Ansgar and Rimbert, ninth-century bishops and missionaries to Denmark and Sweden, are fixtures of medieval ecclesiastical history. Rare is the survey that does not pause to mention their work among the pagan peoples of the North and their foundation of an archdiocese centered at Hamburg and Bremen. But Ansgar and Rimbert were also clever forgers who wove a complex tapestry of myths and half-truths about themselves and their mission. They worked with the tacit approval-if not the outright cooperation-of kings and popes to craft a fictional account of Ansgar's life and work. The true story, very different from that found in our history books, has never been told: Ansgar did not found any archdiocese at all. Rather, the idea of Hamburg-Bremen only took root in the tenth century, and royal sponsorship of the mission to Denmark and Sweden ended with the death of Louis the Pious. This book couples detailed philological and diplomatic analysis with broader historical contextualization to overturn the consensus view on the basic reliability of the foundation documents and Rimbert's Vita Anskarii. By revising our understanding of Carolingian northeastern expansion after Charlemagne, it provides new insight into the political and ecclesiastical history of early medieval Europe.
Eric Knibbs is Assistant Professor of History at Williams College.
'... there has remained a general acceptance of the narrative presented by Rimbert’s Life of Ansgar. What has hindered many scholars who would pursue a more skeptical line has been the daunting task of grappling with the diplomatic evidence. Eric Knibbs has not only engaged with this evidence to great effect but also communicates his findings with a clarity that makes their logic readily apparent even to those not deeply learned in the study of diplomas... This book is extremely valuable to anyone interested in the history of the Church in Scandinavia and Germany in the early-medieval period.' Catholic Historical Review '... a careful and critical rereading of the relevant ninth-century texts... this book makes an important contribution to the history of the later Frankish empire and the early church in German lands... The more technical chapters are not an easy read, but the payoff comes at the end, when one realizes just how much Knibbs has brought to light and revised with his analysis.' German Studies Review 'From an historical perspective, [Ansgar, Rimbert and the Forged Foundations of Hamburg-Bremen] paints a fascinating picture of two men, Ansgar and Rimbert, desperate to make themselves and their see appear a lot more important than they and it really were. Their reworking of recent history, especially when set alongside the audacity with which they hoodwinked successive emperors, popes and arch bishops is quite remarkable, and Knibb’s free-flowing and energetic narrative does much to illuminate this process.' Mediaevistik 'Knibbs’ book displays clever detective work and careful analysis certainly of interest to graduate students and scholars of ecclesiastical history.' Religious Studies Review 'This is a valuable and thought-provoking book that will make historians of the Carolingian church and of the Frankish missions to Scandinavia in the ninth century re-evaluate some of their basic assumptions.' English Historical Review 'Crucially, Knibbs’