Post-classical history

Absalon of Lund (d. 1201)

Archbishop of Lund and primate of the Danish church (1177-1201).

Absalon was born around 1128 into the Danish nobility. After studies in Paris, he became bishop of Roskilde (1158-1192), and he continued to occupy this bishopric in a legally questionable double episcopacy even after becoming archbishop of Lund.

As a stalwart supporter of King Valdemar I of Denmark (d. 1182), Absalon played a vital role in attempts to secure and enlarge the Danish realm by attacking the pagan Wends on the southwestern coasts of the Baltic Sea. The chronicler Saxo Grammaticus, whose Gesta Danorum is partly a eulogy of Absalon, describes about ten expeditions between 1158 and the conquest of Rügen in 1168, all of which saw Absalon in a leading role. The island of Rügen was incorporated into Absalon’s bishopric of Roskilde, and thereafter Danish crusading activities targeted Pomerania. Two Cistercian houses were established in this area at Dargun and Colbatz in 1172-1174, probably on Absalon’s initiative.

Absalon was a prominent member of the Danish royal council, and from 1170 he was joint head of the reorganized national coast guard. During the first ten years of the reign of Valdemar’s successor, Knud VI (1182-1202), Absalon in effect functioned as the real ruler of Denmark. During this time further expeditions were undertaken against the nominally Christian Pomeranians, culminating in a victory over Bogislaw I, duke of Pomerania, in 1185. From 1191 Danish interest in the eastern Baltic region was renewed with crusades to Finland and Estonia, and support given to Albert of Buxhovden, archbishop of Riga. From this period until his death, Absalon seems to have retired from active politics and warlike activities, leaving the governance of the Danish realm in the hands of the now adult King Knud VI and his brother and future king Valdemar (II), duke of Schleswig.

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