamburg-Bremen * Adam of Bremen (translated by Charles Mierow) (columbia university press 2002 * isbn 0231125755)

This is an often-quoted 11th century book on the pre-Christian beliefs of (Northern) Europe. -Like Saxo Grammaticus- this is one of these books that belong in your personal library. This English translation is a nice publication. The translation is very readable (Adam must already have had a nice writing-style) and the translator not only searched for Adams sources, but added tons of notes (there are even notes within notes!). Like the title suggests, the book gives a history of the archbishops of the enormous bishophric of Hamburg-Bremen (Germany) which extented all the way up to Norway and Iceland. Most of the text consists of not too interesting and rather detailed discriptions of the early churchfathers, missionaries and bishops. Interwoven is information about the lands where these people travelled to in order to bring the ‘true faith’. You can also read about the struggles that the conversions costed sometimes, pagan kings who become Christian and pagan again, the Viking raids, etc. Here and there are descriptions of the pagan’s (Slavic and Germanic) practices, with of course as most famous, the description of the great temple of Uppsala in Sweden and the rituals around the feast that is held there every nine years. Adam used many texts that were compiled before him (by for example Beda and Vergil). I must note that Adam got all of his informations second-hand, the named sources, but mostly the stories of his contemporaries. Adam is often quoted as a reliable source, but the reason I am not too sure about this is the famous passage about the temple of Uppsala. On page 206 of my book (paragraph “XXV (25)” of book four) Adam describes the east of Sweden “where there is an immense wasteland, the deepest snows, and where hordes of human monsters prevent access to what lies beyond. There are Amazons, and Cyclops who have but one eye on their foreheads; there are those Solinus calls Himantopodes, who hop on one foot, and those who delight in human flesh as food”. The next three paragraphs are about the temple of Uppsala and the nine-year-feast during which men and a great many animals are killed and hung in trees as offerings to the gods… Indeed, most of the times Adam seems reliable, but such passages about monsters does not add to that idea!
But like I said, the book reads easily and since it is so often quoted, it is good to have a copy in your possession. This version is printed well, has many notes, a large bibliography and a descent index. Read it, and form your own opinion.

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