Can silence speak volumes? Widukind's Res Gestae Saxonicae and the coronation of Otto I reconsidered


  • I owe thanks to the two anonymous reviewers, whose comments prompted some important revisions, and to the editors of EME for improving the text and for their patience during this article's protracted journey to completion.


The Res Gestae Saxonicae, Widukind of Corvey's chronicle of the rise of the Ottonian kings, waxes lyrical about Otto I's coronation as king at Aachen in 936 but passes in silence over his coronation as emperor at Rome in 962. This causes difficulties of interpretation, because the text is generally considered to constitute a unified narrative up to the end of its shortest surviving recension, dated to 967 or 968; scholars have previously dealt with these difficulties by claiming that Widukind's work was a ‘subtle polemic’ against the role of the pope in the making of an emperor. This article suggests instead that only the sections documenting events up to c.961 constitute a unified text, subsequent chapters being no more than hastily compiled addenda. Widukind's notorious omission of the imperial coronation was thus an accidental feature of the text, not the cornerstone of an ideological claim about the emperor's direct connection to God. His portrayal of the Aachen coronation establishes Otto's multiple claims to be the rightful king without differentiating qualitatively between them.