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(prŭsh`ə), Ger. Preussen, former state, the largest and most important of the German states. BerlinBerlin
, city (1994 pop. 3,475,400), capital of Germany, coextensive with Berlin state (341 sq mi/883 sq km), NE Germany, on the Spree and Havel rivers. Formerly divided into East Berlin (156 sq mi/404 sq km) and West Berlin (185 sq mi/479 sq km), the city was reunified along
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 was the capital. The chief member of the German Empire (1871–1918) and a state of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Prussia occupied more than half of all Germany and the major part of N Germany. Before 1919 it consisted of 13 provinces: Berlin, BrandenburgBrandenburg
, state (1994 est. pop. 2,540,000), c.10,400 sq mi (26,940 sq km), E Germany. Potsdam is the capital; other leading cities include Cottbus, Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, and Brandenburg.
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, East PrussiaEast Prussia,
Ger. Ostpreussen, former province of Prussia, extreme NE Germany. The region of East Prussia has low rolling hills that are heavily wooded, and it is dotted by many lakes (especially in Masuria) and drained by several rivers including the Nemen (Nieman).
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 (separated after 1919 from the rest of Prussia by the Polish CorridorPolish Corridor,
strip of German territory awarded to newly independent Poland by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The strip, 20 to 70 mi (32–112 km) wide, gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea.
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), HanoverHanover
, Ger. Hannover, former independent kingdom and former province of Germany; Lower Saxony, NW Germany. Very irregular in outline, Hanover stretched from the Dutch border and the North Sea in the northwest to the Harz Mts. in the southeast.
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, Hesse-Nassau (see HesseHesse
, Ger. Hessen, state (1994 pop. 5,800,000), 8,150 sq mi (24,604 sq km), central Germany. Wiesbaden is the capital. It is bounded by Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in the south, Rhineland-Palatinate in the west, North Rhine–Westphalia and Lower Saxony in
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), HohenzollernHohenzollern,
former province of Germany. After 1945 it became part of the temporary state of Württemberg-Hohenzollern, which was included in the state of Baden-Württemberg in 1952. Its chief city was Sigmaringen, located in a mountainous region of the Swabian Jura.
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 (a Prussian enclave between Württemberg and Baden in SW Germany), PomeraniaPomerania
, region of N central Europe, extending along the Baltic Sea from a line W of Stralsund, Germany, to the Vistula River in Poland. From 1919 to 1939, Pomerania was divided among Germany, Poland, and the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk).
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, Rhine ProvinceRhine Province,
Ger. Rheinprovinz, former province of Prussia, W Germany. The province was also known as Rhenish Prussia and as the Rhineland. The northern section of the former province (which contained part of the industrial Ruhr district) is now included in the state
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, SaxonySaxony
, Ger. Sachsen, Fr. Saxe, state (1994 pop. 4,901,000), 7,078 sq mi (18,337 sq km), E central Germany. Dresden is the capital. In its current form, Saxony is a federal state of Germany, with its pre–World War II borders reinstated as of Oct., 1990.
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, Schleswig-HolsteinSchleswig-Holstein
, state (1994 pop. 2,595,000), c.6,050 sq mi (15,670 sq km), NW Germany. Kiel (the capital and chief port), Lübeck, Flensburg, and Neumünster are the major cities.
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, Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia, and WestphaliaWestphalia
, Ger. Westfalen, region and former province of Prussia, W Germany. Münster was the capital of the province. After 1945 the province was incorporated into the West German state of North Rhine–Westphalia, now a state in reunified Germany.
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. (Grenzmark Posen–West Prussia was sometimes considered a 14th province.) Prussia surrounded several smaller German states and stretched from the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in the west to those of Lithuania and Poland in the east, and from the Baltic Sea, Denmark, and the North Sea in the north to the Main River, the Thuringian Forest, and the Sudetes Mts. in the south.

The region that was Prussia is made up mainly of low-lying land, drained by several rivers, notably the Rhine; the Weser; the Oder; and the Elbe, which divided the state into roughly equal eastern and western parts. After Berlin, the largest cities of the area were Cologne, Breslau (Wrocław), Essen, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Dortmund, Magdeburg, and Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The region also included the gigantic industrial RuhrRuhr
, region, c.1,300 sq mi (3,370 sq km), North Rhine–Westphalia, W Germany; a principal manufacturing center of Germany. The Ruhr lies along, and north of, the Ruhr River (145 mi/233 km long), which rises in the hills of central Germany and flows generally west to the
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Industrially and politically the most prominent state of Germany prior to World War II, Prussia was partitioned among the four Allied occupation zones after 1945. In 1947 the Allied Control Council for Germany formally abolished the state of Prussia. This action not only confirmed an accomplished fact; it was also intended as a blow against the spirit of German militarism and aggression, long held to be connected with Prussia. Most of the former Prussian provinces became part of the new states of the Federal Republic of Germany and of the German Democratic Republic (now reunified). The USSR annexed the northern part of East Prussia; Poland acquired the rest of East Prussia, as well as all Prussian territory E of the Oder and Neisse rivers.


Growth of Brandenburg-Prussia

Prussia in its modern meaning came into existence only in 1701, when the elector of Brandenburg assumed the title "king in Prussia." Before then Prussia meant only the flat, sandy region later known as East Prussia (excluding the bishopric of ErmelandErmeland
, Ermland
, or Warmia
, historic region of East Prussia, extending far inland from the Baltic Sea. It was ceded to Poland in 1466 by the Teutonic Knights, passed to Prussia in 1772, and reverted to Poland after World War II.
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), separated from Brandenburg by a part of Poland (later known as West Prussia) and bordering on the Baltic Sea. The original inhabitants, the Borussi (or Prussians), were of Baltic stock. They were conquered and largely exterminated by the Teutonic KnightsTeutonic Knights
or Teutonic Order
, German military religious order founded (1190–91) during the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade. It was originally known as the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem.
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 in the 13th cent. The Knights effected the Germanization of Prussia.

Through the secularization (1525) of the domain of the Teutonic Order by the grand master Albert of BrandenburgAlbert of Brandenburg,
1490–1568, grand master of the Teutonic Knights (1511–25), first duke of Prussia (1525–68); grandson of Elector Albert Achilles of Brandenburg.
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, the domain became a hereditary duchy under Polish suzerainty, ruled by a branch of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Brandenburg. In 1618 the duchy of Prussia passed through inheritance to the elector of Brandenburg, and in 1660, by the treaty of OlivaOliva, Peace of
, 1660, treaty signed at Oliva (now a suburb of Gdańsk) by Poland and Sweden. John II of Poland renounced the theoretical claim of his line to the Swedish crown, which his father, Sigismund III, had in practice lost in 1599.
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, full independence from Polish suzerainty was confirmed to Frederick WilliamFrederick William,
known as the Great Elector,
1620–88, elector of Brandenburg (1640–88), son and successor of George William. At his accession the scattered lands of the Hohenzollern were devastated and depopulated by the Thirty Years War and occupied by
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, the Great Elector. In the course of the 17th cent. the electors of Brandenburg directed themselves westward, acquiring the duchy of ClevesCleves, duchy of,
former state, W Germany, on both sides of the lower Rhine, bordering on the Netherlands. Cleves was the capital. A county from late Carolingian times, it acquired (late 14th cent.) the county of Mark, in Westphalia, and in 1417 was made a duchy.
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, together with the counties of Mark and Ravensberg (1614) and the bishoprics of Minden, Magdeburg, and Halberstadt (1648). In the east, Brandenburg gained (1648) Farther (i.e., eastern) Pomerania, which connected it with the Baltic Sea but not with Prussia.

Rise of the Prussian State

The electorate with its dependencies had become a major German state by the end of the 17th cent., a position that it owed largely to the secularization of church lands during the Reformation (the major part of its new acquisitions had been ecclesiastic territory) and to its successful diplomacy at the Peace of Westphalia (1648). In 1701, Elector Frederick III had himself crowned "king in Prussia" at Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and styled himself King Frederick IFrederick I,
1657–1713, first king of Prussia (1701–13), elector of Brandenburg (1688–1713) as Frederick III. He succeeded his father, Frederick William the Great Elector, in Brandenburg.
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. He remained a prince of the Holy Roman Empire by virtue of his rank as margrave and elector of Brandenburg and his holdings within the empire, but not as king of Prussia, which lay outside the imperial boundaries. This technicality gave the kings of Prussia a measure of independence from the emperor not possessed by the other princes of the empire.

As a result of the Northern WarNorthern War,
1700–1721, general European conflict, fought in N and E Europe at the same time that the War of the Spanish Succession was fought in the west and the south.
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, Prussia gained (1720) the eastern part of Swedish Pomerania (including Stettin). In the following 20 years, however, King Frederick William IFrederick William I,
1688–1740, king of Prussia (1713–40), son and successor of Frederick I. He continued the administrative reforms and the process of centralization begun by Frederick William, the Great Elector, creating a strong, absolutist state.
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, the true creator of the Prussian state, avoided military ventures and used diplomacy in order to create a unified state. He fully developed the features that had distinguished Prussia since the time of the Great Elector. The army, necessary to defend Prussia's scattered lands, was also the chief force in unifying and shaping the state. In order to build a strong army in their relatively poor country, Prussia's rulers developed a government-controlled economy and an obedient central bureaucracy (the Generaldirektorium). The landed aristocrats, the Junkers, were brought into military and state service and in turn were left free to enserf their peasants.

Frederick William's successor, Frederick IIFrederick II
or Frederick the Great,
1712–86, king of Prussia (1740–86), son and successor of Frederick William I. Early Life

Frederick's coarse and tyrannical father despised the prince, who showed a taste for French art and literature and no
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, or Frederick the Great (reigned 1740–86), used the efficient military instrument bequeathed him by his father to enter upon a period of conquest. On a slim pretext (see SilesiaSilesia
, 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.
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) and without a declaration of war, he invaded (1740) Austrian territory, thus gaining the initiative in the War of the Austrian SuccessionAustrian Succession, War of the,
1740–48, general European war. Causes of the War

The war broke out when, on the strength of the pragmatic sanction of 1713, the Austrian archduchess Maria Theresa succeeded her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, as ruler
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 (1740–48). Acting with utter disregard for its allies, Prussia got out of the war in 1742 by the Treaty of Berlin, reentered it in 1744, and quit again in 1745 at the Treaty of Dresden. In both treaties Maria Theresa of Austria was forced to cede nearly all of Silesia to Prussia. Although it gained no additional territory in the Seven Years WarSeven Years War,
1756–63, worldwide war fought in Europe, North America, and India between France, Austria, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and (after 1762) Spain on the one side and Prussia, Great Britain, and Hanover on the other.
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 (1756–63), Prussia emerged from the war as the chief military power of the Continent. By the partition of Poland of 1772 (see Poland, partitions ofPoland, partitions of.
The basic causes leading to the three successive partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) that eliminated Poland from the map were the decay and the internal disunity of Poland and the emergence of its neighbors, Russia and Prussia, as leading European powers.
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) Prussia gained Pomerelia (except Danzig) and Ermeland. Pomerelia was organized into the province of West PrussiaWest Prussia,
Ger. Westpreussen, former province of Prussia, 9,867 sq mi (25,556 sq km), NE Germany, extending S from the Baltic Sea, between Pomerania on the west and East Prussia on the east. Danzig was the capital.
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, and the original Prussia became known as East Prussia.

Frederick was succeeded (1786) by Frederick William IIFrederick William II,
1744–97, king of Prussia (1786–97), nephew and successor of Frederick II (Frederick the Great). He had the power but lacked the ability of his distinguished predecessors.
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, who further added to Prussia by the partitions of Poland of 1793 and 1795. However, under his rule and that of his successor, Frederick William IIIFrederick William III,
1770–1840, king of Prussia (1797–1840), son and successor of Frederick William II. Well-intentioned but weak and vacillating, he endeavored to maintain neutrality in the Napoleonic Wars.
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 (1797–1840), Prussia underwent a period of eclipse as a result of the French Revolutionary WarsFrench Revolutionary Wars,
wars occurring in the era of the French Revolution and the beginning of the Napoleonic era, the decade of 1792–1802. The wars began as an effort to defend the Revolution and developed into wars of conquest under the empire.
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 and the wars of Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
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. Defeated by the French, Prussia withdrew from the antirevolutionary coalition in the Treaty of Basel (1795) and remained neutral until 1806. Its armies were crushed by Napoleon in the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt, and in 1807 Prussia had to accept the harsh Treaty of Tilsit, by which it lost all lands W of the Elbe and most of its share of Poland and became a virtual dependency of France.

Prussia was fortunate to possess, at this low ebb in its history, such able and energetic reformers as Karl vom und zum SteinStein, Karl, Freiherr vom und zum
, 1757–1831, Prussian statesman and reformer. Rising through the Prussian bureaucracy, he became minister of commerce (1804–7) but was dismissed by King Frederick William III for his attempts to increase the power of the heads of the
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, Karl August von HardenbergHardenberg, Karl August, Fürst von
, 1750–1822, Prussian administrator and diplomat, b. Hanover. After service for Hanover and Brunswick, he entered the Prussian service.
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, and Wilhelm von HumboldtHumboldt, Wilhelm, Freiherr von
, 1767–1835, German statesman and philologist; brother of Alexander von Humboldt. As Prussian minister of education (1809–10) he thoroughly reformed the school system, largely on the basis of the ideas of Pestalozzi, and he sent
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. These men helped transform Prussia into a progressive state by abolishing serfdom and nobiliary privileges, introducing agrarian and other social and economic reforms, and laying the groundwork for an exemplary system of universal education. Gerhard von ScharnhorstScharnhorst, Gerhard Johann David von
, 1755–1813, Prussian general. A Hanoverian army officer, military writer, and director of the war college, he entered Prussian service in 1801.
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 and August, Graf von GneisenauGneisenau, August, Graf Neithardt von
, 1760–1831, Prussian field marshal. In the Napoleonic Wars he fought at Jena (1806) and, as a major, won fame for his valiant defense of Kolberg.
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 at the same time put the Prussian army on a modern basis.

Prussia was forced to send auxiliary troops for Napoleon's 1812 campaign in Russia, but late in the year Yorck von WartenburgYorck von Wartenburg or York von Wartenburg, Ludwig, Graf
, 1759–1830, Prussian army officer. He commanded the Prussian auxiliary corps that had been sent to aid in the campaign of the French emperor Napoleon I
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 concluded a separate truce with Russia, and in 1813 Prussia joined the coalition against France. Field Marshal Blücher played a major role in defeating Napoleon at Leipzig (1813) and at Waterloo (1815). At the Congress of Vienna, Prussia gained, in addition to its recovered territories, the entire Rhine prov. and Westphalia, the northern half of Saxony, the remainder of Swedish Pomerania, and a large part of W Poland, including Danzig (Gdańsk), Poznań, and Gniezno. However, Prussia disappointed the hopes of German liberals by following the lead of the Austrian chancellor, Metternich, in the Holy AllianceHoly Alliance,
1815, agreement among the emperors of Russia and Austria and the king of Prussia, signed on Sept. 26. It was quite distinct from the Quadruple Alliance (Quintuple, after the admission of France) of Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia, arrived at first in
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A constitution promised in 1811 failed to materialize under the increasingly reactionary government of Frederick William III, and the half-hearted constitutional schemes of Frederick William IVFrederick William IV,
1795–1861, king of Prussia (1840–61), son and successor of Frederick William III. A romanticist and a mystic, he conceived vague schemes of reform based on a revival of the medieval structure, with the rule of estates and a patriarchal monarchy.
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 were impracticable. By 1834 Prussia had, however, taken the lead in the economic unification of Germany (see ZollvereinZollverein
[Ger.,=customs union], in German history, a customs union established to eliminate tariff barriers. Friedrich List first popularized the idea of a combination to abolish the customs barriers that were inhibiting trade among the numerous states of the German
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), which was a prerequisite to political union. The March Revolution of 1848 was put down by force, and in 1849 Frederick William IV refused the imperial crown of Germany offered by the Frankfurt ParliamentFrankfurt Parliament,
1848–49, national assembly convened at Frankfurt on May 18, 1848, as a result of the liberal revolution that swept the German states early in 1848. The parliament was called by a preliminary assembly of German liberals in Mar.
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. His scheme for a German Union under Prussian leadership and excluding Austria was punctured in the Convention of OlomoucOlomouc
, Ger. Olmütz, city (1991 pop. 105,537), E central Czech Republic, in Moravia, on the Morava River. Olomouc is an industrial city, with factories producing machinery, appliances, and food products, especially candy and chocolate.
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 (1850), and Prussia returned to the restored German ConfederationGerman Confederation,
1815–66, union of German states provided for at the Congress of Vienna to replace the old Holy Roman Empire, which had been destroyed during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It comprised 39 states in all, 35 monarchies and 4 free cities.
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Supremacy of Prussia

In 1861, William IWilliam I,
1797–1888, emperor of Germany (1871–88) and king of Prussia (1861–88), second son of the future King Frederick William III of Prussia and Louise of Mecklenburg.
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 (regent since 1858) became king, and in 1862 he appointed as premier Otto von BismarckBismarck, Otto von
, 1815–98, German statesman, known as the Iron Chancellor. Early Life and Career

Born of an old Brandenburg Junker family, he studied at Göttingen and Berlin, and after holding minor judicial and administrative offices he was elected
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, who directed the destiny of Prussia and (after 1871) of Germany until 1890. Bismarck effected the elimination of Austria from German affairs and the union of Germany under Prussian hegemony by means of three deliberately planned wars. The first war (1864) was fought in alliance with Austria against Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein. Its settlement furnished a pretext for the Austro-Prussian WarAustro-Prussian War
or Seven Weeks War,
June 15–Aug. 23, 1866, between Prussia, allied with Italy, and Austria, seconded by Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony, Hanover, Baden, and several smaller German states.
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 of 1866, in which Prussia quickly and thoroughly defeated Austria and its allies and gained additional territory by the annexation of Hanover, Electoral Hesse, Nassau, Schleswig-Holstein, and the free city of Frankfurt am Main. The German Confederation was dissolved, and the Prussian-led North German ConfederationNorth German Confederation,
1867–71, alliance of 22 German states N of the Main River. Dominated by Prussia, it replaced the German Confederation and included the states that had supported Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866).
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 took its place. Finally, in the Franco-Prussian WarFranco-Prussian War
or Franco-German War,
1870–71, conflict between France and Prussia that signaled the rise of German military power and imperialism. It was provoked by Otto von Bismarck (the Prussian chancellor) as part of his plan to create a unified German
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 (1870–71), the North German Confederation overwhelmed France, and in 1871 William I of Prussia was proclaimed emperor of Germany.

In its main features the subsequent history of Prussia was that of Germany. However, Bismarck's KulturkampfKulturkampf
[Ger.,=conflict of cultures], the conflict between the German government under Bismarck and the Roman Catholic Church. The promulgation (1870) of the dogma of the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals within the church sparked the conflict; it
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 against the Roman Catholic Church was largely confined to the kingdom of Prussia, which, like the other German states, continued as an individual member of the empire.

The Prussian constitution adopted in 1850 and amended in the following years was far less liberal than the federal constitution of the empire. The government was not responsible to the Prussian Landtag (lower chamber), whose powers were small and whose members were elected by a suffrage system based on tax-paying ability. The house of lords was largely controlled by the conservative Junkers, who held immense tracts of generally poor land E of the Elbe (particularly in East Prussia). Endowed with little money and much pride, they had continued to form the officer corps of the army. The rising industrialists, notably the great Rhenish and Westphalian mine owners and steel magnates, although their interests were often opposed to those of the Junkers, exerted an equally reactionary influence on politics. The Prussian constitution was liberalized after Prussia became a republic in 1918, and the Junkers lost many of their estates through the cession of Prussian territory to Poland. However, both the Junkers and the Rhenish industrialists continued to exert much power behind the scenes, and when Franz von PapenPapen, Franz von
, 1879–1969, German politician. Appointed (1913) military attaché to the German embassy in Washington, he was implicated in espionage activities that led (1915) the U.S. government to request his recall.
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 became (1932) German chancellor and commissioner for Prussia, they came into their own. In July, 1932, Papen suspended the Prussian parliament and ousted the Social Democrat Otto Braun, who had been premier of Prussia (with brief interruptions) from 1920.

Early in 1933, Adolf Hitler seized power and made Hermann Goering premier of Prussia; Hitler's rise had been aided by the Rhenish industrialists. By a decree of Hitler issued in Jan., 1934, the German states ceased to exist as political units, and it was no longer possible to differentiate clearly between Prussia and the rest of Germany. After World War II, in 1947, Prussia was officially dissolved by the Allied Control Council, which characterized the state as "a bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany." The former state was divided among the former West and East Germanies, Poland, and the USSR's Russian Republic (now Russia).


The classic histories of Prussia are those of RankeRanke, Leopold von
, 1795–1886, German historian, generally recognized as the father of the modern objective historical school. He applied and elaborated Barthold Niebuhr's scientific method of historical investigation.
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, TreitschkeTreitschke, Heinrich von
, 1834–96, German historian. A fervid partisan of Prussia, he left Baden at the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and became professor of history at Kiel (1866), Heidelberg (1867), and Berlin (1874).
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, and DroysenDroysen, Johann Gustav
, 1808–84, German historian. A member of the Frankfurt Parliament, he was a leading proponent of German unification under the leadership of his native Prussia. His Geschichte der preussischen Politik [political history of Prussia] (14 vol.
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. See also H. Tuttle, History of Prussia (4 vol., 1884–96, repr. 1971); Sir John A. R. Marriott and C. G. Robertson, The Evolution of Prussia (1915, rev. ed. 1946); S. B. Fay, The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia to 1786 (1937, rev. ed. 1981); F. L. Carsten, Origins of Prussia (1954); T. M. Barker, ed., Frederick the Great and the Making of Prussia (1976); H. W. Koch, A History of Prussia (1987); C. Clark, Iron Kingdom (2006).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Preussen), a state that arose as a result of military expansion by German feudal lords in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. A bulwark of reaction and militarism in Germany, Prussia was finally abolished after fascist Germany’s defeat in World War II.

Prussia evolved out of the Electorate of Brandenburg, created in the course of German feudal aggression against the Slavic peoples from the 12th century onward and out of the state established by the Teutonic Knights. In founding its state, the Knights fought wars of extermination against the Prussian tribes (from whom the name “Prussia” is derived) in the 13th century and seized Slavic, chiefly Polish, lands in the 14th century. At the beginning of the 16th century Albrecht of the Ho-henzollern dynasty, which had come to power in Brandenburg in 1415, was elected grand master of the Teutonic Knights. After the Thirteen Years’ War with Poland (1454–66) the Knights became a vassal of Poland; Prussia remained a fief dependency of Poland until the 1660’s.

In 1618 the united state of Brandenburg-Prussia was established under the rule of the Electors of Brandenburg. Its policies reflected the dynastic interests of the Hohenzollerns and the Junkers (owners of estates employing serf labor and producing for the market). The most oppressive forms of serfdom prevailed in Prussia. Militarism, a characteristic feature of Hohen-zollern policy, left its imprint on the subsequent history of Prussia. The Hohenzollerns took advantage of Germany’s fragmentation and the weakness of the small German principalities to enlarge their state at the expense not only of Slavic lands but also of German territories. In 1701 the elector Frederick III received the royal title from the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in return for a contingent of troops for the imminent War of the Spanish Succession. Brandenburg-Prussia became the Kingdom of Prussia.

During the reign of Frederick II, who ruled from 1740 to 1786, some two-thirds of the annual budget of the kingdom was allocated for military expenditures, and the Prussian Army became the largest in Western Europe. A militaristic, police-bureaucratic regime was established that ruthlessly suppressed any manifestation of free thinking. Prussia waged numerous wars of expansion. During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), it seized most of Silesia. In the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) it sought to gain control of Saxony, the part of Pom-erania that was still free of Prussian domination, and Courland, and it hoped to strengthen its influence among the small German states, thereby undermining Austria’s influence. However, it suffered a major defeat by Russian troops at Gross Jägersdorf in 1757 and at the battle of Kunersdorf in 1759. In 1760, Russian troops occupied Berlin, the Prussian capital. Disaster was averted only because of disagreements among Prussia’s greatest enemies (Austria, Russia, and France) and the accession to the Russian throne of the Duke of Holstein-Gottorp as Peter III after the death of Elizaveta Petrovna in 1761. Peter III made peace and formed an alliance with Frederick II.

During the last third of the 18th century, Prussia, together with tsarist Russia and Austria, took part in three partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as a result of which Prussia seized Poznań, central Poland (including Warsaw), Gdańsk, Toruń, and a number of other areas. By the end of the 18th century the Hohenzollerns had increased Prussia’s territory to more than 300,000 sq km.

During the Great French Revolution, Prussia and Austria formed the nucleus of the first anti-French coalition of European monarchies in 1792. However, after several defeats Prussia was compelled to sign the Treaty of Basel with France in 1795. In 1806, soon after Prussia joined the fourth anti-French coalition, the Prussian Army was defeated by Napoleon at the battles of Jena and Auerstädt. By the Treaty of Tilsit, concluded in 1807, Prussia lost about half of its territory. Prussia’s defeat, vividly demonstrating the rottenness of the Prussian state and feudal serf-owning system, prompted H. F. K. vom und zum Stein and K. A. von Hardenberg to introduce several bourgeois reforms, such as granting the peasants their personal freedom in 1807. A military reform proposed by G. von Scharn-horst and A. W. A. von Gneisenau was also implemented. The reform prepared the way for the introduction of compulsory military service for almost the entire adult male population.

In 1812 the Prussian government, betraying the country’s national interests, sent contingents to take part in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. The defeat of Napoleon’s army in Russia sparked the German people’s war of liberation against the Napoleonic oppression. By the Vienna peace settlement in 1815, Prussia received two-fifths of the territory of Saxony, as well as lands along the Rhine (the Rhineland and Westphalia). Its population now exceeded 10 million. A customs union (Zollvereiri) that included many German states was established in 1834. The union was dominated by Prussia.

During the spring of 1848 a bourgeois-democratic revolution broke out in Prussia, as in a number of other German states. The main issue was the unification of the country on a democratic basis. The revolutionaries believed that this process could be carried out consistently and fully only by establishing a unified democratic republic in Germany. Such a move, however, was opposed by the Prussian ruling circles. For this reason, K. Marx and F. Engels advocated the abolition of the Prussian state, calling upon German democrats to come to the defense of the Poles so that together they might liberate both nations. The Prussian military elite, however, crushed the Polish liberation uprising in Poznań and later dealt harshly with the German revolutionary and democratic forces. The Revolution of 1848–49 in Germany did not succeed in overthrowing the monarchy and the reactionary forces.

An antidemocratic constitution was introduced in Prussia in 1850, remaining in effect until 1918. In the interest of the Junkers a law was passed permitting the peasants to buy their release from feudal obligations. The development of capitalism in agriculture along the “Prussian path” brought great misery upon the peasants. The Prussian government, headed by O. von Bismarck from 1862, persistently strove to establish Prussian domination in Germany. The Prussian rulers helped the tsarist government suppress the Polish liberation uprising in 1863–64, in return for which tsarist Russia did not oppose Prussia’s struggle for hegemony in Germany. In 1864, Prussia and Austria began a war with Denmark, seizing Schleswig-Holstein. Two years later Prussia fought a war with Austria and the small German states allied with Austria. At the end of the war, known as the Seven Weeks’ War, Prussia annexed Hanover, Hesse-Cas-sel, Nassau, Schleswig-Holstein, and Frankfurt am Main. By defeating Austria, Prussia eliminated its rival in the struggle for dominance in Germany and paved the way for the unification of Germany under its leadership. In 1867, Prussia created the North German Confederation.

In 1870–71, Prussia waged a war against France, as a result of which it seized the French regions of Alsace and eastern Lorraine and received an indemnity of 5 billion francs. The formation of the German Empire was proclaimed on Jan. 18, 1871. Prussia maintained its dominant position in the unified Germany. The Prussian king was simultaneously the German emperor, and the Prussian prime minister until 1918 usually occupied the post of imperial chancellor as well as that of Prussian minister of foreign affairs. The Prussian system, becoming firmly established in the German Empire, manifested itself with particular force under imperialism. Prussian German militarists played an enormous role in unleashing World War I.

During the November Revolution of 1918 in Germany the Hohenzollern dynasty was overthrown, but the dominant position of the monopolies and the Junkers was untouched. Prussia became one of the states (Länder) in the Weimar Republic, but it retained its hold on the country’s economic and political life. With the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in Germany in January 1933, the Prussian state machinery merged with that of the Third Reich. Along with the rest of Germany, Prussia was converted to fascism.

The defeat of fascist Germany in World War II and the abolition of the German fascist state, which had embodied in an extreme form the worst traits of Prussian German imperialism and militarism, dealt a strong blow to the forces of reaction and militarism in Germany. In accordance with the decisions reached at the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the city of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) and the adjacent region were transferred to the Soviet Union, and Poland was given its original lands east of the Oder and Western Neisse, areas that Prussia had taken from Poland. Among these lands was the greater part of East Prussia, which over the centuries had been the bridgehead for German aggression against Russia and Poland. Prussian territory west of the Oder and Western Neisse remained within Germany.

Radical socioeconomic changes were carried out in 1945–46 on the Prussian territory that was included in the Soviet occupation zone. Agrarian reforms and the nationalization of large-scale industry removed the Junkers and monopolists from the economic and political life of the eastern part of Germany. Measures were taken to assure demilitarization, denazification, and democratization. On Feb. 25, 1947, the Allied Control Council in Germany adopted a law abolishing the Prussian state.


Marx, K. “Podvigi Gogentsollernov.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 6.
Marx, K. “Bozhestvennoe pravo Gogentsollernov.” Ibid., vol. 12.
Marx, K. “Polozhenie v Prussii.” Ibid., vol. 12.
Engels, F. “Rol’ nasiliia v istorii.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnaia programma sotsial-demokratii v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii 1905–1907 godov.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 16.
Lenin, V. I. “Tsabern.” Ibid., vol. 24.
Marks i Engel’s o reaktsionnom prussachestve, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1943.
Erusalimskii, A. Likvidatsiia prusskogo gosudarstva. Moscow, 1947.
Rotshtein, F. A. Iz istorii prussko-germanskoi imperii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948.
Norden, A. Uroki germanskoi istorii. Moscow, 1948. (Translated from German.)
Abusch, A. Lozhnyi put’ odnoi natsii. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from German.)
Des volkes Feind: Über die Rolle des deutschen Militarismus in der neuen und neuesten Zeit. Berlin, 1961.
Droysen, J. G. Geschichte der preussischen Politik, vols. 1–5. Berlin, 1868–86.
Ranke, L. Zwölf Bücher preussischer Geschichte, Vols. 1–4. Berlin, 1929.
Vogler, G., and K. Vetter. Preussen von den Anfängen bis zur Reichsgründung. Berlin, 1970.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a former German state in N and central Germany, extending from France and the Low Countries to the Baltic Sea and Poland: developed as the chief military power of the Continent, leading the North German Confederation from 1867--71, when the German Empire was established; dissolved in 1947 and divided between East and West Germany, Poland, and the former Soviet Union. Area: (in 1939) 294 081 sq. km (113 545 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005