The archbishopric of Magdeburg in northern Germany was founded in 968 by Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor. Even before his coronation in 962, Otto seems to have had plans for this new archbishopric as a new royal center in his realms that would also be the keystone in the Christianization of the Slavic peoples east of the river Elbe.
Royal privileges and rich donations in land gave the new missionary archbishopric some initial success, and when Otto died in 973 he was buried in the cathedral of Magdeburg. In the 980s, however, the expansion of the archbishopric was somewhat stalled by uprisings among the Slavs. Furthermore, Magdeburg lost a great deal of its political importance during the reigns of the Salian rulers in Germany in the eleventh century, whose main lands and political interests lay further to the south.
Impulses from the First Crusade (1096-1099) soon reached the northeastern frontiers of Christendom, and in 1107/1108 bishops of this archdiocese and some princes of eastern Saxony issued a charter summoning Christians of the Western countries to come and fight the pagan Slavs. In the summer of 1126 the founder of the Premonstratensian Order, Norbert of Xanten, was elected as archbishop of Magdeburg. However, attempts to reform the clergy in the archdiocese met with such strong resistance that Norbert had to flee temporarily. Eventually he did gain some success in his internal reforms (1129), but he was unsuccessful in his attempts to gain supremacy over the neighboring Polish church (1133). Another important figure was Archbishop Wichmann (1152-1192), who engaged himself in the settlement and colonization of the former Slavic territories, thus enhancing the territorial possessions of the archdiocese: settlers were brought in from the West and given favorable privileges by the archbishop. Wichmann also took part in the military conquest of the Slavic territories to the east: in 1157 he allied himself with the German prince Albert the Bear, and together they conquered Brandenburg.
In around 1200 the archbishopric of Magdeburg became involved in the crusading movement in the Baltic region. Bishop Albert of Livonia is known to have preached the cross in Magdeburg in 1199 as preparation for his first crusades against the pagans of Livonia. Later, Dominican friars became involved in preaching for the ongoing Prussian crusades in the archdioceses of Hamburg-Bremen and Magdeburg, thus involving the archbishopric in this facet of the northern crusades as well. However, with the final colonization of the Slavic territories, Magdeburg lost its initial importance as a key missionary archbishopric.