"Eidgenossenschaft" is a German word meaning
confederation. The term literally translates as " oathfellowship". An "Eidgenossenschaft" is a confederacy of equal partners, which can be individuals or groups such as states, formed by a pact sealed by a solemn oath. Such an alliance could be either time-limited or unlimited (or "eternal"). An important characteristic is that the partners were always considered equal, in contrast to the oath of fealtyin feudal societies with their strict hierarchies.As a political term, it is used most often as a synonym for Switzerland, whose official German name is "Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft" (the oath in question being the Rütlischwur).
The official name of Switzerland in German is the "Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft" usually translated as "Swiss Confederation". The nation is sometimes referred to simply as an "
Eidgenossenschaft", i.e., a society of comrades in oath.An "Eidgenosse" is a member of an "Eidgenossenschaft", now an old-fashioned or facetious expression for " Swiss citizen".
In a historical context, "Eidgenossenschaft" typically refers to the medieval Swiss Confederacy, which grew from the 13th to the 16th century in central Europe, persisted until 1798 and then evolved into a federal state in the 19th century. When used in this sense, the eternal nature of the pact is necessary—the members of the "Dreizehn Orte" (Thirteen Cantons), as they called themselves, frequently made time-limited alliances sworn by oath with other partners, but such pacts were not considered an "Eidgenossenschaft".
The members of an "Eidgenossenschaft" are called "Eidgenossen" (singular "
Eidgenosse"). This term is documented in an alliance from 1351 between the Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyzand Unterwaldenand the cities of Lucerneand Zürich, which referred to themselves as such. In the evolution of the Swiss Confederacy, the members initially were not united by one single pact, but rather by a whole set of overlapping pacts and separate bilateral treaties between various members. The abstraction to the singular use of "Eidgenossenschaft", which implies a stronger sense of community and the perception of a strong common cause, did not occur until some forty years later, after the Battle of Sempach, although it began already in the " Pfaffenbrief" of 1370, a treaty among some of the then eight members of the Swiss Confederacy.
Nevertheless, "Eigenossenschaften" existed already before. The
communal movement in medieval Europeoften led to similar alliances or leagues, called "conjurationes" in the Latinof the official documents of the time. The city alliances ("Städtebünde") in the medieval Holy Roman Empire, in which the member cities also were equal, can be regarded as "Eidgenossenschaften", too, although they generally proved less stable, partly due to their fragmented territories. The best known of these city alliances was the Hanseatic League, but many others existed in the 13th and 14th century. An early example is the Lombard Leagueat the time of Frederick I "Barbarossa"; an example from Switzerland would be the "Burgundian Confederacy" of Berne.
In the Holy Roman Empire, emperor Charles IV outlawed any such "conjurationes, confederationes," and "conspirationes" in his
Golden Bull of 1356. Most "Städtebünde" were subsequently dissolved, sometimes forcibly, and where refounded, their political influence was much reduced. On the Swiss "Eidgenossenschaft", however, the edicthad no such effect as Charles IV, who was of the House of Luxembourg, regarded the Swiss as potential useful allies against his rivals, the Habsburgs.
*de icon [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Städtebund Wikipedia: "Städtebund"]
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