Prussia, formerly a state of Germany. From 1867, when Austria was excluded from the German confederation, until the end of World War II, Prussia was the largest of the German states, and dominated German affairs. Its area in 1939 was 113,410 square miles (293,730 km); its population, 41,467,089. The capital was Berlin.
Prussia's western, northern, and eastern boundaries were the same as Germany's, except where the states of Oldenburg and Mecklenburg caused indentations on the north. Several additional small states formed enclaves within Prussia. On the south, Prussia was bounded by Alsace-Lorraine, Bavaria, the Main River, the Thuringian Forest, Saxony, and Czechoslovakia. Prussia also included the province of Hohenzollern in southern Germany.
After World War II the Prussian state was abolished by the Allies. All territory east of the Oder and Neisse rivers was given to Poland, except for the northern half of East Prussia, which was annexed by the Soviet Union. The remainder of Prussia was divided among the four occupational zones, held by the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, and France. The area that fell under the administration of the Western Allies became part of the Federal Republic of Germany. The section under Soviet control became part of the German Democratic Republic.
The kingdom of Prussia grew out of two separate, nonadjacent regions east of the Elbe River—Brandenburg and Prussia. Between them lay Pomerania and Pomerelia.
Pagan Slavic tribes, whom the Germans called Wends, had inhabited the territory adjacent to the northeastern frontier of Germany since the early sixth century. Combining the goals of territorial expansion and conversion of pagans to Christianity, Henry I of Germany attacked and defeated the Wends. He established bishoprics in the towns of Havelberg and Brandenburg. By the end of the century, however, the Wends had driven the Germans out.
In the 12th century German King and Holy Roman Emperor Lothair II undertook to reconquer and reconvert the Wends. Albert the Bear (1100?-1170). a count of the German House of Ascania, conquered extensive lands between the Elbe and Oder rivers. His territory was increased when the Slavic ruler of the region along the Havel River, who had accepted Albert as his heir, died in 1150. Albert named his domain Brandenburg, and assumed the title of margrave (ruler of the mark, or borderland).
Brandenburg was colonized by German settlers during the two centuries it was ruled by the Ascanian dynasty. When the ruling line became extinct in 1320, the margraviate was taken over by the Holy Roman Emperor, being held first by the Wittelsbachs and then by the Luxemburg dynasty. In 1356 it became one of Germany's seven imperial electorates. Neighboring states encroached on its territory, however, and it declined in importance. In 1415 it was given to Count Frederick, the founder of the House of Hohenzollern.
At the beginning of the 13th century, pagan tribes inhabited the area of the Baltic coast north of Poland. They had resisted several Polish attempts to conquer and convert them. In 1226 Conrad of Mazovia, a Polish duke, invited the Teutonic Knights, a German military order, to convert the most westerly of the pagan tribes, the Prussians.
The Knights quickly conquered and converted the Prussians and began ruling their territory as a domain of the Holy Roman Empire. German colonists came to live in the area. Many of the towns in the area joined the Hanseatic League, a commercial association of northern German cities, and became trading centers.
Wladyslaw II of Poland led a campaign against the Knights, and won a great victory at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410. Under Casimir IV, Poland regained Pomerelia in 1466, and by the Treaty of Torun, the Knights had to pledge allegiance to the Polish king.
Brandenburg under the Hohenzollerns grew steadily in size and strength. Berlin was made the capital in the late 15th century. In 1511 Albert of Hohenzollern, a relative of the Elector of Brandenburg, became grand master of the Teutonic Knights. Upon being converted to Lutheranism, Albert disbanded the main branch of the order and in 1525 made Prussia a Polish duchy ruled by the Hohenzollerns.
Upon the death of Albert's son in 1618, Prussia was inherited by Elector John Sigismund. Poland maintained control over the duchy until 1660, when, in a peace concluding the first of the northern wars, Prussia was ceded to Brandenburg. In 1701 the Hohenzollern domains became the kingdom of Prussia.
|Kings of Prussia|
|The king of Prussia was also the emperor of Germany beginning in 1871.|
|Frederick I 1701-13|
|Frederick William I 1713-40|
|Frederick II (the Great) 1740-86|
|Frederick William II 1786-97|
|Frederick William III 1797-1840|
|Frederick William IV 1840-61|
|William I 1861-88|
|Frederick III 1888|
|William II 1888-1918|