Otto Brunner (historian)

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Otto Brunner (born April 21, 1898 in Mödling near Vienna ; † June 12, 1982 in Hamburg ) was an Austrian historian . His presentation “Land und Herrschaft”, published for the first time in 1939 and reprinted several times, is one of the most influential writings in medieval studies .


Youth and education

Otto Brunner was born in Mödling near Vienna as the son of the district judge Heinrich Brunner and his wife Flora (née Birringer), daughter of a winery owner from Langenlois . After the early death of his father in 1900, he grew up on his mother's estate in Langenlois, where he also attended elementary school. Then he went to the grammar school in Vienna-Währing , but only for one semester, since his mother had meanwhile entered into a marriage with a professional officer who was transferred to Iglau .

Brunner then changed the grammar school and attended the grammar school in Iglau from 1909 to 1914. With the outbreak of World War I , he attended the first German grammar school in Brno between 1914 and 1916 . Supported by the general enthusiasm for the war, he volunteered for the front in 1915, but this only became a reality after graduating from high school in 1916: He fought on the Italian front on the Isonzo .

After the war defeat of the Central Powers, Brunner left the military as a lieutenant in November 1918 and began studying history and geography at the Institute for Austrian Historical Research (IFÖG) at the University of Vienna in December 1918 - in the midst of the post-war turmoil and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy . On the advice of various scholars, Brunner laid out his studies on a broad basis. In addition to art history, social studies (sociology) and economics, he studied law and political science with a focus on German legal history. These sciences provided him with a theoretical armament atypical for historians, the borrowings of which were to be clearly visible in his later works, especially in his main work Land und Herrschaft . This interdisciplinary orientation also laid the foundation for his later studies, in which he combined aspects of social, economic and constitutional history. 1922 Brunner completed his dissertation entitled Austria and Wallachia during the Turkish War 1683-1699 and was in Oswald Redlich Dr. phil. PhD. In July 1923 he took the final exam at the IFÖG . The title of his institute work was Studies on the History of Precious Metal Construction in the Salzburg Archbishopric .

In October 1923 Brunner began further training as an archivist at the House, Court and State Archives in Vienna. He used this period of proximity to the medieval and early modern sources to get an overview of the documents in the archive. After three years he was appointed civil servant as an under-state archivist. This appointment created the material basis for the wedding with Stefanie Staudinger on February 24, 1927. The couple later had two daughters.

After another three years, Brunner's habilitation took place in 1929 with Theodor Mayer at the University of Vienna. The subject of his habilitation thesis was: The Finances of the City of Vienna from the Beginnings to the 16th Century . In this work he succeeded for the first time in interlinking economic and administrative history issues. The expert, the economic historian Alfons Dopsch , judged that "the scientific results he brought to light not only represent significant progress in the field of Austrian economic and administrative history, but also deserve consideration for the history of German urbanism." The reward for this work was a teaching position as a private lecturer at the University of Vienna in 1929 .

From 1931 academic career in Vienna

In July 1931, at the age of only 33, he became Associate Professor of Medieval History at the IFÖG. He owed this rise to Hans Hirsch , who had been director of the IFÖG since 1931. Hans Hirsch was impressed by Brunner's work and became his mentor and sponsor. Otto Brunner gave lectures and exercises on Austrian constitutional and administrative history. In the exercises he introduced the students to the historical auxiliary sciences such as source studies , genealogy , heraldry and sphragistics .

Around 1930 the prevailing historical views were shaped by the perspective of Enlightenment historical thinking , which saw the Middle Ages as a backward, dark age; on the other hand, the Romantics had propagated a fairytale transfiguration of the Middle Ages. The feuds of the Middle Ages, with which both currents had little to do with, Brunner took as a model case in order to illustrate the state and legal sentiments of medieval people.

Brunner repeatedly demanded that the historian must use terms derived from the sources, since modern terminology with its connotations led to misunderstandings in the interpretation of medieval relationships. The results of this view were incorporated into the book “Land und Herrschaft” in 1939 . After the death of his mentor and sponsor Hans Hirsch, Brunner took over the management of the IFÖG in 1940 at his express request. In the same year he also became Hirsch's successor as head of the Southeast German Research Association . In 1941 he was appointed full professor of medieval and modern history. He also received the Verdun Prize for his work Land und Herrschaft . This prize was awarded annually to the author of the best historical work in Germany.

From April 1942 to June 1944 Brunner was called up for military service, most recently as captain of the reserve. These drafts had little effect on his scientific productivity. At the request of the Rosenberg office , he was finally released from military service as "indispensable" by the party chancellery of the NSDAP , which was headed by Martin Bormann . The second edition of Land und Herrschaft appeared in 1942, the third in 1943. He has also published a number of articles and reviews.

Degree of politicization at Brunner (1931-1945)

As in the German Reich, the National Socialists had gained a lot of political influence in Austria in 1932, so much so that they were banned as a party in 1933. A little later, the other parties in Austria shared this fate. The time of the corporate state began . The external political reason for the dramatic worsening of the situation in Austria was the efforts of Federal Chancellor Dollfuss to extend the League of Nations loans. The price for this was a declaration of renunciation of annexation to the German Reich until 1952 ( Treaty of Lausanne of 1932). At that time Brunner was a supporter of a “ Greater German view of history” that prevailed among the IFÖG staff and ordained historians at the University of Vienna.

With Brunner, degrees of politicization can be distinguished:

Launch of scientific articles in compilations and journals that were dubious even by the standards of the time

This degree of politicization coincides with the beginning of Brunner's patronage by Hans Hirsch, to whom Brunner owed his position as associate professor (1931). In 1932 Brunner worked on a compilation entitled “Confession to Austria” . This compilation was published in Berlin as a supplement to the monthly “Volk und Reich” . The occasion for this supplementary volume was the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Joseph Haydn . In the foreword, the editors promote Austria's annexation to the German Reich; A commitment to Austria is a commitment to the German Reich. The preface closes with the beginning of the first stanza of the Deutschlandlied : "Germany, Germany above everything". Brunner's contribution was about Burgenland.

In 1935 he published an article in "Die Rasse" , a "monthly of the Nordic movement" . The title of his essay was: "The East Mark Region in History" . In the article he referred to the term "Ostmark" as a key word for "Austria as a bulwark of the German Empire in the southeast".

With this key word Brunner revealed a greater German attitude at a time when Austria was still independent. In 1936 he published an essay in an anthology, which was edited by Heinrich Ritter von Srbik , ordained professor of history at the University of Vienna and leading representative of a Greater German view of history, among others . The anthology was called “Austria. Heritage and mission in Germany. ”The most important keyword here was the constant emphasis on the“ German, ethnic ”commonalities of the two still separate countries.

Open sympathy and support for the Third Reich and National Socialism

As an Austrian, Brunner took part in the German Historians' Day in Erfurt in 1937 . Here he gave a lecture in which, against the background of a “new reality” - by which he implicitly meant the National Socialist revolution in the German Reich - he called for “a revision of the basic concepts” in the area of ​​medieval constitutional history . In his view, this demand could not be formulated radically enough. At the Erfurt Historians' Day, Walter Frank and other scholars of National Socialist sentiments tried to swear the entire guild to the course of National Socialism.

After the " Anschluss of Austria ", Brunner submitted an application for membership of the NSDAP for the first time , but it was lost. In 1940 he became second chairman of the Southeast German Research Association in Vienna , which sought to “legitimize the imperial German striving for power against the East Central and Southeast European states”. In 1941 Brunner was appointed full professor. At the same time he became an employee of the Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany and an advisory board in the research department of the Jewish question . Brunner finally joined the NSDAP in 1943 . In January 1945 he took part in a Middle Ages conference in Hitler's birthplace in Braunau and was probably the last speaker in a series of lectures on “World history probation hours” at the Institute for Foreign Studies at the Kaiser-Wilhelms-Universität, a lecture on the battle of the Lechfeld .

post war period

In 1945 he was suspended from teaching because of his collaboration with the National Socialists and retired in 1948.

His work Adeliges Landleben und Europäische Geist , published in 1949 . The life and work of Wolf Helmhard von Hohberg 1612–1688 brought Brunner wide recognition and in 1954 he was appointed to the University of Hamburg as successor to Hermann Aubin , where he remained until his retirement in 1968. In 1959/60 he was also rector of the university. Together with Werner Conze he founded the working group for modern social history , from 1968 to 1979 he was co-editor of the quarterly issues for social and economic history .


Several concepts and models by Brunner are discussed in historical studies to this day, also under the question of the extent to which they were influenced by National Socialist ideas. This applies to the concept of the whole house , in which Brunner saw the key term for describing the basic units of premodern societies, or to his definition of the feud, which he understood as a central form of medieval politics. In his work Land und Herrschaft , which is still discussed today , Brunner designed an influential model for the emergence of late medieval sovereignty. In Medieval Studies, Brunner's merit is seen in the fact that he tried to capture and present the medieval constitutional structures not with modern, but with their own appropriate terms.

Brunner's central constitutional work, Land und Herrschaft , was interpreted as a historiographical rejection of the concept of his contemporary Carl Schmitt , who defined the “political” with a strong emphasis on the concept of the enemy . According to Brunner, the functioning of the political world as a system of order was much more dependent on the “friendship”: Medieval history was shaped by the primacy of maintaining peace in coexistence through a common understanding of law. The decisive factor is not the struggle for power per se, but the struggle for law, which is essentially a struggle for the protection of the common peace order. From today's perspective, it is emphasized in this context that Brunner set an "ideal of integration" with his concept of the whole house and thus largely excluded conflicts from the consideration of medieval history. More recent studies criticize Brunner's apodictic insistence on war as the basis of existence in the Middle Ages. At the same time, they relativize the criticism of his work. Some of the more recent research (Algazi, Kortüm) would start from an anachronistic conception of the Middle Ages, which regards violence as an end in itself and not as a means of safeguarding the law and creating peace. At the same time, medieval “countries” would be viewed as ideological constructions, but not as actually existing communities of honor, benefit and peace that defy modern criteria of conception.



  • Land and domination. Basic questions of the territorial constitutional history of Austria in the Middle Ages. Baden near Vienna et al. 1939; 5th edition: Rohrer, Vienna / Wiesbaden 1965; Reprint of the 5th edition: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1990, ISBN 3-534-09466-2 .
  • Noble country life and European spirit. Life and work of Wolf Helmhard von Hohberg 1612–1688. Salzburg 1949.
  • Western historical thinking. Hamburg 1954.
  • New ways of social history. Lectures and essays. Göttingen 1956; 3rd edition 1980: New ways of constitutional and social history .
  • "Feudalism". A contribution to the conceptual history (= treatises of the humanities and social science class of the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. Born 1958, No. 10).
  • Otto Brunner, Werner Conze , Reinhart Koselleck (ed.): Basic historical concepts . Historical lexicon on political and social language in Germany. 8 volumes in 9th Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1972–1997; Reprint: 2004, ISBN 978-3-608-91500-6 .
  • Social history of Europe in the Middle Ages. Göttingen 1978.


  • Gadi Algazi: Lord violence and violence of the gentlemen in the late Middle Ages. Rule, reciprocity and use of language (= historical studies. Vol. 17). Campus-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1996, ISBN 3-593-35596-5 , pp. 97–129 (also: Göttingen, Universität, Dissertation, 1992).
  • Reinhard Blänkner: According to folk history. Otto Brunner's concept of a “European social history”. In: Manfred Hettling (Ed.): Folk stories in Europe in the interwar period. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2003, ISBN 3-525-36273-0 , pp. 326-366, ( limited preview at google books ).
  • Reinhard Blänkner: Otto Brunner (1898–1982). “It is not the state, not the culture, but rather the people and the empire.” In: Karel Hruza (Hrsg.): Österreichische Historiker. CVs and careers 1900–1945 , Vol. 3, Vienna a. a .: Böhlau 2019, ISBN 978-3-205-20801-3 , pp. 439–478.
  • Hans Derks: About the fascination of the “whole house”. In: Hans-Ulrich Wehler (Hrsg.): Expansion of social history (= history and society . Vol. 22, no. 2). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1996, pp. 221–242.
  • Thomas Etzemüller: Social history as political history. Werner Conze and the reorientation of West German historical studies after 1945 (= systems of order. Vol. 9). Oldenbourg, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-486-56581-8 , pp. 70-89, (also: Tübingen, Universität, Dissertation, 2000).
  • Valentin Groebner : Out of the house. Otto Brunner and the "old European economics". In: History in Science and Education , Vol. 46, 1995, pp. 69-80.
  • Ewald Grothe : Between History and Law. German constitutional historiography 1900–1970 , (=  Ordnungssysteme , Vol. 16). Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-486-57784-0 .
  • Robert Jütte : Between corporate state and austrofascism. Otto Brunner's contribution to historiography. In: Yearbook of the Institute for German History, Vol. 13, 1984 ISSN  0334-4606 , pp. 237-262.
  • Ernst Klee : The dictionary of persons on the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945? S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-10-039309-0 .
  • Hans-Henning Kortüm : Otto Brunner on Otto the Great. From the last days of Imperial German Medieval Studies. In: Historische Zeitschrift , Vol. 299, H. 2, 2014, pp. 297–333, doi : 10.1515 / hzhz-2014-0418 .
  • Hans-Henning Kortüm : “Got through the times well”. Otto Brunner and National Socialism. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte , issue 1, 2018, pp. 117–160.
  • James Van Horn Melton: From Folk History to Structural History: Otto Brunner (1889–1982) and the Radical-Conservative Roots of German Social History. In: Hartmut Lehmann , James Van Horn Melton: Paths of Continuity. Central European Historiography from the 1930s to the 1950s. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 1994, ISBN 0-521-45199-X , pp. 263-292.
  • Lutz Raphael (ed.): From folk history to structural history. The beginnings of West German social history 1945–1968 (= Comparativ . Vol. 12, no. 1). Leipziger Universitäts-Verlag, Leipzig 2002, ISBN 3-935693-94-X .
  • Adam Wandruszka : Otto Brunner. Researchers and teachers . In: Annali dell'Istituto storico italo-germanico in Trento 13 (1987), pp. 11-18.
  • Otto Friedrich Winter : In memoriam Otto Brunner . In: Mitteilungen des Österreichisches Staatsarchivs 36 (1983), pp. 557-563.
  • Harald Zimmermann : Obituary Otto Brunner. In: German Archive for Research into the Middle Ages , Vol. 39, 1983, pp. 352–353, digitized .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Adam Wandruszka : Otto Brunner . In: Almanach of the Austrian Academy of Sciences 132, 1982, pp. 387–397.
  2. Otto Friedrich Winter : In memoriam Otto Brunner . In: Communications from the Austrian State Archives 36, 1983, pp. 556–563.
  3. ^ Robert Jütte : Between corporate state and Austrofascism. Otto Brunner's contribution to historiography. In: Yearbook of the Institute for German History 13, 1984, pp. 237–262.
  4. James van Horn Melton: From Folk History to Structural History: Otto Brunner (1898–1982) and the Radical-Conservative Roots of German Social History. In: Hartmut Lehmann , James van Horn Melton (Eds.): Paths of Continuity. Central European Historiography From the 1930s to the 1950s. Publications of German Historical Institute Washington, DC Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne 1994, pp. 263-298.
  5. Otto Brunner: Contributions to the history of feuding in late medieval Austria (1. Georg von Puchheim and King Friedrich III. 1440–1452. - 2. From the papers of Georg von Pottendorf 1432–1463). In: Jahrbuch für die Landeskunde von Niederösterreich NF 22, 1929, pp. 431–507.
  6. Südostdeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SOFG) in the online lexicon on the culture and history of Germans in Eastern Europe .
  7. ^ Gernot Heiss: From Austria's German past and task. The Vienna School of History and National Socialism. In: Gernot Heiss, Siegfried Mattl, Sebastian Heissl u. a. (Ed.): Compliant Science. The University of Vienna 1938–1945. ( Austrian texts on social criticism , vol. 43), Vienna 1989, pp. 39–76.
  8. ^ Otto Brunner: The Burgenland. In: F. Heiss (Ed.): People and Empire. Political monthly for young Germany. 3. Supplement 1932, pp. 40-46.
  9. Otto Brunner: The East Mark region in history. In: The Race. Monthly of the Nordic Movement. 2, 1935, pp. 397-401.
  10. Michael Fahlbusch : The "Southeast German Research Association". Political advice and National Socialist politics. In: Winfried Schulze , Otto Gerhard Oexle (Hrsg.): German historians in National Socialism. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1999, pp. 241-264.
  11. ^ Otto Brunner: Austria, the Empire and the East in the late Middle Ages. In: Josef Nadler , Heinrich Ritter von Srbik: Austria. Heritage and mission in Germany. Salzburg 1936, pp. 61-86.
  12. Günter Fellner : The Austrian historical science from the "connection" to reconstruction. In: Friedrich Stadler (Ed.): Continuity and Break 1938 - 1945 - 1955. Contributions to the Austrian history of culture and science. Jugend und Volk, Vienna / Munich 1988, pp. 135–156.
  13. a b Ernst Klee : The dictionary of persons on the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 . Second updated edition. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 79.
  14. Quote from Michael Fahlbusch: Science in the service of National Socialist politics? The "People's German Research Associations" from 1931 to 1945 , printed by Ernst Klee: Das Personenlexikon zum Third Reich. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2005, p. 79.
  15. Hans-Henning Kortüm : Otto Brunner on Otto the Great. From the last days of Imperial German Medieval Studies. In: Historische Zeitschrift , Vol. 299, 2014, H. 2, pp. 297–333, doi: 10.1515 / hzhz-2014-0418 .
  16. Thomas Etzemüller: social history as a political story. Werner Conze and the reorientation of West German historical studies after 1945 (= Ordnungssysteme. Vol. 9), Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich 2001, ISBN 978-3-486-56581-2 , p. 77 ff.
  17. Konstantin Lang Meier: The land as a community of honor, public interest and peace. A contribution to the discussion about the "common benefit" , 2016.