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This article covers the medieval eastward migrations of Germans. For a general view, see History of German settlement in Eastern Europe

Ostsiedlung, literally "settlement in the east", also called German eastward expansion, refers to the medieval eastward migration and settlement of Germans from modern day western and central Germany into less-populated regions of eastern Central Europe and Eastern Europe. The affected area roughly stretched from Sloveniamarker to Estoniamarker. In part, Ostsiedlung followed the territorial expansion of the Holy Roman Empire and the Teutonic Order.

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.


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 Germanymarker, 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 cultures arose and became dominant in Eastern Europe and large parts of Central Europe.

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 termed Wends. 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 Saalemarker 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 ( , meaning border or border lands), 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 present-day Slovakiamarker and what was then Pannonia (present-day Burgenlandmarker, Hungarymarker, and Sloveniamarker). 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 Balticmarker 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 Polishmarker) state from the East, Denmarkmarker from the North and the Empire from the West, eager to re-establish her marches.

Acquisition of 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 Demminmarker and Stettinmarker, despite these areas having already been Christianized successfully.

After the Wendish crusade, Albert the Bear was able to establish the Brandenburgmarker 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 Havelbergmarker 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 Barbarossa, Mecklenburg and Pomerania became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1181.

Terra Mariana

Terra Mariana (Land of St. Mary) was the official name for Medieval Livonia or Old Livonia ( ) which was formed in the aftermath of the Livonian Crusade in the territories comprising present day Estoniamarker and Latviamarker. It was established on February 2, 1207 as a principality of the Holy Roman Empire and proclaimed by Pope Innocent III in 1215 as a subject to the Holy See.

Medieval Livonia was intermittently ruled first by the Swordbrothers, 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.

In 1561, during the Livonian war, Terra Mariana ceased to exist. Its northern parts were ceded to Sweden and formed into the Duchy of Estoniamarker, its southern territories became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania — and thus eventually of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as the Duchy of Livoniamarker and Duchy of Courland and Semigalliamarker. The island of Saaremaamarker became part of Denmarkmarker.

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 statemarker there in 1224. With the merger of Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1237 the Livonianmarker 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.


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 Saalemarker rivers, regions largely inhabited by Polabian Slavs. Likewise, in Styriamarker and Carinthia, German communities took form in areas inhabited by Slovenes.

The emigration of inhabitants of the Valaismarker valley in Switzerlandmarker 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. Most notably, Germans had advanced in crop rotation, agricultural devices such as the mouldboard plough, and land amelioration techniques such as drainage and dike or levee construction. These techniques, along with the sheer numbers of settlers, eventually changed the geography of the settled territories.

Wendish tribes preferred to settle in pockets, usually centered around a river, that were surrounded by vast unsettled woodlands and swamps separating one tribe from another. In the Ostsiedlung process, swamps were drained and most of the forests were cleared for agricultural uses. (Centuries later, Prussia would drain most of the remaining swamps and settle them with colonists in a process much akin to the medieval Ostsiedlung; Prussia also would initiate some reforestation, as the Ostsiedlung clearances led to a later shortage of timber.)

Areas already used for agriculture by the Wends came to be more densely populated with settlers, and new agricultural devices and techniques were applied.

Germans also introduced the Hufenverfassung system to divide and classify land. Farmland was divided into Hufen, 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 villages, one having the farm buildings to both sides of a single long main road with their Hufen behind, although Wendish village types were adopted and adjusted too.

Germans also introduced 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

In the Slavic areas, town-like settlements already existed before the Ostsiedlung, as craftsmen and merchants formed suburbs of fortified strongholds (burgs, castra) or the Wendish-Scandinavian merchants' settlements of the Baltic coast.

Usually, a Slavic market place would be an open range with few or no permanently inhabited buildings and, after Christianization, a church. These market fields (ring, rynek) were in close proximity, but not within villages or fortified strongholds. The local princes held trade monopolies; the trade itself was carried out by foreign merchants (mostly Germans and Jews, but also Italians and others), who would arrive at the market with their wagons and pay the prince owning the market a fee. This system was borrowed from 10th century East Francia and persisted in the Slavic regions until the Ostsiedlung, while in the West it had already transformed into a system of towns (permanently settled market places with residential merchant guilds and an economy of their own), where the monopolies of certain trades had been handed over to the guilds in return for a tax paid to the prince.

When this type of towns was introduced in the East during the Ostsiedlung, they were established preferably on the site of former market rings. The new towns were first termed "schroda" or "sroda". Local rulers (princes as well as monasteries) granted land and privileges to increase the density of towns in their realms, as these were thought to accelerate economic growth and prosperity and to function as strongholds. During the establishment of a town, the income of the ruler was ensured by selling monopolies to the merchants. Once the town was established and began to flourish, the ruler derived income from taxes.

The privileges granted to the towns were copied, sometimes with minor changes, from the town law charters of Lübeckmarker (Baltic coast), Magdeburgmarker (central areas, Poland) and Nurembergmarker. Nearly all towns of the old Ostsiedlung area date back to this era (11th to 13th centuries), and celebrate anniversaries according to the year the town law was granted.

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

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 Austrianmarker, Dutch and Flemish. To a lesser extent, the settlers were of even another origin, e.g. Danesmarker, 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.

Beside the marches which were adjacent to the Empire, German settlement occurred in areas farther away, such as the Carpathiansmarker, Transylvania, and along the Gulf of Rigamarker. German cultural and linguistic influence lasted in some of these areas right up to the present day. The rulers of Hungarymarker, Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, Mecklenburg, and Polandmarker 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 Polishmarker towns like Krakówmarker (Krakau, Cracow) and Posenmarker (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.

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 Heidemarker, 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. In most cases, the Slavic name was kept. 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. 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, 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. Slavic-languague-rooted German placenames are not per se an indicator of preceding Slavic settlements. 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.

Where German names were introduced, they usually ended with -dorf, -hagen in the North or -rode and -hain in the South. 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 Germanymarker 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 Berlinmarker 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 Hedebymarker and the Danishmarker fortress of Dannevirkemarker 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 Saalemarker 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 Seamarker 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 Polandmarker and Denmarkmarker 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 Brandenburgmarker 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 Rügenmarker 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 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 1300s.

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. Jacob's) erected in 1187.

In Eastern Mecklenburg, the first settlers from Holstein and Dithmarschenmarker arrived on the isle of Poelmarker. 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 Saxonymarker, Westphalia), except for the terra Land Stargardmarker, that since 1236 was a part of the Margraviate of Brandenburg and settled by Germans from the Brandenburgian Altmarkmarker region.

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 Magdeburgmarker area and Brandenburgmarker. The origins of the Usedommarker settlers resemble this pattern: Most came from Mecklenburg, the Hanovermarker region and Brandenburg, the others came from Westphalia, Holstein, Friesland, Rhineland, and even Prussia and Polandmarker.

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 Abbeymarker, settlers who opened a tavern would respectively be treated according to Danish, German and Wendish law.

Wampen and Ladebow and other villages near Greifswaldmarker are of Danish origin. 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.

The evolving large towns of the area (Lübeckmarker, Wismarmarker, Stralsundmarker, Greifswaldmarker, Stettinmarker) attracted settlers primarily from Westphalia, Eastphalia, the Low Countries and the Lower Rhinemarker area.

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 Rostockmarker, Stralsundmarker and Friedland, the Wends were governed by their own voigt. On the other hand, there are a few records of Wendish patricians, eg mentions of a Wendish ratsherr in Ueckermündemarker (1284) and Gollnowmarker (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 (eg Greifenhagenmarker-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.

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 Jasmundmarker peninsula. In rural parts of Mecklenburg and Farther Pomerania (east of Köslinmarker) 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.


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

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

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 Thuringiamarker region.

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 Brandenburgmarker 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 Seamarker. In 1181, Mecklenburg and Pomerania officially became parts of the Roman-German Empire.


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 wassparsely 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 Wrocławmarker, Legnicamarker, Opolemarker and Racibórzmarker. 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 abbeymarker and staffed the monastery with monks from Pforta Abbeymarker in Saxony. The abbey, its domain and the German settlers were excluded from Polish legislation and subsequently the monks set up 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 and thus destroyed the Preseka. The earliest German land clearing area in Silesia appeared around 1200 in the area of Goldbergmarker and Löwenbergmarker, 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 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 assimilation Lower and Middle Silesia became Germanized while Upper Silesia stayed Slavic.


Since the beginning of the 14/15th centuries, the Polish-Silesian Piast dynasty – (Ladislaus of Oppeln), 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 Magdeburgmarker (Magdeburg law). Ethnic Germans, along with German-speaking Ashkenazi Jews from the Rhineland, also formed a large part of the town population of Krakówmarker.

Concurrent with the metamorphosis 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 that of the Mongols 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 certain very favorable conditions. German immigration into Poland had started spontaneously at an earlier period, 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 was laid waste by the Mongols in 1241. It was a stretch of land comprising present Galicia and Southern Silesia. Prior to 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 Wrocławmarker (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 either scattered or exterminated. Others, minimizing the effect of German colonisation, actually minimize the effect of the Mongol invasion, stressing that the destruction was limited mainly to Lesser Poland and mainly the third Mongol invasion. Large numbers were taken prisoners. The refugees went north and helped to colonize the sparsely inhabited areas and to clear the forests to the east of the Vistula in Mazovia. On the heels of the receding Mongols came the Germans. Theirs was a movement along the line of least resistance. The new settlers were spared the hard labour of the pioneers as the soil they occupied had been used for arable purposes centuries before. There was no need of clearing primeval forest or colonizing an utter wilderness. On the other hands, Germans were also invited to settle territories which were uninhabited before.


Bohemia and Moravia

The decline of the Great Moravia

After the decline of the Great Moravia in 900, whose founder Rastislaw (also: Rastislav) wanted to submit the land to the Eastern Church with the help of the missionaries Kyrill and Methodius, who were summoned from Constantinoplemarker, Bohemian princes appeared in the Parliament, including the Přemyslidian Spitignew who came to Regensburgmarker. 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 Boleslaw murdered his brother, the duke Wenceslas who was still in charge, because of his following and his Christianity supported by German missionaries. The German king Henry I, the Fowler, led his army to Praguemarker the same year to repress the rebellion against the Empire. In 950, Duke Boleslaw realized the cruelty of the German fiefdom and organized a secession in the army, in the 955 battle on 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. After that Bohemia was subordinated to the archbishopric of Mainz. In 983, Adalbert, a Slav who founded the benedictine monastery St. Margaret in Brewnowmarker, became successor of Thietmar. In 997, Adalbert 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 became dependent on Germany; the Bohemian dukes were obliged to visit the hostage drama and to take part in national wars.

A monk of the Benedictine monastery Altaich of princely background, called Günter the Blessed, became a recluse in the Bohemian Forestmarker. The foundation of the Benedictine monastery Raigern goes back to Günter. New :de:Säumerwege - trading paths connecting Bohemia and Bavaria through the Virgin Forest - were built, with the :de:Goldener Steig (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 Prachaticemarker ( ) owes its foundation and its time of prosperity in the 14th century to the Golden Path.

In 1030, Bretislaus united Bohemia and Moravia after those regions had come under control of Poland. Both lands were fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1038, duke Bretislaus conquered further parts of Poland and attempted to secede from the Empire that brought about preconditions with the German emperor Henry II.

In 1063, duke Vratislaus founded the Archdiocese of Olmütz; in 1085 he was crowned by Henry IV in Mainz to be King of Bohemia.

In 1142, the monastery Strahovmarker opposite the Hradčanymarker, was founded by the monks of the Premonstratensian monastery Kloster Steinfeldmarker near Kall, Germanymarker. The "white monks" advanced to the position of the most important German mission foundations in Bohemia and Moravia. In 1117, duchess Richsa summoned Benedictine monks from Zwiefaltenmarker (in Württembergmarker) to Kladraumarker.

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)."

Decline and annihilation of the German settlements in the 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 Polandmarker 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 Sovietmarker-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 Memel region was annexed to the Sovietmarker Lithuanian SSR. 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 Bundesländ Mecklenburg-Vorpommernmarker, Brandenburgmarker, Saxonymarker and east of the limes Saxoniae in the Holstein part of Schleswig-Holsteinmarker.


  • 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

See also


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