Riga – Library of the Jesuit College

On 16 September 1621, during the second war with Poland, Sweden’s King Gustav II Adolf marched into Riga with his troops. The city had finally fallen after an extended siege. The army generally treated residents well, with some exceptions. It confiscated all property belonging to the Polish Crown along with the property owned by the Jesuit Order, which had operated a college in the city since 1583. The Jesuits themselves were driven away. The possessions that the Swedes commandeered at the college included a substantial library, and these bookish spoils of war became the first in a long line to follow throughout the rest of the 17th century.

We do not know exactly when the book collection was carried across the sea, but in November 1622, Clergyman Johannes Botvidi, who initially had responsibility for it, handed over the collection at Stockholm Castle to the then vice-chancellor of Uppsala University, Laurentius Olai Wallius. As part of a new initiative at the university, a library had been founded a few years before, and now, without ceremony, the Jesuit college library was installed there. Since no building to house the collection existed then, the books were temporarily placed in the south chancel of the cathedral. A list of the books and some household utensils from Riga, which were listed under Botvidi’s name, were compiled at the end of 1626, probably in connection with the collection receiving a permanent home in the University Library’s first building between the cathedral and Gustavianum. It lists 893 books and 61 unbound items, but this probably is not a complete list.

In the library’s first catalogues from 1638–41, we see that the collection has been dispersed among the stock of books and divided by subject.

Over the course of the centuries, an unknown number of books from Riga have left the library though disposal or through auctions of duplicates. About 100 years ago, Isaac Collijn began to catalogue the Riga books in Uppsala but did not complete the work. Today this is only available as archival material.

A few years ago, librarians Laura Kreigere-Liepiņa and Renāte Berga at  the National Library of Latvia resumed cataloguing Uppsala’s Riga collection, together with Uppsala University Library. This means we now have a catalogue of the books for the first time in almost 400 years. At the same time, the physical collection has been reconstructed in Carolina Rediviva’s beautiful Book Hall. The spoils of war of the 17th century have resulted here in a rewarding transborder collaboration on a shared cultural heritage.

On Literary War Booty

  • Göransson, Ulf, "Kulturarvskrigsbyten och den rättsliga utvecklingen från Grotius", in Bevara för framtiden (ed. Peter Sjökvist), Uppsala 2016, p. 73-82.
  • Hagström Molin, Emma, Krigsbytets biografi. Byten i Riksarkivet, Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek och Skokloster slott under 1600-talet, Göteborg 2015.
  • Hagström Molin, Emma, “”To Place in a Chest”. On the Cultural Looting of Gustavus Adolphus and the Creation of Uppsala University Library During the 17th Century”, in Barok, 44(2016). 
  • Hagström Molin, Emma, ”Spoils of Knowledge. Looted Books in Uppsala University Library in the Seventeenth Century”, in Rethinking Europe: War and Peace in the Early Modern German Lands, (eds Gerhild Williams et al.), Leiden 2019. 
  • Munkhammar, Lars, ”Dessa eviga krav på återställande”, in Bevara för framtiden (ed. Peter Sjökvist), Uppsala 2016, p. 83-94.
  • Sjökvist, Peter, "Freden i Oliwa och restitutionen av bokliga krigsbyten", in Biblis 68 (2014/15), p. 20–23.
  • Sjökvist, Peter, “Books from Poznań at the Uppsala University Library”, in Z BADAŃ NAD KSIĄŻKĄ I KSIĘGOZBIORAMI HISTORYCZNYMI. Polonika w zbiorach obcych (eds Jack Puchalski, Agnieszka Chamera-Nowak, Dorota Pietrzkiewicz, Warszawa 2017, pp. 319–327.
  • Sjökvist, Peter, "Polish Collections at Uppsala University Library: A History of Research", in Książka dawna i jej właściciele: Tom drugi T. 2 (eds Dorota Sidorowicz-Mulak, Agnieszki Franczyk-Cegły), Wrocław 2017, p. 237–244.
  • Sjökvist, Peter, "Litterära krigsbytens öden i Sverige", in Biblis 89 (2020), p. 20–26. 
  • Sjökvist, Peter"On the Order of Books in the First Uppsala University Library Building", in Journal of Jesuit Studies 6(2) (2019), p. 315–326.
  • Walde, OttoStorhetstidens litterära krigsbyten. En kulturhistorisk-bibliografisk studie, vol. 1–2, Uppsala 1916–1920.
Last modified: 2021-03-30