Home >> Encyclopedia-britannica-volume-01-a-anno >> Abhidhamma to Acanthocephala >> Absalon

Absalon

Loading


ABSALON (c. 1128-1201), Danish archbishop and states man, was born about 1128, the son of Aster Rig of Fjenneslev, at whose castle he and his brother Esbjorn were brought up with the young prince Valdemar, afterwards Valdemar I. He was sent later to the University of Paris. Absalon first appeared in Saxo's chronicle as a fellow-guest at Roskilde, at the banquet given in 1157 by King Sweyn to his rivals, Canute and Valdemar. Both Absalon and Valdemar narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of their treacherous host on this occasion, but at length escaped to Jutland, whither Sweyn followed them, to be defeated and slain at the battle of Grathe Heath.

In the same year (1158) in which Valdemar ascended the Danish throne, Absalon was elected bishop of Roskilde. Hence-. forth Absalon was the chief counsellor of Valdemar, and the pro moter of that imperial policy which, for three generations, was to give Denmark the dominion of the Baltic. Briefly, it was Ab salon's intention to clear the northern sea of the Wendish pirates, who inhabited that portion of the Baltic littoral which we now call Pomerania, and ravaged the Danish coast so unmercifully that at the accession of Valdemar one-third of the realm of Den mark lay waste and depopulated. The very existence of Denmark demanded the suppression and conversion of these stiff-necked pagan freebooters, and to this double task Absalon devoted the best part of his life.

The first expedition against the Wends, conducted by Absalon in person, set out in Ii6o, but it was not till 1168 that the chief Wendish fortress, at Arkona in Riigen, containing the sanctuary of their god Svantevit, was surrendered, the Wends agreeing to accept Danish suzerainty and the Christian religion at the same time. From Arkona Absalon proceeded by sea to Garz, in South Riigen, the political capital of the Wends, and an all but impreg nable stronghold. But the unexpected fall of Arkona had terrified the garrison, which surrendered unconditionally at the first appear ance of the Danish ships. Absalon, with only Sweyn, bishop of Aarhus, and 12 "housecarls," thereupon disembarked, passed between a double row of Wendish warriors, 6,000 strong, along the narrow path winding among the morasses, to the gates of the fortress, and, proceeding to the temple of the seven-headed god Riigievit, caused the idol to be hewn down, dragged forth and burned. The whole population of Garz was then baptized, and Absalon laid the foundations of 12 churches in the isle of Riigen.

The destruction of this chief sally-port of the Wendish pirates enabled Absalon considerably to reduce the Danish fleet. But he continued to keep a watchful eye over the Baltic, and in 1170 destroyed another pirate stronghold, farther eastward, at Die venow on the isle of Wollin. Absalon's last military exploit was the annihilation, off Strela (Stralsund), on Whit Sunday 1184, of a Pomeranian fleet which had attacked Denmark's vassal, Jaromir of Riigen.

He was now only 57, but his strenuous life had aged him, and he was content to resign the command of fleets and armies to younger men, like Duke Valdemar, afterwards Valdemar II., and to confine himself to the administration of the empire which his genius had created. The aim of his policy was to free Denmark from the German yoke. It was contrary to his advice and warn ings that Valdemar I. rendered fealty to the emperor Frederick Barbarossa at Dole in 1162 ; and, when, on the accession of Canute V. in 1182, an imperial ambassador arrived at Roskilde to receive the homage of the new king, Absalon resolutely with stood him.

"Return to the emperor," cried he, "and tell him that the king of Denmark will in no wise show him obedience or do him homage." As the arch-pastor of Denmark, Absalon also rendered his country inestimable services, building churches and monasteries, introducing the religious orders, founding schools and doing his utmost to promote civilization and enlightenment. It was he who held the first Danish Synod at Lund in 1167. In 1178 he became archbishop of Lund, but very unwillingly, only the threat of excommunication from the Holy See finally inducing him to accept the gallium. Absalon died on March 21, 1201, at the family monastery of Soro, which he himself had richly embellished and endowed.

Absalon remains one of the most striking and picturesque figures of the middle ages, and was equally great as churchman, statesman and warrior. There can be no doubt that he enjoyed warfare ; and his splendid physique and early training had well fitted him for martial exercises. He was the best rider in the army and the best swimmer in the fleet. Yet he was not like the ordinary fighting bishops of the middle ages, whose sole conces sion to their sacred calling was to avoid the "shedding of blood" by using a mace in battle instead of a sword. Absalon never neglected his ecclesiastical duties, and even his wars were of the nature of crusades. Moreover, all his martial energy notwith standing, his personality must have been singularly winning; for it is said of him that he left behind not a single enemy, all his opponents having long since been converted by him into friends. BIBLIOGRAPHY.-See Saxo, Gesta Danorum, ed. Holder (Strassburg, 1886), books x.—xvi., Steinstrup, Danmark's Riges Historie. Oldtiden og den aeldre Middelalder, 57o-735 (Copenhagen, 1897-19o5).

(R. N. B.)

valdemar, danish, denmark, wendish and riigen