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Silesia

Silesia (sĬlē´zhə, –shə, sī–), Czech Slezsko, Ger. Schlesien, Pol. Śląsk, region of E central Europe, extending along both banks of the Oder River and bounded in the south by the mountain ranges of the Sudetes—particularly the Krkonoše (Ger. Riesengebirge)—and the W Carpathians.

Politically, almost all of Silesia is divided between Poland and the Czech Republic. The Polish portion comprises most of the former Prussian provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia, both of which were transferred to Polish administration at the Potsdam Conference of 1945; the Polish portion also includes those parts of Upper Silesia that were ceded by Germany to Poland after World War I and part of the former Austrian principality of Teschen. A second, much smaller part of Silesia belonged to Czechoslovakia since 1918, and became part of the Czech Republic with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993.

Except in the south, Silesia is largely an agricultural and forested lowland, drained by the Oder and its tributaries. The major city of the region is Wrocław. Along the slopes of the Sudetes there are numerous small industrial centers with traditional textile and glass industries. Czech Silesia comprises the rich Karvinna coal basin. The most important part of Silesia is, however, its southern tip—Upper Silesia, in Poland. One of the largest industrial concentrations of Europe, it has extensive coal and lignite deposits and zinc, lead, iron, and other ores. The industrial area around Katowice comprises such important centers as Bytom, Gliwice, Zabrze, and Częstochowa, and has iron and steel mills, coke ovens, and chemical plants. Opole, the former capital of Upper Silesia, is an important trade center.

History

Early History

Some historians maintain that the area was inhabited by the Silingae, a Vandal tribe, from the 3d cent. BC to the 3d cent. AD Slavic tribes settled here c.AD 500, and Silesia was an integral part of Poland by the 11th cent. King Boleslaus III (reigned 1102–38), of the Piast dynasty, divided Poland into four hereditary duchies (of which Silesia was one) for the benefit of his sons. After 1200 the duchy of Silesia fell apart into numerous minor principalities.

The Silesian Piasts encouraged German colonization of their lands, the larger part of which became thoroughly Germanized, and in the early 14th cent. the Silesian princes accepted the king of Bohemia as their suzerain and thus became mediate princes of the Holy Roman Empire. During the Hussite Wars of the 15th cent. Silesia, with Moravia, was temporarily detached from the Bohemian crown and was ruled by Hungary. In 1490, however, both Silesia and Moravia reverted to Bohemia, with which they passed to the house of Hapsburg in 1526.

Hapsburg Rule

Hapsburg rule and increasing Germanization loosened Silesia's historic ties with Poland. However, the ducal title, along with several fiefs, remained with the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty until the extinction of the line in 1675. The margraviate of Jägerndorf was purchased in 1523 by a cadet branch of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Brandenburg, which later also claimed inheritance to other Silesian fiefs. Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, moreover, concluded (1537) an alliance with the Piast duke, by which Brandenburg would inherit the Piast principalities if the Piast dynasty became extinct. This treaty was declared invalid by King Ferdinand I of Bohemia (later Emperor Ferdinand I). In 1621, John George of Jägerndorf, brother of the elector of Brandenburg, lost his fief for having supported Frederick the Winter King.

The Thirty Years War (1618–48) brought untold misery to Silesia under successive Saxon, imperial, and Swedish occupation. It reverted to Austrian control at the Peace of Westphalia (1648). In 1675, on the death of the last Piast, Austria incorporated the Piast territories into the Bohemian crown domain. The Counter Reformation had by then made great progress in Silesia, although Lutheranism was tolerated in Breslau (Wrocław) and certain other districts.

It was on the very shaky dynastic grounds indicated above that Frederick II of Prussia, as heir of the house of Brandenburg, claimed a portion of Silesia in 1740 from Maria Theresa, who had just assumed the succession to Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary. His claim and his offer to assist Maria Theresa in the impending War of the Austrian Succession were rejected by the queen while Prussian troops were already invading Silesia. The Silesian Wars (1740–42 and 1744–45) were part of the general War of the Austrian Succession. By the Treaty of Berlin (1742), Maria Theresa ceded all of Silesia except Teschen and present Czech Silesia to Prussia; this cession was ratified by the Treaty of Dresden (1745). In the Seven Years War, Prussia retained Silesia.

Modern Silesia

During the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th cent. textile weaving and coal mining developed rapidly in Silesia, but industrialization brought great social tension. The Silesian weavers became dependent on entrepreneurs who farmed out work; working conditions and unemployment became intolerable, and discontent ran high. Most coal mining was in the hands of private industry, under which miners were often mistreated. Landholding conditions also were iniquitous, most of the land being held by owners of large estates. The resulting tensions assumed an ethnic character, since the upper and middle classes were predominantly German, while a large percentage of the workers were Polish. Though these conditions were gradually improved, Silesia even in the 20th cent. remained, despite its great productivity, a relatively backward area.

After World War I the Treaty of Versailles (1919) provided for a plebiscite to determine if Upper Silesia was to remain German or to pass to Poland. The results of the plebiscite (1921) were favorable to Germany except in the easternmost part of Upper Silesia, where the Polish population predominated. After an armed rising of the Poles (1922) the League of Nations accepted a partition of the territory; the larger part of the industrial district, including Katowice, passed to Poland. The contested city and district of Teschen were partitioned in 1920 between Poland and Czechoslovakia (to the satisfaction of neither) by the conference of ambassadors. The political division of the Silesian industrial district was carried out so arbitrarily that the boundaries often cut through mines; some workers slept in one country and worked in another. As a result of the Munich Pact of 1938 most of Czech Silesia was partitioned between Germany and Poland, and after the German conquest of Poland in 1939 all Polish Silesia was annexed to Germany.

After World War II the pre-1938 boundaries were restored, but all formerly Prussian Silesia E of the Lusatian Neisse was placed under Polish administration (a small section of Lower Silesia W of the Neisse was incorporated with the East German state of Saxony). The Allies also allowed the expulsion (in an "orderly and humane" manner) of the German population from Czech Silesia, Polish Silesia, and Polish-administered Silesia. The mass expulsion of Germans was, perforce, neither orderly nor humane; moreover, although the transfer of territories to Polish administration was made subject to revision in a final peace treaty with Germany, the Polish government treated all Silesia as integral Polish territory. West Germany finally relinquished all claims to the area under the terms of a nonaggression pact with Poland in 1972. With the unification of East and West Germany in 1990, German leaders attempted once again to allay the fears of its neighbors, particularly Poland, by declaring the stability of the borders determined at the end of World War II.

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"Silesia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Silesia

SILESIA

SILESIA. Because of their considerable regional variety, the principalities of Silesia became important locations for power politics, and Silesia played an integral role in the political, economic, and cultural systems within the lands governed by the crown of Bohemia. It is possible to understand many of the integrating and disintegrating trends in European history through the example of Silesia. Its history contains many parallels with the development of Bohemia, but it also has important differences. For a long period the interests of the Piast, Jagiellon, Přemysl (Opava), Luxembourg, Habsburg, and Hohenzollern dynasties in the region complicated Silesia's relationship with the Bohemian crown.

In the late Middle Ages the seemingly marginal Silesian territory demonstrated its economic and strategic importance and highlighted the extent of the religious and political changes taking place in the northern part of the Czech state. Many Silesians wielded extraordinary political influence in central Europe (for example, Prince Casimir II, duke of Teschen; Victor, duke of Münsterberg; Frederick II, duke of Legnica; George, duke of Brandenburg-Ansbach-Krnov; George John Brandenburg-Krnov; John II, duke of Opole; Charles, duke of Münsterberg). On the other hand, the princes of Silesia were feudal subjects of the Bohemian king, and at times their differences with the crown drew them into the camp of Bohemia's Czech adversaries. In the sixteenth century a clear turn took place in the policy of Silesian princes and estates in their relations with the kingdom of Bohemia and the margravate of Moravia, leading to various kinds of cooperation. By compromising on religious differences (there was a religious allowance between Catholic Silesia and Hussite Bohemia), Bohemia gradually escaped from its post-Hussite provincial isolation in all spheres of life. In the power struggle against Hungarian and Polish interests, Silesia in the end maintained its constitutional place among the lands of the crown of Bohemia.

The turbulent social and political history of the estates of Bohemia involved Silesia as well. The tensions between the Habsburg Catholic minority and the Protestant opposition of the estates found expression in nearly all of the Silesian principalities, and as a result the traditional hierarchical principles of Bohemian and Silesian society and the rules of political engagement were disrupted. When Ferdinand I mounted the throne of Bohemia in 1526, Silesia was undergoing a wave of religious reformation, which, unlike the Hussite movement, was fully accepted by the majority of the population. A major role in this process was played by certain princes (the Krnov Hohenzollerns and the Piasts of Legnica-Brzeg), who through the descendants of George of Podebrady (ruled 14581471) aspired to the throne of Bohemia. In 1537 they concluded an important family contract with the Hohenzollern elector of Brandenburg to secure inheritance and cooperation in protecting the Protestant religion. After 1523 the Breslau town council also introduced Lutheran preachers into the town's churches. Considered politically, these religious changes aligned Silesia with the Bohemian "heretics."

Of the Silesian princes, by the mid-sixteenth century only the bishop of Breslau, resident in Nysa, remained loyal to the Catholic faith, and he mainly concentrated on the struggle with the Polish churchmen in Gniezno to achieve the independence of his diocese. In competition with the Protestant princes, the bishops of Breslau lost their position of power at the turn of the seventeenth century, and it was only after the Thirty Years' War that they regained their preeminence.

After the uprising of the Bohemian estates in 16181620 (the Bohemian War that marks the beginning of the Thirty Years' War), and especially after the Danish units were defeated in Silesia, major social changes erupted, even at the periphery of a Bohemia that was now dominated by Habsburg absolutism, centralism, and Catholicism. The new Silesian power elites were recruited from the bureaucracy, the army, and the imperial court (such as Charles, duke of Liechtenstein; John Weikhard, duke of Auersperg; and Albrecht Wallenstein/Waldstein). For more than a century the tone of political life was set by representatives of these newly successful noble families, who patiently built up their wealth and who even more importantly had no ties to the rebellious and centrifugal noble estates of prewar Silesia-Bohemia.

From the late Middle Ages on, the cultural and religious development of Silesia was strongly influenced by German scholars and artists and by those from other neighboring countries, including Martin Luther, John Calvin, Philipp Melanchthon, Balthasar Hubmaier, and Jan Hus. A decisive role was also played by the economic and social network of an area which, along with the regional capital of Breslau, was one of the most important parts of the Czech state. A wide range of religious opinions existed side by side, along with a rich variety in the realms of art and literature based on the cultural maturity of the German, Jewish, Polish, and Czech populations. Silesia's literary and artistic production testified to the fact that its society was open to the outside world, enabling it to contribute considerably to the treasury of European civilization.

The margraves and electors of Brandenburg introduced a split in Silesia during the early modern period. The Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg wanted to rule Lower Silesia and the region of Crossen, while the Ansbach line of the same house struggled to form a family enclave in the territory of Upper Silesia, especially in the regions of Opole, Racibórz, Krnov, Bytom, and Bohumín. The creation of Hohenzollern possessions in Silesia and their stabilization alongside the properties of the Opava Přemysl family, the Saxony Wettins, the Silesian Piasts, and the descendants of King George of Podebrady became a political reality. In the first half of the sixteenth century, it could not have been foreseen that the existence of the Hohenzollern power in the Oder region would become a stepping-stone for Prussian militarist expansion in the eighteenth century under Frederick II and would eventually lead to the division of Silesia after 1740 in the Wars of the Austrian Succession.

See also Bohemia ; Frederick II (Prussia) ; Hohenzollern Dynasty ; Hussites .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bahlcke, Joachim, ed. Schlesien und die Schlesier. Munich, 1996.

Grünhagen, Colmar. Geschichte Schlesiens. 2 vols. Gotha, Germany, 18841886. Reprint, Osnabrück, Germany, 1979.

Maleczyński, Karol, ed. Historia Śląska. 3 vols. Wrocław, Warsaw, and Cracow, 19611963.

Petry, Ludwig, ed. Geschichte Schlesiens. 2 vols. Sigmaringen, Germany, 1988.

Weber, Matthias, and Carsten Rabe, eds. Silesiographia: Stand und Perspektiven der historischen Schlesienforschung. Würzburg, Germany, 1998.

Radek Fukala

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Silesia

Silesia Historic region in e central Europe, now mostly lying in sw Poland, with the remainder in n Czech Republic and se Germany. A former Polish province, it passed from Poland to Bohemia in the 14th century, became part of the Habsburg empire, and was seized by Prussia from Austria in 1742. In World War 2, it was invaded by the Soviet Union, but in 1945 a greater part of the land returned to Poland by the terms of the Potsdam Conference. Upper Silesia is primarily an industrial region of mining and metals, based around Katowice; Lower Silesia, with a milder climate, is more agricultural.

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Silesia

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