views updated May 18 2018


SAXONY. The rise of Saxony dates from 1423, when the Holy Roman emperor Sigismund gave the electorate and duchy of Saxony to Margrave Frederick of Meissen of the Wettin dynasty. The gift was consequential, unifying the regions of Thuringia and Saxony under the House of Wettin. In return, the strengthened Wettin princes were to guard the Bohemian border during the Hussite wars and protect the Holy Roman Empire's northeastern frontier against the Ottoman Empire. Saxony also possessed parts of the province of Meissen, of the Vogtland, of the Ore Mountains, and that portion of Franconia south of Schwarzburg.


The elector of Saxony was one of seven princes with constitutional authority to elect new emperors and was also the imperial vicar and president of the Imperial Council of Regency, making him second only to the emperor in terms of constitutional power within the empire. Saxon rulers, possessing lucrative salt and mineral mining rights, became financially powerful in the early modern era. This wealth, combined with the Wettins' ability to integrate lesser nobles and cities into their territorial system, made them the strongest of all north German princes by the late fifteenth century. Saxony's location on the northeastern fringe of the empire protected it from direct imperial and papal influence; indeed, the emperor and pope relied on Saxony to guard the Bohemian border.

Saxony was divided in 1485 by the ducal brothers Albert and Ernest. The partition left the dynasty in a perilous condition but can be explained by the fact that fifteenth-century princes regarded their lands as patrimonies and tended not to think territorially. The major towns in Albertine Saxony included Dresden, Leipzig, and Freiberg. Important towns located in the Ernestine portion included Zwickau, Torgau, and Wittenberg. During the sixteenth century none of these achieved a population over ten thousand. Because the electoral title was attached to the possession of territory around Wittenberg, the Ernestine branch retained (until 1547) the electoral dignity. Both lines passed laws that guaranteed the indivisibility of their domains and the succession of the eldest son. Neither line, however, was able to create an enclosed state. Contained within Saxon borders were a plethora of independent territories. These included the domains of the counts of Henneberg, Schwarzburg, and Mansfeld, the city of Erfurt, imperial abbeys, powerful monasteries, and wealthy bishoprics. Indeed, Lutheran visitation committees sent out in the 1520s to consolidate the Reformation often had to ask peasants whether their village lay within Saxony.

Ernestine Electors John the Constant (ruled 15251532), and his son, John Frederick the Magnanimous (ruled 15321547; died 1554), were devoted Lutherans who exercised less caution in the religious-political realm than had their predecessor Frederick the Wise (ruled 14861525), the elector famed for protecting Luther. At the Imperial Diet of Augsburg (1530), electoral Saxony led a group that presented a summary of Lutheran religious beliefs that is now called the Augsburg Confession. The inability of this diet to resolve religious differences and the perceived threat to national institutions within the empire encouraged John the Constant to form the Schmalkaldic League in 1531. This "defensive" league consolidated the gains of the Lutheran movement.

During the time of the league's ascendancy, the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, had been preoccupied with external dangers presented by the Turks and by France. Peace with France (1544) and the Turks (1545), combined with a grant of money and troops from Rome, allowed Charles to confront the Protestant threat. In June 1546, Duke Maurice of Albertine Saxony, himself Lutheran, committed his domain and forces to the imperial cause against his cousin and rival. The decisive battle of the Schmalkaldic War (15461547), fought in April 1547 at Mühlberg, resulted in defeat for the league. The Wittenberg Capitulation (May 1547) transferred most of the Ernestine lands, and the electoral dignity, to Maurice. The Ernestine line was left scant territory around Weimar, Gotha, Eisenach, and Coburg, and a ducal title. Charles's decision to preserve the Ernestine line and his annexation of certain Wettin territories from Electoral Saxony indicated the rise of imperial might and foreshadowed the decline of Electoral Saxony as a political force.

In 1618 Elector John George I rejected approaches to become king of Bohemia. He continued instead a policy of helping the emperor maintain the empire's constitutional foundation, seeking to preserve his power as elector. As war loomed, John George, an enemy of Calvinism, pledged Saxony's support to the Catholic emperor. The first phase of the Thirty Years' War resulted in a persecution of Protestants throughout the empire. Though Saxony absorbed nearly 150,000 Bohemian refugees who had been forced into exile, its position within the Protestant world was compromised. In 1631 Saxony and Sweden allied against the empire, resulting in an invasion of Saxony. After a devastating defeat at Nördlingen, Saxony made peace with the empire in 1635. Saxony was not spared: until 1648 Swedish armies used it as their base and plundered it.

The Peace of Westphalia (1648) created a system that encouraged rivalries of power, and Saxony was quickly eclipsed by Austria, Bavaria, and Prussia. Both Frederick Augustus I (Augustus the Strong; ruled 16941733) and Frederick Augustus II (ruled 17331763) realized Saxony had to expand outside Germany to survive; each had himself elected king of Poland in an unsuccessful effort to broaden the Wettin dynasty's lands. The Saxon-Polish union did not elevate Saxony's power; rather, its economy declined due to the cost of assuming the Polish crown twice and of establishing a permanent standing army. Saxony's involvement in eighteenth-century conflicts like the Seven Years' War exposed its military frailty and contributed to further decline. Under the regency of Maria Antonia (17631768) and during the reign of Frederick Augustus III (17631827), Saxony benefited from enlightened reforms, fiscal responsibility, and a prudent foreign policy based on maintaining deferential relations toward greater powers.


Between 1300 and 1600 Saxony had a diversified and robust economy. Mining, metallurgy, and smelting were crucial industries. Cobalt, tin, zinc, bituminous coal, iron, silverall indispensable commoditieswere mined in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge). Copper was plentiful in parts of Thuringia, as was iron ore in eastern Saxony. The growing mining industry absorbed workers, sparing Saxony the destabilizing effects of the fifteenth century's rapid population growth. Sixteen new towns with populations over five thousand were founded in this era. A significant smelting industry existed in the Thuringian Forest. Merchants from southern Germany's wealthy cities were eager to invest in Saxony; the Fuggers of Augsburg established an important foundry at Georgenthal and a smeltery at Hohenkirchen. Lucrative salt mining operations also existed in Thuringia. Because mining in Saxony did not depend on a single mineral, the boom receded slowly.

Textile manufacturing provided another crucial segment of Saxony's economy. An internationally important flax and linen industry developed in southern Saxony, centered around Chemnitz. Over three hundred villages in Saxon-controlled Thuringia specialized in cultivating woad, a plant from which a valuable blue dye was extracted. These towns enjoyed a woad monopoly and, as a result, they prospered economically. A highly developed woolen industry also contributed to Saxony's economic strength. Moreover, Saxony was advantageously situated at the center of international trade routes. Leipzig emerged by the sixteenth century as the principal entrepôt in central Europe and hosted numerous international fairs. One of Europe's largest international cattle markets took place at Buttstädt.

Several factors allowed Saxony to limit the social unrest that befell other parts of Germany in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Though impartible inheritance was practiced east of the Saxon Saale River, the mining boom minimized the economic difficulties that this custom generated elsewhere. Labor-intensive viticulture along the Elbe River around Meissen and along the Unstrut River also absorbed excess population. Saxony thus suffered less from the strains of overpopulation than did other German parts of the empire. The Wettin lords successfully subordinated local nobles into a network of territorial estates, forestalling potential rivalries, and concurrently expanding the state's administrative apparatus in the countryside. Saxony also benefited from an "intermediary" system of landlordship, one based on both wage labor from free peasants and forced labor services performed on large demesnes. This unique form of landlordship kept the organization of rural communes at a rudimentary level and served to mitigate conflicts associated with the "crisis of feudalism." With the noteworthy exception of mining areas in Thuringia and the Ore Mountains, Saxony escaped the violence generated by the Peasants' War of 15241525 and avoided the rural unrest that plagued Upper Germany after 1570.


Saxony possessed impressive educational institutions: influential universities at Leipzig (1409), Wittenberg (1502), and Jena (1588); a number of remarkable secondary schools (Lateinschulen) for the privileged and gifted; and, after the Reformation, schools throughout the land to teach every boy and girl reading and writing. Leipzig also was an early center for book publishing (1480s) and for book trading. Humanist circles, encouraged by Duke George of Albertine Saxony (reigned 15001539) and Elector Frederick the Wise, emerged in Leipzig and Wittenberg. Thinkers such as Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Agricola made Saxony a leading center for humanism in Germany. All these factors were instrumental in making Saxony the birthplace of the Reformation and the home to its crucial events. Early modern Saxony's contribution to world culture cannot be underestimated: Lucas Cranach, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and Johann Gottfried von Herder were either born in Saxon lands or developed their talents within them.

See also Augsburg ; Augustus II the Strong (Saxony and Poland) ; Bach Family ; Cranach Family ; Dresden ; Handel, George Frideric ; Herder, Johann Gottfried von ; Holy Roman Empire ; Humanists and Humanism ; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm ; Leipzig ; Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim ; Luther, Martin ; Lutheranism ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Reformation, Protestant ; Schmalkaldic War (15461547) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) ; Universities ; Westphalia, Peace of (1648) .


Blaschke, Karlheinz. Sachsen im Zeitalter der Reformation. Gütersloh, 1970.

Gagliardo, John G. Germany under the Old Regime: 1600 1790. London and New York, 1991.

Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany. The Reformation. Princeton, 1959.

Hughes, Michael. Early Modern Germany: 14771806. Philadelphia, 1992.

Karant-Nunn, Susan C. Zwickau in Transition, 15001547: The Reformation as an Agent of Change. Columbus, Ohio, 1987.

Scott, Tom. Society and Economy in Germany, 13001600. New York, 2002.

Wilson, Peter H. The Holy Roman Empire, 14951806. New York, 1999.

James Goodale


views updated May 21 2018


SAXONY (Ger. Sachsen ), state in Germany, formerly an electorate and kingdom. Information about the first Jewish settlers in Saxony dates back to the tenth century. During the rule of the German emperor Otto i (936–973), Jews lived in the towns of *Magdeburg, *Halle, *Erfurt, and *Merseburg, among other places. Up to the end of the 12th century they were able to earn their living, primarily as merchants, without interference. In the 13th century, following persecutions during the Crusades and accusations of ritual murder (see *blood libel), the position of the Jews deteriorated. According to the medieval German law code Sachsenspiegel (1220–1235; see *Germany), Jews were not allowed to carry arms, build new synagogues, or keep Christian servants, nor could they hold any public office. They were not allowed to appear as witnesses or call Christian witnesses, and were thus entirely at the court's mercy. However, since the economic activities of the Jews were of interest to the margraves of Saxony, many of these restrictions were abolished as early as the middle of the 13th century and were replaced by more liberal regulations. Jews were allowed to have their tribunals and to be landowners. As may be gathered from the responsa literature and from the medieval chronicles, there was already a busy community life in those early days. The communities were collectively responsible to the authorities. A meeting at Erfurt in 1391 was attended by rabbis and community elders. Among famous talmudic scholars who resided in the communities of Saxony were *Asher b. Jehiel (the "Rosh") and *Isaac b. Moses of Vienna ("Or Zaru'a"). During the *Rindfleisch persecutions (1298), Jews in the southern cities of Saxony were affected. The large-scale persecutions and expulsions from German cities at the time of the *Black Death (1348–50) also affected the communities in Saxony.

Community life in most cities was renewed, but on a diminished scale. Moneylending had become the main occupation of the Jews, who were hard hit by the debt cancellations of Emperor Wenceslaus (1378–1400). The 15th century witnessed the expulsion of Jews from most of the cities – Erfurt (1458), Halle (1493), Aschersleben (1494), and Torgau (1432). The expulsions of *Meissen (1430), and of the 16th century from Merseburg (1514), *Zwickau, Plauen, and *Muehlhausen (1541–43) were more strictly enforced, due to the militant anti-Jewish spirit of the Protestant Reformation in Saxony. However, a few Jews were tolerated – such as Meister Baruch, the physician of the rulers Ernst (1464–85) and Albert iii (1485–1500) – who, together with his two sons, received special permission to engage in moneylending. In the 16th century there were complaints about the economic activity of foreign Jews, who were mainly attracted by the Saxon silver mines. The government and the municipal authorities took steps to ensure that the presence of Jews at the Leipzig fairs should be temporary and limited to the duration of the fairs.

The first Jew to receive a Schutzbrief (see *Schutzjuden) in Saxony was Behrend *Lehmann, the *Court Jew of Elector Frederick Augustus i (the Strong; 1694–1733); in 1710 Lehmann preferred to remain in *Halberstadt, while his cousin, Jonas Meyer, and his son settled as his agents in *Dresden, the capital. In 1723 they maintained households, numbering 30 and 40 respectively, to the annoyance of the burghers. The Jewish community of *Leipzig was founded in 1710 by Gerd Levi, court purveyor to the mint.

Frederick Augustus ii (1733–63) in the year of his accession abolished the *Leibzoll for the Jews passing through Saxony on business. His prime minister, Heinrich von Bruehl, was very partial to court Jews fulfilling various economic functions (military contractors, purveyors to the mint, etc.). As Frederick Augustus was, like his father, king of Poland as well, many of the court Jews originated in Poland. The *Kaskel (Kaskele) family, court Jews, bankers, and financiers, originally from Poland, played a central economic role in Saxony in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Frederick Augustus iii (1768–1827), elector and first king of Saxony, promulgated a restrictive Judenordnung (regulation concerning Jews) in 1772. Saxon Jewry thus remained numerically static throughout the following decades; an increase during the Napoleonic wars proved to be only temporary. The number of Jews in Dresden in 1800 (1,031) was halved by 1815. In 1832 there were 852 Jews in the kingdom, 712 in Dresden and 140 in Leipzig. The struggle for emancipation was led by Bernhard *Beer and W.T. *Krug. In 1834 Jews were allowed to learn trades and live outside Dresden proper, while Jewish affairs were placed under the supervision of the ministry of religion and education. Further slight improvements were effected in 1837 and 1838. In 1840 the Jewish *oath was amended, partially due to the urging of the *LandrabbinerZacharias *Frankel (1836–1854). Full equality was obtained during the 1848 Revolution, only to be repealed in 1851. It was not until 1868 and 1869 that Jews attained full legal equality. The number of Jews increased slowly from 1,022 in 1849 (0.05% of the total population) to 1,555 in 1861 and 3,346 in 1871 (0.13%). After emancipation their number leaped to 6,616 in 1880 (0.22%), 12,378 in 1900, and 17,587 in 1910 (0.53%). This increase, due in large part to immigration from Austria (Galicia) and Russia (Poland) and rapid industrialization in Saxony, had serious repercussions. Antisemites raised a cry against inundation by Ostjuden, while there was friction within the Jewish communities too. In 1925 there were 23,200 (0.46%, half the German average), with 5,120 in Leipzig, 5,120 in Dresden, and 2,796 in Chemnitz (*Karl-Marx-Stadt). Rural communities were nonexistent. Anti-Jewish sentiment was expressed in anti-*sheḥitah laws and the exclusion of Jews from the civil service. The only Jew elected to the Landtag was Emil *Lehmann, leader of the Dresden community. In October 1938 thousands of Polish Jews were expelled; on November 9–10 the synagogues were burned down, and thousands more Jews emigrated after pogroms and arrests. The remainder were deported to concentration camps. After the war new communities arose in Leipzig, Dresden, and Karl-Marx-Stadt (renamed Chemnitz in 1990). In 1945 the three communities had 563 members. The membership declined continuously. They numbered 214 in 1969; 169 in 1976; and 106 in 1989. After 1990 the membership increased due to the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. In 1992 the Association of Jewish Communities in Saxony was founded as an umbrella organization of the communities in Dresden, Leipzig, and Chemnitz. They numbered 232 in 1994 and 2,314 in 2004. The association employs a rabbi who officiates in the three communities.


K. Sidori (pseud. of I. Kaim), Geschichte der Juden in Sachsen (1840); A. Levy, Geschichte der Juden in Sachsen (1900); S. Neufeld, in: mgwj, 69 (1925), 283–95; idem, in: aujw (Jan. 21, 1966); idem, Die Juden im thueringisch-saechsichen Gebiet waehrend des Mittelalters (1917–27); J. Segall, in: Zeitschrift fuer Demographie und Statistik der Juden, 10 (1914), 33–46; H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 2 (1954), 167–292; Kisch, Germany, index; S. Stern, The Court Jew (1950), index. add. bibliography: Germania Judaica, vol, 3, 1350–1514 (1987), 2063–73; Juden in Sachsen. Ihr Leben und Leiden (1994); S. Hoeppner and M. Jahn, Juedische Vereine und Organisationen in Chemnitz, Dresden und Leipzig 19181933 (1997); U. Offenberg, "Seid vorsichtig gegen die Machthaber," in: Die juedischen Gemeinden in der sbz und der ddr 19451990 (1998), 50–56; F. Specht, Zwischen Ghetto und Selbstbehauptung. Musikalisches Leben der Juden in Sachsen 19331941 (2000); C. Wustmann, "Geschichte juedischer Sozialarbeit in Sachsen," in: G. Stecklina (ed.), Juedische Sozialarbeit in Deutschland (2000), 49–99.

[Reuven Michael /

Larissa Daemmig (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 08 2018


Saxony emerged as a leading state in northeastern Germany during the Renaissance. In 1423 the Holy Roman Emperor* Sigismund awarded the duchy* of Saxony-Wittenberg to Frederick of Meissen and Thuringia. In 1485 the duchy was split between Frederick's grandsons into Ernestine Saxony, which carried the title of elector*, and Albertine Saxony. This lasting division created complicated boundaries that would prove troublesome in the future.

At first Ernestine Saxony, centered in Wittenberg, overshadowed Albertine Saxony, based in Dresden. Under Elector Frederick III, "the Wise", Saxony-Wittenberg prospered and gained influence in the Holy Roman Empire. In 1502 Frederick founded a new university in Wittenberg that welcomed humanist* scholars and attracted an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther. Although not a humanist, Luther used humanist techniques to study the Bible. His studies led him to become a strong critic of Scholasticism, a movement endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church that blended Christian teachings with ancient philosophy. In October 1517, Luther launched the Protestant Reformation* with his famous Ninety-five Theses. The Greek scholar Philipp Melanchthon, one of Luther's most important supporters, was an educational reformer who turned the university into a humanistic school.

Frederick and his successors protected Luther's movement from the decrees of the church and Emperor Charles V and made Ernestine Saxony the center of the Reformation. The Lutheran Reformation did not gain any ground in Albertine Saxony until the rule of Duke Henry V (1539–1541). Henry's son Maurice continued to promote church reform but declined to join the Protestant Schmalkaldic League. When the league went to war with Charles V, Maurice sided with the emperor. The victorious Charles rewarded Maurice by turning over to him most of Ernestine Saxony.

Maurice and Charles soon fell out over the emperor's failure to live up to his promises. Maurice then formed a secret alliance with King Henry II of France and attacked Charles, setting off a rebellion of German princes in 1552. Charles was forced to sign a treaty and give up some of his political and religious goals. By this time, Dresden had replaced Wittenberg as the seat of power in Saxony, and Albertine Saxony had emerged as the leading Protestant state in the empire.

Saxony reached its peak under Maurice's brother, Elector August I (ruled 1553–1586). Leipzig became a center of arts, and Wittenberg was recognized as the stronghold of Lutheranism. By the early 1600s, however, Saxony was losing influence. Elector John George switched sides several times in the course of the Thirty Year's War (1618–1648), and Saxony was devastated during the last years of fighting. After the war, Brandenburg, not Saxony, emerged as the leading state in northern Germany.

(See alsoHoly Roman Empire; Protestant Reformation. )

* Holy Roman Emperor

ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806

* duchy

territory ruled by a duke or duchess

* elector

German prince with a vote in choosing the Holy Roman Emperor

* humanist

referring to a Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living

* 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


views updated Jun 11 2018


A medieval duchy of northern Germany whose leaders, since 1356, had the privilege of taking part in the election of the Holy Roman Emperors. In 1422, the Wettin dynasty was established by Margrave Frederick II. During the sixteenth century, Saxony became a hotbed of Protestant activism, and the Saxon elector Frederick III extended his protection to Martin Luther, the monk who founded the Protestant movement in Germany. After Luther's open declaration of a radical new doctrine in the Ninety-five Theses, he was summoned to Rome by the pope to answer for his heresy. Frederick intervened, however, and the pope relented, also granting Luther safe passage to the Diet of Worms and sheltered at the Wittenberg Castle. Protestantism first took hold in Saxony under Frederick's successor John, who ordered Luther's new doctrine to be preached in his domains and formed the Schmalkaldic League to defend Saxony against the very Catholic emperor Charles V. John's successor John Frederick was defeated at the Battle of Mühlberg in 1547. Protestantism triumphed in Saxony, however, when Lutheranism became the official religion in the early seventeenth century and all other faiths were banned. Renaissance architects raised new palaces and churches in the capital city of Dresden, and the State Library founded in 1556 became the finest collection in Germany, gathering books and manuscripts from Europe, Asia, and the Ottoman domains.

See Also: Luther, Martin; Prussia; Reformation, Protestant


views updated May 23 2018

Saxony Federal state and historic region in e central Germany; the capital is Dresden. Initially it referred to the homeland of the Saxons in nw Germany. It then successively became a Duchy, a collection of fiefdoms, an electoral region, a Duchy again, and finally (1815–71) comprised the Prussian Province of Saxony and the Kingdom of Saxony. After 1945, the Province of Saxony was united with Anhalt to form the state of Saxony-Anhalt with Magdeburg as its capital. From 1871 to 1918, the Kingdom of Saxony was part of the German Empire. In the aftermath of World War I, the kingdom was made a state of the Weimar Republic, with Dresden as its capital. After World War 2, it joined the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Following German reunification in 1991, it became a state in the Federal Republic of Germany. Area: 18,409 sq km (7106 sq mi). Pop. (1999 est.) 4,459,686.