Margravate of Meissen
The Margravate of Meissen (German: Markgrafschaft Meißen), sometimes known as the March of Miśnia, was a medieval principality in the area of the modern German state of Saxony. It originally was a frontier march of the Holy Roman Empire, created out of the vast Marca Geronis in 965. The margravate was finally merged into the Saxon Electorate in 1423.
The Margravate of Meissen was originally part of a march called the Sorbian march, which was later renamed to the Thuringian March. Thuringia was the name of the land east of the Saale, a land inhabited by Polabian Slavs. The eastern part of the Thuringian March around the fortress near the Dresden Basin became the Margravate of Meissen.
In 928 and 929, during a campaign against Slavic Glomacze tribes, the German king Henry the Fowler had a fortress built on a hill next to the Elbe River called Albrechtsburg. The fortress was later renamed Meissen after the nearby Meisa stream.
A town soon developed around the castle. Henry, however, made no attempts to Germanise the Slavs or to create a chain of burgwards around his fortress. Meissen sat alone, like Brandenburg, with few defenses or towns around it. The town around the fortress grew however, eventually becoming one of the most important cities in the large Marca Geronis region, which included the lands east of the German stem duchy of Saxony.
King Henry, and later on his son King Otto I, continued the Slavic campaigns into the lands of the Polabian Milceni tribes around Bautzen, with their gained territory being gradually incorporated into the Saxon eastern march. When the marca was divided in 965 upon the death of Margrave Gero, Meissen became the center of a new march with the goal of controlling the local Sorbian population. The first Meissen Margrave, Wigbert, is mentioned in the 968 charter of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. That same year, the Meissen fortress also became the see of the newly created Bishopric of Meissen. In 978, the Saxon count Rikdag became the Margrave of Meissen, and incorporated the marches of Merseburg and Zeitz into Meissen. By 982, the territory of the march had extended as far as the Neisse and Kwisa (Queis) rivers to the east and as far as the slopes of the Ore Mountains to the south, where it shared a border with the Přemyslid duchy of Bohemia.
In 983, following the defeat of Emperor Otto II at the Battle of Stilo, the Slavic Lutici tribes bordering eastern Saxony rebelled in the Great Slav Rising. The bishoprics of Havelberg and Brandenburg and the March of Zeitz were overrun by Lutici tribes. Margrave Rikdag joined forces with the Margraves of Lusatia and the Northern March, the Bishop of Halberstadt, and the Archbishop of Magdeburg and defeated the Slavs in the gau of Balsamgau near Stendal. Nevertheless, large territories of the Northern March were lost, and the Germans were pushed back west of the Elbe.
Margrave Eckard I succeeded Rikdag as Margrave of Meissen in 985. His family, the Ekkeharding noble family, would keep the title until 1046. In 1002, King Bolesław I Chrobry of Poland conquered the Thuringian March, starting a German–Polish War. The war ended with the 1018 Peace of Bautzen, and Meissen had to cede the Upper Lusatian region of Milceni to Poland. In 1031 however, King Conrad II of Germany was able to reconquer the Milceni lands, which were returned to Meissen.
In 1046, Count Otto of Weimar-Orlamünde became the Margrave, and upon his death in 1067, Egbert II of the Brunonids became the Margrave. Egbert II entered into a longstanding conflict with Emperor Henry IV, because of which he had to renounce the Milceni lands to the Duke Vratislaus II of Bohemia in 1076, and was finally deposed during the Investiture Controversy in 1089.
Emperor Henry IV then granted Meissen to Count Henry of Eilenburg of the Wettin dynasty. Meissen would remain under Wettin rule for the rest of its existence. Under Wiprecht von Groitzsch in the 1120s, Meissen underwent a process of Germanisation. He was succeeded by Conrad the Great (1123–56), Otto the Rich (1156–91), and Dietrich the Hard-Pressed (1191–1221), under whom the march would expand and develop.
In 1264, Henry III asserted himself in the War of the Thuringian Succession, where his uncle, Henry Raspe, had died childless. Between 1243 and 1255, Henry III acquired Pleisseland around Altenburg as a security measure. In 1307, the attempt by Emperor Henry VII to once again subdue the Margraves of Meissen failed with his defeat at the Battle of Lucka. By that time the margravate was de facto independent of any sovereign authority.
In the years following the Battle of Lucka, there would be joint rule of Meissen by multiple members of the Wettin dynasty at any given time. In 1382 and 1445, this even led to the division of the march, however it would reunite soon after each time. Messein was often enlarged by marriage, purchase, or conquest, which is how it gained the rights to the burgravate in 1426. At the end of 15th century, the area ruled over by the Wettin dynasty covered the lands between the Werra and Oder rivers.
In 1423, Frederick the Militant became the Margrave and was assigned the Duchy of Saxony-Wittenberg. Because of this, the Margravate of Meissen entered into the electorate of Saxony and lost its status as an independent principality. In 1485, the Treaty of Leipzig divided Saxony and Thuringia between the brothers Ernest and Albert, which marked the beginning of the permanent separation of the two states.
- Thompson, p. 481.
- Thompson, p. 490.
- Thompson, p. 643.
- Thompson, p. 481.
- Thompson, James Westfall. Feudal Germany, Volume II. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1928.