Upper Lusatia

Upper Lusatia
coat of arms of Upper Lusatia and Bautzen

Upper Lusatia (German: Oberlausitz, Upper Sorbian: Hornja Łužica, Lower Sorbian: Górna Łužyca, Czech: Horní Lužice, Polish: Łużyce Górne or Milsko) is a region a biggest part of which belongs to Saxony, a small eastern part belongs to Poland, the northern part to Brandenburg. In Saxony, Upper Lusatia comprises roughly the districts of Bautzen (Budyšin) and Görlitz (Zgorzelec), in Brandenburg the southern part of district Oberspreewald-Lausitz. Since 1945, the Polish part of Upper Lusatia between the rivers Kwisa in the East and the Lusatian Neisse river in the west belongs administratively to the Lower Silesian Voivodeship, only a small part around Łęknica, together with the Polish part of Lower Lusatia, to Lubusz Voivodeship. The western part of Upper Lusatia again forms its own subregion, Western Lusatia.

The historical capital of Upper Lusatia is Bautzen, the largest city in the region is Görlitz - Zgorzelec, shared between Germany and Poland since 1945. The name Upper Lusatia is recorded since the end of the 15th century and stems from the northern neighbor Lower Lusatia. Originally the region was only called Lusatia, derived from the Slavic tribe of the Lusici who lived there, or later land Budissin, which then adopted the name of Upper Lusatia. The region was also referred to as Milsko in pre-15th century chronicles and modern Polish historiography. Both Lusatias are home of the West Slavic people, the Sorbs, as well as Germans and Silesians.


Geography and nature

Hilly landscape near Steinigtwolmsdorf, Upper Lusatia

Geomorphological Upper Lusatia is shaped by the uniform Lusatian granite massif, only the north and northeast, the plain Oberlausitzer Heide- und Teichlandschaft (Upper Lusatian Heath and Lakelands[1]) is Pleistocene formed. The UNESCO has declared this area a Biosphere Reserve in 1996, in particular for the protection of otters. The middle part is hilly, while the south of the is characterized by the Lusatian Mountains, the westernmost range of the Sudetes.

Historic map of Upper Lusatia

The highest elevations of the German part of Upper Lusatia are in the Zittau Mountains, part of the Lusatian Mountains, which, however, are mostly in the neighbouring Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The most important mountains of Upper Lusatia are: Lausche (793 m) Hochwald (749 m), Landeskrone (420 m), Löbauer Berg (448 m), Kottmar (583 m), Czorneboh (561 m), Bieleboh (499 m) and Valtenberg (587 m). The highest point of historic Upper Lusatia, 1123m, is about 500 meters to the east of the summit on the slopes of Smrk (German: Tafelfichte), the border triangle of Upper Lusatia, Silesia and Bohemia.

All major rivers in the Upper Lusatia flow from south to north. In the west, the Pulsnitz river at Königsbrück formerly formed the border with Saxony. The Spree river takes its source in the far south of the country and flows through Bautzen. The Lusatian Neisse (Polish: Nysa Luzycka) today forms the German-Polish border. The river arises from the Czech Jizera Mountains, enters Upper Lusatia near Zittau, flows through Görlitz/Zgorzelec and leaves the country in Bad Muskau to Lower Lusatia. Most of the smaller rivers are called Wasser (water), often in combination with a flown through village.

The eastern border of historical Upper Lusatia was marked by the Kwisa river, who flows past Lubań and continues north towards Silesia into the Bobr river. Especially the middle hills between Kamenz and Löbau, were well suited for agriculture and are still very profitable.

In the 19th century in the northern part of Upper Lusatia, in the east on both sides of the Neisse river and around Hoyerswerda large quantities of brown coal were found. Especially the digging in open pits has destroyed large parts of the old cultural landscape. Currently the Nochten pit south of Weißwasser (Běła Woda) and Turów[disambiguation needed ] in the Polish part are still active. Many of the old coal mines have been restored since the 1970s, especially after 1990, when particular attention was paid to revitalize the landscape. The newly formed lakes are already named and advertised as the "Lusatian Lakeland".

Natural regions

Today, Upper Lusatia is grouped into eight natural regions or landscapes:

  • The Zittau Mountains (southeastern tip of Upper Lusatia)
  • The East Lusatian Hill Country and River Neisse region (on the Neisse from Görlitz to Zittau, north of the Zittau Mountains)
  • The Lusatian Highlands (southern Upper Lusatia to Czechia)
  • The Northwest Lusatian Highlands (northwest from Bischofswerda to Kamenz)
  • The Lausitzer Gefilde region (around Bautzen and Löbau north of the Highlands)
  • The Upper Lusatian Heath and Lakelands (east of Kamenz to Niesky)
  • The Ruhland-Königsbrück Heath in the northwest (northwest of Kamenz, west of Hoyerswerda)
  • The Muskau Heath in the northeast (around Bad Muskau and Weisswasser, Poland, in the east)



Bilingual sign in Bautzen

Today approximately 780,000 people live in Upper Lusatia, nearly 157,000 of them in the Polish part to the east of the Neisse river. A part of the country belongs to the settlement area of the Sorbs. Between Kamenz, Bautzen and Hoyerswerda, about 20,000 people speak Sorbian. But also the German population is not culturally homogeneous, the cultural borders can be quite well identified by the different dialect groups. While in the region around Bautzen a pretty good High German is spoken, in the south the Upper Lusatian dialect (Oberlausitzisch), an old Franconian dialect, is common. In the east Silesian is still partially spoken. The greatest density of population can be found in the German-Polish twin city of Görlitz-Zgorzelec. Currently 91,000 inhabitants, 33,000 in the Polish part, live here.

In the German part of Upper Lusatia, the population declines since almost 20 years. Young people leave the region because the unemployment in Eastern Saxony is particularly high. This and the low birth rate lead to severe aging of the population. In the absence of available jobs only little influx of foreigners is noticeable. The Polish part of Upper lusatia is, apart from Zgorzelec, Lubań and Bogatynia, only sparsely populated. The area belongs to the structurally weak regions of Poland. Only the coal-fired power plant Turów offers a larger scale of industrial jobs.


The hunters of the Middle Stone Age (until about 8000 BC) only crossed through the area. Even the oldest agricultural cultures (4500 BC to 3300 BC) left behind only little evidence of settlement. In the early Bronze Age (11th century BC to 9th century BC) people of the Lusatian culture entered the previously uninhabited region from Bohemia and the Neisse (Łužiska Nysa). Archeological evidence documents a path between the settlement areas around Bautzen (Budyšin) and Zittau (Žitawa). A fortified hill from the 10th century BC, the Schafsberg near Löbau (Lubij), played a special role. Another significant settlement was on the cliff above the Spree river, where in the course of history Bautzens Ortenburg was built, dominant and administrative center of what would become Upper Lusatia.

Slavs settled in the region since 7th century. In the area between today's cities of Kamenz (Kamjenc) and Löbau the tribe of the Milceni was located. Their center was a fortified town at the site of today's Ortenburg in Bautzen. Another early Slavic settlement was situated in the valley of the Neisse river. The rural Sorbian population erected numerous hill forts, which were tribal centers as well as the residences of Slavic nobility.

Middle ages

The independent development of the Slavic tribes was interrupted in the 10th century by the expansion of the German state. With the raids of 921/922 and 928/929 Henry I initiated a period of military subjugation of the Sorbs. In 932 the Milceni were forced to pay tribute. After Henry's death in 936 the Milceni became independent, but were subdued again in 939 by king Otto I. As a result, the area of the Milceni, despite persistent militant struggles, became part of the Ostmark under Margrave Gero and after 965 of the Margraviate of Meissen. All the major wall ring castles in the border areas were strengthened and prepared as starting points for further conquests. In place of the Milceni castles German Burgwards appeared (first mentioned 1006), such as the Ortenburg in Bautzen, or the castles in Göda and Doberschau. In the year 1002 the city of Bautzen was first mentioned by Thietmar of Merseburg. Until the second half of the 10th century the fights continued, and in 990 the Milceni were finally subdued by Margrave Ekkehard I of Meissen (Mišno). The church of Upper Lusatia was assigned to the diocese of Meissen in 968. In 1007, the diocese received the first donation in Milceni land, the castles Ostrusna (probably Ostritz) and Godobi (Göda). In 1091, a further donation to the church was made. Emperor Henry IV transferred to the church five other villages in the Milsca area (Milzenerland), four of them south of Göda.

Soon the German feudal rule was threatened by the ascending Polish kingdom and its western expansion. In 1002 Bolesław I Chrobry conquered both Upper and Lower Lusatia and forced German king Henry II to enfeoff him with the Gau Milsca. After several volatile and bitter feuds both parties signed the peace of Bautzen on 30 January 1018, which assigned Milsca land (Upper Lusatia) and Lusatia land (Mark Lausitz, today Lower Lusatia) to Poland. After Konrad II's victory over Polish King Mieszko II in 1031 Upper Lusatia again came under the rule of the Meissen Margraves.

In 1076 Henry IV gave Budissin land to duke Vratislav II of Bohemia as a imperial fief. The son-in-law of Vratislav, count Wiprecht I of Groitzsch, ruled it independently from 1084 to 1108 from the Ortenburg. For 1144 it is documented that the province Zagost, the area southeast of Görlitz around Seidenberg, was a part of Budissin land. Also in this region diocese of Meissen was equipped with possession. Upper Lusatia reached the Queis, the border to Silesia, and its largest expansion to the east already in the 12th Century.

In 1156 German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa signed an alliance with Bohemian duke Vladislav II. He not only promised him the royal crown bur also the investiture with castle and country Budissin, which both became reality two years later. Therewith the first Bohemian period in the history of Upper Lusatia, with far-reaching consequences for the development of the country, began.

In the first century of Bohemian rule all major towns of Upper Lusatia, and all major religious institutions of the country - apart from the older Bautzen - were established. Bishop Bruno II from 1213 to 1218 established the monastery St. Petri in Bautzen, which was richly endowed by king Přemysl Otakar I and his successors; Queen Kunigunda in 1234 donated the Cistercian monastery of St. Marienthal, which was subjected to the diocese of Prague in 1244, and Bernhard Kamenz in 1248 founded the second Cistercian monastery of St. Marienstern in Kamenz.

The forest clearance since about 1100, mainly by Sorbian peasants, expanded the cultivated land. New places in the area around Hoyerswerda arose. The country's expansion intensified in the middle of the 12th century under the Czech kings, which was almost carried out as a competition with the bishops of Meißen. German farmers, who cleared the large forest areas and created many new villages, were brought into the country. Often Sorbian hamlets where also extended by German settlers. The new German farmers were legally better off than the old-established population. The majority of the Sorbians peasants were serfs and had to perform drudgery. The new (mostly German) villages could manage their affairs also relatively autonomous. When Sorbian peasants were involved in the Landesausbau (development of the country), they enjoyed the same rights as the German colonists.

Due to immigration from the west of the Elbe river over time a separate Upper Lusatian nobility emerged. This nobility controlled the land on behalf of the king or the markgraves and in return received the country as a fief. The country itself belonged to the King.

In 1241 the boundary between the possessions of the bishopric of Meissen and the possessions of the crown of Bohemia in Upper Lusatia were agreed by contract.

Between 1253 (death of king Wenceslas I.) and 1262 the Ascaniar possessed the country of Budissin. Neither the exact date of the acquisition nor the legal form of ownership - feud, marriage or pledge rule - can be established with certainty. With the establishment of land vogts as deputy of the ruler the Ascanias created the most important office in Upper Lusatia. In principle, the powers of the burggraves and judges from Bohemians time were united in one hand and even expanded. The land vogt was the deputy of the ruler and the country's highest official, he decided in feudal matters, stood before the Supreme Court and was military commander in chief. The land vogts remained in power until after the Thirty Years' War, although the administrative practice changed frequently.

During the reign of the house of Ascania the division of Upper Lusatia into the countries of Bautzen (Budissin) and Görlitz by margrave Otto IV of Brandenburg in 1268 was the most important event. Although the autonomy of the duchy of Görlitz ended in 1329, (later shortly revived between 1377 to 1396), it permanently divided the noble country and the municipal administration. The land of Görlitz henceforth own meetings nobility took place, which also remained the case after the reunification of the two countries. Goerlitz the center of the eastern part of the country rapidly gained importance and became economically the strongest city of Upper Lusatia.

After the extinction of the Askanias of Brandenburg in 1319 the princes of the neighboring territories, including the Bohemian King John from the house of Luxembourg, claimed Upper Lusatia for themselves. The king of Bohemia received the land of Bautzen in 1319 from German emperor Louis IV, the country's eastern, the country of Görlitz, as a dowry fell to Silesian duke Henry I of Jauer (with the exception of the area around Lauban). In 1329 he ceded it to the Bohemian king. In the same year Johann incorporated "terra et civitas goerlic" in the Bohemian crown, which tied Upper Lusatia closely and permanently with the Kingdom of Bohemia, without affecting Upper Lusatias internal order.

Lusatian League

a typical Upper Lusatian house in the region

In 1346 the five royal cities of Upper Lusatia (Bautzen, Görlitz, Löbau, Kamenz and Lauban) and the still Bohemian town of Zittau founded the Lusatian League (Sechstädtebund). The united forces of the cities should secure the public peace and override the noble robber barons. This was also in the sense of the sovereign, why emperor Charles IV supported the cities with numerous privileges. The six municipalities in the subsequent period were able to prevail successfully against the nobility. With their increased economic prosperity they gained political influence. They were able to purchase numerous villages in the following 200 years and a significant proportion of the country fell under the direct rule of the city councils. In addition, within the framework of the so-called Weichbild they enforced their jurisdiction over large parts of chivalry and their possessions.

As the Hussite revolution erupted in the beginning of the 15th century in Bohemia, Upper Lusatia took up an adverse stance over the Czech Reformation. In alliance with emperor Sigismund and Lower Lusatia the Lusatian League waged war against the armies of the Hussites. Kamenz, Reichenbach, Löbau, Zittau and Lauban were conquered by the Hussites and devastated. Only the two largest cities, Bautzen and Görlitz, could stand up to the sieges. The war eased the links of Upper Lusatia to the Bohemian crown, and because of the weakness of the kingdom the internal affairs of the margraviate were regulated largely without royal interference. During this time the Upper Lusatian Landtag (diet) developed into the main instrument of the estates freedom.

In 1469 the Upper Lusatian estates seceded from Bohemian King George of Poděbrady because of his utraquist confession, which the pope condemned as heretical. Upper Lusatia rendered homage to his antiking, Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, who ruled over Moravia, Silesia and both Lusatias, but could never conquer Bohemia itself. Until the Peace of Olmütz (1479) the Lusatian league took part in the war for the Bohemian crown. Matthias tried to manage his country more efficient. In Silesia, he therefore installed an Oberlandeshauptmann (Upper Governor), to whom both Lusatias were subjected. This was considered a threat to the autonomy of Upper Lusatia.

With the death of Matthias Corvinus Upper Lusatia in 1490 became again part of the Bohemian kingdom. The hated land vogt Georg von Stein was immediately expelled from Bautzens Ortenburg after the death of his lord.

At the of the 15th century the political system of the margraviate was largely stabilized. Deputy of the absent sovereign was the land vogt, who traditionally descended from the nobility of Bohemia. Before 1620, only one Upper Lusatian noble was land vogt. In Bautzen and Görlitz moreover two Amtshauptmänner existed. These three officers, with several secretaries, formed the entire royal administration.

Center of the country was the Landtag. Ever since the 15th century prelates, nobles and cities could, without the consent of the king's, assembe and take decisions. Thus, the Landtag was, next to the king, the legislative body of Upper Lusatia. The power of the cities had the effect that there were only two voting estates:

  1. the estates of the country, consisting of the gents, the four monasteries of St. Marienstern, St. Marienthal, the Magdalene convent in Lauban, the cathedral foundation in Bautzen, and chivalry
  2. the six cities of the Lusatian League

The cities had extensive judicial powers over the subjects of many knights and over the nobles themselves. The supreme court was the court of the land and the cities, which was formed together by both estates. A decision was final and couldn't be changed at the royal courts in Prague.

Protestant Reformation

St. Petri church in Bautzen

Only a few years after Luther wrote the ninety-five theses his reformative ideas spread all over Upper Lusatia. In Görlitz, Bautzen and Zittau, the first Protestant sermons were preached in 1520 and 1521, although the nobility, the city counils and the king tried to prevent its spread. In Görlitz and Bautzen the municipal authorities however soon conceded the pressure of the population and officially adopted the Protestant reformation in 1523 and 1524, but only in small cautious steps. In particular, St. Petri in Bautzen resisted successfully and remained Catholic. Overall, it took decades until the Lutheran doctrine of was finally enforced in most parishes. This was because in Upper Lusatia not the sovereign introduced the Reformation but the councils of the cities and the noble lords.

Habsburg rule (1526–1635)

The rulers of Upper Lusatia (1526–1635)
Emperor Ferdinand I 1526–1564
Emperor Maximilian II 1564–1576
Emperor Rudolf II 1576–1611
Kaiser Matthias 1611–1619
King Friedrich I 1619–1620/21
Emperor Ferdinand II 1620/21–1635


The Margraviate of Upper Lusatia was transferred by the Peace of Prague (1635) to the Electorate of Saxony until 1806, when the electorate was elevated to the Kingdom of Saxony.

Inner-Lusatian border at Königswartha


According to the Final Act of the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the northeastern part of Upper Lusatia passed from the Kingdom of Saxony to the Kingdom of Prussia. The new demarcation line ran from Ruhland in the northwest to the Bohemian border at Seidenberg (Zawidów) in the southeast. The Upper Lusatian territory north of it, i.e. the districts of Hoyerswerda, Rothenburg, Görlitz and Lauban (Lubań), was attached to the Prussian Silesia Province.

Though this area had never been affiliated with historic Silesia before, it is still referred to as "Silesian Upper Lusatia" (Schlesische Oberlausitz), e.g. by the local body of the Evangelical Church.

After World War II


  1. ^ a b Upper Lusatia at www.silvaportal.info. Accessed on 11 Jul 2011.



  • Joachim Bahlcke (ed.): Geschichte der Oberlausitz. Herrschaft, Gesellschaft und Kultur vom Mittelalter bis zum Ende des 20. Jahrhunderts. 2. durchgesehene Auflage, Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2004, ISBN 978-3-935693-46-2.
  • Karlheinz Blaschke: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Oberlausitz. Oettel, Görlitz 2000, ISBN 3-932693-59-0.
  • Frank Nürnberger (ed.): Oberlausitz. Schöne Heimat. Oberlausitzer Verlag, Spitzkunnersdorf 2004, ISBN 3-933827-42-6.
  • Tino Fröde: Privilegien und Statuten der Oberlausitzer Sechsstädte – Ein Streifzug durch die Organisation des städtischen Lebens in Zittau, Bautzen, Görlitz, Löbau, Kamenz und Lauban in der frühen Neuzeit. Spitzkunnersdorf : Oberlausitzer Verlag, 2008. ISBN 978-3-933827-88-3

Coordinates: 51°10′01″N 14°19′59″E / 51.167°N 14.333°E / 51.167; 14.333

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