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Image:Ac.preussen.jpg Prussia (German: Template:Audio ; Old Prussian: Prūsa ; Polish: Prusy ; Lithuanian: Prūsai ; Latin: Borussia, Prutenia) was, most recently, a historic state originating in East Prussia, an area which for centuries had a substantial influence on German and European history. The last capital of Prussia was Berlin.

In the course of its history, "Prussia" has had various meanings:

Prussia as a state was abolished de facto by the Nazis in 1934 and de jure by the Allied Powers in 1947. Since then, the term's relevance has been limited to historical, geographical or cultural usages.

The name Prussia derives from the Old Prussians, a Baltic people related to the Lithuanians. Ducal Prussia was a dependency of the Kingdom of Poland (see Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569) and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) from 1525 to 1656, then of the king of Sweden, and Royal Prussia remained an independent part of the crown of Poland until 1772. With the growth of German cultural nationalism in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, most German-speaking Prussians came to consider themselves to be part of the German nation, often underlining what were seen as the Prussian virtues: perfect organization, sacrifice, rule of law, obedience to authority and militarism. From the late 18th century the expanded Prussia dominated North Germany politically, economically and in terms of population size, and was the core of the unified North German Confederation formed in 1867, transformed into the German Empire in 1871.



Image:Flag of Preussen 1701-1918.jpg Prussia began its existence as a small territory in what was later called West and East Prussia, which is now northern Poland, the Kaliningrad exclave of Russia and part of today's Lithuania. The region was populated by Prussians. The area later became subject to German colonization. By the time of its abolition, it stretched across the North German Plain from the French, Belgian and Dutch borders on the west to the Lithuanian border and to territories which are now in eastern Poland. At its greatest extent before 1918, it included much of western Poland as well. For a period between 1795 and 1807, Prussia also controlled most of central Poland, including Warsaw.

Before its abolition, Prussia included, as well as what might be called "Prussia proper" (the regions of West Prussia and East Prussia, which now lie in Poland, Lithuania and Russia), the regions of Pomerania, Silesia, Brandenburg, Lusatia, Province of Saxony (now state of Saxony-Anhalt in Germany), Hanover, Schleswig-Holstein, Westphalia, parts of Hesse, the Rhineland, and some small detached areas in the south such as Hohenzollern, the home of the Prussian ruling family and in Switzerland. However there were some regions even in northern Germany that never became a part of Prussia, such as Oldenburg, Mecklenburg, and the Hanse city-states.

Because Prussia was predominantly a northern and eastern German state, it had a large Protestant majority, although there were substantial Roman Catholic populations in the Rhineland, while a number of districts in Posen, Silesia, West Prussia, and the Warmia regions of East Prussia had populations of predominantly Catholic Poles. East Prussia's region of Masuria (earlier in Ducal Prussia) was largely made up of Germanized protestant Masurs. This, in part, explains why the Catholic south-German states, especially Austria and Bavaria, resisted Prussian hegemony for so long. Despite its overwhelmingly German character, Prussia's annexations of Polish territory, due to collapse and resignation of the last Polish king in the late 18th century, brought a large Polish population that resisted the German government, and in several areas constituted the majority of the population, as, for example, in the Provinz Posen (62% Polish, 38% German). In 1919, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, a large portion of the formerly Polish areas were given to the newly reconstructed Polish state, including some areas with a majority German population.

Early history

In 1226 Conrad of Mazovia invited a German order of crusading knights, the Order of the Teutonic Knights from Transylvania, to conquer the Prussian tribes on his borders. However, during sixty years of struggles against resistance from the Prussians, they created a semi-independent state, which came to control Prussia plus most of what are now Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as parts of today's northern Poland. Eventually defeated, the Knights had to acknowledge the sovereignty of the King of Poland and Lithuania from 1466. The Teutonic Order State was subject to the pope and the emperor, who did not sanction the 1466 Thorn agreement. In 1525 the Master of the Order became a Protestant and converted part of the Order's territories into the Duchy of Prussia, the first Protestant State.

For more on Prussia's early history see Origins of Prussia, Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights, Prussian Confederation, Duchy of Prussia.

The territory of the Duchy was at this time confined to the area east of the mouth of the Vistula, near the present border between Poland and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. In 1618 the Duchy was inherited by the Elector John Sigismund of Brandenburg, who was at the same time ruler of Prussia and Brandenburg, a German state centered on Berlin and ruled since the 15th century by the Hohenzollern dynasty. For Hohenzollern, the newly acquired state was very important, since it spread outside the reach of the Holy Roman Empire. This state, known as Brandenburg-Prussia, although divided into two parts separated by Polish territory, was steadily drawn out of the orbit of the declining Polish state. Under Frederick William, known as "the Great Elector," Prussia steadily acquired territories, including Magdeburg and enclaves west of the Rhine.

For more on this period, see Brandenburg-Prussia and Royal Prussia.

Kingdom of Prussia

Image:Ac.prussiamap2.gif In 1701 Brandenburg-Prussia became the Kingdom of Prussia under Frederick I, with the permission of the Holy Roman Emperor and Saxon Elector August the Strong, king of Poland. Under Frederick II (Frederick the Great), Prussia seized the province of Silesia from Austria, and defended it through the Seven Years' War which ended in 1763 with Prussia as the dominant state of eastern Germany. Prussia also acquired various territories in other parts of Germany through marriage or inheritance, including Pomerania on the Baltic coast.

During this period the great Prussian military machine and efficient state bureaucracy were established, institutions which were to form the foundations of the German state until 1945, and (in some respects) of the GDR after that. Prussia greatly expanded its territories to the east during the collapse of the Kingdom of Poland,Partitions of Poland, between 1772 and 1795 (see New East Prussia and South Prussia), which brought territory as far east as Warsaw under Prussian rule.

Frederick William II led Prussia into war with revolutionary France in 1792, but was defeated at Valmy and was forced to cede his western territories to France. Frederick William III resumed the war, but suffered disaster at Jena and withdrew from the war after ceding yet more territory at the Treaty of Tilsit.

Image:Ac.prussiamap3.gif In 1813 Prussia renounced this treaty and rejoined the war against Napoléonic France. Her reward in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna was the recovery of her lost territories, as well as the whole of the Rhineland and Westphalia and some other territories. These western lands were to be of vital importance because they included the Ruhr valley, centre of Germany's fledgling industrialisation, and particularly of the arms industry. These territorial gains also meant the population of Prussia doubled. Prussia emerged from the Napoléonic Wars as the dominant power in Germany, overshadowing her long-time rival Austria, which had given up the German Imperial Crown in 1806. In exchange, Prussia withdrew from areas of central Poland to allow the creation of Congress Poland under Russian sovereignty.

The first half of the 19th century saw a prolonged struggle in Germany between the forces of liberalism, which wanted a united federal Germany under a democratic constitution, and the forces of conservatism, which wanted to keep Germany as a patchwork of weak independent states, with Prussia and Austria competing for influence. In 1848 the liberals got their chance when revolutions broke out across Europe. An alarmed Frederick William IV agreed to convene a National Assembly and grant a constitution. But when the Frankfurt Parliament offered Frederick William the crown of a united Germany, he refused, on the grounds that revolutionary assemblies could not grant royal titles. Prussia obtained a semi-democratic constitution, but the grip of the landowning classes (the junkers) remained unbroken, especially in the eastern parts.

For more on this period see Kingdom of Prussia.

Imperial Prussia


In 1862 Prussian King William I (Wilhelm I) appointed Otto von Bismarck as Prime Minister of Prussia. Bismarck was determined to defeat both the liberals and the conservatives by creating a strong united Germany but under the domination of the Prussian ruling class and bureaucracy, not the western German liberals. He achieved this by provoking three successive wars, with Denmark in 1864 (second war of Schleswig), which gave Prussia Schleswig-Holstein, with Austria in 1866 (Austro-Prussian War), which allowed Prussia to annex Hanover and most other north German territories who had sided with Austria, and with France in 1870 (Franco-Prussian War), which allowed him to force Mecklenburg, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg and Saxony to accept incorporation into a united German Empire (which excluded Austria, however), of which William I assumed the title of Emperor (Kaiser).

This was the high point of Prussia's fortunes, and had the state continued to have wise leaders, Prussia's economic power and political status might have peacefully made her the centre of European civilization. Emperor Frederick III may have been such a man, but he was already terminally ill when be became Emperor for 99 days in 1888. He was married to Victoria, the first daughter of Queen Victoria, but their first son suffered physical and maybe mental damage during birth. At the age of 29, Wilhelm II (William II) became Emperor after a difficult youth and conflicts with his British mother. He turned out to be a man of limited experience, narrow and reactionary views and poor judgement. Despite or maybe due to being a close relative to the Royals in Britain and Russia, "Willy" became their rival and ultimately their enemy. After dismissing Bismarck in 1890, who had forged alliances, Wilhelm embarked on a program of militarisation and adventurism in foreign policy that eventually led Germany into isolation and the disaster of World War I. As the price of withdrawing from the war, Russia was forced to concede control of large regions of the western Russian Empire to Germany, some of which bordered Prussia, in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). However German control of these territories only lasted for a few months.

Image:Prussia (political map before 1905).jpg

The end of Prussia

The Prussian junkers and generals dominated the conduct of World War I, so when it ended in defeat in 1918 they had to accept responsibility. The Prussian monarchy was overthrown along with all other German monarchies, and Germany became a republic. The Great Poland Uprising, and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, recreated the Polish state and forced Germany to return territories annexed by Prussia during the Partitions of Poland, as well as parts of Upper Silesia inhabited by Poles. East Prussia found itself again cut off from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor.

The idea of breaking up Prussia into smaller states was considered by the German Government, but eventually traditionalist sentiment prevailed and Prussia became the "Prussian Free State" (Freistaat Preußen), by far the largest state of the Weimar Republic, comprising 60% of its territory. Since it included the industrial Ruhr and "Red Berlin", it became a stronghold of the left, being governed by a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Catholic Centre for most of the 1920s. Most historians regard the Prussian government during this time as far more capable and successful than that of Germany as a whole.

Prussia's democratic constitution was suspended in 1932 as a result of a coup by Germany's conservative Chancellor Franz von Papen, marking the effective end of German democracy. In 1933 Hermann Göring became Interior Minister of Prussia, a position he used to suppress all democratic opposition. In 1934 the Nazi regime abolished the autonomy of all the German states. De jure, Prussia continued to exist as a territorial unit until the end of World War II, but in practice the "Gaue" of the Nazi Party organization were the building blocks of the Nazi state.

In 1945 the armed forces of the Soviet Union occupied all of eastern and central Germany (including Berlin). Everything east of the Oder-Neisse line, including Silesia, Pomerania, eastern Brandenburg and East Prussia, was included within the new borders of Poland (with the northern third of East Prussia, including Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, going to the Soviet Union; today it is a Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland). An estimated ten million Germans fled or were expelled from these territories as a part of the German exodus from Eastern Europe. These expulsions, together with the nationalisation of land by the Communist regime in East Germany, destroyed the junkers as a class and marked the effective end of Prussia as a social and political entity; the East German bureaucracy is seen by many as a "Red" continuation of the Prussian tradition, however.

Prussia was formally abolished by a proclamation of the four occupying powers in Germany in 1947. In the Soviet Zone of Occupation, which became East Germany in 1949, the former Prussian territories were reorganised into the states of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, with the remaining parts of Pomerania going to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. These states were abolished in 1952 in favor of districts, but recreated after the fall of communism in 1990. In the western zones of occupation, which became West Germany in 1949, they were divided up among North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein (with Baden-Württemberg taking the territory of Hohenzollern).

Today, the name Prussia is best preserved in the names of various football clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and Preußen Münster. However, the idea of Prussia is not entirely dead in Germany. Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, suggestions to amalgamate the states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg and Berlin into one identified as Prussia have arisen though without much enthusiasm, even among German conservatives. The left-wing parties, who govern both nationally and in these three states at present, are firmly opposed to it. However some grassroots groups have sought to encourage a celebration of Prussian history and culture. In 1996 a proposal to merge Berlin and Brandenburg was rejected by Brandenburg voters, even though this was not seen as a decision relating to the revival of Prussia as a state but rather as an attempt to restore the old Brandenburg, since Berlin had never been a city-state before 1945.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a small number of ethnic Germans from Kazakhstan have begun to settle in the Kaliningrad exclave of the Russian Federation, once northern East Prussia, as part of the migration influx into the area, which was previously a restricted area (see "closed city"). As of 2005, about 6,000 (0.6% of population) ethnic Germans, mostly from other parts of Russia, live there. Most Russian Germans preferred to leave for Germany, see History of Germans in Russia and the Soviet Union.

See also

External links

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