Ostfalen's History

The People of Ostfalen (Eastphalia) was a people of the Germanic tribe of the Saxons, which lived approximately in the area between Magdeburg and Hildesheim.

The Germanic tribe of the Saxons around the first turn of the millennium consisted of three main peoples, the Eastphalians, the Engern and the Westphalians.

    • Eastphalia: the eastern part of the old Saxonia, between Elbe, Weser, Saale and Unstrut rivers
    • Engern: the middle part of the old Saxonia on both sides of the Weser river
    • Westphalia: the western part of the old Saxonia around the Sieg, Ruhr, Lippe rivers up to the Ems river.

In contrast to the name "Westphalia" the names "Engern" and "Eastphalia" were lost in the dissolution of the old Duchy of Saxony after the declaration of outlawry to Henry the Lion in 1180. Continuity had only the name "Engern" in the title of the ruler of the younger Duchy of Saxony ("Duke of Saxony, Engern and Westphalia") and the name "Ostfalen" as a name of a shire.

Northern Germany around the year 1000 AD

The history of the Saxons

From Holstein, the Germanic tribe of the Saxons spread to the south and southwest, absorbing all the Germanic tribes that had previously lived in present-day Northwestern Germany. In 421 they broke the Thuringian empire together with the Franks. In association with the Angles, they settled in Britain in 450. Also at this time began the almost uninterrupted border battles of the Saxons with the Franks. At that time they sat from the Eider river over the islands in front of the mouth of the Elbe (Insulae Saxonum) to the Rhine and the Sieg rivers, later they got the Langobard area and Northern Thuringia. Only in the 8th century they are distinguished by their residences in Westphalia, Engern, Eastphalia (Ostfalen) and North Albingia.

One of the most significant contributions of the Saxons to modern civilization from today's perspective is their language, the original form of English. Until the 11th century, there was a language community of the mainland Saxons with the Anglo-Saxons, while Saxons and South Germans could hardly communicate.

Little touched by the tremors of the migration period, the Saxons kept the fundamentals of old Germanic nature unchanged. At a time when almost all Germanic tribes were building a kingship, the Saxons created a stable tribal constitution for centuries, with an annual assembly for the settlement of political affairs, the Thing, a gathering that possessed all the characteristics of a proto-democratic character, without kingship and even without permanent duchy. They formed no political unity. They were free communities and provinces under elected heads. Only in times of war they put themselves under the leadership of a duke. Almost never did the noble leaders appear imperious or even dictatorial, be it in the thing or in their elected position as Duke of a shire. Their function is basically exhausted in the support of opinion formation. The decisions themselves were made by the people. Even envoys at foreign courts never express themselves as paladins of a Saxon Duke, but only as spokesman and on behalf of the Saxons.

The inner cohesion of the individual shires was quite different. The cohesion of the Westphalians was the strongest, a little more subdued it was among the Engels, the weakest one was among the Eastphalians. The profile of the individual tribes, however, was not expressed excessively. Although the tribes were often named individually, in most cases they were generalized Saxons.

The Saxons adhered to their pagan tradition with the utmost tenacity: it was Charlemagne who, after more than 30 years of war (772-804) and subsequent revolts, achieved the constant subjugation and Christianization of the Saxons. That the Thing was the political foundation of this Germanic tribe was then well known. Therefore, it is not surprising that after his victory over the Saxons Charlemagne initiated their incorporation into the Frankish Empire by destroying their founding constitution. He strictly forbade any general popular assembly. Such an assembly he allowed only if it had been requested with him, he had approved it and it was then called by his own heralds.


The old Duchy of Saxony

The lack of protection, in which the Carolingians left the country against the robberies of the Slavs and Normans, caused the Saxons to revert to the leadership of a duke (Otto the Illustrious, 880-912). His son Henry (912-936) was elected in 919 as Henry I as German king. From then on, until the expiration of the Saxon imperial house in 1024, the tribe of the Saxons, who had defied Franconian rule and Christianity a little more than 100 years earlier, presented the royal dynasty with the Ottonians and stood at the head of the empire. With Otto I. (Otto the Great), the son of Henry I, on 02.02.962 in Rome, a Saxon was crowned as the first emperor of Eastern Franconia, the later Holy Roman Empire.

Magadoburg (Magdeburg), destined to be a trading post by Emperor Charlemagne in 805, was one of Otto's favorite haunts. He had left the city to his bride Editha as a gift (after the wedding night). On 21 September 937 he donated the monastery of St. Mauritius. Three cities hovered over Otto I as centers of his empire: Aachen - Rome - Magdeburg. After the imperial coronation in 962 he founded the Archdiocese of Magdeburg, the monastery church was transformed into the cathedral to Magdeburg. Magdeburg was not only the most important city in Eastphalia, but its importance as the eastern center of the empire extended far beyond.

With the eastward expansion, the Saxon law, which finds its record in the "Sachsenspiegel" by Eike von Repgow, spreads far into the East Central European region and retains its effect until the 19th century.

The territory of the Duchy of Saxony under Henry the Lion extends over almost the whole of northern Germany and forms a northern German kingdom in competition with Emperor Frederick I (Friedrich Barbarossa). When Henry refused the Emperor to follow him with his army in 1176, the destruction of this all-too-large Duchy was decided. After Henry the Lion was outlawed in 1180 and forced by the Emperor to subjugation, only Braunschweig and Lüneburg were left to him. The bishops and secular princes, also some cities were declared for directly subordinate to the empire. The ducal power in Westphalia was transferred to the archbishopric of Cologne. Since then, the name "Duchy of Saxony" has only been attached to the eastern part at the river Elbe, with which Albrecht the bear's second son, Bernhard of Ascania, was entrusted.

In contrast to the name "Westphalia" the names "Engern" and "Eastphalia" were lost in the dissolution of the old Duchy of Saxony after the declaration of outlawry to Henry the Lion in 1180. Continuity had only the name "Engern" in the title of the ruler of the younger Duchy of Saxony ("Duke of Saxony, Engern and Westphalia") and the name "Ostfalen" as a name of a shire.


The younger Duchy of Saxony

Emperor Siegmund gave Saxony to the Margrave of Meissen, Frederick the Warlike, on 06.01.1423. With him begins the rule of the house Wettin. The name Saxony was now transferred - because of their higher dignity - on the other possessions of the house Wettin, Meissen and Thuringia. Nevertheless, for a long time a distinction was made between Upper Saxony and Lower Saxony, the area of the lower Elbe and Weser rivers.

The younger duchy of Saxony, comparable to the old people's duchy neither in scope nor in power, thus played only a minor role in the history of the German Empire.

© B.J.


Hellmut Diwald, "Heinrich der Erste"
Meyers Konversationslexikon, Leipzig und Wien, 1894

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