How Northern European Pagans Became Christians

A Typology of Reasons for Acceptance of Baptism in Medieval and Modern Literary Sources

Authors

  • Jan Reichstäter Masaryk University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.21455

Keywords:

Christianization of Europe, Christian missions, pre-Christian Europe, ancient Paganism, violence

Abstract

The article analyzes the course and methods of the spread of Christianity in medieval and early modern Europe, particularly the politically and ethnically fragmented areas of the northern half of the continent. Based on a study of contemporary literary sources, it presents a typology of the ways in which conversion to Christianity was achieved, or the reasons why the natives were willing to accept a change of religion. My analysis shows that missionary strategies based on theological argumentation and criticism of local polytheism usually had only a minimal effect on the Pagan natives. On the contrary, successful missionary methods on most of the European continent were based on offensive political pressure, variously combined with power and economic incentives, the attractiveness of the material culture of Christian countries, or also the religious interpretation of “signs” in favor of Christianization by the natives themselves. I suggest that any positive response to Christianity by northern European Pagans was based on associations between cult and practical prosperity that were characteristic of Pagan religious thought.

Author Biography

  • Jan Reichstäter, Masaryk University

    Jan Reichstäter holds a Ph.D. in religious studies. He works as an external lecturer at Masaryk University (Brno, Czechia), where he teaches courses on pre-Christian religiosity in Europe. This article is based on a research project “Christianization of Northern Europe: Clash of Ideologies, Cultural Transformations, and Beginnings of Christian Identity Among Transalpine Europeans” that was possible due to the financial support of the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe within the framework of the programme Fellowship for Junior Researchers.

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Published

2024-05-02

Issue

Section

Articles

How to Cite

Reichstäter, . J. . (2024). How Northern European Pagans Became Christians: A Typology of Reasons for Acceptance of Baptism in Medieval and Modern Literary Sources. Pomegranate, 24(2), 160–192. https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.21455