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Ostsiedlung (German pronunciation: [ˈɔstˌziːdlʊŋ], settlement in the east), also called German eastward expansion, was the medieval eastward migration and settlement of Germans from modern day western and central Germany into less-populated regions and countries of eastern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The affected area roughly stretched from Slovenia to Estonia, and eastwards into Transylvania. In part, Ostsiedlung followed the territorial expansion of the Holy Roman Empire and the Teutonic Order.

According to Jedlicki (1950), in many cases the term "German colonization" does not refer to an actual migration of Germans, but rather to the internal migration of native populations (Poles, Hungarians, etc.) from the countryside to the cities, which then adopted laws modeled on those of the German towns of Lubeck and Magdeburg. 19th and 20th century German historians have often exaggerated the importance of the adoption of German law and settlement in Eastern Europe for political reasons; while the phenomenon did increase the economic well being of destination countries, at least some of them, like medieval Poland, were already quite developed economically and politically[1][under discussion]and the local Slavic population was already established in its towns far stronger than previously believed; the whole process took part in territories where Slavic solid organisational structures existed.[2]

Before and during the time of German settlement, late medieval Central and Eastern European societies underwent deep cultural changes in demography, religion, law and administration, agriculture, settlement numbers and structures. Thus Ostsiedlung is part of a process termed Ostkolonisation ("east colonization") or Hochmittelalterlicher Landesausbau ("late medieval land consolidation"), although these terms are sometimes used synonymously.

Ethnic conflicts erupted between the newly arrived settlers and local populations, sometimes bloody, and expulsions of native populations are also known[3] In several areas under the Ostsiedlung the original population was later discriminated and pushed away from administration[4][5]

Ostsiedlung was heavily exploited by German nationalism as well as Nazi movement to press territorial claims of Germany, and to demonstrate supposed German superiority over non-German people, whose cultural, urban and scientific achievements in that era were rejected and presented as German.



Central Europe before the onset of Ostsiedlung

Central Europe underwent dramatic changes after the Migration period of 300 to 700 CE. The Roman Empire had lost its dominant position. The Franks had created an empire that, besides former Roman Gallia, had united the former West Germanic tribes and adopted Christianity. East Francia, an early predecessor of Germany, aimed to be the successor to the Catholic Western Roman Empire, and developed into the Holy Roman Empire. In Scandinavia, the former North Germanic tribes entered the Viking Age, affecting the whole of Europe through trade and raids. Some former East Germanic tribes had entered and merged into Rome, their own culture ceasing to exist. At the same time Slav states arose and became dominant in Eastern Europe and large parts of Central Europe;in 833 Great Moravia was formed, in 882 Kievan Rus, and in 966 Poland, all of which adopted Christianity.

Eastern Marches of the Frankish and Holy Roman Empires

The Slavs living within the reach of the Frankish Empire (later the Holy Roman Empire) were collectively called Wends, also Elbe Slavs. They seldom formed larger political entities, but rather constituted various small tribes, dwelling as far west as to a line from the Eastern Alps and Bohemia to the Saale and Elbe rivers. As the Frankish Empire expanded, various Wendish tribes were conquered or allied with the Franks, such as the Obodrites, who aided the Franks in defeating the West Germanic Saxons. The conquered Wendish areas were organized by the Franks into marches (German: Marken, meaning border or border lands in German), which were administered by an entrusted noble who collected the tribute, reinforced by military units. The establishing of marches was also accompanied by missionary efforts.

Marches set up by Charlemagne in the territory where the Ostsiedlung would take place included, from north to south:

In most cases, the tribes of the marches were not stable allies of the empire. Frankish kings initiated numerous, yet not always successful, military campaigns to maintain their authority.

Later kings and emperors such as Otto the Great restructured and expanded the marches, creating (from north to south):

Under the rule of King Louis the German of East Francia and of Arnulf of Carinthia, the first waves of settlement were led by Franks and Bavarii, and reached the area of what is today Slovakia and what was then Pannonia (present-day Burgenland, Hungary, and Slovenia). The pioneers were Roman Catholics.

Although the first settlements led by the Franks and Bavarii followed the conquest of the Sorbians and other Wends in the early 10th century, and other campaigns by Holy Roman Emperors made migration possible, the beginning of a continuous Ostsiedlung is usually dated to around the 12th century.

Slavic uprising of 983

In 983, the Polabian Slavs in the March of the Billungs and the Northern March stretching from the Elbe River to the Baltic shore succeeded in a rebellion against the political rule and Christian mission of the Empire. In spite of their new-won independence, the Obodrite, Rani, Liutizian and Hevelli tribes were soon faced with internal struggles and warfare as well as raids from the newly-constituted and expanding Piast (early Polish) state from the East, Denmark from the North and the Empire from the West, eager to re-establish her marches.

Mecklenburg, Pomerania and Brandenburg

Weakened by ongoing internal conflicts and constant warfare, the independent Wendish territories finally lost the capacity to provide effective military resistance. From 1119 to 1123, Pomerania invaded and subdued the northeastern parts of the Liutizian lands. In 1124 and 1128, the Pomeranian duke Wartislaw I, at that time a vassal of Poland, invited bishop Otto von Bamberg to Christianize the Pomeranians and Liutizians of his duchy. In 1147, as a campaign of the Northern Crusade, the Wendish Crusade was mounted in the Duchy of Saxony to retake the marches lost in 983. The crusaders also headed for Pomeranian Demmin and Stettin, despite these areas having already been Christianized successfully.

After the Wendish crusade, Albert the Bear was able to establish the Brandenburg march on approximately the territory of former Northern March, which since 983 had been controlled by the Hevelli and Liutizian tribes, and to expand it. The Havelberg bishopric was set up again to Christianize the Wends.

In 1164, after Saxon duke Henry the Lion finally defeated rebellious Obodrite and Pomeranian dukes in the Battle of Verchen, the Pomeranian duchies of Demmin and Stettin became Saxon fiefs, as did the Obodrite territory, which became known as Mecklenburg after its main burgh. After Henry the Lion lost an internal struggle with Emperor Frederick I, Mecklenburg and Pomerania became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1181.

Terra Mariana (Livonian Confederation)

Terra Mariana (Land of St. Mary) was the official name[6] for Medieval Livonia[7] or Old Livonia [8] (German: Alt-Livland) which was formed in the aftermath of the Livonian Crusade in the territories comprising present day Estonia and Latvia. It was established on February 2, 1207 [9] as a principality of the Holy Roman Empire[10] and proclaimed by Pope Innocent III in 1215 as a subject to the Holy See.[11]

Medieval Livonia was intermittently ruled first by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, since 1237 by the semi-autonomous branch of Teutonic knights called Livonian Order and the Roman Catholic Church. The nominal head of Terra Mariana as well as the city of Riga was the Archbishop of Riga as the apex of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.[12]

In 1561, during the Livonian war, Terra Mariana ceased to exist.[6] Its northern parts were ceded to Sweden and formed into the Duchy of Estonia, its southern territories became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania — and thus eventually of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as the Duchy of Livonia and Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. The island of Saaremaa became part of Denmark.

State of the Teutonic Order

From 997, the newly established Piast state in Poland had made attempts to conquer the lands of her northeastern neighbours, the Baltic Old Prussians and Yotvingians. In the early 13th century Konrad of Masovia and Daniel of Halych allied with the Teutonic Order, who during the Northern Crusades conquered and Christianized the Balts, with heavy losses on both sides. In return the region of Prussia (Altpreussenland) was granted to the knights, who set up a monastic state there in 1224. With the merger of Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1237 the Livonian territories were incorporated with the Teutonic Order. In 1308, with the takeover of Danzig (Gdańsk), this state expanded into Pomerelia. In 1346, the Duchy of Estonia was sold by king of Denmark to the Teutonic Order.[13]


Though settlement had to a lower degree occurred in the Frankish marches already, massive settlement did not start until the 12th century (e.g. in East Holstein, West Mecklenburg, Central and Southeastern marches), and in the early 13th century (e.g. in Pomerania, Rügen), following the reassertion of Saxon authority over Wendish areas (the Holstein area by Holstein Count Adolf II, Brandenburg by Albert the Bear, Mecklenburg and Pomerania by Henry the Lion) in the 1150s). The activities of the Teutonic Order accelerated settlement along the Baltic coast.

During the Ostsiedlung, Germans settled east of the Elbe and Saale rivers, regions largely inhabited by Polabian Slavs. Likewise, in Styria and Carinthia, German communities took form in areas inhabited by Slovenes.

The emigration of inhabitants of the Valais valley in Switzerland to areas that had been settled before by the Romans had to some extent the same preconditions as the colonisation of the East.

Rural development

Medieval West European agriculture saw some advances that were carried eastward in the course of the Ostsiedlung.[14] These included:

  • the three-field crop rotation, which replaced the lay farming previously common east in East Central Europe.[14] According to estimates by Henryk Łowmiański, as cited by Jan Maria Piskorski, this reduced the area of cultivated land needed to feed a family from 35 to 100 hectares (86 to 250 acres) (lay farming) to 4 to 8 hectares (9.9 to 20 acres) (three-field system); furthermore the growth of both warm- and cool-season grain increased the likelihood of a good harvest.[14]
  • the mouldboard plough with an iron blade, which replaced the scratch plough.[14] While this is stated by Jan Maria Piskorski in an 1997 essay summarizing the state of research, Paweł Zaremba in 1961 said that the moulboard plough existed already on these territories before the German arrival.[15] However, scratch ploughs remained in use in Livonia until the 19th century and were used in France till that century as well.
  • the harrow with iron spikes[14]
  • iron shovels, scythes and axes[14]
  • increased use of horses[14]
  • land amelioration techniques such as drainage and dike or levee construction. Sporadic use of fertilizers was likewise introduced.[14]

With the introduction of these techniques, cereals became the primary nutrition, making up for an averaged 70% of the peoples' calorie intake.[14] As a consequence, an abundance of barns and mills were built.[16] Channels dug for the numerous new watermills marked the first large-scale human interference with the previously untouched water bodies in this area.[16]

To the increase in crops per unit of area added an absolute increase of the total of cultivated land, especially through the clearance of forests.[17] The extend of this increase differed by region: while for example in Poland, the area of arable land had doubled (16% of the total area by the beginning of the 11th century and 30% in the 16th century, with the highest increase rates in the 14th century), the area of arable land increased 7- to 20-fold in many Silesian regions during the Ostsiedlung.[17]

The changes in agriculture went along with changes in farm layout and settlement structure based on the Hufenverfassung, a system to divide and classify land.[18] Farmland was divided into Hufen (also Huben, mansi), much like English hides, with one Hufe (25 to 40 hectares depending on the region) plentifully supplying one farm. This led to new types of larger villages, replacing the previously dominant type of small villages consisting of four to eight farms.[16] According to Piskorski (1999), this led to "a complete transformation of the previous settlement structure. The cultural landscape of East Central Europe formed by the medieval settlement processes essentially prevails until today."[16]

Ostsiedlung also led to a rapid population growth throughout East Central Europe.[17] During the 12th and 13th century, the population density in persons per square kilometer increased e.g. from two to 20–25 in the area of present-day Saxony, from six to fourteen in Bohemia, and from five to 8.5 in Poland (30 in the Cracow region).[17] In his 1999 essay summarizing the state of research, Piskorski said that the increase was due to the influx of settlers on the one hand and an increase in indigenous populations after the colonization on the other hand: settlement was the primary reason for the increase e.g. in the areas east of the Oder, the Duchy of Pomerania, western Greater Poland, Silesia, Austria, Moravia, Prussia and Transylvania (Siebenbürgen), while in the larger part of Eastern Europe indigenous populations were responsible for the growth.[17] In an essay of 2007, the same Piskorski said that "insofar as it is possible to draw conclusions from the less than rich medieval source material, it appears that at least in some East Central European territories the population increased significantly. It is however possible to contest to what extent this was a direct result of migration and how far it was due to increased agricultural productivity and the gathering pace of urbanization."[19] In contrast to Western Europe, this increased population was largely spared by the 14th-century Black Death pandemic.[17]

With the Germans came also new systems of taxation. While the Wendish tithe was a fixed tax depending on village size, the German tithe depended on the actual crop, leading to higher taxes being collected from settlers than from the Wends, even though settlers were at least in part exempted from taxes in the first years after the settlement was established. This was a major reason for local rulers' keenness to invite settlers.

Urban development

Examples for Ostsiedlung towns

Poznań (Posen) as an example of an Ostsiedlung town attached to a pre-existing castrum (castle with a suburbium). The castrum was located on the island with the cathedral, the Ostsiedlung town with its rectangular streets was built on the river's bank.[20]
Greifswald in medieval Pomerania as an example for an Ostsiedlung town built in a previously unsettled area.[21] Locators set up rectangular blocs in an area resembling an oval with a central market, and organized the settlement.

In the Slavic areas, urban centers already existed before the Ostsiedlung. Initially craftsmen and merchants formed suburbs of fortified strongholds (grads) or the Wendish-Scandinavian merchants' settlements (emporia) of the Baltic coast. Large cities included Szczecin which reached 9.000 inhabitants and had several temples, Kraków which was the capital of the state of Piast Poland), or Wrocław which already existed with an extensive state administration and church presence. In Poland the largest cities like Kraków, Gniezno, Wrocław, Wolin counted on average 4,000-5,000 inhabitants each in the beginning of 12th century[22] Previous theories that urban development was brought to areas such as Pomerania, Mecklenburg or Poland by Germans during the Ostsiedlung are now discarded, and studies show that towns existed long before arrival of any German colonists, housing Poles and other numerous nationalities[23][24]

While some historians address these centers as towns, this is rejected by others due to the differences to later towns. To distinguish the pre-Ostsiedlung urban centers from the communal or free towns introduced in the course of the Ostsiedlung, they are usually referred to as early towns, proto-towns, castle towns or emporia, their Slavic designations were local variants of the root *grod. Ostsiedlung narrowed the meaning of *grod to denote castles only, while towns were thence termed *město (orig. "site", [cf. Polish miast]; in areas not affected by Ostsiedlung, the term for town remained a variant of *grod, cf. Russian город).[25][dubious ]

The type of town introduced during the Ostsiedlung was called "free town" (civitates liberae) or "new town" by its contemporaries.[16] The rapid increase in the number of towns led, per Piskorski, to an "urbanization of East Central Europe."[16] The new towns differed from their predecessors in:

  • the introduction of German town law, resulting in far-reaching administrative and judicial rights for the towns. The townspeople were personally free, enjoyed far-reaching property rights and were subject to the town's own jurisdiction.[16] The privileges granted to the towns were copied, sometimes with minor changes, from the legal charters of Lübeck (Lübeck Law in 33 towns[26] at the southern coast of the Baltic Sea): Magdeburg (Magdeburg Law in Brandenburg, areas of modern Saxony, Lusatia, Silesia, northern Bohemia, northern Moravia, Teutonic Order state); Nuremberg (Nuremberg Law in southwestern Bohemia); Brünn (Brünn Law in Moravia, based on the charter of Vienna); and Iglau (Iglau Law in Bohemian and Moravian mining areas).[27] Besides these basic town laws, several adapted charters existed.[27]
  • the introduction of permanent markets.[16] While previously, markets were held only periodically, townspeople were permanently free to trade[16] and marketplaces were a central feature of the new towns.
  • layout. The new towns were planned towns, with their layout often resembling a checkerboard.
  • location. Where towns were not founded on previously empty soil (ex cruda radice, ex nihilo, e.g. Neubrandenburg,[21]), they were - with few exceptions - built in a certain distance from a pre-existing castle or early town.[16] Sometimes, as in the case of Brandenburg, the nuclei of the new towns were merchant settlements (usually with a St. Nicholas church) adjacent to Slavic settlements;[27] in other cases, such as Kolberg (Kołobrzeg), the new town was founded several kilometers away from its predecessor.[16] Where new towns were built in the vicinity of Slavic settlements, the latter continued to exist — its inhabitants usually remained there, or sometimes lived in the new town where they were however kept under the force and law of the prince or bishop (both was true for e.g. Poznań (Posen)).[28] That way, the princes and bishops kept the services and taxes from the older settlements' inhabitants and did not have to put up with the intricate property rights there.[28] In the few cases where an older settlement was included in the new town, it was, per Piskorski, "surveyed again and built anew" (e.g. Stettin (Szczecin)).[28]

The corresponding acts of locatio were defined for Poland by Benedykt Zientara as either the actual foundation of a new town, the regularization of a town's layout, and/or the chartering with German town law.[29] Like its rural equivalent, the urban locatio was usually realized by immigrant contractors.[30] These locatores marked out and divided the settlement area, recruited the settlers and assigned them their plots.[30]

Soon after town law was granted and the town area settled, many towns came to care for their own interests much more than for those of the local ruler, and gained partial or full economic and military independence. Many of them joined the Hanseatic League.

The settlers

Sachsenspiegel depicting the Ostsiedlung: the Locator (with a special hat) receives the foundation charter from the landlord. Settlers clear the forest and build houses. The locator acts as the judge in the village.

Although the vast majority of the settlers are considered to be German, this term must be taken in its medieval meaning, as today great numbers of the settlers would not be considered to be German anymore; most notably Dutch and Flemish. To a lesser extent, the settlers were of even another origin, e.g. Danes, Scots or local Wends.

The settlers migrated in lines following nearly straight West to East directions, therefore the Southeast had been settled by South Germans (Bavarians, Swabians), the Northeast had been settled by Flemish people, Dutch people and Saxons, while in central regions Franks moved in also. As a result, the different German dialect groups expanded eastward along with their bearers, the "new" Eastern forms only slightly differing from their Western counterparts.

Settlers were invited by local secular rulers, such as dukes, counts, margraves, princes and, only in a few cases due to the weakening central power, the king. Also, settlers were invited by religious institutions such as monasteries and bishops, who had become mighty land-owners in the course of Christian mission. Often, a local secular ruler would grant vast woodlands and wilderness and a few villages to an order like the Cistercian monks, who would erect an abbey, call in settlers and cultivate the land.

The settlers were granted estates and privileges. Settlement was usually organised by a so-called Lokator (lessor), who was granted an outstanding position such as the inheritable position of the village elder (Schulte or Schulze). Towns were founded and granted German town law. The agricultural, legal, administrative, and technical methods of the immigrants, as well as their successful proselytising of the native inhabitants, led to a gradual transformation of the settlement areas, as former linguistically and culturally Slavic areas became Germanised.

Besides the marches, which were adjacent to the Empire, German settlement occurred in areas farther away, such as the Carpathians, Transylvania, and along the Gulf of Riga. German cultural and linguistic influence lasted in some of these areas right up to the present day. The rulers of Hungary, Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and Poland encouraged German settlement to promote the development of the less populated portions of the land, and promote the motivated populations who wished to till it. The Transylvanian Saxons and Baltic Germans were corporately combined and privileged.

In the middle of the 14th century, the settling progress slowed as a result of the Black Death; in addition, the most arable and promising regions were largely occupied. Local Slavic leaders in late Medieval Pomerania and Silesia continued inviting German settlers to their territories. As late as the 18th century, well after the Thirty Years War had reduced Germany's population by a third, some Germans followed invitations to settle as far away as the Volga River.


Colonization was the pretext to assimilation processes, that went on for centuries. Assimilation occurred both ways - depending on the region, either the Germans, or the local pre-German population was assimilated.

Assimilation of Germans

The Polonization process of Germans who since the 13th century settled Polish towns like Kraków (Krakau, Cracow) and Posen (Poznań) lasted about two centuries. The Sorbs over time assimilated German settlers, yet other Sorbs were themselves assimilated by the surrounding German population. Many Eastern European towns were multi-ethnic melting pots.[31]

Assimilation, treatment, involvement and traces of the Wends

Although in many areas Slavic population density was not very high compared to the Empire and had even further declined by the extensive warfare during the 10th to 12th centuries, some of the settled areas were still to a varying degree populated with Wends.

There are also documented cases, where the Wends were driven out in order to rebuild the village with settlers. In this case, the new village would nevertheless keep its former Slavic name. As an example, in the case of the village Böbelin in Mecklenburg it is documented, that driven-out Wendish inhabitants repeatedly invaded their former village hindering a resettlement.

Yet, discrimination of the Wends should not be mistaken for being part of a general concept of the Ostsiedlung. Rather, local Wends were subject to a different taxation level and thus not as profitable as new settlers. Wends also participated in the development of the area aside with German settlers, for new settlers were not attracted due to their ethnicity, a concept unknown in the Middle Ages, but due to their manpower and agricultural and technical know-how. Even though the majority of the settlers were Germans (Franks and Bavarians in the South, Saxons and Flemings in the North), Wends and others also participated in the settlement.

Over time, most of the Wends were gradually Germanized. However, in isolated rural areas where Wends formed a substantial part of the population, they continued to use Slavic tongues and kept elements of local Wendish culture despite a strong German influx. Those were the Drawehnopolaben of the Lüneburger Heide, the Slovincians and Kashubs of Eastern Pomerania and the Sorbs of Lusatia, the Kashubs and Sorbs even until today.


Where Germans settled and expanded an already existing Slavic settlement, they either kept the Slavic name, translated it, renamed it or assigned a mixed German-Slavic name.[32] In most cases, the Slavic name was kept.[32] Sometimes, the Wends continued to live in a distinct small portion of the village, the Kiez. Where Germans founded a village in the vicinity of an existing Slavic settlement, which decayed afterwards, the new settlement was named after the nearby Slavic one, seldom a new name was assigned.[32] If the Slavic settlement in the vicinity of the new German one did not decay, the German and Slavic settlement were distinguished by the attributes "Deutsch-" for the German and "Wendisch-" for the Slavic one,[32] or Klein- ("little") for the old and Groß- ("large") for the new one. If the German settlement was founded with no Slavic settlement in the vicinity ("aus wilder Wurzel", literally "wild rooted"), the name could either be German, the Slavic toponym for the area, or mixed.[32] Slavic-languague-rooted German placenames are not per se an indicator of preceding Slavic settlements.[33] In some cases, as was shown for some Sudetenland villages, a German and a Slavic placename describing the same settlement co-existed for several centuries.[33]

Where German names were introduced, they usually ended with -dorf, -hagen in the North or -rode and -hain in the South.[34] Often, the Lokator 's name or the region where the settlers originated was made part of the name, too.

Because former Slavic site names were used to name newly established or expanded settlements, a lot (in many areas even the majority) of towns and villages in modern East Germany and the "Former eastern territories of Germany" carry names with Slavic roots. Most obvious are names ending with -ow, -vitz or -witz and in many cases -in, including Berlin itself. In case of the former eastern territories of Germany, these names were Polonized or replaced by new Polish or Russian names after 1945.

Because in Germany surnames came up only after Ostsiedlung was launched, and many surnames derive from the home village or home town of an ancestor, many German surnames are in fact Germanized Wendish placenames.

Marches and regions affected by Ostsiedlung


The Nordalbingen March, occupying the territory between Hedeby and the Danish fortress of Dannevirke in the north and the Eider River in the south, was part of the Empire during the reign of Charlemagne. The border was later fixed at the Eider River.

Saxon Eastern March

While the Franks had already established a Sorbian March east of the Saale river in the 9th century, king Otto I designated a much vaster area the Saxon Eastern March in 937, comprising roughly the territory between the Elbe, Oder and Peene rivers. Ruled by margrave Gero I, it is also referred to as Marca Geronis. Ater Gero's death in 965, the march was divided in smaller districts: Northern March, Lusatian March, Meissen March, and Zeitz March.

The march was settled by various West Slavic tribes, the most important being Polabian Slavs tribes in the north and Sorbian tribes in the south.

March of the Billungs and the Northern March

The March of the Billungs was constituted simultaneously with the Saxon Eastern March by king Otto I in 936. It covered the areas south of the Baltic Sea not included in the Eastern March and was put under the rule of Hermann Billung.

The area was inhabited by Obodrites in the West, Rani in the Northeast and Polabian Slavs tribes in the South east.

Due to the great Slavic uprising in 983, both the Billung March and the Northern March were lost for the Empire except for a small area in the West. No substantial Saxon settlement had taken place in the short existence of these marches.

Various efforts were made to re-establish Saxon rule in these territories, the most prominent being the Rethra raiding in 1068 and the Wendish crusade in 1147. Also, there were campaigns of Piast Poland and Denmark into the eastern and northern parts of the area, respectively. Also, local rulers campaigned against each other. Until the final defeat of the Slavs in the 12th century, no Ostsiedlung could take place.

The Northern March was in part re-established as Brandenburg march during the next centuries.

In the 1164 Battle of Verchen the last Obotrite army was defeated by Saxon Henry the Lion. In 1168, the Rani were defeated by the Danes. Mecklenburg, Pomerania and Rügen from now on were under German and Danish overlordship, governed as fiefs by local dynasties of Slavic origin. These dukes called in lots of German gentry and settlers, adopted German law and Low German language. This is also called Second Ostsiedlung due to the break of some two centuries.

Mecklenburg, Principality of Rügen and Pomerania

After Henry the Lion's defeat, Mecklenburg and Pomerania were turned from Saxon fiefs into direct parts of the Holy Roman Empire by Kaiser Friedrich I Barbarossa, while the duchy of Rügen still was Danish. During the next half century, the Empire and Denmark struggled for overlordship in Mecklenburg, Rügen and Pomerania. Most fell to Denmark. Also, the local gentry raised troops to expand their territories. When Denmark lost in the battle of Bornhöved in 1227, all Pomeranian and Mecklenburg areas were again controlled by the Holy Roman Empire.

Despite ongoing border conflicts between the dukes of Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Rügen and Brandenburg, the numbers of German settlers increased rapidly. Existing and deserted villages and farms were settled up, and new villages were founded, especially by turning the vast woodlands into farmland. Large new German towns replaced the former Slavic castles' suburbia, or were founded in former wilderness.

Germans, especially Saxons and Flames, were attracted by low taxes, cheap or free land and privileges. The settlements were organised by locators, who were assigned by the dukes to plan and settle sites, and in turn, were privileged even more as the settlers they attracted.

The adoption of German law and culture and the large numbers of settlers as well as replacement or intermarriage of the former Slavic gentry resulted in a completely new organisation and administration of settlements and agriculture.

The local Slavic population only in part participated, other parts did not enjoy any benefits and were to settle in separate "Wendish villages", "Wendish streets" or "Wendish quarters".

Most of Mecklenburg and Vorpommern, the northern parts of Hinterpommern and the mainland section of the duchy of Rügen were settled by Germans in the 12th and 13th century, the other regions of Rügen and Hinterpommern were settled about a century later. In some enclaves, especially in the East of Pomerania, there was only a minor influx of German settlers, so Slavic minorities like the Kashubs persisted.

In Eastern Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and Rügen, Ostsiedlung started after the 1164 Saxon conquest. Yet, there are only few records of Germans from the 1170s, a large influx of settlers occurred in Eastern Mecklenburg since 1210 on behalf of Duke Heinrich Borwin, in Pomerania since 1220-40 on behalf of the dukes Wartislaw III (Pomerania-Demmin) and Barnim I (Pomerania-Stettin) as well as the Cammin bishop Herrmann von der Gleichen. In the same period, massive settlement began in the mainland section of the Principality of Rügen. The island of Rügen was settled only in the 14th century.[31]

Hohenkrug near Stettin is the first village clearly recorded as German (villa teutonicorum) in 1173. At the same time, there are records about Germans in the duke's court. Settlement in urban centers is likely to have occurred even earlier (since the 1150s), Stettin's German community had its own church (St. James') erected in 1187.[31]

In Eastern Mecklenburg, the first settlers from Holstein and Dithmarschen arrived on the isle of Poel. Since 1220, Ostsiedlung was coordinated by the German knights rather than the Slavic duke. German settlement in its early period focussed on the coastal region with its large woods and only few Slavic settlements. Especially towards the Southeast of Mecklenburg, settlements were established not only by Low German, but also Slavic locators. Here, local Slavs were heavily involved in the settlement process, Germans started to move in since the second half of the 13th century. The settlers originated in the areas west of Mecklenburg (Holstein, Friesland, Lower Saxony, Westphalia), except for the terra Land Stargard, that since 1236 was a part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg and settled by Germans from the Brandenburgian Altmark region.[31]

Pomerania was settled from two directions. The West and the North, including the Principality of Rügen, were settled by people primarily from Mecklenburg, Holstein and Friesland, whereas the South (Stettin area) and the East (parts of Farther Pomerania) were settled primarily by people from the Magdeburg area and Brandenburg. The origins of the Usedom settlers resemble this pattern: Most came from Mecklenburg, the Hanover region and Brandenburg, the others came from Westphalia, Holstein, Friesland, Rhineland, and even Prussia (region) and Poland.[31]

Ostsiedlung in Pomerania and Rügen differed from other settlements by the high proportion of Scandinavians, especially Danes and people from the than Danish Scania region. The highest Danish influence was on the Ostsiedlung of the than Danish Rugian principality. In the possessions of the Rugian Eldena Abbey, settlers who opened a tavern would respectively be treated according to Danish, German and Wendish law.[31]

Wampen and Ladebow and other villages near Greifswald are of Danish origin.[35] Yet, many Scandinavian settlers in the Pomeranian towns were of German origin, moving from the German merchants' settlements in Sweden to the newly founded towns at the Southern Baltic shore.[36]

The evolving large towns of the area (Lübeck, Wismar, Stralsund, Greifswald, Stettin) attracted settlers primarily from Westphalia, Eastphalia, the Low Countries and the Lower Rhine area.[31]

Assimilation and treatment of the Wends varied according to the region and differed between urban and rural areas. In the towns, Wends took part in the settlement, yet were administered separately. In Rostock, Stralsund and Friedland, the Wends were governed by their own voigt. On the other hand, there are a few records of Wendish patricians, e.g. mentions of a Wendish ratsherr in Ueckermünde (1284) and Gollnow (1328). The Wends were concentrated in the suburbs, that in some cases were pre-Ostsiedlung Slavic settlements (e.g. in Stettin, where the pre-German town evolved in a Wendish suburb, in which a Wendish public bath is recorded as late as 1350), in other cases new-built settlements (e.g. Greifenhagen-Wiek). In the towns, Wends were subsequently pushed into low-skill professions like dock workers, but there are also records about better situated Wends, who for example dominated pork beef trade in Rostock or ran a bakery in Stettin.[31]

In most of Mecklenburg, Rügen and Pomerania, the Wends were assimilated by the beginning of the 15th century. In the Principality of Rügen, the last Wendish-speaking woman died in 1404 on the Jasmund peninsula. In rural parts of Mecklenburg and Farther Pomerania (east of Köslin) however, Wends are still recorded in the 16th century. Most of the Wends were fishermen, peasants or shepherds, also there were a few Wendish craftsmen.[31]


In Pomerelia, Ostsiedlung was started by the Pomerelian dukes[37] and focussed on the towns, whereas much of the countryside remained Slavic (Kashubians).[31] An exception was the German settled Vistula delta[31] (Vistula Germans), the coastal regions,[37] and the Vistula valley.[37]

Mestwin II in 1271 referred to the inhabitants of the "civitas" (town) of Danzig (Gdansk) as "burgensibus theutonicis fidelibus" (to the faithful German burghers).[38]

The settlers came from Low German areas like Holstein, the Low Countries, Flandres, Lower Saxony, Westphalia and Mecklenburg, but a few also from the Middle German Thuringia region.[31]

Brandenburg March

At the time of Albert I, Margrave of Brandenburg (Albrecht "the Bear" von Ballenstedt), the North March stretched from the territory of the Askanier (Ascanians, see also Anhalt) to the Markgrafschaft Brandenburg and therefore became part of the Empire. In 1147, Heinrich the Lion conquered the March of the Billungs, the later Mecklenburg as a seignory and in 1164 Pomerania, that lay further to the east of the Baltic Sea. In 1181, Mecklenburg and Pomerania officially became parts of the Roman-German Empire.[clarification needed]


Silesia, a duchy which became independent in the 12th century during the fragmentation of Poland, was ruled by the local Piast dynasty. The country at this time was sparsely populated with small hamlets and altogether not more than 150.000 people. Castles with adjacent suburbias were the centre of commerce, administration, crafts and the church. The most important of these citied suburbias, most often the seat of a duke, were Wrocław, Legnica, Opole and Racibórz. The country was fortified by the so called Preseka, a system of dense forests.

The Ostsiedlung in Silesia was initiated by Bolesław I, who spent a part of his life in Germany, and especially by his son Henry I and whose wife Hedwig in the late 12th century. They became the first Slavic sovereigns outside of the Holy Roman Empire to promote German settlements on a wide base. Both began to invite German settlers in order to develop their realm economically and to extend their rule. Already in 1175 Bolesław I founded Lubensis abbey and staffed the monastery with German monks from Pforta Abbey in Saxony. Before 1163, the abbey had been inhabited by German Benedictines. The Cistercian abbey, its domain and the German settlers were excluded from local legislation and subsequently the monks founded several German villages on their soil. During Henry I reign the systematic settlement began. In a complex system a network of towns was founded in the western and southwestern parts of Silesia. These towns, economic and judicial centers, were surrounded by standardized built villages which were often constructed on a cleared spot in the forests. The earliest German land clearing area in Silesia appeared from 1147 until 1200 in the area of Goldberg and Löwenberg, two settlements founded by German miners. Goldberg and Löwenberg were also the first Silesian cities to receive German town law in 1211 and 1217. This pattern of colonization was soon adopted in all other, already populated, parts of Silesia, were cities with German town law were often founded beside Slavic settlements.

In the early 14th century Silesia possessed ca. 150 towns and the population more than quintupled. The townspeople were Germans, which now formed the majority of the overall population, while the Slavs usually lived outside of the cities. In a process of peaceful assimilation Lower and Middle Silesia became organically Germanized while Upper Silesia retained a Slavic majority, although also there German villages, German towns and increasing German agricultural cultivation of barren lands came into existence.


Rather, the phenomenon involved internal colonization, associated with rural-urban migration by natives, in which many of the Polish cities adopted laws based on those of the German towns of Lubeck and Magdeburg. Some economic methods were likewise imported from Germany.[1][under discussion]

Since the beginning of the 14/15th centuries, the Polish-Silesian Piast dynasty – (Władysław Opolczyk), reinforced German settlers on the land, who in decades founded more than 150 towns and villages under German town law, particularly under the law of the town Magdeburg (Magdeburg law).[dubious ] Ethnic Germans, along with German-speaking Ashkenazi Jews from the Rhineland, also formed a large part of the town population of Kraków.

Vilamovians (West Germans), Wilamowice

Concurrent with the change in the structure of the Polish State and sovereignty was an economic and social impoverishment of the country. Harassed by civil strife and foreign invasions, like the Mongol invasion in 1241, the small principalities became enfeebled and depopulated. The incomes of the Princes began to decrease materially. This led them to take steps toward encouraging immigration from foreign countries. A great number of German peasants, who, during the interregnum following the death of Frederick II, suffered great oppression at the hands of their lords, were induced to settle in Poland under very favorable conditions. German immigration into Poland had started spontaneously earlier, about the end of the 11th century, and was the result of overpopulation in the central provinces of the Empire. Advantage of the existing tendency had already been taken by the Polish Princes in the 12th century for the development of cities and crafts. Now the movement became intensified.

Some of studies of the development of the German settlements in Poland indicate that they sprang up along the wide belt which the Mongols laid waste in 1241. It was a stretch of land comprising present Galicia and southern Silesia. Before the Mongol invasion these two provinces were thickly settled and highly developed. Through them ran the commercial highways from the East and the Levant to the Baltic and the west of Europe. Kraków and Wrocław (Breslau) were large and prosperous towns. Some historians, mostly those stressing the scale of German settlements, claim that after the Mongol barbarians retired the country was in ruins and the population scattered or exterminated. German historian Walter de Gruyter claims that the majority of the citizens in Polish and Bohamian towns were of German origin.[39] The theory that newly arrived settlers can be named German has been disputed;for example Norman Davies in his study on Wrocław, states that such term for people in that era is misleading, as German identity wasn't formed yet[40] Others, minimizing the effect of German colonisation, minimize the effect of the Mongol invasion, stressing that the destruction was limited mainly to Lesser Poland and mainly the third Mongol invasion. The refugees from this invasion went north and helped to colonize the sparsely inhabited areas and to clear the forests to the east of the Vistula in Mazovia.

The 1257 foundation decree issued by Bolesław V the Chaste for Kraków was unusual insofar that it explicitly separated the local Polish population that already lived in the city,[41] in order to avoid depopulation of already existing settlements that would lead to loss of taxes.[42] Often, the Ostsiedlung settlement was founded near a pre-existing fortress that was within the already existing town, as for example with Poznan (Posen) and Kraków.[43] in order to avoid depopulation of already existing settlements that would lead to loss of taxes[44] Often, the Ostsiedlung town was founded near a pre-existing fortress, as for example with Poznan (Posen) and Cracow.[43]


  • Manfred Raether: Polens deutsche Vergangenheit (Poland's German Past), 2004 – ISBN 3-00-012451-9. – Followed by a revised e-book edition (2009).
  • Prof. Kazimierz Tymieniecki - "Niemcy w Polsce", Poznań 1934
  • Prof. Barbara Czopek-Kopciuch - "Adaptacje niemieckich nazw miejscowych w języku polskim", Kraków 1995, ISBN 83-85579-33-8
  • Prof. Aleksandra Cieślikowa (Cieślik) - "Nazwy osobowe pochodzenia niemieckiego", Kraków 1997, ISBN 83-85579-63-X


Bohemia and Moravia

After the decline of the Great Moravia in 900, whose founder Rastislav wanted to submit the land to the Eastern Church with the help of the missionaries Kyrill and Methodius, who were summoned from Constantinople, Bohemian princes appeared in the Diet, including the Přemyslidian Spytihnev I of Bohemia who came to Regensburg. They built a new following of the East Carolingian Empire that was however still highly controversial between the members of the Bohemian (Czech) aristocracy: in 929, the Premyslidian Boleslav I of Bohemia murdered his brother, the duke Wenceslaus who was still in charge, because of his following and his Christianity supported by missionaries. The German king Henry I, the Fowler, led his army to Prague the same year to vassalise Bohemia to the Empire. In 950, Duke Boleslaw realized the cruelty of the German fiefdom and organized a secession in the army, in the 955 battle of Lechfeld. In 973, the diocese of Prague was founded under the aegis of Wolfgang, bishop of Regensburg. The first bishop of this diocese became the Saxon benedictine monk Thietmar, who was Czech speaking. After that church in Bohemia was supervised by the archbishopric of Mainz. In 983, Vojtech, a Slav who founded the benedictine monastery St. Margaret in Břevnov Monastery, became successor of Thietmar. In 997, Vojtech was killed by Old Prussian pagans. Henry II, who was emperor from 1014 until 1024, dislodged the Polish duke (and later king) Bolesław Chrobry who had conquered large parts of Bohemia as well as Moravia and Silesia. Bohemia fell under influence of Holy Roman Empire.

New trading paths connecting Bohemia and Bavaria through the Virgin Forest - were built, with the so-called Golden Path as the most important trade path between Bohemia and Moravia. Along those paths, a number of new - mostly ethnic German - towns emerged on both sides of the Bohemian forest. The city Prachatice (German: Prachatitz) owes its foundation and its time of prosperity in the 14th century to the Golden Path.

In 1030, Bretislaus re-united Bohemia and Moravia after Hungarian attacks. In 1038, duke Bretislaus conquered further parts of Poland and attempted to secede from the Empire that brought about preconditions with the Emperor Henry II.

In 1063, duke Vratislaus founded the Diocese of Olomouc; in 1085 he was crowned by Henry IV in Mainz to be King of Bohemia, for his help with suppressing of revolt in Saxony.

By the beginning of the 11th century AD, was founded and settled by Germans. In 1061, the Eger Region and the city of Eger were mentioned as parts of the March of the Nordgau. Teplá Abbey was founded by the Bohemian baron Hroznata and staffed monks from Prague and Steinfeld Abbey in 1193; from this abbey and its surrounding houses, the town of Mariánské Lázně developed.

Drang nach Osten

In the 19th century, recognition of this complex phenomenon coupled with the rise of nationalism. In Germany and some Slavic countries, most notably Poland, Ostsiedlung was perceived in nationalist circles as a prelude to contemporary expansionism and Germanisation efforts, the slogan used for this perception was Drang nach Osten.

"The German settlement in Pomerania did, as the other migrations, not follow a certain ideology. In contrast, the settlement was characterized only by practical means. [...] Only national historiography, elapsed in the mid-19th century, in retrospect added a constructed Slavic-German clash to the Ostsiedlung process of the High Middle Ages. But that was 19th century ideology, not the ideology of the Middle Ages. [...] Called in were "cuiuscunque gentis et cuiuscunque artis homines" (people of any ethnicity and profession)." (Buchholz[45])

20th century

Economic reasons led to a westward migration of Germans from eastern Prussia in the late 19th and early 20th century (Ostflucht).

The 20th century wars and nationalist policies severely altered the ethnic and cultural composition of Eastern Europe. After World War I, Germans in reconstituted Poland were set under pressure to leave the Polish Corridor and other areas. Before World War II, the Nazis initiated the Nazi-Soviet population transfers, wiping out the old settlement areas of the Baltic Germans, the Germans in Bessarabia and others. During World War II, in line with Nazi Germany's expansion, Generalplan Ost was drawn to expel and enslave the Slavs according to the Nazi's Lebensraum concept. While that was prevented by the war's turn, some measures such as the expulsion of 2 million Poles and settlement of Volksdeutsche in the annexed territories were implied.

With the Red Army's advance and Nazi Germany's defeat in 1945, the ethnic make-up of Eastern and East Central Europe was radically changed, as nearly all Germans were expelled not only from all Soviet conquered German settlement areas across Eastern Europe, but also from former territories of the Reich east of the Oder-Neisse line, mainly, the provinces of Silesia, East Prussia, East Brandenburg, and Pomerania. The Soviet-established People's Republic of Poland annexed the majority of the lands while the northern half of East Prussia was taken by the Soviets and made a new enclave in the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. The former German settlement areas were resettled by ethnic citizens of the respective succeeding state, (Czechs, Slovaks and Roma in the former Sudetenland and Poles, Lemkos, ethnic Ukrainians in Silesia and Pomerania). However, some areas settled and Germanised in the course of the Ostsiedlung still form the northeastern part of modern eastern Germany, like the Bundesländer Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony and east of the limes Saxoniae in the Holstein part of Schleswig-Holstein.

See also


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  2. ^ Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century: The structure of everyday life Fernand Braudel, page 100,University of California Press 1992
  3. ^ The Germans and the East Charles W. Ingrao, Franz A. J. Szabo, Jan Piskorski Medieval Colonization in Europe, page 31, Purdue University Press,2007
  4. ^ Historia Szczecina: zarys dziejów miasta od czasów najdawniejszych do 1980 r, Tadeusz Białecki,Ossolineum, 1992
  5. ^ Pomorze słowiańskie, Pomorze germańskie, Biuletyn Ministra Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego [1]
  6. ^ a b "Terra Mariana". The Encyclopedia Americana. Americana Corp. 1967. http://books.google.com/books?id=jsJWAAAAMAAJ&q=%22Livonia.+Under+its+official+name,+Terra+Mariana%22&dq=%22Livonia.+Under+its+official+name,+Terra+Mariana%22&ei=HV4aSbrgEYOUMojX-acE&pgis=1. 
  7. ^ Medieval Livonia @ google books
  8. ^ referred to by historians as Medieval Livonia or Old LivoniaOld Livonia @ google books to distinguish it from the rump-Livonia (Duchy of Livonia) and the Livonian Governorate that was formed from part of its territories after its breakup.
  9. ^ Bilmanis, Alfreds (1944). Latvian-Russian Relations: Documents. The Latvian legation. http://books.google.com/books?id=OoEdAAAAMAAJ&q=Terra+Mariana+1561&dq=Terra+Mariana+1561&ei=cGkaSZzgN5SmM5nCnOAI&pgis=1. 
  10. ^ Herbermann, Charles George (1907). The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. http://books.google.com/books?id=n2ocAAAAMAAJ&q=%22Terra+Mariana%22&dq=%22Terra+Mariana%22&lr=&ei=mUAXSfKjAoWcMuHQ_cQB&pgis=1. 
  11. ^ Bilmanis, Alfreds (1945). The Church in Latvia. Drauga vēsts. http://books.google.com/books?id=xRYXAAAAIAAJ&q=%221215+proclaimed+it+the+Terra+Mariana,+subject+directly%22&dq=%221215+proclaimed+it+the+Terra+Mariana,+subject+directly%22&ei=RmUaSZmyHp-aMpzMifEJ&pgis=1. 
  12. ^ The Latvians: A Short History By Andrejs Plakans ISBN 0817993029; p. 19
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  18. ^ Piskorski, Jan Maria (1999). "The Historiography of the So-called "East Colonisation" and the Current State of Research". In Nagy, Balázs; Sebők, Marcell. The Man of Many Devices, Who Wandered Full Many Ways... Festschrift in Honour of Janos Bak. Budapest. pp. 654–667, here pp. 659–660. ISBN 963911667X. 
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  43. ^ a b Brather, Sebastian (2001) (in German). Archäologie der westlichen Slawen. Siedlung, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft im früh- und hochmittelalterlichen Ostmitteleuropa. Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. 30. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 156, 158. ISBN 3110170612. 
  44. ^ Jan Maria Piskorski: The Historiography of the So-called "East Colonisation" and the Current State of Research, in: B. Nagy, M. Sebők (red.), The Man of Many Devices, Who Wandered Full Many Ways... Festschrift in Honour of Janos Bak, Budapest 1999, s. 654-667
  45. ^ Werner Buchholz, Pommern, Siedler, 1999, p.17, ISBN 3886802728: "Die deutschen Siedlungsvorgänge in Pommern folgten ebensowenig wie die übrigen Wanderungsbewegungen einer wie auch immer gearteten Ideologie. Vielmehr war die deutsche Siedlung in Pommern ausschließlich von praktischen Erfordernissen geprägt. [...] Erst die um die Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts sich durchsetzende nationale Geschichtsschreibung konstruierte rückblickend einen slawisch-germanischen Gegensatz in die deutsche Ostsiedlung des Hochmittelalters hinein. Aber das war die Ideologie des 19. Jahrhunderts, nicht des Mittelalters. [...] Angesiedelt werden sollten "cuiuscunque gentis et cuiuscunque artis homines" (Menschen welcher Herkunft und welchen Handwerks auch immer), so steht es in zahlreichen von pommerschen Herzögen und rügischen Fürsten ausgestellten Urkunden."


  • Horst Gründer, Peter Johanek, Kolonialstädte, europäische Enklaven oder Schmelztiegel der Kulturen?: Europäische Enklaven oder Schmelztiegel der Kulturen?, 2001, ISBN 3825836010, 9783825836016
  • Paul Reuber, Anke Strüver, Günter Wolkersdorfer, Politische Geographien Europas - Annäherungen an ein umstrittenes Konstrukt: Annäherungen an ein umstrittenes Konstrukt, 2005, ISBN 3825865231, 9783825865238
  • Alain Demurger, Wolfgang Kaiser, Die Ritter des Herrn: Geschichte der Geistlichen Ritterorden, 2003, ISBN 3406502822, 9783406502828
  • Herrmann, Die Slawen in Deutschland
  • Ulrich Knefelkamp, M. Stolpe, Zisterzienser: Norm, Kultur, Reform- 900 Jahre Zisterzienser, 2001, ISBN 354064816X, 9783540648161
  • Werner Rösener, Agrarwirtschaft, Agrarverfassung und ländliche Gesellschaft im Mittelalter, 1988, ISBN 3486550241, 9783486550245
  • Wilhelm von Sommerfeld, Geschichte der Germanisierung des Herzogtums Pommern oder Slavien bis zum Ablauf des 13. Jahrhunderts, Adamant Media Corporation, U.S.A. (unabridged facsimile of the edition published by Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1896), 2005, ISBN 1-4212-3832-2

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