1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Widukind (historian)

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WIDUKIND, Saxon historian, was the author of Res gestae Saxonicae. Nothing is known of his life except that he was a monk at the Benedictine abbey of Corvey, and that he died about 1004, although various other conjectures have been formed by students of his work. He is also supposed to have written lives of St Paul and St Thecla, but no traces of these now remain. It is uncertain whether he was a resident at the court of the emperor Otto the Great or not, and also whether he was on intimate terms with Otto’s illegitimate son William, archbishop of Mainz. His Res gestae Saxonicae, dedicated to Matilda, abbess of Quedlinburg, who was a daughter of Otto the Great, is divided into three books, and the greater part of it was undoubtedly written during the lifetime of the emperor, probably about 968. Starting with certain surmises upon the origin of the Saxons, he deals with the war between Theuderich I., king of Austrasia, and the Thuringians, in which the Saxons played an important part. An allusion to the conversion of the race to Christianity under Charlemagne brings him to the early Saxon dukes and the reign of Henry the Fowler, whose campaigns are referred to in some detail. The second book opens with the election of Otto he Great as German king, treats of the risings against his authority, and concludes with the death of his wife Edith in 946. In the third book the historian deals with Otto’s expedition into France, his troubles with his son Ludolf and his son-in-law, Conrad the Red, duke of Lorraine, and the various wars in Germany; but makes only casual reference to Otto’s visits to Italy in 951 and 962. He gives a vivid account of the defeat of the Hungarians on the Lechfeld in August 955, and ends with the death of Otto in 973 and a eulogy on his life.

Widukind formed his style upon that of Sallust; he was familiar with the De vitis Caesarum of Suetonius, the Vita Karoli magni of Einhard, and probably with Livy and Bede. Many quotations from the Vulgate are found in his writings, and there are traces of a knowledge of Virgil, Ovid and other Roman poets. His sentences are occasionally abrupt and lacking in clearness, his Latin words are sometimes germanized (as when he writes michi for mihi) and grammatical errors are not always absent. The earlier part of his work is taken from tradition, but he wrote the contemporary part as one familiar with court life and the events of the day. He says very little about affairs outside Germany, and although laudatory of monastic life gives due prominence to secular affairs. He writes as a Saxon, proud of the history of his race and an admirer of Henry the Fowler and Otto the Great.

Three manuscripts exist of the Res gestae, one of which is in the British Museum, and the book was first published at Basel in 1532. The best edition is that edited by G. Waitz in the Monumenta Germaniae historica. Scriptores, Band iii. (Hanover and Berlin, 1826). A good edition published at Hanover and Leipzig in 1904 contains an introduction by K. A. Kehr.

See R. Köpke, Widukind von Corvey (Berlin, 1867); J. Raase, Widukind von Korvei (Rostock, 1880); and B. Simson, “Zur Kritik des Widukind” in the Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichte, Band xii. (Hanover, 1876).  (A. W. H.*)