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Introduction to Widukind's Wichmann Account

The story of Wichmann appears in Book Three of Widukind of Corvey's Res Gestae Saxonicae (Deeds of the Saxons), interspersed with the rest his historical account.  Likely composed over the course of the 960s and early 970s and intended, scholars argue, both to lionize the Ottonian emperors and celebrate the Saxon people, the Res Gestae stands as one of the most important texts concerning tenth-century Europe.  Book One outlines the legendary history of the Saxon peoples and the reign of Otto I's father, Henry I, while Book Two describes Otto's early reign and the revolt against his rule from 937 to 939 CE.  Book Three centers around another revolt, in 953-954, instigated by Otto's son Liudolf and his son-in-law Conrad; it also provides a full report of the famous Battle of the Lechfeld, in which the Magyars were decisively vanquished by Otto's armies.  Over the course of this section, Wichmann's conflicts with the king loom ever larger; while they begin in tandem with Liudolf's revolt, they persist independently for another full decade or more.

Wichmann's rebellion against Otto can be divided into three phases, which accord with Widukind's presentation of them—for they do not appear in the Deeds as a single event, but instead are separated in the text.  The first, in Chapters III:19, III:23-25, and III:29, consists of brief, almost annalistic entries that interrupt Widukind's narrative of the broader 953-954 revolt.  Wichmann's second rebellion begins at III:50 and continues with longer, more narrative sections through III:55; III:59-60 offer a dénoument to this section.  The third rebellion, III:64, III:66, and III:68-69, probably belongs to a later period of composition, and in one version of the text constitutes the conclusion to the entire work.

The translation available here is our own.  We have translated fairly literally, in order to foreground the uncertainties and incongruities within the text.  Readers interested in a more fluid translation or wishing to read the sections on Wichmann within the context of Widukind's whole should consult Bernard and David Bachrach's Deeds of the Saxons.  Our translation retains the original Latin for a number of key terms, including Widukind's diverse vocabulary for rank and office (dux, regulus, subregulus, praeses, princeps, etc.).  The Latin edition published in the MGH is available here.

Further commentary is offered on the sidebars to the right, which can be accessed by clicking, to the left, on either the section headings or individual chapters.  We address issues of dating and raise questions of narrative or composition in the section sidebars.  Specific chapter sidebars provide more detailed commentary.  

Since Wichmann's story appears in the context of Widukind's larger work, we provide an outline (available from the left margin) of the whole of Book III, with the chapters devoted to Wichmann highlighted.