The appeal of the faraway

In 1582, Adam von Schlieben, Counsellor at the Brandenburg Court of Justice, presented a ‘letter of recommendation’ from the Moroccan Sultan Ahmed Al-Mansur to his employer, the Elector Johann Georg von Brandenburg. The letter was written in artful calligraphy and sprinkled with gold dust. Schlieben had brought it back to Germany from his travels through Europe, the Ottoman Empire and Morocco. But the Arabic text tells us that the letter was not, in fact, intended for Johann Georg. It was addressed to Philip II of Spain. Nobody could read the original text, so Schlieben was able to reinterpret it to his own benefit. Over the course of the following 15 years, his travel experiences earned him multiple missions to the Margraviate of Brandenburg as well as an appointment to the electoral council and, later, the privy council. Ato Quirin Schweizer’s (Department of History/Early Modern History) dissertation project examines how Schlieben and other well-travelled contemporaries obtained high ranks and honours by presenting their travel experiences through the prism of material items from faraway lands, effectively using them as cultural capital to fuel their social ascent. (Dissertation title: ‘Der Reiz der Ferne. Die Funktionalisierung und Vermittlung von Reiseerfahrung im Fürstendienst in der Frühen Neuzeit’; supervisor: Professor Stefan Brakensiek)