This article explores the sounds of cultural encounter and colonial violence dramatically rendered in the 13th-century Chronicle of Henry of Livonia during the Baltic Crusades. In his chronicle, Henry claims to provide an eyewitness account of the sonic weapons the Germans deployed in their colonial project to dominate the Baltic landscape and its inhabitants: priests proselytized and preached sermons, dramatic performances instructed new converts in Christian stories, and soldiers and clerics played musical instruments and rang bells to Christianize soundscapes and terrify the pagans. Here, these episodes are recognized as a previously overlooked aspect of medieval Christian expansion and warfare: sonic violence. In part, this article intervenes against the persistent assumption that sonic violence is a distinctly modern phenomenon, aided by modern technologies and ideologies. Henry’s chronicle reveals a medieval man’s belief that sound could tangibly dominate others and his comfort in wielding that power against the Indigenous pagans. To show this, the examples of instrumental music in the chronicle are read alongside violent speech, drama, and silence. In his representation of these elements, Henry understands sound to be capable of enacting behavioral change and cultural domination over his enemies and of constructing a self-image of Christian authority. Ultimately, this article argues that Henry crafts an acoustic environment in which the German crusaders intentionally deployed unfamiliar musical instruments and aggressively dramatic missionary tactics against Indigenous peoples whose exotic, pagan sounds they countered with violent projections of their own sonic otherness.

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