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Historical development up to AD 929

Royal procession in Dresden

Royal procession in Dresden
(© Dresden Werbung und Tourismus GmbH)

Between the fourth and sixth centuries AD, German tribes move out of the area of today’s Saxon Free State. Since around AD 600, the area has been populated by the Slavic Sorbs from today’s Poland and Czech Republic.

The Margraviate of Meissen 929-1423

After the subjugation of the Sorb tribes by the Daleminzers, the German King Henry I establishes the Margraviate of Meissen in AD 929. The bishoprics of Merseburg, Zeitz and Meissen are established with a view to converting the heathen population. In 1089, the Wettiners are given the Margraviate as fiefdom. The German nobles and spiritual leaders in the region are reinforced by the arrival of peasants and townsmen as part of the German expansion to the east. The first economic boom occurs under Margrave Otto the Rich (1156-1190). Clearances open the way for numerous new villages, mostly the characteristic forest homestead villages. These stretch alongside the roads, with small strips of cultivated land, bordered by trees and hedges. In the Ore Mountains, mining gets under way, initially for small amounts of tin, copper and iron ore. A major silver discovery in Freiberg unleashes the 'first silver rush' in 1268, comparable to the gold rush in America of the 19th century. After the middle of the 12th century, numerous towns are established. The Wettiner Henry the Illustrious (1221-1288) acquires the Pleissen region, the county of Thuringia and the title for the Lower Lausitz, and establishes the new principality Mark Landsberg. After the loss of Meissen to King Adolf of Nassau and King Albrecht of Austria, Margrave Frederick the Brave wins it back at the battle of Lucka (1307). This lays the foundation for the renewed glory of the Wettiner dynasty. His successors acquire important additional territory in the Pleissen region in Vogtland and Thuringia. In 1382, the Wettiner holding is divided between Meissen, Osterland and Thuringia. However, in 1407 the Meissen line dies out, followed by the Thuringia line in 1440, enabling the Wettiner lands to be reunited. In 1409, the German teachers and students who had emigrated from Prague are given a new university in Leipzig.

Saxon Electorate 1423-1485

In appreciation of the victorious battle against the Hussites, Emperor Sigismund awards the defunct Duchy of Saxony-Wittenberg to Margrave Frederick the Belligerent in 1423. The Wettiner thereby acquires the rank of Elector, and the name Saxony is applied to the Wettiner territory. Dresden becomes the official residence of the Elector in 1464.

Albertinian Duchy of Saxony 1485-1547

The Leipzig Separation in 1485 between the brothers Ernest (founder of the Ernestinian dynasty) and Albrecht the Courageous (founder of the Albertinian dynasty) leads to a permanent division of the Wettiner lands. Ernest acquires central and southern Thuringia, the Vogtland, the larger part of the Osterland, and the Duchy of Sachsen-Wittenberg with the elector status, and Torgau and Wittenberg as his official residences. By contrast to the Ernestinian Frederick the Wise, who is protected by Luther, the Albertinian George the Bearded opposes Protestant teachings. The Reformation only spreads to the Albertinian part of Saxony after George's death in 1539. From the mid-fifteenth century, major ore deposits in the Ore Mountains are found, leading to the establishment of further mining towns (Schneeberg, Annaberg). In 1491, the miner Kaspar Nitzel from Frohnau strikes a productive silver vein and unleashes the »great mountain rush« in the upper mountain area, sparking a massive influx of people. Trade and handicrafts boom as well. Leipzig expands to become the leading trade and commercial centre of central Germany; Emperor Maximilian I awards the city with the right to hold trade fairs in 1497, and the storage right in 1507

Albertinian Electorate 1547-1806

Duke Moritz, who with Emperor Charles V defeated the Ernestinian Elector John Frederick the Magnanimous in the battle of Mühlberg (1547), gains the Elector status and parts of the Ernestinian holdings for the Albertinians. Elector Augustus acquires the secularised Bishoprics of Merseburg, Naumburg and Meissen, as well as the Vogtland. The Saxon Electorate's last major territorial gain results from the Thirty Years War, when the Margraviates of Upper Lausitz and Lower Lausitz, mortgaged in 1623, are awarded to Saxony in the Prague Peace Treaty (1635). However, Saxony is devastated by the Thirty Years War, and after the Westphalian peace agreement of 1648, it suffers an increasing decline of influence. In 1656, the three sidelines Zeitz, Merseburg and Weissenfels are separated from the Electorate as independent principalities, although the sidelines die out and revert to the main line in 1746. Under Elector Augustus I (Augustus the Strong), the political influence of the Saxon Elector starts to increase once again. Augustus converts to Catholicism and in 1697 is crowned King of Poland. In effect, a catholic Elector becomes ruler of a predominantly protestant population. The Saxon-Polish union continues under his son and successor Frederick II (known as King Augustus III in Poland). The Saxon capital of Dresden has Augustus the Strong and his successors to thank for its countless magnificent buildings and treasures, as well as for its reputation as the »Florence on the Elbe«. Under his rule, the Meissen porcelain company is established in 1710. Saxony loses the Seven Years War and subsequently surrenders the Polish throne. The effects of the war in the region are rapidly overcome and the manufacturing industry blossoms, notably textiles in Chemnitz and the surrounding area. Leipzig develops during the eighteenth century to become the centre of the German book trade and publishing business.

Kingdom of Saxony 1806/15-1918

After the defeat of Prussia by Napoleon, Saxony signs the Peace of Posen (1806), joins the Rhine Confederation and is rewarded with the title of king. During the Blockade of the Continent, numerous mechanical spinning workshops are established, starting the process of industrialisation. King Frederick Augustus I remains loyal to the alliance with Napoleon to the last, but is captured by the enemy allies after the Leipzig Battle of the Nations (1813), and is forced to surrender over half of his territory to Prussia. Upper Lausitz in the east is integrated into the province of Silesia, Lower Lausitz into the province of Brandenburg, and the remainder of his lands into the province of Saxony. Other Electorate territories are ceded to Saxony-Weimar. After revolutionary unrest in 1831, Saxony is given a constitution. Reforms under the constitutional monarchy modernise the state administration, the cities and agricultural organisation and the public schools. Through railway construction and the introduction of steam power, industrialisation forges ahead. During the revolution of May 1848, the king at first gives way to demands for democracy, but in 1849 has the Dresden May Rising bloodily suppressed with Prussian help. After defeat in the war of 1866, Saxony is forced to join the North German Federation, and in 1871 becomes part of the German Empire, whose federal structure does, however, still allow a certain degree of autonomy. In the nineteenth century, Saxony develops into a strongly industrial state, the most densely-populated area in Europe. The foundation of the German Workers' Association by Ferdinand Lasalle in 1863 makes Leipzig the cradle of the German labour movement.

Free State Saxony 1918-1945; State of Saxony 1945-1989

Frederick Augustus III abdicates after the November Revolution of 1918. Saxony becomes a Free State and is given a democratic constitution in 1920. The SPD (Social Democrats) becomes the leadingpolitical force, and elects Prime Ministers under difficult economic and political conditions until 1929. Conservative parties take over the Cabinet from 1929 to 1933. After the National Socialists take power in 1933, Saxony's position as an autonomous Free State is revoked, and a governor of the Reich is imposed. Parliamentary democracy is abolished. During the Second World War, Saxony suffers substantial losses of life and cultural treasure. The horrors of war are particularly demonstrated with the destruction of Dresden, including the bombing of the Frauenkirche in February 1945. From 1945, Saxony is put under the control of Soviet occupation, the areas around Görlitz and Hoyerswerda, which had been separated in 1815, are reintegrated as a consequence of the new border drawn along the Oder and Neisse rivers. In 1949, Saxony becomes a state of the GDR. The states are dissolved in 1952 as part of a strengthening of central structures. Saxony is divided into the districts of Chemnitz (renamed Karl Marx City in 1953), Dresden and Leipzig, with small areas coming under the districts of Cottbus and Gera. Görlitz and Niesky are Saxon centres of the national Uprising of June 17th, 1953, which is forcibly suppressed. At the start of the 1980s, the »Swords into Ploughs« campaign, the Civil Peace Service, and the Dresden Peace Forum become important Saxon contributions to the peace movement and the developing opposition inside the GDR.

Saxon Free State from 1990

The Peaceful Revolution of 1989, which spreads from Leipzig, Plauen and Dresden like wildfire across the entire GDR (Monday Demonstrations), ends the rule of the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The Free State of Saxony is re-established on October 3, 1990, consisting of the districts Leipzig (excluding the municipalities of Altenburg and Schmölln), Chemnitz and Dresden as well as the municipalities of Hoyerswerda and Weisswasser, previously part of the Cottbus district. With the accession of the GDR to the Federal Constitution, Saxony becomes part of the Federal Republic. On October 27, 1990, Professor Kurt Biedenkopf is elected by the Landtag as the first Saxon Prime Minister after the political upheaval. In 1992, the state receives a new constitution. Stanislaw Tillich has been President of the Free State of Saxony since May 24, 2008.



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