Varangians in Europe’s Eastern and Northern Periphery The Christianization of Northern and Eastern Europe c. 950-1050 – A Plea for a Comparative Study
By John H. Lind
Ennen Ja Nyt, Vol.4 (2004)
Introduction: The original stimulus for this paper was the almost simultaneous reading of three project proposals that all had as a central theme the Christianization of one or more countries in what in the 10th-11th century could be labelled as the periphery of Christian Europe. However, let us start by taking a longer and, perhaps, simplified view of the Christianization of Europe. Basically we may operate with at least three methods or ways in which Christianity spread:
1) by diffusion, either intentionally by missionary work or, less intentionally, from individual to individual in something we could call cultural mission. This method was operative from the very beginning of Christianity;
2) the “caesaropapistic” spread of Christianity, which was introduced when Constantine the Great in 325 made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. A method that was later operative at several stages, both before and after the Reformation;
3) later came mission by the sword, where conquest was accompanied by forced baptism. Here the wish to spread the Christian faith could be the moving factor or the forced conversion could primarily be intended as a mean to secure conquest.
At the beginning of the Middle Ages Christian Europe consisted of the countries and peoples that had formed part of the Roman Empire. By the end of the Middle Ages, however, almost all peoples of what we geographically consider Europe had become Christian. This period in the Christianization of Europe may be divided into a number of distinct stages. Relevant for the process of Christianization, as far as it concerns Europe’s northern and eastern periphery, are three such stages, in which one or another of the abovementioned methods dominated,
1) the more or less forced Christianization from the end of the 8th century to the end of the 9th century of the immediate neighbours of the Carolingian Empire by the Empire, involving both Germanic and Slavonic tribes/nations;
2) the more or less voluntary Christianization from the second half of the 10th to the beginning of the 11th century of almost all tribes/nations in the periphery surrounding what now constituted Christian Europe: (Kievan) Rus’, Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden;
3) the third stage was to a large extent shaped by the appearance of the crusading movement and its implementation in the periphery. This led either to the conquest and forced Christianization of the remaining nations by existing Christian states, turned crusader states, and by newly founded military order state(s), or, in the case of Lithuania, to the rise of a pagan-led empire.