Roman and Mediaeval History, Illlustrated Travel Journals, Mediaeval Literature, Geology


28.3.11
  I'll be Away for Three Weeks

Traveling to Norway to hunt some Vikings and lots of beautiful landscape. I wanted to do this tour for years, and in the winter season it's half the price on the Hurtigruten ships that travel along the Norwegian coast from Bergen all the way up to Kirkenes at the Russian border, crossing the Arctic Circle and circling the North Cape, and back again. The Hurtigruten started out as post service with some bunks for passengers in 1893, and has over time morphed into a mix of cruise, ferry service and freight transport. It's still an unusual cruise with no captain's dinner and entertainment on board (the landscape is entertainment enough), and with a lot more stops that a normal cruise, even at night. There's time to visit some of the towns along the way, and guided tours to fun places like a reindeer farm; plenty of things to do and to watch during the 12 days of the voyage.

So I'll be off via Copenhagen where I'm going to stay for two nights, then by ferry to Oslo, taking the train to Bergen (the route is one of the most scenic railway routes in Europe) where I'll stay another two days. Next onto the ship and doing most of the cruise, though I'll leave one day early at Trondheim on the way back to get more time for that town; finally by train to Oslo with another day to stay, and back home.

And to give you a photo to go with the theme, here's a stave church.

Stave church in Hahnenklee

That one's not in Norway, though, but modeled after one of the most famous Norwegian stave churches, the one of Borglund. It stands in Hahnenklee in the Harz. The town needed a larger church at the end of the 19th century, and the plan for a neo-Gothic stone building turned out to be too expensive. So the architect took his inspiration from the stave churches about which a lot of material had just become avaliable. There was an interest in everything Nordic because Emperor Wilhelm spent most of his summer holidays in Norway. And that's why there is a stave church in the Harz since 1908.

Stave church, interior

Of course it doesn't slavishly follow the models; there are elements of continental churches as well, fe. the tower. It's really pretty, and I'll put up some more pictures when I'm back. Sometime mid-April.

For now it's back to several feet of snow that long ago have melted here, even in the Harz, and temperatures that will not please the birch pollen (which didn't please me those last days). But I'm crazy and actually like winter.

I'll have internet acces on board, but I don't think I'm going to spend much time in front of a computer. I may check in occasionally, though.
 


26.3.11
  Oil Lamps, Curse Tablets, and a Naughty Dwarf

I had promised a post about the finds in the Isis Temple in Mainz which are displayed in the room protecting the excavated foundations, so here we go.

Oil lamps must have played more or less the same role in the temples as votive candles in Christian churches. Some 300 have been found in the Isis temple, all with traces of soot that proves they were used. Most of them were found lying on top of places of burnt offerings where they obviously had been deposed after the ritual was finished. But oil lamps also served to illuminate the temple.

Oil lamps

Whatever Prima Aemilia, lover of Narcissus, will attempt and will do, wrong shall it go for her. She shall never let anything blossom; she shall be out of her mind, and all she does shall be a lie. Whatever happens to her shall be wrong. This shall be the fate of Prima [lover] of Narcissus by this tablet [...] never bloom.

This is the translation of one of the 34 curse tablets found in the temple. Some girl who was after Narcissus herself wanted to get rid of a rival, it seems. Other such tablets curse people involved in embezzlements and other unsavoury practics. It wasn't exactly legal in the Roman Empire, and thus curse tablets are usually found in temples and gathering places of the mystery cults where such rituals could be conducted in secrecy. It is assumed that these curse rituals provided the priests and priestesses with some extra income.

Curse tablet

The tablets, made of thin bronze in varying sizes from 3x5 to 10x20 cm, were usually folded (you can see the folding edges on the photo). One was found wrapped around a chicken bone; the only occurance of this magic variant outside Egypt. Only some of the texts are written in Vulgar Latin, the majority is in educated Latin with rhetorical embellishments; the script is the Latin majuscule. Isis figures most prominently on those tablets, but some of them address Magna Mater and/or her consort Attis. Another way to work magic included the use of clay figures (see below).

(Magic figure; click to embiggen. May not be work safe)

Two of those magic figures have been found, both crudely formed of clay and with stab holes on their body. They had been deposed in a well within the temple area. It is assumed that the voodoo-like holes had some magic purpose, but it was a love spell rather than a death one. Maybe they symbolized Armor's (or Cupido's, in Rome) arrows. Judging by a rather prominent feature on the lower body part one may guess what the caster of the magic really wanted. *grin* One of the figures came with a little bronze tablet to identify the recipient, one 'Tutmo son of Clitmo' (the names are Romanised Celtic).

(Right: Bronze figure of a dwarf; click to embiggen. May not be work safe)

To the right is one of the most precious finds: a bronze figure of a male dwarf from the 1st century BC, which made it an antiquity already at the time it was placed in the temple. Makes you wonder why someone would sacrifice such a valuable item. The wreath on the dwarf's head is of copper and the nails of silver. The dwarf was probalby holding something on his left hand (maybe a plate with grapes, is my guess), and he was certainly enjoying the party very much. Reminded me of Tyrion Lannister. *grin*
(For those of you who haven't read the books, Tyrion is one of the main characters in George RR Martin's Fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.)

There are more clay and some bronze figures, often animals (in stead of the real ones), and oddly enough, other gods / goddesses like Venus or Merkur. Henotheism at its best.

I could only catch some of those with my camera because of that mystic light, or lack thereof. Some are worked with quite some details while others are more crude renderings, but they're all a better quality than the handmade magic figure above. Obviously, those clay figures were mass produced by professionals while the magic one needed the personal act of creation for the spell to work.


(Left: Embracing lovers)

Embracing lovers are certainly a nicer way to set up a love spell than poking holes into some clay figure.

The figures of soldiers (see below) in old fashioned armour were dedicated to the goddess by the pausarii, members of the male temple staff who were organised in an association with a military structure. The etymology of the word is interesting, because a pausarius was the man who beat the time for the oarsmen on a galley. The nautic term may have originated in the Isis processions on the Nile. I could not find any information about female temple staff though I'm sure there must have priestesses for both Isis and Mater Magna - I'm in fact intrigued by the existance of an obviously significant male element. Maybe the priestesses and other women (servants etc.) were not organised the same way as the men.

Figure of a soldier

A great number of small offerings has been found, coins, hair pins made of bone, miniature axes made of bronze, dices, and the above mentioned clay figures. Coins make sense, of course, but I would like to know more about the special significance of sacrificing hair pins (there's a whole bunch of those).

Assorted small finds

There are also fragments from the decoration of the temple, like shards of decorated tiles and painted bits from the walls, which are still researched and may teach us more about the look of the buildings. A book about all the finds is in planning but we'll have to wait a bit yet.

More small finds, among them Serapis heads from the decorative friezes

Other finds include the remains from burnt offerings which mostly have been found in trash pits. Among those are bones, especially of chickens, but other birds as well, burnt remains of bread and cakes, pits and seeds of fruits, remains of dates, figs and nuts, pine cones and chicken eggs.

Glass wares

Another group of finds are tableware and dishes. Some of those were sacrificed, but other pieces had been used, probably for ritual meals in the temple. The glass flasks may have contained incenses or expensive oils and perfumes.
 


18.3.11
  The Wartburg, Main Seat of the Landgraves of Thuringia - A Virtual Tour

I was doing some research on the landgraves of Thuringia to go with the Ebersburg photos, and that gave me the idea to revisit their main seat, the Wartburg, which is in driving distance. And I want to show you that we not only have kaput castles in Germany but some intact ones as well. :)

Wartburg, eastern front.
The buidling to the left is the 12th century palas, followed by the 19th century keep;
the half timbered part is from the 15th century on older foundations

We'd been there shortly after the Wall fell, and the place was stuffed to the brim with tourists who got the same idea. The castle had been preserved during GDR times because it played such an important role in German history. Well, there were fewer tourists this time since it's not yet holiday season, but there already were international; groups from the US, Mexico, and France. A few Germans, too, but we were outnumbered.

The Wartburg, today part of the World Heritage, combines buildings from the 12th, the 14th and 15th, and the 19th centuries. The rooms can only be visited by guided tours and thus I could not avoid to have some people on those pics, but it was much better photographing than last time, overall. So here's a little illustrated tour to give you some first impressions.

The outer gate

There's a parking lot some way up but we (my father and I) still got to do some climbing. German hilltop castles are good for your health, lol. You get the first view (photo above) from the former bulwark, the outermost fortifications that had been dismantled in the early 19th century.

The Wartburg sits on a 200 metres high promontory overlooking a former trade road near the town of Eisenach. The oblong site covers an area of 45x80 metres and can only be accessed from the north; the other slopes are too steep. It's the sort of place that called for a castle in the Middle Ages.

The castle was founded by Ludwig the Leaper some time between 1067 and 1080 (it is mentioned in Bruno of Merseburg's De bello Saxonico in context of the war of the Saxon nobles against Heinrich IV). No traces of this first castle have been found; it most likely was a timber construction protected by earth walls which was not that unusual for the time.

The Romanesque palas, seen from the yard

The next important step in the development of the Wartburg took place in 1158 when Landgrave Ludwig II, son in law of the Emperor Barbarossa, built a palas, a representative house with living quarters and a hall, in Italian style. The palas remains until today (though the first version had only two storeys) and is one of the most important examples of Romanesque palaces in Germany.

Other features dating back to the time of Ludwig II are the curtain walls and the outer gate. His keep had been replaced with a new one in the 19th century - it had been a ruin at that time. The south tower dates to the 14th century, and the new keep does a pretty good job imitating its style.

More changes were made after a fire in 1317 (the castle already was in the hands of the Wettin family at that time). Besides the construction of the south tower, a third floor was added to the palas, and the chapel moved inside the palas to replace the destroyed one on the castle grounds.

Outer bailey with the bailiff's house (left) and Elisabeth hallway (right)

The half-timbered buildings in the outer bailey or forework (in German usually called Vorburg), the knight's house and the bailiff's house (Vogtei), were added in the late 15th century. The battlements were roofed in and became hallways that connect the buildings of the outer bailey with the - then still existant - old keep and the guest house.

The Wartburg declined in importance and became but a minor residence of the landgraves of Thuringia, but the castle is still considered as 'well preserved' by a chronicler from Eisenach in 1769. A few years later the famous author and minister at the ducal court of Weimar, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, visited the Wartburg and got the idea to establish the castle as museum for Mediaeval exhibits.

View from the herb garden to the inner yard with the palas and keep to the right,
guest house to the left, and the 19th century gate hall in the background

But it would take until 1853 for the Wartburg to get a makeover under supervision of Carl Alexander Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (no, I didn't make that name up). Carl Alexander chose the place as his main residence again. Fortunately, the buildings still intact were preserved and only those in bad shape were replaced with new buildings in old style (Historicism). New buildings are the guest house, the inner gate, and the so-called Dirnitz, a representative house with fire places (a second, somewhat smaller palas, in a way).

Following Goethe's suggestion, Carl Alexander collected Medieaval furniture and artefacts and displayed them in the Romanesque palas. The palas also got a makeover of the interior in the style of Historicism. Most important are the frescoes by Moritz von Schwindt.

Sängerkrieg fresco in the singers' hall

Several important events took place on the Wartburg. The first is the Wartburg Song Contest (Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg) in 1206. Landgrave Hermann I was a great patron of troubadours, the Minnesänger, and saw the most famous ones of his time, men like Walther von der Vogelweide, Wolfram von Eschenbach, or Heinrich von Ofterdingen, at his court. Legend has it that a contest was held, but instead of giving the winner a contract for some CDs, the loser would lose his head (that would probably increase the quality of the European Song Contest somewhat).

The scene of the fresco shows poor Heinrich von Ofterdingen, who was stupid enough to sing the praise of Duke Leopold of Austria instead of Landgrave Hermann, pleading for grace and be spared the executioner's axe. There's a happy end, of course. The story inspired Richard Wagner to his opera Tannhäuser (1845).

Elisabeth's chamber; mosaic ceiling

Another event that left strong traces in the 19th century decorations is the fact that Saint Elisabeth lived on the Wartburg 1211-1228. Elisabeth von Hungary was the wife of Landgrave Ludwig IV. She lived in the ascetic traditon of Francis of Assissi even though her charity and poverty went far beyond what was expected of a noble lady. After her husband's early death she moved to Marburg where she died of exhaustion (or anorexia, is my guess) at the age of 24.

There is a chamber, today called Elisabethkemenate, in the palas that was decorated with mosaics in a mix of neo Byzantine and Art Nouveau style in 1906. Emperor Wilhelm II liked not only the Romans but the Middle Ages as well and paid for the shiny fun. The artist who did the work was August Oetken. Some of the mosaics - 4 million tiny glass pieces - show scenes from Elisabeth's life as well.

Martin Luther's room

Much less sparkly but historical is Martin Luther's chamber in the bailiff's house. Luther (born 1483) had gotten himself deep into trouble with his anti-indulgence theses and other 'heretic' texts when he was called before the diet of Worms in 1521. Of course, he refused to renounce anything he had said and thus was declared outlaw by Emperor Charles V after he already he been excommunicated a few years before. But Luther had one stout supporter, Friedrich III Elector of Saxony. Friedrich had Luther spirited away to the Wartburg where he lived in disguise for ten months and used some of the time to translate the Gospels - in their Greek version - into German.

Legend has it that Luther was visited by the devil one night and could only get rid of him by throwing an ink pot at the intruder. Maybe it was the vision of an overworked and frightened man, maybe it was just a good story embellishing Luther's remark that he had 'fought the devil with ink'. Whatever, in the following time there was an ink stain at the wall and Protestant pilgrims used to chop off little bits of the roughcast as souvenir. The stain was renewed a few times but by now that has stopped (thought a somewhat damanged part of the wall is left behind).

The great hall

Another fine example of Historicism is the Rittersaal, the great hall in the uppermost floor of the palace. The building itself is from the 12th century, but the trapezoid wooden ceiling as well as the decorative paintings are 19th century. The hall, as well as the chapel, are used for concerts today which is the reason for all the chairs. Wagner's opera Tannhäuser is played here in summer, but tickets are sold out for several years in advance.

Ludwig II of Bavaria used this hall and the singers' hall as models for some of the rooms in Neuschwanstein Castle.

The guest house with the south tower in the background

OK, time for a piece of cake and a cup of tea in the guest house, I think. We'll visit the museum in the Dirnitz the next time. :)

The guest house is from the 19th century as well, built on the foundations of the old stables. Its half timbered style corresponds well with the buildings in the outer bailey.


Sources:
Günther Schuchardt, Welterbe Wartburg. Regensburg, 2010
 


13.3.11
  The Ebersburg - Part 2: The Marshals of Ebersburg, and Contested Inheritances

The Ebersburg is situated in the south-eastern Harz foothills near Nordhausen; the northernmost fortification within the realm of the landgraves of Thuringia. The castle held a garrison but was also sufficiently large and representative to host the landgrave himself on occasion. Members of the high nobility, like the king himself, did a lot of traveling to personally see to matters (like exercising high justice) in their lands.

(Another view of the keep)

There is a charte issued by the Archbishop of Mainz in 1189, stating that the archbishop bought the Ebersburg from his relative, the Count Palatine Hermann of Saxony (who was also landgrave of Thuringia), for 200 mark and gave it back to him, his wife, and daughter, as fief. Two things are interesting about this, for one that the wife and daughter are included in the feudal relationship (which would cause trouble later), and second that Hermann would sell the castle in the first place. We'll see that it was an important place, so why would he sell it and receive it back as fief? Did Hermann need the money or were there political reasons for the transaction?

A proof for the importance of the Ebersburg is the fact that the chatellain (Burgmann) of the castle held the title of marshal; one name appears in several chartes: Heinricus Marscalkus de Eversberch. I've managed to hunt this Heinrich down for you. He was the son of Kunemund of Eckartsberga, one of the landgrave's ministeriales (a specific German rank of vassal) who was the chatellain of the Eckartsburg, another castle in possession of the landgrave. Heinrich appears as marshal, albeit without a place name attached, in a number of chartes since 1178. Heinrich first signs as 'de Eversberc' in a charte issued in Nordhausen in 1207.

Marshal was one of the four most important positions at court - the others were the seneshal, the treasurer and the cup-bearer. The landgraves imitated the king here and had established those offices at their court as well. Since the position af chatellain would only be filled with a marshal in case the castle was a residence for a landgrave or duke, we can conclude that the Ebersburg was more important than the remains make it look like today.

Inner gate seen from outer bailey

Hermann did indeed visit the castle in person in June 1216. With him were a number of Saxon and Thuringian nobles, including the counts of Hohnstein and Stolberg, the count of Clettenberg (the family had founded Walkenried Abbey), the Saxon counts of Scharzfels and Lauterberg, the lords of Arnswald-Wilrode, Creuzburg, Husen-Bischofferode, and others from the local Who's Who. The Ebersburg was a centre of the landgraves' politics in northern Thuringia and the Saxon border during the first decennies of the 13th century

Heinrich of Ebersburg must have been dead before 1226 because his sons, Heinrich II and Kunemund, were released from a debt to the Walkenried Abbey that year.

When Landgrave Ludwig IV started out on crusade in 1227, he was accompagnied by "many knights and many other honourable people from the land of Thuringia," among them "Heynrich von Ebirsberg marschalk" (Düringische Chronik, by Johannes Rothe, 1360-1434). The same Heinrich - who contrary to his lord survived the crusade - appears at the court of Heinrich Raspe on the Wartburg, and a Marshal Heinrich of Ebersburg can be traced to the time of the Wettin line that took over as landgraves of Thuringia. There's a Hermann of Ebersburg as well, maybe a brother of Heinrich.

(View through the inner gate)

After Heinrich Raspe died without offspring in 1247, the fight for the heritage started. There were no heirs of the male line, but now the husbands and sons of the daughters came out of the woodworks. Landgrave Hermann I had been married twice. The daughter of the first marriage, Jutta, wed Dietrich Margrave of Meissen from the Wettin family. Irmgard, one of the daughters from the second marriage (that also gave him the son Ludwig IV) married Heinrich Count of Anhalt. And there was Sophie, Ludwig's daughter, who had married Hendrik II Duke of Brabant.

Emperor Friedrich II had given the landgraviate to Heinrich 'the Illustrious' Margrave of Meissen, the son of Dietrich and Jutta, one of his stoutest supporters. But the Duke of Brabant claimed the heritage as well, on behalf of his wife and son. Moreover, since the archbishop of Mainz had given the Ebersburg as fief to Hermann and his daughter Irmgard in 1189, the three sons she had with Heinrich of Anhalt now claimed the Ebersburg and the palatine county of Saxony. I told you there would be trouble, and with three sons to share in the Anhaltinian heritage, one of them was bound to push the issue.

The result was the War of the Thuringian Succession (1247-1264) between the Margrave of Meissen, Sophie of Brabant, and the archbishop of Mainz. The latter got involved because the Hessian lands that had come to the Ludowingian family through the marriage of Ludwig I with Hedwig of Gudensberg in 1110, were held as fief from the archbishop who now considered them fallen back to him. In the end, Heinrich Margrave of Meissen got the landgraviate of Thuringia and the Thuringian / Saxon possessions while Sophie's son, another Heinrich, got the newly created landgraviate of Hessia (the lands were still as fief from the archbishop of Mainz until 1292 when they became imperial allods).

(I hope you can still follow that mess; if not feel free to ask for clarification in the comments.)

Angle between inner and outer curtain wall on the gate side

But that was not the only trouble. In 1247, the young Siegfried of Anhalt, one of Irmgard's three sons, invaded northern Thuringia and laid siege to the Ebersburg. He built five small castles, the Too Closes (Allzunahs) in the immediate surroundings of the Ebersburg (only minor traces remain of those). Looks like the Ebersburg was a tough nut to crack - well, even the remains of the walls and the keep look impressive. But Siegfried managed to conquer the castle in 1249; and the possession remained with the family. Later, Siegfried renounced his right to the palatinate of Saxony in favour of the House Wettin in exchange for monetary recompensation. Seems that the Ebersburg was not included in that deal, though, and I could not find out if the castle was still held as fief from the archbishop of Mainz.

An interesting little tidbit: Siegfried married Katharina of Sweden, a daughter of Birger Jarl, Regent of Sweden (who founded Stockholm in 1250); and that's just one of several ties between the German and Scandinavian noblility.

The castle was adminstered by a reeve; one 'Ludewicus advocatus de Eversborch' appears on several chartes from 1255-1267. Other reeves are not known by name.

Keep seen from the Vorburg (forework)

We can glimpse some more traces of the Ebersburg during the following years. In 1326, the castle was the reason for a feud between the counts of Anhalt and the counts of Stolbeg, though I have no idea what caused it. The castle was given to the Stolberg family as result of a mediation - did the landgrave of Thurngia intervene? There's a later contract dating from 1392, between the landgrave of Thuringia, the margrave of Meissen (the lands and postitions had been divided between several sons of the House Wettin) and the Stolberg family in which it is stated that the Stolbergs would take the Ebersburg as fief from the margraves of Meissen. Looks like the archbishop of Mainz was out of the game at that point. The castle was also included in the heritage contract between the families of Stolberg and Hohnstein in 1433.

The counts of Stolberg had reeves on the Ebersburg as well, but some later mentions of 'Henricus, Hildebrandus et Thilo dicti de Ebersberg' doesn't mean that those men still lived in the castle, only that they took their name from it. The castle was clearly abandoned in 1582 at latest.


Sources:
Peter Kuhlbrodt, Die Ebersburg bei Herrmannsacker - Landkreis Nordhausen. Issued by: Gesellschaft für Denkmalspflege und Heimatgeschichte im Kulturbund der DDR, 1984
 


5.3.11
  The Ebersburg - Part 1: The Landgraves of Thuringia

The Ebersburg was built by Hermann I Landgrave of Thuringia between 1181-1190. The family of the Ludowings (yeah, you'll have to learn a new name: Ludwig; there'll be a bunch of them in this essay) had risen from minor nobles to power and political eminence within a few generations, and the Ebersburg is only one of several castles they built on their expanding territory. The castle was once much larger than the remains make it seem today; there is a lot buried in the ground, or has completely fallen into decay. But the keep is still impressive.

This post will give a short overview over the Ludowing landgraves of Thuringia and the role they played in history. We'll meet again with some people we've met before like Heinrich IV, Friedrich Barbarossa and some of his sons, plus Heinrich the Lion and Otto IV.

Castle Ebersburg, the keep

The founder of the family is Ludwig the Bearded († 1080) who bought land near Gotha in Thuringia where he set up some villages after he had the forests cleared. He soon obtained the right to build a castle (almost no remains of the Schauenburg are left, though) and married a rich heiress, that way getting lands in the southern Harz foothills. His successors continued that politics and married into the surrounding nobiliy, gaining more land by dowries.

His son Ludwig the Leaper married Adelheid, the widow of the assassinated Count Palatine of Saxony and inherited the count's lands. His stepson Friedrich accused Ludwig of having had a hand in the assassination, and later legends presented this as a fact. Ludwig's nickname, der Springer, is a 15th century addition alluding to a legend that he jumped out of a castle tower where relatives of the murdered count held him captive, into the river Saale and thus escaped.

Historically, Ludwig was on the side of the Emperor Heinrich IV during the first years of his struggles with the Saxon nobles, and it was he who guided Heinrich to safety in Hessia on hidden paths after his escape from the Harzburg. Since Ludwig is named 'count' in chronicles soon thereafter, the title may have been a reward. But in 1085 we find him on the side of Heinrich's opponents, and Ludwig is again among the participants in the secret meeting in Lippoldsberg Abbey in 1099.

Inner curtain wall

At first, Ludwig got along well with Heinrich V (who, after all, had ousted daddy from his job), but Heinrich V managed to alienate the Saxon nobles just as well as his father, and Ludwig got involved in another rebellion. Heinrich put that one down, forced Ludwig to surrender the Wartburg in Thuringia that had become the main seat of the family, and ordered him to appear at the imperial diet in Mainz in 1114 (where Heinrich celebrated his wedding with Mathilde, daughter of Henry I of England) for a formal deditio. Heinrich had Ludwig put in chains and held him captive for more than two years. There are indications that Heinrich may have acted against prior agreements because the act seems to have been a reason - one of several aggravations, I assume - for another revolt, led by Lothar of Süpplingenburg Duke of Saxony who had been received back into the emperor's grace in Mainz after his deditio.

Ludwig's sons managed to capture some of Heinrich's leaders and Ludwig got exchanged for them; another peace was made which held for a change, and Ludwig also reconciliated with his stepson Friedrich. He received the Wartburg back as well.

Inner gate seen from the inner bailey

Ludwig's son, another Ludwig, was elevated to the position of landgrave at the diet of Goslar in 1131. Lothar of Süpplingenburg had become emperor by that time and there may have been an element of reward for former support and alliances.

The position of landgrave was an imperial fiefdom (comitatus patriae); the landgrave represented royal / imperial authority on behalf of the king throughout the realm. He held the right of high justice, had to preserve peace (which often included mediating between feuding nobles), he administered the royal regalia like the mints, tolls, the forest rights and the mines, he protected towns and monasteries with imperial immediacy status. A landgrave was closer in rank and power to dukes, and above the counts.

Landgrave Ludwig (now counted as Ludwig I) married Hedwig of Gudenstein, heiress of the Gison family, and gained a nice bit of land in Hessia. By the end of the 12th century the possessions of the landgraves stretched from the Saale/Unstrut rivers (in todays Saxony) to the Lahn (near Mainz), from the Leine (Göttingen, in fact) and the Thuringian Forest to the southern Harz. They founded several castles that were expanded into residences, that is, castles where the landgrave would actually live for some time during the year. The Ebersburg was one of those.

Their lands lay between the two dukedoms of Saxony and Bavaria the Welfen family held at that time. This may have been one of the major reasons why Ludwig sided with the Staufen Konrad against the Welfen Heinrich the Proud in the strife for power after Emperor Lothar's death. The landgraves of Thuringia would support the Staufen dynasty for the time coming.

View from the Ebersburg towards the Kyffhäuser

Ludwig II (son of the first landgrave) married Jutta, the half sister of Friedrich Barbarossa, in 1150. This connection would prove important: their sons are called imperatioris nepotes in a number of documents.

When the relationship between Barbarossa and Heinrich the Lion detoriated, those nephews supported the emperor. The eldest, another Ludwig, was installed as Count Palatine of Saxony and received lands at the Werra and Leine (including Göttingen) either 1179 or 1181. The lands and title of the Count Palatine of Saxony didn't not belong to Heinrich; the family who held it had died out in the male line and the fief had fallen back to the emperor. The first date would put the event before the battle of Weissensee and could be seen as an attempt by Barbarossa to further bind the Ludowings to his cause. The later date would set it after the battle (where Ludwig was captured by Heinrich the Lion and then ransomed), which would make the act a reward.

Heinrich the Lion Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, finally surrendered at the diet of Erfurt in 1181 and was exiled (he spent the years of his exile at the court of Henry II of England, his father-in-law). Friedrich Barbarossa redistributed the lands of the duke among the other nobles. Ludwig further gained the position as reeve of Nordhausen, and the Landgrave of Thuringia is the only one not a duke who is mentioned among the principes of the realm which proves the importance of his family. Some time between 1181 and 1190 he also built the Ebersburg on land he bought from the Hohnstein family to whom he was related.

Ludwig gave the honour and lands of the Count Palatine of Saxony to his younger brother Hermann and accompagnied Barbarossa on the ill-fated third crusade. Though he did not join the army marching overland; he led his troops via Italy and the Mediterranean Sea instead. Ludwig participated in the siege of Accon where he obviously caught a lingering fever. He died on his way back home, near Cyprus in October 1190.

Gate tower

After Ludwig III (they got numbers instead of nicknames when they became landgraves) died without male offspring, King Heinrich VI, the son of the deceased Friedrich Barbarossa, claimed that the fiefs had fallen back to him, but it had been a common practics of the Staufen feudal lords to allow younger sons to inherit after their brothers, and Hermann was more than a bit miffed about the royal claim. Since Heinrich needed the support of his vassals to sort out the mess in Sicily (he claimed the kingship there on behalf of his wife) where he was as unpopular as in Germany, he finally agreed to invest Hermann with the fiefs as rightful heir, and that way drag him out of an alliance opposing him.

Since the dukedoms of Saxony and Bavaria were no longer united in one hand and the noose around his lands broken up, and because of the disappointment in Heinrich's behaviour, Hermann no longer felt bound to the Staufen case the way his ancestors did. Instead, he played both sides in the ensuing conflict after Heinrich's death: Philipp of Swabia (another son of Barbarossa) and Otto IV, the son of Heinrich the Lion.

Hermann wanted to further strengthen the system of castles and towns on his lands and especially at its borders. To achive that, he tried to get imperial lands as fief, in particular the towns of Nordhausen (where his family already were acting as royal reeves) in the southern Harz, and Mühlhausen and Saalfeld in Thuringia. Otto IV granted him Nordhausen which Hermann conquered in 1198.

For some reason Hermann changed sides and joined Philipp of Swabia, asked Otto for all three towns if he was to return his allegiance to the Welfen side, and in 1203 received the three towns as fief (Otto must have been desperate for support to play along). But Philipp got the upper hand on the battlefield and Hermann was forced to surrender to him just a year later and lost the towns again. When Philipp was assassinated in 1208, Hermann returned to Otto's party only to switch back to the Staufen, probably because Otto didn't grant him the towns a second time (maybe he had enough at that point). In 1211, Hermann decided to support Barbarossa's grandson Friedrich II's efforts to become king of Germany against Otto. Wryneck (Wendehals) doesn't begin to describe that behaviour, Hermann must have had a screw thread for neck.

The keep, seen through the trees

Hermann of Thuringia also was one of the most cultured men of his time (he had grown up at the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine's ex, King Louis VII of France) and a keen supporter of arts, literature and troubadours (Minnesänger). His main seat Wartburg Castle became a centre of Mediaeval culture at his time.

Hermann died in 1217. His son Ludwig IV supported Friedrich II whom he joined in the 6th crusade. But the crusade would not bring him any luck; like his great uncle he died of a lingering sickness before he reached Jerusalem in 1227.

Ludwig IV of Thuringia is sometimes refered to as Ludwig the Saint, mostly due to his wife Elisabeth of Hungary who was canonised as St.Elisabeth in 1235, only a few years after her death. Ludwig had been 17 and Elisabeth 14 when they married in 1221; their marriage seems to have been a happy one. Ludwig could be quite ruthless as politician, but he obviously adored his wife (as far as we can trust the sources, but we probably can trust them more than the later legends that often presented Ludwig as opposed to his wife's piety and charity, which he wasn't).

Ludwig IV and Elisabeth both died rather young, leaving behind an infant son, Hermann, and a daughter, Sophie (who later would marry the Count of Brabant). Thus Ludwig's brother Heinrich Raspe IV acted as regent for little Hermann II.

Hidden remains of the outer gate

Hermann died without offspring at the age of 19 in 1241, and Heinrich Raspe IV inherited the landgraviate. There have been rumours that Heinrich poisoned his nephew. Emperor Friedrich II appointed Heinrich guardian of his own minor son Konrad and regent for the Staufen family in Germany in 1242. But after Friedrich was excommunicated, Heinrich changed sides and got himself elected king in opposition to Konrad. Because of the strong papal and clerical support he was called Parsons' King (Pfaffenkönig). But only a year later, in 1247, Heinrich Raspe died childless, and with him the male line of the Ludowings. The landgraviate of Thuringia went to the Wettin family.

I'll take a closer look at the history of the Ebersburg itself in the next post.


Sources:
Bernd Schneidmüller and Stefan Weinfurter (ed): Die deutschen Herrscher des Mittelalters, München 2003
Manfred Lemmer, Die Burgen und Städte der Landgrafen von Thüringen als Stützpfeiler ihrer Macht. In: Castrum Wiszense, Schriftenreihe der Vereins zur Rettung und Erhaltung der Runneburg in Weißensee Nr. 2/1993
Wilfried Warsitzka, Die Thüringer Landgrafen. 2nd revised edition, Erfurt 2009
 


Miscellaneous musings of an aspiring Historical Fiction author. Illustrated essays on Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval history, Mediaeval literature, and Geology. Some poetry translations and writing stuff. And lots of photos of old castles, cathedrals, Roman remains, and beautiful landscapes from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.

All texts (except comments by guests) and photos (if no other copyright is noted) on this blog are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.

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Location: Germany

I'm a writer of Historical Fiction living in Germany. I got a MA in Literature, Scandinavian Studies, Linguistics and History, I'm interested in Archaeology and everything Roman and Mediaeval, an avid reader, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, and photographer.


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