BRANDENBURG. Brandenburg's importance stems from its position within the Holy Roman Empire and its association with Prussia and the Hohenzollern dynasty. The area that later became known as Brandenburg was conquered from the Slavs in 928, but was only loosely involved in imperial politics until the ruling Ascanian dynasty died out in 1320. Under imperial law, Brandenburg now reverted to the emperor's control, and it was entrusted first to the Wittelsbachs and then to the Luxembourgs as these families successively held the imperial title. Both used it to support their imperial ambitions, resulting in Brandenburg's elevation to an electorate in 1356, permitting its rulers to participate in the choice of all future emperors. As Luxembourg imperial rule crumbled in 1415, Emperor Sigismund gave Brandenburg to Frederick, burgrave of Nuremberg, who became Frederick I, elector and margrave of Brandenburg, initiating over five centuries of Hohenzollern rule.
Brandenburg covered 14,780 square miles (38,280 square kilometers) in northeastern Germany, and was divided into five "marches," or provinces. The Altmark lay west of the Elbe River and had its administrative center in the town of Stendal. The central Mittelmark stretched east from the Elbe to the Oder River and included the major towns of Berlin-Cölln, Frankurt/Oder and Brandenburg itself. The province of Pregnitz was to the northwest as far as the border with Mecklenburg and was governed from Perleberg. The Uckermark extended eastwards from Prignitz between the Mittelmark and the duchy of Pomerania and had its capital in Prenzlau. The fifth province, Neumark, lay east of the Oder and had few towns apart from the fortress of Küstrin (Kostrzyn).
The entire area was known as the "sandbox of the empire" because of its poor soil, which sustained only 250,000 inhabitants even by the mid-seventeenth century. Thanks to intensified land use and economic development, such as the digging of canals to improve riverine transportation to the Baltic and the North Sea, the population increased considerably in the eighteenth century, reaching 980,000. The people lived in 83 towns and 1,967 villages. One third of the latter were under the direct jurisdiction of the ruler and provided much of his total revenue. While urban magistrates exercised jurisdiction over a few of the other villages, most were controlled by the Brandenburg nobility who also dominated the territory's Estates, or representative assembly. Both the elector and the nobles introduced the manorial economy (Gutswirtschaft) from the early sixteenth century onwards, binding their dependent peasants to the land and requiring them to work two or more days a week on large fields of rye to produce cash crops for export to western European cities. While still profitable, this economy was reaching its natural limits by 1626 when it was plunged into deep crisis by Brandenburg's involvement in the Thirty Years' War. Berlin's population fell by 40 percent and that of the countryside by between 20 and 90 percent, depending on the region. Historians used to think that this situation uniformly benefited the nobility, who were able to create larger farms by seizing abandoned land. In fact, the shortage of labor increased the bargaining power of the surviving peasants, who demanded improved conditions, including wages for their obligatory work on their landlords' fields. The nobles were in a weak position when they negotiated with Elector Frederick William I, known as the "Great Elector" (ruled 1640–1688), at the territorial assembly in 1653. The resulting agreement, the Brandenburg Recess, confirmed rather than extended aristocratic power over serf labor in return for significant concessions to the elector, who ruthlessly consolidated his power over the next two decades.
The elector and his successors continued to protect the peasants against lordly exploitation, but their interest was primarily fiscal rather than humanitarian. They wanted a stable economic base of viable taxpayers, and they simply diverted profits from the lords' pockets into their own treasury. The economy remained depressed because of renewed warfare after 1655. It recovered slowly from the 1680s, and the population returned to its pre-1618 level by 1713. The nobles derived only limited benefit from these developments, because the Hohenzollerns imposed a form of limited conscription, known as the canton system, by 1733, taking regular drafts of peasants to maintain their inflated military establishment.
Many nobles were reconciled by court, military, and administrative appointments that provided alternative sources of wealth and prestige. However, others continued to oppose Hohenzollern absolutism, not least because of Brandenburg's experience of the Reformation. Lutheranism arrived relatively late, in 1535, and was not fully accepted until the reign of John George (ruled 1571–1598), who secularized church property and introduced church ordinances modeled on those of Saxony to the south. This reflected Brandenburg's junior status in imperial politics where the elector generally followed the lead of his more prestigious Saxon colleague. Elector John Sigismund (ruled 1608–1619) announced a radical new course by converting to Calvinism on Christmas Day 1613. Having only recently adopted Lutheranism, few Brandenburg nobles were prepared to follow the elector's lead, and Calvinism remained restricted to those most closely associated with the electoral family. Unsure of his position at home, the elector abandoned his support for Calvinists elsewhere in the empire and swung behind Saxony's policy of neutrality during the Thirty Years' War. By the time circumstances forced Brandenburg into the war, the electorate was linked dynastically to Prussia, and its subsequent political history is more appropriately discussed under that heading.
Baumgart, Peter, ed. Ständetum und Staatsbildung in Brandenburg-Preußen. Berlin and New York, 1983.
Enders, Lieselott. "Die Landgemeinde in Brandenburg: Grundzüge ihrer Funktion und Wirkungsweise vom 13. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert." Blätter für Deutsche Landesgeschichte 129 (1993): 195–256.
Fürbringer, Christoph. Necessitas und Libertas. Staatsbildung und Landstände im 17. Jahrhundert in Brandenburg. Frankfurt am Main, 1985.
Göse, Frank, ed. Im Schatten der Krone: Die Mark Brandenburg um 1700. Potsdam, 2002.
Hagen, William W. Ordinary Prussians. Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers 1500–1840. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2002.
——. "Seventeenth-Century Crisis in Brandenburg. The Thirty Years War, the Destabilization of Serfdom, and the Rise of Absolutism." American Historical Review 94 (1989): 302–335.
Materna, Ingo, and Wolfgang Ribbe, eds. Brandenburgische Geschichte. Berlin, 1995.
Nischan, Bodo. Prince, People and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg. Philadelphia, 1994.
Pröve, Ralf, and Bernd Kölling, eds. Leben und Arbeiten auf märkischen Sand. Bielefeld, 1999.
Schultze, Johannes. Die Mark Brandenburg. 5 vols. Berlin, 1961–1969.
Peter H. Wilson
During the Renaissance, Brandenburg was an independent state within the Holy Roman Empire*. It played a central role in the religious conflicts that divided Europe during the Protestant Reformation*. Although at first Brandenburg's rulers defended Roman Catholicism against reformers, they ended by adopting and modifying Protestant beliefs and practices.
Brandenburg and the Catholic Church. Brandenburg gained its independence in 1417. Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund gave control of the region to his lieutenant, Frederick of Hohenzollern. Frederick received the title of elector, which passed to his descendants after his death.
The state first became involved in the religious conflict sweeping across Europe under the rule of Joachim I, Frederick's great-grandson. Joachim and his brother, Albert II, were both fiercely opposed to Martin Luther and his movement to reform the Roman Catholic Church. In 1525 the brothers joined the Anti-Lutheran League, an alliance of political leaders against Luther. When Joachim I died later that year, his territory was divided between two sons. He had hoped that one of them would remain loyal to the Catholic Church.
Joachim's younger son, John of Küstrin, embraced Luther's views in 1537. His brother, Joachim II, was more cautious. He hoped a church council could work out a compromise between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. Pressured by his subjects, he finally declared his support for Luther in 1539. However, he insisted that Brandenburg's church maintain many of the ceremonies and practices of Catholicism. Because of this arrangement, Brandenburg gained the approval of both Luther and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. It was the only German Protestant church to do so.
Further Reforms. John George, the son of Joachim II, inherited both parts of Brandenburg from his father and his uncle. In 1577 he signed the Formula of Concord, which officially established the Lutheran church in Brandenburg. This offended members of other Protestant groups, such as the Reformed church of John Calvin.
John George's successors moved Brandenburg toward Calvinism. In 1613 the elector John Sigismund publicly converted to the Reformed church. This shift, known as the "Second Reformation," made Brandenburg the leading Calvinist state in Germany. However, most of the country remained faithful to Lutheranism. Conflicts with members of the aristocracy* forced John Sigismund to weaken his reforms.
Brandenburg suffered heavy losses during the Thirty Years' War, a series of conflicts in central Europe between 1618 and 1648. However, Brandenburg recovered its influence during the late 1600s, and by the end of the century it had become the leading Protestant state in the empire.
- * Holy Roman Empire
political body in central Europe composed of several states; existed until 1806
- * Protestant Reformation
religious movement that began in the 1500s as a protest against certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church and eventually led to the establishment of a variety of Protestant churches
- * aristocracy
privileged upper classes of society; nobles or the nobility
BRANDENBURG , German province. The earliest Jewish community in the mark of Brandenburg was established in Stendal before 1267. In 1297, it received a liberal grant of privileges which served as the model for the other communities there. Most of the communities (*Berlin, Pritzwalk, Salzwedel, Spandau, *Frankfurt on the Oder) maintained synagogues but few had rabbis. A liberal charter, granted to the Jews in Neumark in 1344, was later extended to the Jews of the mark of Brandenburg (1420, 1440). The Jews were not restricted to a specific quarter in the cities of the mark and were often granted rights of citizenship. Many of the communities were annihilated during the *Black Death (1349–50). The Jews were expelled from the area in 1446, but permitted to return a year later. Exorbitant taxes were levied in 1473 which only 40 Jews were able to pay. In 1510 a charge of desecrating the *Host developed into a mass trial in which 38 Jews were burned at the stake and the remaining 400 to 500 Jews expelled. Elector Joachim ii (1535–71) permitted Jews to trade in Brandenburg (1539) and to settle there (1543) after discovering that the accusations were groundless. The favor he showed toward his *Court JewsMichel *Jud and *Lippold was greatly resented. On Joachim's death anti-Jewish riots broke out and the Jews were again driven out. Jews expelled from *Vienna in 1670 were permitted to settle in Brandenburg, then part of Prussia. The Jewish population in the province of Brandenburg, excluding Berlin, numbered 2,967 in 1816; 12,835 in 1861 (an increase mainly due to emigration from Poland); and 8,442 in 1925. After World War ii, few Jews lived in the area. In the Land Brandenburg there were 162 Jews in 1989 and 1,028 in 2003, mostly in Potsdam.
The City of Brandenburg
Jews are mentioned in the city at the end of the 13th century. In 1322 they owned a synagogue and several private houses. Despite the sufferings caused by the Black Death, their numbers increased during the second half of the 14th century; the privilege accorded to them by Elector Frederick ii in 1444 mentions their "weakness and poverty." In 1490 mention is made of a Jewish street and in 1490–97 of a Jewish cemetery ("kiffer," a corruption of the Hebrew kever). The Host desecration libel in 1510 led to the execution of Solomon b. Jacob and other Jews of Brandenburg (see above). In 1710 five Jewish families with residential rights were living in the city. A community was organized in 1729. It acquired a prayer hall and two cemeteries (1720, 1747). The Jewish population numbered 21 families in 1801 (104 persons; out of the total population of 10,280); 18 families in 1813; 130 persons in 1840; 209 in 1880; and 469 in 1925. It had declined to 253 by 1939 and came to an end during World War ii. The Jewish community was not reestablished after the war.
Germ Jud, 2 (1968), 105–6; A. Ackermann, Geschichte der Juden in Brandenburg an der Havel (1906); Handbuch der juedischen Gemeindeverwaltung (1926–27), 10; H. Heise, Die Juden in der Mark Brandenburg bis zum Jahre 1571 (1932). add. bibliography: I. Diekmann (ed.), Wegweiser durch das juedische Brandenburg (1995); E. Herzfeld, Juden in Brandenburg-Preussen (2001); E. Weiss, Die nationalsozialistische Judenverfolgung in der Provinz Brandenburg (2003).