Looking back at the year 1002 – reviewing the important events, people, and accomplishments that took place. This particular year saw a powerful struggle emerge in Germany, the creation of one of the most famous works in Japanese literature, and a massacre in England.
Death of Otto III
On January 23rd, Emperor Otto III died in Palermo as he was preparing forces for an attack on Rome. He was 21 years old at the time of his death, and had no heir. When the ship carrying the Byzantine princess Zoe arrived at Bari, she learned of Otto’s death and then returned to Constantinople.
The fallout of Otto’s death would affect both Italy and northern Europe. In Rome, the local leader John Crescentius took control of the city and gave himself the title Patricius Romanorum. He allowed Pope Sylvester II to return to Rome. In northern Italy, the major nobles of the region elected Ardoin of Ivrea as the next ‘King of Italy’ on February 15th. He was crowned in Pavia with the support of Arnulf of Milan.
In the German lands of the Holy Roman Empire, three men came forward to claim the title of Emperor – Henry of Bavaria (who was a cousin of Otto), Hermann II of Swabia, and Ekkehard of Meissen. During the spring of 1102, all three men reached out to gain supporters from the nobility and church leaders, as well as prepare their military forces.
According to the chronicler Thietmar of Merseburg, an assembly was held at Werla, which included many nobles and Otto’s sisters Sophia and Adelheid. During this meeting, most of the nobles supported Henry’s claim. However, Ekkehard then arrived, and during a dinner he “commandeered” a table and agitated Otto’s sisters.
After leaving Werla. Ekkehard traveled to Paderborn, Northheim, and then to Pohlde, where he and his entourage stayed at an abbey. On the night of April 30th, they would be attacked – Thietmar of Merseburg describes the scene:
In the evening, he ate and bedded down with a few companions in a wooden sleeping chamber. Others, indeed just as many, slept near in a loft. After the exhausted men fell asleep, the hostile band attacked, falling on the unwary. The excited clamour caused the count to quickly rise from his bed. With his own undergarments and whatever he could find, he built up the fire and broke the windows. As he could not foresee, this worked more to his injury than his defence, because he thereby revealed an entry to his enemies. At once, the miles Herman was killed in front of the door, as was Athulf, who was outside, as he ran to help his lord. Each was brave and faithful unto death. Also, Erminold, Otto III’s chamberlain, was wounded. Now Ekkehard, a man praiseworthy in both domestic and military matters, fought alone. With a strong thrown javelin, Siegfried hit him in the neck and forced him to the ground. As soon as they had realized that Ekkehard had fallen, all eagerly attacked, cutting off his head and, even more wretched, plundering the corpse.
The reasons for who killed Ekkehard and why remain debated by historians. The death now left two contenders to be emperor, and Henry of Bavaria had himself crowned ‘King of Germany’ by Willigis, Archbishop of Mainz, on July 9th. This took place at Mainz instead of Aachen, the usual coronation spot. Hermann of Swabia continued to contest the idea that Henry was king, and both sides remained in opposition with some fighting taking place.
Meanwhile, Duke Bolesław I of Poland, who had originally supported Ekkehard’s candidacy, now met with Henry and recognized him as emperor. However, as the Polish leader was leaving the meeting, Bolesław and his men were attacked by “an armed multitude.” Bolesław was able to escape and believed it was an assassination attempt by Henry. He now viewed the German king as an enemy.
Norse exploration of North America continues
After wintering on an island in North America (possibly Belle Isle near Newfoundland), Leif Eriksson and his crew began making voyages from this place to continue exploring the area around them. According to The Saga of the Greenlanders, Leif’s friend Tyrkir the Southerner came across a place with vines and grapes. The crew then went there and did find and collected enough grapes to fill a tow boat. Leif would call this place Vinland – historians generally believe that he was in Newfoundland.
After also collecting a full cargo of timber, the Norse ship sailed back to Greenland, and on the way, rescued another crew that was stranded. News of the discoveries spread throughout Greenland, and Leif gave his brother Thorvald his ship to make further trips to North America.
Death of al-Manṣūr
After leading a campaign against the Kingdom of Castile in the spring, al-Manṣūr, would fall ill and die on August 9th. Having been the de facto ruler of the Caliphate of Cordoba for 24 years, al-Manṣūr had a very successful career, expanding this state in both Iberia and northwest Africa. His tomb included this epitaph:
His exploits will teach you about him,
as if you saw it with your own eyes.
No one like him will ever be given by God to the world again,
nor will anyone to defend the frontiers who compare with him.
A thirteenth-century Castilian chronicle claims that a major battle took place in July of this year – the Battle of Calatañazor – in which Alfonso V of León, Sancho III of Navarre, and Sancho García of Castile allied together to defeat the Caliphate and leave al-Manṣūr mortally wounded. However, historians have largely considered this battle to be fictitious, as no contemporary source mentions the event.
Al-Manṣūr’s son, Abd al-Malik al-Muzaffar, would succeed to the post of chamberlain to Caliph Hisham II, becoming the new power behind the throne. Meanwhile, al-Manṣūr’s wife Teresa (the daughter of Vermudo II of Leon), would return to Leon and retire to a monastery.
The Pillow Book
Sei Shōnagon was a court lady to Empress Fujiwara no Teishi of Japan, serving until the latter’s death in 1001. In the following year she wrote a personal journal of her life in the Japanese imperial court, sharing anecotes, observations and day-to-day happenings. Although Sei intended to keep this work private, it would later get accidentally exposed and into the public. Eventually to be called The Pillow Book, this work is considered one of the most important pieces of Japanese literature.
Many commentators have praised The Pillow Book for its beautiful writings, most notably Sei’s observations of the world around her. Here is an excerpt, translated by Meredith McKinney:
Awkward and embarrassing things:
Going confidently out to greet a visitor on the assumption that it’s for you, when he’s in fact called to see a different person. It’s even worse when he’s brought along a gift as well.
You happen to say something rude about someone, and a child who overhears it repeats your words in front of the person concerned.
Someone tells you an affecting story, tears streaming as she speaks – but though you can well understand how moving it is as you listen, not a tear emerges from your eyes. This is terribly awkward. You make a tearful face and do your best to look sad and moved, but quite without success. On the other hand, if you see or hear something wonderful, you can find yourself overwhelmed with tears.
Byzantium vs Bulgaria
Basil II personally led a Byzantine campaign against Bulgaria, attacking fortresses along the Danube River and laying siege to the city of Vidin for eight months. As this was happening, the Bulgarian Tsar Samuel led am army south to Adrianople, raiding the city on August 15th.
In September, the Byzantines stormed Vidin and captured it. The Byzantines then moved southwards, and came across Samuel’s forces near Skopje. The Byzantine chronicler John Skylitzes reports the two armies were separated by the River Vardar:
Samuel was putting his trust in the high waters of the river – which he thought it was impossible to cross for the time being; so he encamped giving no thought to security. But one of the soldiers discovered a ford and brought the emperor across by it. Taken completely by surprise, Samuel fled without a backward glance. His tent was captured and all his encampment.
Afterwards, the Bulgarian commander of Skopje handed over the city to Basil and joined the Byzantines. The Byzantine campaign continued with an attempt to capture the town of Pernikos, but when that place proved too well-defended, Basil and his forces returned to Constantinople. These events may have happened in the years 1003 or 1004.
St. Brice’s Day Massacre
In 1002, King Æthelred II of England formed an alliance with Duke Richard II of Normandy. The most significant part of the alliance was a marriage between Æthelred and Richard’s sister Emma. She was named Queen of England, given the English name Ælfgifu, and received control of properties throughout England, including the city of Exeter. The alliance between the king and duke also included a provision that Richard would not allow Normandy to be used as a base for Viking raids on England.
Æthelred had increasingly bad relations with the Danish mercenaries he employed. He was particularly bothered by the actions of Pallig Tokesen, who had been hired to protect England from Viking raids, but then joined with the raiders in the previous year. In November, Æthelred learned of an alleged plot by these Danish mercenaries to kill him and his counsellors. The king responded by ordering that Danes in his kingdom were to be killed on November 13th, which is Saint Brice’s Day. A charter issued by Æthelred to the monastery of St Frideswide in Oxford reveals what took place there:
To all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle (wild wheat) amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make a refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books.
Some archaeological discoveries may be linked to this event. For example, in 2009 the remains of at least 51 people of Scandinavian descent were discovered in a mass grave during a construction project in Dorset. Scientific research into the remains has revealed that they date to between 972 and 1025, and one hypothesis is that they were among the Danes killed during the massacre.
Historians believe that St. Brice’s Day Massacre was predominantly aimed at Danish mercenaries based in England, and that no large-scale genocide of Danish people took place. Those massacres that did take place were probably centred in towns like Oxford where the mercenaries were based.
Other events from the year 1002:
In January, the Hamanid ruler of the Emirate of Aleppo, Sa’id al-Dawla, died. According to one account, he was poisoned in a plot orchestrated by his chamberlain Lu’lu’ al-Kabir. The chamberlain then took control of Aleppo and became the guardian of Sa’id’s two young sons.
Irish sources state that this year, Brian Boru, King of Munster, became the High King of Ireland. According to the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, Brian challenged the current king, Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill, who asked and received a one-month truce to collect his forces. When the supporters of Máel Sechnaill failed to show, this king resigned and Brian was soon chosen for the position. Later on that year Brian forced the northern kingdom of Ulster to submit to his overlordship, as the new High King began a process to have the various states in Ireland accept his authority.
The Italian city of Bari was besieged by pirates from Sicily, but the siege was relieved by a Venetian force. According to the Annales Lupio Protosphartharii:
This year the qa’id Saphi besieged Bari from 30 May until the feast of St Luke in the month of October; and then the city was liberated by Pietro II Orseolo, Doge of the Venetians.
The Annales Barenses has a very similar entry but dates this event to 1003.
On October 15th, Henry, Duke of Burgundy, died. Henry had arranged for his stepson, Otto-William, Count of Mâcon and Nevers, to succeed him, but King Robert II of France decided to make a claim to the duchy for himself. This would lead to hostilities between the two.
A Chronology of Early Medieval Western Europe 450–1066, by Timothy Venning (Routledge, 2018)
The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America, translated by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson (Penguin, 1965)
Makki, Mahmoud, “The Political History of al-Andalus (92/711 – 897/1492),” in The Legacy of Muslim Spain, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi (Brill, 1992)
Sei Shōnagon, The Pillow Book, translated by Meredith McKinney (Penguin, 2006)
Richard Abels, Æthelred the Unready: The Failed King (Penguin, 2019)
John Skylitzes: A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811–1057, translated by John Wortley (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
The Annales Barenses and the Annales Lupi Protospatharii: Critical Edition and Commentary, edited and translated by W. J. Churchill (PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 1979)
Ottonian Germany: The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg, translated by David A. Warner (Manchester University Press, 2001)