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Attempts to locate Rethras
Large map: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Small map: Poland

Rethra (more rarely: Rhetra , Riedegost ) was a Slavic central sanctuary in northeast Germany, which has not yet been reliably localized. The temple castle was the religious, political and military center of the Liutizenbund . From around 983 to 1068 the resistance against Christianization and subjugation of the Elbe and Baltic Sea Slavs was coordinated here. The location of the castle is unknown.


The original name of the sanctuary is unknown, and the sources contain contradictions. The oldest written document, the chronicle of Thietmar von Merseburg , names the place Riedegost , the deity Zuarasici worshiped there . For Adam von Bremen , Riedegost is the god's name, and he calls the place Rethre . The Annales Augustani speak of Rheda . It can be assumed that the medieval sources had great difficulties understanding and adopting Slavic names. In the case of Rheda and Rethre it is probably a misinterpretation, or rather a transfer of the tribe name of the Redarians to the place. The deity Zuarasici ( Svarožić ) or Riedegost is also known from other contexts of early Slavic history. There is no agreement about the exact connections between the place name and the god name. It is believed that Thietmar von Merseburg passed on a form that comes closest to the Slavic name actually used. After the place and the language of the Redarians had perished, the name Rethra prevailed in later centuries , especially based on Helmold von Bosau's Slavic Chronicle. In modern publications there are both appeals to adopt the variant of Thietmar as the "correct" one and the recommendation to continue to use the name Rethra in accordance with common usage.


Rethra was the religious and political center of the Liutizen . It was a loose union of four north-west Slavic tribes, namely the Tollensanen , Redariern , Kessinern and Zirzipanen . Tollensanen and Redarians settled in an area where, according to Franconian sources, the Wilzen tribal association was already in place at the end of the 8th century . In their early days, the Wilzen were still ruled by a tribal elite. The sources name a "king" Dragowit and several "small kings". In the course of their long-lasting conflict with the East Franconian Empire , however, the tribal society was destabilized and central rule disappeared. In the 10th century the Redarians and Tollensans came into being. Together with the formerly Abodritic tribes of the Kessiner and Zirzipans, they formed an alliance that was perceived as Liutizen in the Saxon sources. This tribal union had a military-religious structure of rule. The priests of Rethra, which was in the territory of the Redarians, had special weight for the decisions of the covenant. Already in the Slav uprising of 983 the Liutizen took a key position, the uprising is said to have started in Rethra. For several decades, the place preserved its central religious and political role for the neighboring Slavic tribes of the Liutizen. In the years 1056/57 a war for supremacy in Rethra shook the Lutizian tribal association, the importance of which gradually waned. In 1068 Bishop Burchard II of Halberstadt devastated the Liutizen area, led the holy horse from Rethra and presumably also destroyed the sanctuary. The military and cultic supremacy of Rethra was then transferred to the main town of the Rans , Arkona .

It has not yet been clarified whether Rethra finally went under in 1068. Around 1125 King Lothar of Supplinburg destroyed a city with a temple during a campaign against the Lutizi. If the unnamed city was the rebuilt Rethra, the temple castle was far less important in this second epoch of its existence.


Reconstruction of the Slavic temple in the Archaeological Open-Air Museum Groß Raden
Reconstruction of the camp at the Lieps site - south of Neubrandenburg, excerpt from an information board at the Prillwitz hunting lodge

The description of Rethras can only be based on Thietmar von Merseburg and Adam von Bremen, because Helmold von Bosau took over the description of Adam. The two chroniclers describe the sanctuary without ever having been there themselves, and thus deviate from one another in many respects, which leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

“The triangular and three-sided Riedegost Castle is located in the Redariangau, surrounded by a large, inviolable forest for the inhabitants. Two of its gates are open to everyone. The third and smallest east gate opens into a path that leads to a very dark lake nearby. In the castle there is only a skillfully constructed, wooden sanctuary, which stands on a foundation made of horns of various animals. Outside, as much as one can see, its walls are adorned with various splendidly carved images of gods and goddesses. Inside, however, there are gods made by human hands, each with a carved name. "

- Thietmar von Merseburg VI, 23.

“Between the Elbe and Oder there are even more Slavic tribes (...). Among them are the most powerful of all the Redarians; their famous suburb is Rethra, the refuge of their devil beliefs. There is a large temple of their idols, whose chief Radegast is. His picture is made of gold, his bearing of purple. The castle itself has nine gates and is surrounded by a deep lake all around. A stick dam allows access, but it can only be entered by people who want to make sacrifices or seek oracles. "

- Adam of Bremen II, 21.

The center of the castle was the wooden temple . The description of its outer walls adorned with images of gods is intended to remind of the reconstruction of the temple in Groß Raden . The foundation made of horn suggests a building sacrifice or another decorative element with a similar function. The castle had several entrances. Usually the three gates of Thietmar are believed. Adam's nine gates refer in the given context to the nine arms of the Styx and illustrate the author's assessment of Rethra as a place of the underworld and seat of idolatry.

One of the contradictions concerns the topographical location: According to Thietmar, the castle was near a lake, according to Adam it was surrounded by it. Several authors try to explain this fact with a rise in the water level in Mecklenburg's inland lakes, which is said to have occurred in the century between the two reporting periods. Another reading suggests that the two authors describe two different temples: the place of worship originally located on the lake shore could have been destroyed in the civil war of 1057 or during the Saxon raid in 1068 and rebuilt on a nearby island. A third interpretation tries to reconcile both chronicles and locates Rethra on a larger peninsula.

Rethra is consistently described as a fortified place of worship, a so-called temple castle. These castles were a specialty in the Liutizen settlement area and in its vicinity from Rügen to the Oder. So far there have been around 20 places in this room that can be referred to as temples. Thietmar also reports that each Liutizen region has its own temple. Rethra, however, had become a priority among them. The designation civitas or urbs also shows that it was a larger settlement . In the period in question it means town or castle , the demarcation is not always clear. Adam even uses the term metropolis , which he otherwise only reserves for archdiocese or important Christian mission centers. In a central location of this size, an extensive infrastructure can be expected. Buildings for the holy horse, the temple treasure, the priests and the guards, as well as a network of paths, a military camp, a market and an efficient agriculture in the closer hinterland are likely to have belonged to this. These clues are important for a possible localization based on archaeological findings.


The function of a religious, political and military central location can be recognized from the sources. Rethra was at the same time a place of worship, the seat of the Liutizen's assembly and a meeting place for the army.


The images of various deities were exhibited in the temple. The most important of them was Svarozic or Riedegost, who predicted the future to those seeking advice. For the maintenance and care of the sanctuary, the Liutizen had appointed special priests who also performed oracles and sacrifices .

The oracle appears as a complex, multi-stage divination process that the priests undertook together and the results of which were binding for the whole people. Accompanied by “mysterious murmuring” and trembling , they dug up the earth and performed a lot oracle on the prepared place . Then they covered the lots with green turf , stuck two crossed spearheads in them, and led a holy horse over them, whose behavior provided the second oracle result. The plan was only implemented if both levels showed the same sign. Thietmar also reports on an omen in the form of a boar getting out of the lake and announcing internal wars. The story is interpreted as a mythical fragment, which is known in a similar form from the holy lake of the Daleminzians . But it could also be a deliberately chosen devil symbol by the chronicler .

The sacrificial rituals were public events presided over by the priests. They appeased the wrath of the gods with the blood of animals and people. The head of an enemy was considered particularly suitable . Human sacrifices of the Liutizen found multiple records in the sources: In 1008 Brun von Querfurt mentioned the sacrifice of a Christian head to Svarozic; According to Adam's chronicle, two Bohemian monks were beheaded in Rethra around 1050 after they had attempted a mission there; As recently as 1066, when the sanctuary was already in decline, the Liutizen put the severed head of Bishop Johannes von Mecklenburg on a spear and offered it as a sacrifice in Rethra.


The religious and social functions of the priests resulted in a high reputation. In negotiations within the cult community and with neighboring German and Polish powers, they also appeared as diplomats, which for a long time secured their freedom for the Liutizen.

The Liutizen assembly discussed issues affecting the entire tribal union. The decisions had to be made unanimously. Violations resulted in sanctions ranging from fines to flogging to the loss of all property through cremation. It is unclear who was allowed to attend the meeting. The federal government did not have a head . However, a differentiated social structure within the tribes is clearly emerging. While the written sources only know the Liutizen as warriors ( milites ), the archaeological evidence seems at least to indicate the presence of a castle-sitting class of nobility . At the bottom of the step ladder there were unfree people or slaves .


The military function illuminates Thietmar's report, according to which the Liutizen used Rethra as a starting and finishing point for their war campaigns. The standards were kept in the temple and only taken from there in times of war. The temple treasures were fed from the “gifts” that were deposited there after the successful outcome of a campaign .

The search for Rethra

The Prillwitz idols . Illustration of one of the forgeries from 1771.

After the fall, the situation of Rethra was thoroughly forgotten. When Ernst von Kirchberg wrote his Mecklenburg rhyming chronicle around 1379, he no longer knew the location. After him, a number of early modern historians concerned with the history of Mecklenburg devoted a few lines to the formerly powerful capital of Liutizen, often linked to their own location hypothesis. Albert Krantz suspected Rethra at Stargard Castle in his Wandalia in 1519 . Bernhard Latomus stood up for Prillwitz in 1610 . Even David Franck joined in 1753 this view. The first controversy arose at the end of the 18th century with the "discovery" of the so-called Prillwitz idols . Since 1768, small bronze figures had appeared in Neubrandenburg , on which in some cases the word "Rethra" was recognizable in runic symbols . They later turned out to be forgeries, but caused a stir in the world of scholars well into the 19th century.

The scholarly discourse about the vanished Tempelburg has not stopped since then, although historical research is increasingly dependent on the support of neighboring disciplines. The works of the 19th and early 20th centuries that are still important today include, for example, the document research by Georg Christian Friedrich Lisch or the collection of Rethra legends by folklorist Richard Wossidlo . Since the excavations by Gustav Oesten at the end of the 19th century, archeology has also been part of the equipment of the Rethra researchers.

There are now over 30 places where Rethra has been sought or suspected. The search often focuses on the southern end of the Tollensesees (with the Fischerinsel ) and the adjacent area of ​​the Lieps , where research by Gustav Oesten , Adolf Hollnagel , Joachim Herrmann , Volker Schmidt and others found a Slavic settlement chamber with extensive traces of settlement and an associated burial ground was occupied. The final proof of the Rethras location is still missing.

The motor ships Rethra (front) and Mudder Schulten on the Tollensesee

After-effects in art, culture and commerce


Rethra is mentioned by name in four high medieval sources:

Literature (selection)

The state bibliography Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania currently has more than 300 titles on Rethra (see web links).

  • Rethra and its idols. In: Selected library of the latest German literature , Vol. 5, Lemgo 1774, pp. 497–501.
  • Georg Christian Friedrich Lisch : The foundation of the Broda monastery and the land of the Rhedarians. In: Yearbooks of the Association for Mecklenburg History and Archeology. Vol. 3 (1838). Pp. 1-33. ( Digitized version) (therein about Rethra and the fall of the land of the Rhedarians)
  • Krohn, ACF: The church bells at Prillwitz near Neu-Strelitz . In: Niederhöffer, Albert [Hrsg.]: Mecklenburg's Volkssagen , Vol. 2, Leipzig 1859, pp. 3–8.
  • Carl Schuchhardt : Arkona, Rethra, Vineta. Site surveys and excavations. 2., verb. and possibly edition Berlin 1926.
  • Joachim Herrmann : Feldberg, Rethra and the problem of the Wilzian hill castles. In: Slavia antiqua, Vol. 16 (1969), pp. 33-69.
  • Joachim Herrmann: Comments on the Rethra problem. In: Communications of the District Committee for Prehistory and Early History, Vol. 19 (1972), pp. 31-37.
  • Roderich Schmidt : Rethra. The sanctuary of the Lutizen as a pagan metropolis. In: Festschrift for Walter Schlesinger. Vol. 2. Cologne 1974. ISBN 3-412-85074-8 . Pp. 366-394.
  • Volker Schmidt : Lieps - a Slavic settlement chamber at the southern end of Lake Tollensee. German Verl. Der Wissenschaft, Berlin 1984.
  • Walter Hannemann: Rethra. A determination of the location of the mysterious Metropolis Slavorum. Porta Westfalica 1985.
  • Rainer Szczesiak: Looking for Rethra! An interesting chapter in German research history. In: Felix Biermann; Thomas Kersting [Hrsg.]: Settlement, communication and economy in the West Slavic area. Contributions of the section on the early Slavic history of the 5th German Archaeological Congress in Frankfurt an der Oder April 4th to 7th, 2005 . Langenweißbach 2007. pp. 313-334. (Contributions to the prehistory and early history of Central Europe; 46)
  • Sven Wichert: Vademecum Rethram. A revision. In: Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Vol. 56 (2008). Schwerin 2009. pp. 103-113. ( Digitized version )

Web links

Commons : Rethra  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Rethra  - sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Rethra  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Map to Rainer Szczesiak: In search of Rethra! An interesting chapter in German research history. In: Felix Biermann, Thomas Kerstin (ed.): Settlement, communication and economy in the West Slavic area. Beier & Beran, Archäologische Fachliteratur, Langenweissbach 2007, ISBN 978-3-937517-65-0 , p. 314.
  2. ^ Theodolius Witkowski: The name of the Redarians and their central sanctuary . In: Symbolae Philologicae in honorem Vitoldi Taszycki. Wrocław / Warszawa / Kraków 1968, pp. 405-415.
  3. ^ Witkowski: The name of the Redarians, p. 411.
  4. ^ Roderich Schmidt : Rethra. The Lutizen sanctuary as a heathen metropolis . In: The historical Pomerania. Böhlau Verlag Cologne Weimar Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-412-27805-2 , p. 78.
  5. Helmold von Bosau: Slawenchronik, chap. 16, after Schmidt: Rethra. P. 75.
  6. Szczesiak: search, pp 313-334.
  7. Wolfgang Brüske: Investigations on the history of the Lutizenbund. Böhlau-Verlag, Münster / Cologne 1955, pp. 97–99.
  8. a b c d e Thietmar von Merseburg: Chronicle . Retransmitted and explained by Werner Trillmich. 9 edition 2011, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, ISBN 978-3-534-24669-4 , VI, 23-25.
  9. ^ Adam of Bremen: Bishop history of the Hamburg church. In: Sources of the 9th and 11th centuries on the history of the Hamburg Church and the Empire. Retransmitted by Werner Trillmich. Scientific Book Society Darmstadt 1973.
  10. Leszek Pawel Slupecki: Slavonic Pagan Sanctuaries. Warsaw 1994, ISBN 83-85463-27-5 , p. 61.
  11. ^ Schmidt: Rethra, p. 89.
  12. Fred Ruchhöft: From the Slavic tribal area to the German bailiwick. The development of the territories in Ostholstein, Lauenburg, Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania in the Middle Ages (= archeology and history in the Baltic Sea area. Vol. 4). Leidorf, Rahden (Westphalia) 2008, ISBN 978-3-89646-464-4 , p. 104.
  13. Słupecki: Sanctuaries, S. 63rd
  14. Szczesiak: search, pp 321-323.
  15. ^ S. Brather: Lutizen. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 19, 2nd edition, Berlin, New York (De Gruyter) 2001, p. 53.
  16. ^ Christian Lübke: Between Poland and the Empire. Elbe Slavs and Gentile Religion. In: Michael Borgholte (ed.): Poland and Germany 1000 years ago. Akademie Verlag Berlin 2002, p. 104, ISBN 3-05-003749-0 .
  17. ^ Schmidt: Rethra, p. 100.
  18. Szczesiak: search, pp 321-323.
  19. Słupecki: sanctuaries, S. 61st
  20. ^ Schmidt: Rethra, p. 99.
  21. The letter is reproduced in excerpts in German translation in Brüske: investigations, p. 57.
  22. Adam III, 20, schol. 71.
  23. Adam III, 51, Helmold I, 22-23. On the victims see Slupecki: Sanctuaries, pp. 54f.
  24. Szczesiak: Search, S. 318th
  25. Ruchhöft: Tribal Area, p. 116.
  26. Brüske: Investigations, p. 24.
  27. ^ Gustav Oesten and Ernst Friedel: Finds from Mönchswerder near Feldberg, printed in: Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 1880 pp. 308–313
  28. Szczesiak: Search, S. 314th
  29. ^ Theodor Fontane: Walks through the Mark Brandenburg. Cape. Rethra. Arkona. "What happened to the Wende?" ( Full text )
  30. - March 12, 2013  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /  
  31. Szczesiak: Search, S. 315th