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WHAT WAS PRUSSIA?

By: Donald Joseph Schulteis Last updated: (last updated 24 Mar 1997)
 
 

(The following is a distillation of articles found on the internet in March of 1997, some identified authors, some not along with other sources: "Descending Jacob's Ladder" by Thomas L. Troutman, "Rise of Prussia" by Professor Gerhard Rempel, "Political Developments" author unknown, "A Brief History of Prussia" author unknown, "Religion/The Military Orders" by Eric Opsahl, "The Process of German Unification" by Professor Gerhard Rempel, "Congress of Vienna" by Maria Vogel, "Germany" author unknown, the Encyclopedia Americana, Batanica, and the World Book) 

Germanic peoples were a large number of tribes formally inhabiting much of the northern regions of Europe. They cannot be described either by racial or cultural terms. Rather they are describes by Greek and Roman writers who viewed the Germans together with the Celts as the major barbarian powers of Northern Europe. They were located east of the Rhine, north of the Danube, and west of the eastern European steppes in an area covered by northern and central Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, parts of Poland, as well as much of Norway and Sweden. 

Tribal migration form the background of Germanic history. Examples: Cimbri in 120-102 b.c. into the Mediterranean world; 7th Century b.c. northern war bands reached the Rhine, and by 500 b.c. others had reached the Eifel and the Ardennes; the Ostrogoths moving from the steppes between the Crimea and Dniester Rivers; Vandals invaded Gaul and Spain, the Dniester into Italy. 

There were many tribes and population groups: the Frisii and Chauki, the Cambri and Anglii, the Charudes, the Langobarti, Cherusci, Bructeri, Chatti, Helvetii, Marcomanni, Suevi, Semnones, the Vandali and Burgundiones, the Ubii and Tungri, the Treveri. After some amalgamation Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Franks, Alamanni, Visigoths, and others. Intertribal quarrels and interfamily feuds were common. 

The English words "German" and "Germany" are derivatives of the Latin "Germanus", a word used by the Romans in reference to the non-Roman tribes living in the central part of Europe. 

Julius Ceaser's Roman expansion into the Germanic areas was stopped in central Europe in 9 a.d. with a massive defeat of three Roman legions under Publius Quinctilius Vargus by warlord Arminius in the Battle of Teutoburger Wald. The fortified frontier boundary, known as the "limes", covered the lower Rhine, the reentrant angle between the Rhine and the Danube, and the Danube below Altmuhl. On one side, west and south, was the Roman province which flourished with government and commerce and the other side, east and north, saw the customary small Germanic villages and isolated homesteads. 

The 4th and 5th centuries were marked by wholesale Germanic migrations westward and southward. By 500 a.d. a Frankish king, Clovis, ruled over the middle Rheinland and its tributary river valleys. Clovis defeated the Alamanni and his successors conquered the Thuiringians and for a time exercised control over the Bavarians. Going into the 8th century, the aggressive Saxons, a Germanic people in the northeast, remained fiercely isolated. In 785, the Saxons under Wittekind, for their own self interest, accepted baptism (conversion of the spirit, not the practice) and joined the Frankish Kingdom. 

In the 8th century, the eastern portion of the Frankish realm became known as "Deutschland". "Deutsch/teutsch" simply meant "people" or Volk in its old Germanic version. Anyone who spoke the language was one of the people; others did not belong. This is how the people who lived there described themselves. 

It was under Charlemagne-Charles The Great (742-814), Emperor of the West and king of the Franks that German tribes, including Saxons in the north, were under a single ruler although even then men in these lands continued to refer to themselves as Saxons, Alamans/Swabians and Bavarians.

In Rome in 962, the German King Otto II, the Great, was crowned Emperor of the West in an attempt to revive the Western Roman Empire.

In 1100, Germanic lands within the Roman empire included Burgandy, Swabia, Franconia, Upper Lorraine, Lower Lorraine, Frisia, Saxony, Thuringia, East March, Thuringian March, Bohemia, Nordgau, Austira, Styria, Carthia and Bavaria. North and east were the lands of Denmark, Saxon March, North March, Pomerania, Poland and Hungary. Pope Innocent III in 1199 confirmed the establishment of the Teutonic Order although this event has been questioned by scholars. It began around 1190 to provide medical help to the crusaders in Acre and other middle east battlegrounds. It established a theocratic form of government. The Order located its headquarters in Acre then moved it to Venice and finally to Marienburg in what is now known as West Prussia. In the years 1215 - 1300, this Order grew rapidly with its Grand Master, Hermann von Salza, being successful in gaining favors from both the Germanic emperor Frederick II and pope Honorius III. 

In 1226, the Golden Bull Of Rimimi from Frederic II for the Teutonic Knights giving them wide-ranging authority in the name of the empire of Prussia. 

Prussia became the name of this area known as the land of the Pruzzen (Prussia) because the people who lived there were called that. It was located on the southeaster coast of the Baltic Sea, east of Pomerania and north of the Kingdom of Poland. 

Polish prince Connard of Masovia invited the Knights of the Teutonic Order to defend the Polish borders against marauding Pruzzens, who had been raiding Polish lands. During the 14th century, this military religious mostly German speaking order created the first State along with dozens of towns and about 2,000 villages. Inhabitants of the area were converted, by the grace of God, to Christianity. As the Order accomplished its mission, it declined in strength. The Prussian towns and secular nobility turned to Poland and Lithuania (which had formed a dynastic union in 1386) for help. In 1410 at Tannenberg, the Order was crushed in a battle against a coalition led by these powers. Under the second Peace of Torun in 1466, the territory west of the Vistule River, Royal Prussia, was ceded to Poland and the territory east of the river, Ducal Prussia, became a fief of the Polish crown. 

At this point in history, "Prussia" was a region made up of Ostpreussen (East Prussia) with a capital in Koeningsberg and Westprussen (West Prussia) with the Hanseatic cities Danzig, Elbing, Thorn and Culm; sometimes referred to as Polish Prussia. Koeningsberg was the coronation city of the Prussian kings. 

Protestant reformation in the early to mid 1500s saw most East Prussia converted to Protestantism whereas West Prussia remained solidly Roman Catholic In 1525, East Prussia became a hereditary duchy under Albrecht Hohenzollern, the last grand master of the Teutonic Knights. 

Germanic states became the chief battleground during the Thirty Years war (1618-1648) which began as a civil war between Protestants and Catholics but turned into an international conflict along power-political lines. At wars end, two-thirds of the Germanic states population had been killed or died because of the war and the accompanying pestilence. With the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Saxony, Bavaria, and Prussia were greatly enlarged and became significant powers. On the other hand, the Hapsburg authority, established in the 13th century, was severely eroded. The war sealed the political decentralization and established the authority and power of the local princes. 

In 1657, after an invasion by the Swedes who were sponsored by France, Poland surrendered sovereignty over East Prussia which then became the Kingdom of Prussia (Ost und West) headed by the Hohenzollern line. 

Over the next century or so, Prussia came to be one of the most prominent and powerful states in Europe. Two men made Prussia into that power and may be called not only the creators of the Prussian state but the founders of the Prussian tradition in German affairs. These men were Frederick William, the Great Elector, and his grandson, Frederick II, the Great. 

Frederick William, the "founder" of the Prussian state, ruled from 1640 to 1688. He was the first great Brandenburg ruler possessing a large army and displaying certain spiritual qualities which impressed European rulers. Frederick William was determined to defend his three widely scattered possessions: Brandenburg, Ducal Prussia (passed in 1611 to John Sigismund, his father, the Hohenzollern elector of Brandenburg), and Pomerania. His primary policy centered on integration of these territories and the overall protection of his realm. 

When Frederick William died in 1688, he left an army of 30,000 men with a newly empowered centralized army administration. The latter were reflected with an increased efficiency in the field. The Great Elector was religious, was a realist, and was an absolute ruler in every sense. He dominated the nobility, repressed the bourgeoisie, and wholly submerged the peasantry. The court was lavish and his Schloss in Berlin was a showpiece. A kind of myth developed around the Elector that he was the embodiment of law, upholding the state, yet very human and characterized by patriarchal kindness.

The elector was succeeded by his son Frederick I (1689-1739) who in 1701 crowned himself king in Prussia and this was permitted by the Roman emperor Leopold I. Even though the Hohenzollerns were sovereign rulers only in Prussia, soon the title referred to all the possessions of the Hohenzollen dynasty both Baltic Prussia and Germanic land. Frederick I extended the foundation laid by his father and later used by his son Frederick II. He established the merit system for promoting government officials. He eliminated corruption in the government. He doubled the size of the army to 80,000 men and made it the best trained in Europe. 

It was Frederick II, the Great, ruling from 1740 to 1786, who made the Prussian tradition. His several wars in the middle of the 18th century, to a large degree, determined life of Europe in the 19th century. He welded absolute power. He expected his subjects and servants to obey orders even without understanding them. He rejected independent initiative. 

He shared the sensibility of his time but also revealed a stark realism. He despised abstractions and developed a kind of fact fetishism. His administrative routine was predictable. He had the tendency to prejudge people. All these characteristics are really a part of the Prussian tradition in German life.

Frederick the Great made the Prussian bureaucracy more homogeneous, more methodical, more hard-working and a more effective instrument of unification. The bureaucracy was infused with a sense of duty and public service. Frederick II was probably the greatest Prussian of history and for forty years, Prussia was Frederick. 

In 1772, under King Frederick II (Frederick the Great), Prussia consisted of the provinces of Brandenburg, Pomerania, Danzig, East Prussia (modern day East Germany, northern Poland and a small portion of the Soviet Union), and West Prussia. 

Following the Napoleonic Wars and the defeat of Napoleon, the delegates of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 awarded Prussia the areas of Rheinland, Posen, Swedish Pomerania, parts of Saxony, and Westphalia. The 1864 Danish War and resulting Treaty of Gastein in 1865 provided Prussia with duchies Holstein and Schleswig; shared administration of Schleswig with Austria although short lived. 

The Seven Weeks War in 1866 with Austria removed Austria, who was against German unity, from leadership in the Germanic states. The North German Confederation was established; all German lands north of the Main River. It is at this point we now have German lands rather than individualistic Germanic provinces, states, duchies, ... 

Then came the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the defeat of France making the North German Confederation, now referred to as Prussia, a world power and provided Prussia with West Lorraine. 

It was during the 1871 war that Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismark orchestrated the unification of the Northern German Confederation and the southern Germanic states: Alsace-Lorraine, Baden, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Hannover (w/Oldenburg, Braunschweig, Lippe), Hesse-Nassau, Hesse, Holstein, Mecklenburg, Pomerania (w/Swedish Pomerania), Posen, East Prussia, West Prussia, Rheinland, Schleswig, Silesia, Saxony Province, Saxony Kingdom, Silesia, Thuringia States, Westphalia (w/Waldeck), Wuettemberg (w/Hohenzollern), and thus developed the German Empire. At this time the king in Prussia assumed the title emperor of Germany. After unification, what was Prussia accounted for some two thirds of the Empires size and population, but the force of Prussia's personality was even greater. The German identity in the large part became Prussian identity. 

The German Empire (all German states integration) was established under Prussian leadership with Otto von Bismark as Chancellor. Wilhelm II, the last of the Hohenzollern dynasty, became Emperor of Germany (Kaiser) in 1888 and ruled until Germany's defeat in World War I (1914-1918). After its defeat, the German Empire was forced to give up the Danzig Corridor (western part of East Prussia) to Poland. This caused the province of East Prussia to be separated from the rest of the German Empire. 

After Germany's defeat in World War II (1939-1945), West Prussia and East Prussia were divided by Poland and the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945, the northeastern part of East Prussia, including its old capital Konigsberg was annexed by the Soviet Union. The rest of east Prussia together with almost all of Silesia, Farther Pomerania including Stettin, and part of Branbenberg were ultimately incorporated into Poland. The Prussian provinces west of the Oder-Neisse line were distributed between East and West Germany. In 1947 the Allied Control Council officially proclaimed the dissolution of Prussia.
 

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