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1000: The Year in Review

Looking back at the year 1000 – reviewing the important events, people, and accomplishments. This particular year included important events in the history of Christianity, would see the beginning of a turbulent era in Egypt’s history, and had a little tomb-robbing.

Millennial fears?

One popular idea was that in Western Europe, the year 1000 represented a time of fear and fervour, with Christians believing that they were entering the end of times. However, the evidence for this is not very large. In fact, most chronicles from the period do not note anything special about this year or any millennial fears. Part of the reason for this was that the Anno Domini calendar system was not yet standardized and there was disagreement over what the actual year was. However, writers like Rodulfus Glaber report an increased religious fervour around the year 1000, as Christianity continued to supplant other religions in Europe.

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As the Anno Domini calendar was not widely used outside of Europe, no one else was viewing this year as the start of a new millennium.

The rise of Caliph Al-Hakim

Although Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah had become the Fatimid Caliph in 996, he was then too young to rule, and power was held by his regent Barjawan. Barjawan proved to be effective as an administrator, and the Fatimid Empire centered in Egypt would see continued prosperity. However, reports reveal that Al-Hakim became upset with the regent and feared that he would seize the throne. Among the things that bothered the Caliph was that Barjawan nicknamed him ‘the Lizard.’

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Gold dinar of al-Hakim minted in 391 AH (1000/1001 CE). Image by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com

On the night of March 25th, the then fourteen-year-old Al-Hakim unleashed his plan to overthrow Barjawan. The Caliph summoned the regent, apparently saying. “’Tell Barjawan that the little lizard has become a large dragon, and wants him now.” When the regent arrived, Al-Hakim ordered another palace official to stab him in the belly. The execution immediately caused alarm throughout Cairo, but Al-Hakim went to the palace gates and spoke to an armed crowd to defend his actions. His speech apparently mollified the people and other officials, and Al-Hakim would begin his direct rule as the head of the Fatimid Caliphate. It would prove to be an erratic and unstable reign.

Iceland’s Conversion to Christianity

This period saw the Christianization of several places in Europe, such as Poland and Hungary. In the year 1000, Iceland would also convert. In the years preceding Christian missionaries had been active in Iceland, and other Norse rulers from Scandinavia had also urged Icelanders to accept Christianity, and the situation was creating friction and anxiety on the island. During the midsummer Alþing – a general assembly of the Icelandic people – the idea of conversion was debated and it was decided that law speaker, Thorgeir Thorkelsson, would arbitrate on which religion to choose for the people. After spending a day and a night thinking about the matter, Thorgeir decided that Christianity would become the official religion, but he also gave concessions that the Old Norse faith could still be practiced in private, and that the traditions of infanticide and eating of horse meat could continue. The story of Iceland’s conversion is told in the Íslendingabók and Kristni Saga.

See also: How a volcanic eruption influenced Iceland’s conversion to Christianity

Death of David III

After a reign of over thirty years, David III Kuropalates, a leading ruler of Georgian lands, was assassinated by his own nobles during Easter celebrations. According to one chronicler, “they had mixed poison into the communion on Good Thursday, and had given it to him to drink, causing that venerable man to choke to death.” Following this, the Byzantine ruler Basil II marched his armies into Georgian territory and forced the nobles to accept his annexation of part of David’s territory. Some accounts have these events as taking place in the year 1001.

Otto III from the Gospels of Otto III, created circa 1000 – Wikimedia Commons

Congress of Gneizno

On March 11th, the city of Gneizno (now part of Poland) hosted a meeting between Holy Roman Emperor Otto III and Polish Duke Bolesław I. The meeting was designed to reinforce the alliance between the emperor and the Polish ruler. According to the Gesta principum Polonorum, a history of Poland written in the early twelfth century, the event was a joyous one attended by many nobles as well, and it featured Otto granting Bolesław a new title, saying:

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“It is not fitting that such a great and important man as this should be called duke or count by the princes, but that he, honorably encircled with a diadem, should be raised upon a royal throne.” And he took the imperial diadem from his head, setting it as a pact of friendship upon Boleslav’s head. He gave him, in place of a triumphal banner, a nail from the cross of the Lord and the lance of Saint Mauritius as a gift, in return for which Boleslav gave him an arm of Saint Adalbert. And on this day they had come together in such high opinion of each other that the emperor made him brother and helper of the empire and named him friend and ally of the Roman people.

However, other sources do not mention any such act of Otto granting Bolesław a royal title, so exactly what was decided remains a matter of debate. One of the most important actions was that Gneizno was made the seat of an archbishopric and that the Polish Catholic church would become independent from the Holy Roman Empire.

Battle of Svolder

The ongoing Christianization of Norse peoples would play a factor in the Battle of Svolder, which took place on September 9th (some historians believe it took place in the year 999). Olaf Tryggvason had become the King of Norway five years earlier – he was a keen supporter of Christianity, and even forced people to convert. However, his actions had also gained him a number of enemies, and an alliance was formed between Svein Forkbeard, King of Denmark, Olof Skötkonung, King of Sweden, and Eirik Hákonarson, Jarl of Lade. They would ambush Olaf Tryggvason’s fleet, and a naval battle commenced. According to the twelfth-century chronicler Theodoricus Monachus, King Olaf had only eleven ships versus seventy from his enemies. He writes:

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In the end, because the enemy could constantly relieve one another and put in fresh men for those who were wounded, our king’s army was not so much defeated as worn away. His opponents, however, by no means carried off an unbloody victory, for every one of their doughtiest warriors had either fallen in battle or come away severely wounded. Some say that the king then escaped from there in a skiff, and made his way to foreign parts to seek salvation for his soul. Some, on the other hand, say that he plunged headlong into the sea in full armour. I dare not say which of these accounts is the truer.

It was generally assumed that Olaf Tryggvason died in the battle and the Kingdom of Norway was partitioned among the victors.

Otto goes to Charlemagne’s tomb

After his meeting at Gneizno, Emperor Otto III traveled westwards to Aachen, where he and a few of his companions proceeded to open up the grave of Charlemagne, the Carolingian emperor who died in the year 814. The Chronicon Novalinciense reported on what one of the eyewitnesses saw:

So we went in to Charles (Charlemagne). He did not lie, as the dead otherwise do, but sat as if he were living. He was crowned with a golden crown and held in hiscgloved hands a scepter; the fingernails had penetrated through the gloves and stuck out. Above him was a canopy made of limestone and marble. As we entered, we broke through this. At our entrance, a strong smell struck us. We immediately gave Emperor Charles our kneeling homage, and Emperor Otto robed him on the spot with white garments, cut his nails, and put in order the damage that had been done. Emperor Charles had not lost any of his members to decay, excepting only the tip of his nose. Emperor Otto replaced this with gold, took a tooth from Charles’s mouth, walled up the entrance to the chamber, and withdrew again.

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Contemporary sources were very critical of Otto’s act, feeling that he had desecrated Charlemagne’s tomb. Historians have since speculated on Otto’s actions, with one interpretation suggesting that the emperor was planning to have his predecessor canonized as a saint, and was taking parts of Charlemange’s corpse to serve as holy relics. After this, Otto traveled to Italy, reaching Rome in the summer.

Other events from the year 1000:

On December 25th (or possibly January 1, 1001), Stephen, Grand Prince of the Hungarians, adopted the title of King. While some accounts have him receiving a crown sent by Pope Sylvester II, others suggest that it was Otto who was responsible for the new title.

Portrayal of Stephen I on the Hungarian coronation pall from 1031 – Wikimedia Commons

The King of Croatia, Svetoslav Suronja, was deposed by his two brothers, Krešimir III and Gojslav, and fled to Venice. After this, the Venetians organized a naval campaign against the Dalmatian coast, taking control of some of the islands in the region.

This is the first post in a series that will offer years in review.

See also Year 1001

Further Reading:

The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World―and Globalization Began, by Valerie Hansen (Scribner, 2020)

Otto III, by Gerd Althoff, translated by Phyllis G. Jestic (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003)

A Chronology of Early Medieval Western Europe 450–1066, by Timothy Venning (Routledge, 2018)

Íslendingabók, The Book of the Icelanders; And, Kristni Saga, the Story of the Conversion, translated by Sian Gronlie (Viking Society for Northern Research, 2006)

Rodulfi Glabri Historiarum Libri Quinque by Rodulfus Glaber, The Five Books of the Histories, edited and translated by John France (Oxford University Press, 1989)

Richard Landes artices’ “Rodulfus Glaber and the Dawn of the New Millennium: Eschatology, Historiography, and the Year 1000,”  in Revue Mabillon, Vol. 7 (1996), and “The Fear of an Apocalyptic Year 1000: Augustinian Historiography, Medieval and Modern,” in Speculum, Vol. 75: 1 (2000)

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