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Saxony in Frankia; The history of Saxony began with a small tribe living on the North Sea between the Elbe and Eider River in what is now Holstein. In the third and fourth centuries the Saxons fought their way victoriously towards the west, and their name was given to the great tribal confederation that stretched towards the west exactly to the former boundary of the Roman Empire, consequently almost to the Rhine. Only a small strip of land on the right bank of the Rhine remained to the tribe of German Franks. Towards the south the Saxons pushed as far as the Harz Mountains and the Eichsfeld, and in the succeeding centuries absorbed the greater part of Thuringia. In the east their power extended at first as far as the Elbe and Saale Rivers; in the later centuries it certainly extended much farther. All the coast of the German Ocean belonged to the Saxons excepting that west of the Weser, which the Frisians retained. The history of the powerful Saxon tribe is also the history of the conversion to Christianity of that part of Germany which lies between the Rhine and the Oder, that is of almost the whole of the present Northern Germany. From the eighth century the Saxons were divided into the four sub-divisions: Westphalians, between the Rhine and Weser; the Engern or Angrians, on both sides of the Weser; the Eastphalians, between the Weser and Elbe; the Transalbingians, in the present Holstein. The only one of these names that has been preserved is Westphalians, given to the inhabitants of the Prussian Province of Westphalia.[1]

Saxony is today called The Free State of Saxony (German: Freistaat Sachsen [ˈfʁaɪʃtaːt ˈzaksən]) and is a federal state of the Federal Republic of Germany, located in the eastern part of present-day Germany. It is the tenth-largest German state in area (18,413 km²) and the sixth largest in population (4.3 million), of Germany's sixteen states. It's capital is Dresden. Before 1919 it was a Kingdom and part of the German Empire. The term "Saxon" does not always correlate with Saxony: a Saxon is not necessarily an inhabitant of today's Saxony (e.g. Saxon people of Germania, Anglo-Saxons or Transylvanian Saxons).


Great Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Saxony (1889–1918)
Albert (1828-1902), the later second-last reigning King of Saxony, was promoted to General der Infanterie on 15 October 1857, fought as Crown Prince in the First Schleswig War (Pour le Merite), the German Civil War (1866) and the Franco-German War, for which he received the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross on 22 March 1871 and was promoted to Prussian Generalfeldmarschall (as the first non-Prussian) on 11 July 1871.
King Friedrich Augustus III, Saxony's last reigning King, and his children in 1914.
Map showing Saxony in the 21st century

Over the 1500 years, and more, Saxony has considerably changed its territorial frontiers. In the heart of German-speaking Europe, in the early Middle Ages, Saxony referred to the region occupied by today's states of Lower Saxony and northern North Rhine-Westphalia. Saxony became one of the new easternmost German regions after the border-changes of 1945, which were under Communist rule until 1990/1. The legacy of the state under the Communists' German Democratic Republic still largely defines present-day Saxony.


North of the Lugii, near the Baltic Sea, Tacitus places the Gothones (Goths), Rugii, and Lemovii. These three Germanic tribes share a tradition of having kings, and also similar arms – round shields and short swords. Ptolemy says that east of the Saxons, from the "Chalusus" river to the "Suevian" river are the Farodini, then the Sidini up to the "Viadua" river, and after these the "Rugiclei" up to the Vistula river (probably the "Rugii" of Tacitus). He does not specify if these are Suevi. On the other hand, Tacitus does clearly consider there to be not only a Suebian region, but also Suebian languages, and Suebian customs, which all contribute to making a specific tribe more or less "Suebian". The Frankish King Clovis I (481-511) united the various Frankish tribes, conquered Roman Gaul, and accepted Christianity. The new Frankish Kingdom was able to bring all the Germanic tribes except the Saxons under its authority and to make them Christian. For more than a hundred years there was almost uninterrupted warfare between the Franks and the Saxons. After a bloody struggle that lasted thirty years (772-804), the Saxons were finally defeated and brought under Frankish supremacy by the Emperor Charlemagne. From the 8th century, the Saxons were divided into four subdivisions (Gaue):

  • Westphalians, between the Rhine and the Weser
  • Engern or Angrians, on both sides of the Weser
  • Eastphalians, between the Weser and the Elbe
  • Transalbingians, in what is now Holstein. The only one of these names that has been preserved is Westphalians, later given to the inhabitants of the Prussian Province of Westphalia.

The Western Emperor Karl der Große summoned the Germanic Saxons to a great assembly at Paderborn in 777, where many were forcibly baptized. Possibly the most famous of the Saxons early leaders was Widukind/Witukund, who, deeply committed to the old pagan ways, now led a rebellion, but was ultimately defeated with over 4,500 of his men being beheaded by the Emperor's command. All of Saxony was now Christianised 'at the point of the sword', with the Emperor dividing it into counties and appointing both Saxons and Franks as Counts. He also arranged for the defence of the Saxon-Slav frontier, for which purpose a force of Austrasians and Saxons was raised.[2] Other equally famous Dukes of Saxony and Holy Roman Emperors were the three Ottos (r.936 to 1002).[3] Saxony had monarchs continuously until the forced abdication of its last King, Friedrich Augustus III (died 18 Feb 1932) following the end of The Great War at the end of 1918.

There’s Upper Saxony, centered on Dresden, in the eastern part of present day Germany, south of Berlin and north of Prague. There’s Lower Saxony, with its capital in Hanover. Hanover used to be the capital of its own state before it was annexed by Prussia in the 19th century. Bremen is the main seaport of Lower Saxony, and the whole state is directly south of Denmark. Lower Saxony, like some other states of modern Germany, includes territories not originally part of “Saxony”.


  • Duchy of Saxony (Herzogtum Sachsen); 804–1296; originally the area settled by the Saxons in the late Early Middle Ages, when they were subdued by Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars from 772 and incorporated into Francia by 804. Upon the 843 Treaty of Verdun, Saxony was one of the five German stem duchies of East Francia; Duke Henry the Fowler (Heinrich der Vogler) was elected German King in 919.
  • Margravate of Meissen (Markgrafschaft Meißen), 965–1423; It originally was a frontier march of the Holy Roman Empire, created out of the vast Marca Geronis (Saxon Eastern March) in 965.
  • Palatinate of Saxony (Pfalzgrafschaft Sachsen), established around 965 by Otto the Great (German: Otto der Große)
  • Duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg (Herzogtum Sachsen-Wittenberg), 1296–1356
  • Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg (Herzogtum Sachsen-Lauenburg), 1296–1803 and 1814–1876
  • Electorate of Saxony (Kurfürstentum Sachsen), 1356/1547–1806; state of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation established when Roman-German Emperor Karl IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356.
    • Duchy of Saxony (Herzogtum Sachsen), 1485–1547
    • Duchy of Saxe-Weimar (Herzogtum Sachsen-Weimar), 1572–1809
    • Duchy of Saxe-Zeitz (Herzogtum Sachsen-Zeitz), 1657–1718
    • Duchy of Saxe-Merseburg (Herzogtum Sachsen-Merseburg), 1657–1738
    • Duchy of Saxe-Weissenfels (Herzogtum Sachsen-Weißenfels), 1656–1746
  • Prussian Province of Saxony (Provinz Sachsen), 1919–1944
    • On 1 July 1944, the Province of Saxony was divided along the lines of its three administrative regions. The Erfurt Regierungsbezirk was merged with the Herrschaft Schmalkalden district of the Province of Hesse-Nassau and given to the state of Thuringia. The Magdeburg Regierungsbezirk became the Province of Magdeburg, and the Merseburg Regierungsbezirk became the Province of Halle-Merseburg. In 1945, the Soviet military administration combined Magdeburg and Halle-Merseburg with the State of Anhalt into the Province of Saxony-Anhalt, with Halle as its capital. The eastern part of the Blankenburg exclave of Brunswick and the Thuringian exclave of Allstedt were also added to Saxony-Anhalt. In 1947, Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) became a state.

Rulers of Saxony

The first known leaders of an independent Duchy of Saxony in Germania were Hadugato (fl. c. 531), Berthoald (fl. c. 622), Theoderic (fl. c. 743–744), Widukind (c. 777–785), leader against Charlemagne, and Albion (fl. c. 785–811). The Saxons were subdued by Charlemagne during the Saxon Wars from 772 and incorporated into the Carolingian Empire (Francia) by 804. Upon the 843 Treaty of Verdun, Saxony was one of the five German stem duchies of East Francia. Otto I (c. 830/40 – 30 November 912), called the Illustrious (German: Otto der Erlauchte), a member of the Ottonian dynasty, was Duke of Saxony from 880 to his death. The East Frankish Carolingian dynasty became extinct in 911 with the death of King Louis the Child Duke. The dukes of Saxony, Swabia and Bavaria met at Forchheim to elect the Conradine duke Conrad I of Franconia (de) to king of East Francia. One year later, in 912, Otto's son Henry the Fowler succeeded his father as Duke of Saxony. Henry the Fowler (de) was elected German king in 919 after the death of Conrad I. He is generally considered to be the founder of the medieval German state.

The Saxon stem duchy covered the greater part of present-day Northern Germany, including the modern German states (Länder) of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt up to the Elbe and Saale rivers in the east, the city-states of Bremen and Hamburg, as well as the Westphalian part of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Holstein region (Nordalbingia) of Schleswig-Holstein. In the late 12th century, Duke Henry the Lion also occupied the adjacent area of Mecklenburg (the former Billung March).

The Wittenberg Ascanians Albert I, Albert II and Rudolf I (r. 1298–1356) ruled as dukes of Saxony for almost 150 years. In November 1422 Albert III (r. 1419–1422), Elector and Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg, died without descendants who were entitled to inherit. The King of Germany and Bohemia, Sigismund (de), on the basis of the provisions of the Golden Bull, confiscated the duchy as a vacant imperial fiefdom. The Ascanian line of Saxe-Wittenberg therefore became extinct. In 1423, the German king and later Roman-German Emperor bestowed the country and electoral dignity upon Margrave Frederick IV of Meissen, who had been a loyal supporter in the Hussite Wars.

The Electorate of Saxony, also known as Electoral Saxony (German: Kurfürstentum Sachsen or Kursachsen), was centered around the cities of Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz. The electoral college consisted initially of two ecclesiastical and two secular princes, one of whom was the duke of Saxony. The western part of Saxony, which had been ruled by a collateral line of the Wettins since 1382, reverted to the main Wettin line after the death in 1482 of its last representative, Duke William III of Saxony. The unity of the country was then restored. When Elector Frederick II died in Leipzig on 7 September 1464, his eldest son Ernest (r. 1464–1486) succeeded him at the age of 23. It marked the beginning of an almost twenty-year period of joint rule with his brother Duke Albert.

Rulers of Saxony (beginning of Wettin rule)

  • Frederick I, the Warlike 1422-1428
  • Frederick II, the Gentle 1428-1464
    • On Frederick II's death his sons divided the Wettin territories between them. The elder, Ernest, became elector and inherited Northern Meissen, Southern Thuringia, and Wittenberg, along with the Electoral title. Albert, the younger son, became duke and received Northern Thuringia and Southern Meissen

Ernestine Electors of Saxony:

  • Ernest 1464-1486
  • Frederick III, the Wise 1486-1525
  • John, the Steadfast 1525-1532
  • John Frederick 1532-1547

Albertine Dukes of Saxony:

  • Albert the Bold 1486-1500
  • George the Bearded 1500-1539
  • Henry IV the Pious 1539-1541
  • Moritz 1541-1547 (became Elector of Saxony in 1547)

In 1547, following Emperor Charles V's victory at the Battle of Mühlberg, Wittenberg and the Electoral dignity passed to the Albertine line. The Ernestine line continued to rule in southern Thuringian, but their lands eventually split up into many different tiny duchies, of which Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Saxe-Meiningen, and Saxe-Altenburg lasted until 1918. This article does not list the subsequent Ernestine dukes.

Albertine Electors of Saxony:

  • Moritz von Sachsen 1547-1553
  • Augustus 1553-1586
  • Christian I 1586-1591
  • Christian II 1591-1611
  • John George I 1611-1656
  • John George II 1656-1680
  • John George III 1680-1691
  • John George IV 1691-1694
  • Frederick Augustus I 1694-1733 (Augustus the Strong, also King of Poland, 1697-1704, 1709-1733)
  • Frederick Augustus II 1733-1763 (also King of Poland)
  • Frederick Christian 1763
  • Frederick Augustus III 1763-1806

Kings of Saxony

In 1806, after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, the Elector of Saxony became King of an independent Kingdom of Saxony (König von Sachsen).

  • Frederick Augustus I the Just (Friedrich August I. Joseph Maria Anton Johann Nepomuk Aloys Xaver, genannt „der Gerechte“), reigned from 20 December 1806 – 5 May 1827
    • Elector of Saxony from 17 December 1763 to 20 December 1806 (as Frederick Augustus III). He became king of the newly independent Kingdom of Saxony in 1806. Also Duke of Warsaw (Herzog von Warschau) from 9 June 1807 to 22 May 1815 after the Treaty of Tilsit, which Frederick William III of Prussia and Alexander I of Russia concluded with Napoleon. Left no male descendants. He was succeeded by his brother.
  • Anthony the Kind (Anton Clemens Theodor Maria Joseph Johann Evangelista Johann Nepomuk Franz Xaver Aloys Januar, genannt „der Gütige“), reigned from 5 May 1827 – 6 June 1836
    • He left no male descendants and was succeeded by his nephew.
  • Frederick Augustus II (Friedrich August Albert Maria Clemens Joseph Vincenz Aloys Nepomuk Johann Baptista Nikolaus Raphael Peter Xaver Franz de Paula Venantius Felix von Sachsen), reigned from 6 June 1836 – 9 August 1854
    • Son of Prince Maximilian of Saxony. Left no descendants. He was succeeded by his brother.
  • John (Johann Nepomuk Maria Joseph Anton Xaver Vincenz Aloys Luis de Gonzaga Franz de Paula Stanislaus Bernhard Paul Felix Damasus von Sachsen), reigned from 9 August 1854 – 29 October 1873 29 October 1873
  • Albert (Friedrich August Albert Anton Ferdinand Joseph Karl Maria Baptist Nepomuk Wilhelm Xaver Georg Fidelis, Herzog zu Sachsen), reigned from 29 October 1873 – 19 June 1902
    • Albert had a successful military career, leading Saxon troops that participated in the First Schleswig War, the Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War.
  • George (Friedrich August Georg Ludwig Wilhelm Maximilian Karl Maria Nepomuk Baptist Xaver Cyriacus Romanus von Sachsen), reigned from 19 June 1902 – 15 October 1904
    • George, since 1888 second Saxon Generalfeldmarschall of the Prussian Army, served under his brother Albert's command during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and in the Franco-German War. In the re-organisation of the army which accompanied the march towards Paris, his brother the Crown Prince gained a separate command over the 4th army (Army of the Meuse) consisting of the Saxon XII corps, the Prussian Guard corps, and the IV (Prussian Saxony) corps and George succeeded him in command of the XII corps.
  • Frederick Augustus III (Friedrich August Johann Ludwig Karl Gustav Gregor Philipp von Sachsen), reigned from 15 October 1904 – 13 November 1918
    • The last King of Saxony. Abdicated voluntarily in the German Revolution of 1918–1919.

External links



  1. Saxony,
  2. Heer, Friedrich, Charlemagne, London, 1975, p.127-8.
  3. Leyser, K.L., Medieval Germany and its Neighbours 900-1250, London, 1982. ISBN 0-907628-08-7