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(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 KrkonošeKrkonoše
, Ger. Riesengebirge, Pol. Karkonosze, highest range of the Sudetes, extending c.25 mi (40 km) along the border of N Czech Republic and SW Poland. Its highest peak, Snĕžka (Ger. Schneekoppe, Pol.
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 (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 TeschenTeschen
, Czech Tĕšín, Pol. Cieszyn, former principality (c.850 sq mi/2,200 sq km), now divided between the Czech Republic and Poland. Teschen was its chief town.
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. 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 WrocławWrocław
, Ger. Breslau, city (1993 est. pop. 644,000), capital of Dolnośląskie prov., SW Poland, on the Oder (Odra) River. A railway center and river port, the city is also an industrial center with manufactures of heavy machinery, electronics, computers,
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. 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 KatowiceKatowice
, Ger. Kattowitz, city (1993 est. pop. 366,200), capital of Śląskie prov., S Poland. One of the chief mining and industrial centers of Poland, it has industries producing heavy machinery and chemicals; mines in the region yield coal, iron, zinc, and
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 comprises such important centers as BytomBytom
, Ger. Beuthen, city (1994 est. pop. 232,400), Śląskie prov., SW Poland, in the Katowice mining region. An important heavy industrial center, it has iron- and steelworks and the largest silver foundry in Poland.
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, GliwiceGliwice
, Ger. Gleiwitz, city (1993 est. pop. 216,000), Śląskie prov., SW Poland. A coal-mining and steel-making center of the Katowice region, it also produces automobiles, machinery, and chemicals.
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, ZabrzeZabrze
, Ger. Hindenburg, city (1992 est. pop. 202,800), Śląskie prov., S Poland. It is a railway junction in the Katowice mining and industrial region. Local coal deposits form the basis of Zabrze's coke and chemical industries. Founded in the 13th cent.
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, and CzęstochowaCzęstochowa
, city (1993 est. pop. 258,800), Śląskie prov., S Poland, on the Warta River. It is an important railway and industrial center, known especially for its iron and steel plant and iron-smelting works.
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, and has iron and steel mills, coke ovens, and chemical plants. OpoleOpole
, Ger. Oppeln, city (1992 est. pop. 129,000), capital of Opolskie prov., S Poland, on the Oder River. A river port and rail junction, it is also an important trade center, with manufactures of cement, metals, and furniture.
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, the former capital of Upper Silesia, is an important trade center.


Early History

Some historians maintain that the area was inhabited by the Silingae, a Vandal tribe, from the 3d cent. B.C. to the 3d cent. A.D. Slavic tribes settled here c.A.D. 500, and Silesia was an integral part of Poland by the 11th cent. King Boleslaus III (reigned 1102–38), of the PiastPiast
, 1st dynasty of Polish dukes and kings. Its name was derived from that of its legendary ancestor, a simple peasant. The first historic member, Duke Mieszko I (reigned 962–92), began the unification of Poland and introduced Christianity.
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 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 ReformationCounter Reformation,
16th-century reformation that arose largely in answer to the Protestant Reformation; sometimes called the Catholic Reformation. Although the Roman Catholic reformers shared the Protestants' revulsion at the corrupt conditions in the church, there was present
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 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 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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. 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 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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, 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 PactMunich Pact,
1938. In the summer of 1938, Chancellor Hitler of Germany began openly to support the demands of Germans living in the Sudetenland (see Sudetes) of Czechoslovakia for an improved status. In September, Hitler demanded self-determination for the Sudetenland.
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 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.



(in Polish, Śląsk; in Czech, Slezsko; in German, Schlesien), a historic Slavic region along the upper and middle reaches of the Oder (Odra) River. Silesia was part of Poland from the tenth century; in the 12th and 13th centuries it was divided into numerous appanage principalities. In the first third of the 14th century the principalities came under the rule of the Luxembourgs, and in 1526, the Hapsburgs established their rule over Silesia, with the exception of three principalities that had been reunited with Poland in the late 15th century.

During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), most of Silesia was seized by Prussia. Subsequently, the germanization of Silesia, begun in the Middle Ages, grew more intense. However, even as late as the 19th century a considerable part of Silesia’s population retained its Polish heritage. After 1742, the Austrian Hapsburgs held only the southern principalities of Silesia (Opava, Cieszyn), and after the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918 these principalities became part of Czechoslovakia.

Coal mining and metallurgy developed in Upper Silesia in the early 19th century; uprisings of Silesian weavers took place in 1793 and 1844. After the restoration of the Polish state in 1918, the workers of Silesia fought for reunification with Poland. There were uprisings in 1919, 1920, and 1921, but because of the opposition of the great imperialist powers, only one-third of Upper Silesia passed to Poland (1922). In 1938–39, all of Silesia came under the rule of fascist Germany; it was liberated from the Hitlerites by the Soviet Army in 1945. The Potsdam Conference of 1945 established the Oder-Neisse line as the western frontier of Poland, and most of Silesia consequently became part of Poland.

The part of Silesia in the People’s Republic of Poland includes the województwa of Opole, Wrocław, Wałbrzych, and Legnica, the greater part of the województwo of Katowice, and parts of the województwa of Jelenia Góra, Zielona Góra, Lesz-no, and Bielsko-Białe (according to the administrative territorial division of June 1, 1975). Czech Silesia is part of the province of North Moravia of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.


Historia Śląska: Opracowanie zbiorowe, vol. 1, parts 1-4; vol. 2, parts 1-2. Wrocław-Warsaw-Kraków, 1961-70.

I. S. MILLER [23–1068–]


a region of central Europe around the upper and middle Oder valley: mostly annexed by Prussia in 1742 but became almost wholly Polish in 1945; rich coal and iron-ore deposits
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