The German eastward expansion (Ostsiedlung)1

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The German eastern settlement was accompanied by the Germanization of Austria, Carinthia, Styria, Upper Saxony, Silesia, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, Prussia, and the peripheral areas of Bohemia and Moravia. It followed, in part, the eastern settlement of the territorial expansion of the Holy Roman Empire and the Teutonic Order.

The German Language Area by 700

das deutsche Sprachgebiet um 700


Outside this closed area, larger and smaller population centers emerged far into Eastern Europe from the Baltics to the Black Sea (Memel Territory, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia, Sudetes, Transylvania, Carpathians etc.)

The German eastward expansion was carried out by German princes, as well as knights, monks, peasants, burghers and miners, without direct influence of royalty.

Farmers at Work
Farmers at Work


Although most settlers, in this historical context, were called "German", this term must be understood in the medieval sense. Today the majority of these settlers were not "German", but Austrians, Dutch and Flemish which in modern times have formed independent nation-states and today would refer only in a very limited way as German. Furthermore, there were, in addition to these German settlers, settlers from other areas, such as Scots, Danes and local Wends.

Medieval Village
Medieval Village

The settlement movements were mostly from west to east, i.e., in the southeast migration it was mainly Bavarii (original form of the name of the Bavarians) and Swabians, while in the Northeast, it was the Dutch, Flemish and Saxons and into the central regions, the Franks.

The eastern settlement was made, not only at the invitation of secular rulers, as dukes, marquises, counts, princes and only in rare cases, by the king, but also by religious communities (monasteries, bishops, orders) who during the Christianization of the Wends territories gained profitable (rich) land and now tried to increase these profits by creating new colonies for settlers.

Cistercians at Work
Cistercians at Work

Often a religious order, such as the Cistercians, was provided, by a secular ruler, with large forests and several villages, to build first a monastery and then to take over cultivation and habitation of the land.

These monasteries were supported by the respective regional nobles, among others, with the aim of converting, through missionary work, the “pagan” Slavs living in these areas and using the relative economic power of the monks to strengthen the country and gradually expand it. The Cistercians established model farms, promoted horticulture, specifically the development of orchards, viticulture, horse and fish farming, mining, the wool trade and also contributed to the dissemination of high medieval culture.

Through the colonization activities of the Cistercians, especially in the area east of the Elbe in the 12th and 13th Centuries, a substantial German eastern settlement was established.

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1 Thanks to S. Winkler for help with the English translation of this page