ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2006 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 52, No 4 - Winter 2006
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas


Bugiani, Piero. Enrico di Lettonia. Chronicon Livoniae La crociata del nord (1184-1227). Prefazione di Pietro U. Dini. 2005. LXXXI + 447 pp. + map. ISBN 88-7997-078-X (Books & Company s.r.l.)

The Chronicon Livoniae is a mediaeval chronicle written by a contemporary about events that took place in the area of Europe bordering the continental shore of the Baltic Sea. In the text, written in a fairly simple Latin, the mediaeval chronicler gives us a look at his contemporary world and describes it with extreme precision. Here we find the events of the first half of the thirteenth century in Livonia, the beginning of the Northern Crusade, described with the abundance of detail that only an eyewitness can give (Dini’s preface, p. VII). 

Bugiani’s introduction (pp. XIII-LIX) tells us that the events narrated cover the period from 1184 to 1227. Bugiani first describes the geography, the nature of the environment, the climate and the peoples inhabiting Livonia (pp. XIII-XVIII). In 1184, Meinhard, an Augustinian monk from the monastery of Segeburg in Holstein, began preaching among the Livonians and built the first church in Üxküll (contemporary Ikšķile) on the Daugava river. Two years later, the archbishop Hartwig II of Bremen consecrated him bishop. His collaborator, the Cistercian monk Theodoricus, secretly went to the pope in Rome informing him of the initial encouraging progress of the small Baltic community and he got a guarantee from Pope Innocent III for the remission of sins for all those who, taking up the cross, would go to give life to this nascent church. 

Meinhard’s achievements were not particularly brilliant; and when he died, he was succeeded by Berthold, who collected an army of pilgrims or ministeriales, that is, knights originally of peasant origin. Soon, however, Berthold fell in battle with the Livonians and Albert of Buxhövden, nephew of bishop Hartwig from a well-known family of Lower Saxony, was entrusted with the position (pp. XX-XXI). Whereas Meinhard had lifted his hands to heaven, exhorted and preached, Albert was a representative of the new era of pragmatism, with the principle “conversion or annihilation” (p. XXI). Albert founded the city of Riga in 1201 and moved the seat of the Episcopal see from Üxküll to Riga. In 1202, he dedicated the Episcopal seat and all of Livonia to the Virgin Mary. With this sacrifice to Mary, this region of the Baltic became firmly linked to the Roman see and the popes felt themselves authorized to claim it as their property (p. XXII). Finally, in 1202, Albert created a new religious-military order, Fratres milicie Christi, which was also known in German as Schwertbruder or variously in English as Knights of the Sword, Order of the Sword-Bearers, Brothers of the Militia of Christ or Livonian Brothers of the Sword. Pope Innocent gave them the rule of the Templars and the sign of the sword and the cross to wear on their clothing (p. XXIII). Members of this order were experts in the art of war. The rule of the order was very strict. They had to break all ties with their families, friends, and with the world and to renounce their own desires and will. They lived in dormitories, took their meals in common and were accustomed to praying in the chapel at least twice a day (p. XXIV). 

The role of the Knights of the Sword was special. There was no Holy War; there was no sepulcher to liberate, although there was the task of watching over a land dedicated to the Virgin Mary (p. XXIV). The goals of Albert in Livonia were always twofold: first, the missionary-religious; second, a political-government- institutional goal, i.e., the creation of a feudal state organized according to German principles, but not completely deaf and insensitive to local needs and customs. 

There were tensions with the Danes and the Russians. The former found Estonia to be a good point of departure to penetrate inland to the rich Russian markets, towards Novgorod (p. XXIX). The Germans found the Russians to be faithless, ambiguous, full of malice, and people who thought only of collecting taxes and tribute from the local populations and neglected to baptize them. The Russian church was judged to be sterile and fruitless. Being a German was equivalent to being a Christian and being a Christian meant being a bearer of civilization. Thus adopting (or rejecting) Russian or Latin-Catholic baptism had political significance; it was a choice of camp. To accept western baptism implied not only the reception of new laws, but also the duty of taking part in the defense of the district, the offer of free labor (servitium) for building churches or towns, as well as the usual corvées and increasing the income of the church through paying the tithe (p. XXX). Doubtless, the inclusion of this region (and its inhabitants) in the Western political sphere (the Holy Roman Empire, Denmark, and the militaryreligious orders) meant linking their fate with that of the other north central European peoples. 

The question of Henry of Livonia’s ethnic origin is quite controversial and highly debated, and quite probably in the absence of new documentation, absolute certainty will never be achieved (p. XL). On the one hand, the name Henricus, although certainly of German origin, may have been given to a young Latvian at the time of his baptism or when he became a priest. The fact that the German proper name was written in Low German doesn’t prove that Henry came from northern Germany, since he might have studied there and, in any case, German was the language of trade and commerce in the region. His pro-German attitude and use of the pronoun “we” may merely signify his belonging to the church of Riga. The limited attention that he shows to the characteristics of the Latvians and Latgalians may come from the fact that, since he himself was one of them, he found their distinctive elements quite ordinary. His Baltic extraction is supported without a shadow of a doubt when he calls himself Henricus de Lettis, which can only be translated as “Henry the Latvian.”’ The preposition de denotes origin or provenience. It seems likely that Henry was taken prisoner as a child, transported to Germany (as a hostage), introduced to Christianity and had gone to school in a monastery (p. XLI).

On the other hand, a number of scholars have expressed the opinion that Henry was a German. To assume that a young 73 Latvian as early as 1203/1205 could have been invited as a missionary and to suppose that two decades later he would have been able to compose the Chronicon, a work that was not dissimilar in spirit nor in style to others written in Germany, appears unlikely. The preposition de does not refer to nationality, but to the position, social sphere, or place in which the person described operated. Thus “Henricus de Lettis” means “Henry, the priest, who was active among the Latvians.” In the Chronicle, the Germans occupied a privileged position. For the chronicler, the Christians are Germans, whereas baptized Latvians and Livonians are called neophytes (p. XLIII). When military actions are not undertaken by the Germans, Henry does not use the pronoun we and the verb in the first person plural. Since most of the colonization of Livonia came from northern Germany, it is probable that the chronicler was from there also and explains his spelling of -burg with what appears to denote a final voiceless spirant, e.g., Magdeburch, Yborch, Ysenborch (p. XLIII). 

The preparation of the manuscript was begun in all probability in August of 1224, after the taking of Dorpat, and completed in the spring of 1226 (p. XLVI). Henry himself wrote (XXIX, 9) that he undertook the project at the request of his lords and companions (rogatu dominorum et sociorum). Who were these lords? Guesses include the bishop of Riga, the grand master of the order and the papal emissary (p. XLVI). 

Henry did not use classical Latin; there are few quotations from the Golden Age of Latin. On the other hand, he had studied the language of Rome in a monastery, Segeberg, known not so much as a beacon of culture, but as one of the last outposts of Christianity before vast areas inhabited by pagans. It was then a frontier monastery, whose school was preparing future missionaries, who needed, more than Cicero and Virgil, a solid knowledge of the breviary, the liturgy, the missal and the vulgate, in sum, a practical Christianity (p. LII). 

It was from the Bible and liturgical books that Henry drew the inspiration that fired his work. Some 775 Biblical ref74 erences have been counted and about a hundred references to liturgical books. Henry used not only the loci communes of rhetoric, but also the figures of the patristic style. He used antithesis, anaphora, inversion, chiasmus, rhetorical questions, irony, verses, alliteration and plays on words (p. LII). He made some mistakes in his Latin, and he used some foreign words. The use of a Latvian word, for example, is encountered in the sentence (XVI, 4): Russinus interea de castri summitate Bertoldum magistrum de Wenden, draugum suum, id est consocium alloquitur... (p. 202) = “Frattanto Russinus, dall ‘alto de fortilizio, chiama Bertoldo, maestro di Wenden, suo draugs cioè suo compagno...”(p. 203- 4) = “From the highest point in the fort, meanwhile, Russinus called Berthold, the master of the Wenden, his draugs, i.e., his fellow...” (Brundage 2003:128). 

Bugiani gives the stemma of the various codices of the chronicle (pp. LIII-LVI) and his conclusions (pp. XVII-LIX). He writes that it would be easy to state rhetorically that the process begun so many centuries ago is ending with the inclusion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the European Union. But this is true, just as it is true that the Baltic lands are the only ones in which Christianity, having unleashed the crusades, has definitively taken root. 

There is a critical bibliography of editions of the Chronicon (pp. LXI-LXV), a bibliography of other relevant sources (pp. LXVI-LXXVIII) and even a bibliography of articles available on the Internet (p. LXXVIII). 

In the critical bibliography, we find reference to The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia. A Translation with Introduction and Notes by James A. Brundage, Madison 1961. Bugiani notes that this translation is extremely important because it is the only one in English and is a point of departure for a large portion of the studies on the mediaeval Baltic in the Anglo- Saxon world. In his view, however, it is not exempt, from approximations and inexactitudes, since the translator sometimes intentionally departs from the original text to render it more accessible to the reader, but what is gained in clarity is lost in fidelity to the original. In 2003, the book was republished with 75 a modified introduction and an updated bibliography in the Columbia University Press series “Records of Western Civilization” (p. LXIV). 

Brundage (2003: 19) defends eloquently his decision to translate “...with an eye to conveying the chronicler’s meaning in English rather than with the notion of presenting Henry’s Latin style in English dress.” Brundage quotes Maimonides, who advises a translator of his Guide for the Perplexed to try to grasp the meaning of the passage to be translated and then to “...state the author’s intention with perfect clearness in the other language.” I agree with Brundage’s approach, and I wonder if it might not be partially motivated by the need for the American university professor to make things absolutely clear to the average ill-prepared American undergraduate college student. 

Notes on the edition are on p. LXXIX, and gratitude to various other scholars is expressed on p. LXXXI. 

The original Latin version of the Chronicon Livoniae, with an Italian translation on facing pages, runs from p. 1-425. It might be interesting here to compare a passage (IV, 5) of the Latin original (p. 26) with Bugiani’s Italian (p. 27) and Brundage’s English translation (2003: 37): “Ante exitum suum Lyvones episcopo locum civitatis demonstrant, quam et Rigam appellant, vel a Riga lacu vel quasi irriguam, cum habeat inferius irriguum ac irriguum superius. Irriguum inferius, eo quod sit acquis et pascuis irrigua vel eo quod ministrantur in ea peccatoribus plenaria peccaminum remissio et per eam irriguum superius, quod est regnum celorum, per consequens ministratur; vel Riga nova fide rigata et quia per eam gentes in circuitu sacro baptismatis fonte rigantur.” = “Prima della partenza del vescovo, i Livoni gli mostrano il luogo della città che chiamano anche Riga o dal nome del lago Riga o come fosse quasi irrigata, poiché ha una sorgente inferiore e una superiore. Sorgente inferiore perché è ricca di corsi d’acqua e di pascoli; oppure per il fatto che lì si amministra ai peccatori la remissione plenaria dei peccati e dunque, per conseguenza, si ottiene la sorgente superiore, ovvero il regno dei cieli. Oppure perché Riga è irrigata dalla nuova fede e perché grazie a lei, i pagani dei dintorni vengono aspersi al sacro fonte 76 battesimale” – “Before his departure, the Livonians showed to the bishop the site of the city which they call Riga. They call it Riga either from Lake Riga or from irrigation, since it is irrigated both from below and from above. It is irrigated from below for, as they say, it is well moistened in its waters and pastures; or, since the plenary remission of sins is administered in it to sinners, the irrigation from above, that is the kingdom of heaven is thus administered through it. Or, in other words, Riga, refreshed by the water of the new faith, waters the tribes round about through the holy font of baptism.” 

Bugiani translates the Latin present demonstrant with an Italian present mostrano, whereas Brundage uses an English preterit “showed.” Even though one might say that the Italian translation is closer to the original, I would defend Brundage’s use of the English preterit (here and elsewhere throughout the translation) as sounding more natural and acceptable. Even though the English historical present could have been used, the use of the preterit makes the passage, at least from my point of view, more natural for the American reader. 

Both Bugiani (p. 27, fn. 17) and Brundage (2003: 37, fn. 29) note the Latin play on words with the name of the city Riga and the Latin verb rigare ”’to irrigate.”’ Bugiani, however, also gives a reference to I Corinthians 3:6-7 Ego plantavi, Apollo rigavit: sed Deus incrementum dedit. Itaque neque qui plantat est aliquid, neque qui rigat: sed, qui incrementum dat, Deus = (King James translation) “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” Bugiani also gives some other references to the pun, e.g., Roma dictat iura, Riga vero rigat gentes (XIX, 7, p. 248) = “Roma detta le leggi, Riga invece battezza i pagani.” (p. 249) = “Rome makes laws, while Riga irrigates the nations” (Brundage 2003: 152); “Et dixerunt Rigenses: ‘Si volueritis’, inquiunt, ‘sacro fonte rigari et nobiscum veri pacifici...filii fieri” (XXI, 5, p. 272) = “Dissero quelli di Riga: ‘Se vorrete essere aspersi dal sacro fonte a diventare con noi figli del vero pacificatore...’ ” (p. 273) = “The Rigans spoke: ‘If you are willing,’ said they, to be watered by the sacred font and to become sons with us of the ‘true Peacemaker...’ ” (Brundage 2003: 164). 

An index of important words is given on p. 427. Here we find, for example, the word DRAUGUS, cf. above. This seems to me to be a reconstruction of the supposed Latin nominative singular on the basis of the accusative singular draugum actually encountered in the text. I have been unable to locate in the literature a Latinized nominative singular *draugus. The Latvian nominative singular would have been draugs (as supposed by Bugiani and Brundage, see above) or perhaps at this early time *draugas (cf. Lith. draũgas ‘friend’). According to Karulis (1992: 227) in the older texts, draugs is a military comrade, a member of a military unit, and it is perhaps from this that the contemporary meaning “friend” has developed. One might object, however, that the Lithuanian cognate draũgas, and various Slavic cognates such as Russian drug also mean “friend.” 

There is also a list of place names given in the translations or notes and their correspondences in Latvian, Estonian and/ or German (pp. 429-433). Thus, for example, the river known in Latvian as Daugava, is given in Estonian as Väina and in German as Düna. Following this is an index of names (pp. 435- 447). 

A copy of the historical map of Livonia, Estonia and Curonia from Leonid Arbusow’s Grundriss der Geschiche Liv, Est- und Kurlands (Riga 1918) is pasted into the inside back cover. In my opinion, this is an excellent reference work, well planned and easy to use, although for an American the easy Latin (disinvolto latino, according to Dini, p. VIII) may not be much more difficult than the (easy?) Italian translation. In any case, Bugiani is to be thanked for making the Chronicon Livoniae available again with updated scholarly apparatus. 


Brundage, James A., translator. The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, Henricus Lettus. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. 

Karulis, Konstantins. Latviešu etimoloģijas vārdnīca. I. A-O. Riga: Avots, 1992. 

William R. Schmalstieg