The Obotrites (Latin: Obotriti, Abodritorum, Abodritos…) or Obodrites, also spelled Abodrites (German: Abodriten), were a confederation of medieval West Slavic tribes within the territory of modern Mecklenburg and Holstein in northern Germany (see Polabian Slavs).[1] For decades, they were allies of Charlemagne in his wars against the Germanic Saxons and the Slavic Veleti. The Obotrites under Prince Thrasco defeated the Saxons in the Battle of Bornhöved (798). The still heathen Saxons were dispersed by the emperor, and the part of their former land in Holstein north of Elbe was awarded to the Obotrites in 804, as a reward for their victory. This however was soon reverted through an invasion of the Danes. The Obotrite regnal style was abolished in 1167, when Pribislav was restored to power by Duke Henry the Lion, as Prince of Mecklenburg, thereby founding the German House of Mecklenburg.

Obotrite confederacy
8th century–1167
Flag of Obotrite
The black bull's head as alleged symbol of the Obotrites and their princes-chieftains
Coat of arms of the House of Nikloting, Princes of the Obodrites of Obotrite
Coat of arms of the House of Nikloting,
Princes of the Obodrites
Main territory of the Obotritic tribes
Main territory of the Obotritic tribes
Expansion of the Obotrite confederacy under Prince Thrasco († 809) after victory over the Nordalbingian Saxons
Expansion of the Obotrite confederacy under Prince Thrasco († 809) after victory over the Nordalbingian Saxons
CapitalVeligard / Veligrad (German: Michelenburg)
Common languagesPolabian Slavic,
Old Saxon
Slavic paganism and its known cults: Saxon paganism
Catholic Christianity
GovernmentHereditary Monarchy (Principality)
• ?–ca. 795 (first)
• 1160–1167 (last)
• Formed
8th century
• Accepted Saxon suzerainty
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Polabian Slavs
Adalbert I Ballenstedt.png Billung March
Holy Roman Empire Shield and Coat of Arms of the Holy Roman Emperor (c.1200-c.1300).svg
Duchy of Mecklenburg Mecklenburg Arms.svg
Duchy of Saxony Adalbert I Ballenstedt.png
Kingdom of Denmark Coat of arms of Danish shield (14c).svg
Today part ofGermany

Obotrite confederationEdit

The Bavarian Geographer, an anonymous medieval document compiled in Regensburg in 830, contains a list of the tribes in Central Eastern Europe to the east of the Elbe. The list includes the Nortabtrezi (Obotrites) - with 53 civitates. Adam of Bremen referred to them as the Reregi because of their lucrative trade emporium Reric. In common with other Slavic groups, they were often described by Germanic sources as Wends.

Map of the Billunger Mark (c. 1000) showing different tribes of the Obotritic confederation

The main tribes of the Obotritic confederation were:[2]

Other tribes associated with the confederation include:[2]


As allies of the Carolingian kings and the empire of their Ottonian successors, the Obotrites fought from 808 to 1200 against the kings of Denmark, who wished to rule the Baltic region independently of the empire. When opportunities arose, for instance upon the death of an emperor, they would seek to seize power; and in 983 Hamburg was destroyed by the Obotrites under their king, Mstivoj. At times they levied tribute from the Danes and Saxons. Under the leadership of Niklot, they resisted a Christian assault during the Wendish Crusade.

The Limes Saxoniae forming the border between the Saxons to the west and the Obotrites to the east

German missionaries such as Vicelinus converted the Obotrites to Christianity. In 1170 they acknowledged the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Empire, leading to Germanisation and assimilation over the following centuries. However, up to the late 15th century most villagers in the Obotritic area were still speaking Slavic dialects (Polabian language), although subsequently their language was displaced by German. The Polabian language survived until the beginning of the 19th century in Hanoverian Wendland, eastern Lower Saxony (bordering modern Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania).[3] The ruling clan of the Obotrites kept its power throughout the Germanisation and ruled their country (except during a short interruption in Thirty Years' War) as House of Mecklenburg until the end of monarchies in Germany in November Revolution 1918.

List of Obotrite leadersEdit

Niklot (1090–1160), prince of the Obotrite confederacy
Ruler Reign Notes
Witzlaus ?–ca. 795
Thrasco ?–ca. 795–810
Slavomir ?–810–819 Ally of the Frankish Empire. In 816, he joined the rebellion of the Sorbs. Eventually captured and abandoned by his own people, being replaced by Ceadrag in 818.
Ceadrag 819–after 826 Ally of the Frankish Empire. He rebelled against the Franks with alliance with the Danes, but later was reconciled with Franks.
Nako 954–966 Nako and his brother Stoigniew were defeated at the Raxa river (955) by Otto I, after which Stoigniew was beheaded and Nako accepted Christianity, resulting in thirty years of peace.
Mstivoj and Mstidrag 966–995 Sons of Nako. They abandoned Christianity and revolted against the Germans (Great Slav Rising).
Mieceslas III 919–999 in 995 defeated by Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor.
Mstislav 996–1018
Udo or Przybigniew 1018–1028
Ratibor 1028–1043
Gottschalk 1043 to 1066
Budivoj 1066 and 1069
Kruto 1066–1069 and 1069–1093
Henry 1093–1127
Niklot 1131–1160 Born around 1090. Also ruled the subdued Polabian Slav tribes of Kessinians and Circipanians.
Pribislav 1160–1167 Last Obotrite prince. Accepted Saxon suzerainty in 1167.

The rulers of Obotrite lands were later the dukes and grand dukes of Mecklenburg.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Jensen, Carsten Selch (2006). "Abodrites" (PDF). In Alan V. Murray (ed.). The Crusades: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 3. OCLC 70122512.
  2. ^ a b Herrmann 1970, pp. 7–8
  3. ^ Polabian language


  • Herrmann, Joachim (1970). Die Slawen in Deutschland (in German). Berlin: Akademie-Verlag GmbH.
  • Turasiewicz A., Dzieje polityczne Obodrzyców od IX wieku do utraty niepodległości w latach 1160 - 1164, Warszawa 2004, ISBN 83-88508-65-2 (in Polish)

External linksEdit

  Works related to Geographus Bavarus at Wikisource