Saxon post milestone

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One of the two post mileposts in Geithain, in front of the Lower Gate (Untertor) in the municipal park

A Saxon post milestone (German: kursächsische Postmeilensäule, colloquially sächsische Postmeilensäule or Postsäule) was a milestone in the former Electorate of Saxony that gave distances and journey times to the nearest eighth of an hour. The design of the milestones varied according to the distance at which they were placed. They were hewn out of natural stone and could take the shape of an obelisk, an ancient herma or a stele. Their prototype was the Roman milestone, in German a römische Meilensäule, from which the rather inaccurate German description of Säule (lit.: "column") was derived. The Saxon head postal director (Oberpostdirektor), Paul Vermehren, brought about their inception based on official distance surveys, whose results were given in leagues on the post mileposts. A league in Saxony at that time (1722 to 1840) was meant to be an hour's journey, equivalent to half a mile or 4.531 kilometres.

Saxon post milestones were set up during the reign of August the Strong and his successor along all important postal and trading routes and in almost all towns in the Electorate of Saxony to indicate the official distances. This was intended to be the basis for the creation of a unified calculation of postal charges. Because the Electorate of Saxony was at that time larger than the present-day German state of Saxony, these milestones are also found nowadays in the states of Thuringia, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as in Poland.

The locations and images of surviving or replaced Saxon milestones may be seen in the Gallery of Saxon post milestones.


Wooden Saxon mileposts ("Chur-Sächsische Höltzerne Armen Säulen")

In 1695, the head of the Saxon post office, Oberpostmeister Ludwig Wilhelm, proposed a systematic survey of the road from Leipzig to Dresden with wooden, roadside posts at regular intervals. This prompted prince elector Augustus the Strong, on 18 June 1695, to order "that certain mileposts are to be erected". He tasked the Konducteur, Heinrich Niedhart, with carrying this out. The electoral Saxon master forester was instructed to make the wood available and the officials of the electoral Saxon districts were to ensure the posts were erected.

Furthermore, before 1700 wooden fingerposts withs distance markings (so-called Arm(en)säulen or "arm columns") were commonplace on the roads of Saxony. These consisted of a wooden post, at the upper end of which were direction indicators in the shape of human arms and hands. Because the wood rotted rapidly as a result of its constant exposure to moisture, many of these fingerposts collapsed a few years after they had been erected and became unusable.

The establishment of post milestones in electoral Saxony was not an isolated phenomenon. History indicates there was a number of countries in which such posts or stones with distances marked on them were erected along roads.

State survey by Zürner[edit]

Working replica of a surveying barrow (Messkarre) for road surveying in the Eastern Ore Mountain Museum at Lauenstein Castle

The basis for the introduction of Saxon post milestones was the cartographic work of the pastor, Adam Friedrich Zürner, from Skassa. Zürner had prepared a map of Großenhain, which attracted the attention of Augustus the Strong. After further cartographic work, the prince elector gave him the task on 12 April 1713 of: "increasingly recording districts, including the lordships, manor estates, towns, villages and the like, on geographic maps" (original: "Aemter samt denen darinnen befindlichen Herrschaften, Rittergütern, Städten, Dörfern und dergleichen mehr in mappas geographicas bringen"). This entailed the topographic survey of Electoral Saxony. It covered, in addition to the heartland, the electoral Saxon parts of the counties of Henneberg and Mansfeld, the Schönburg estates, the estates of the Albertine branches of Saxe-Merseburg, Saxe-Weissenfels and Saxe-Zeitz as well as the two Lusatias.

The resulting cartographic material remained largely secret for several decades for military reasons. The prince elector only had an improved postal map published; the result of an extension to the contract that followed a few weeks later. This "Chur-Sächsische Post-Charte", first published in 1718, and its subsequent editions, continued in use until the 19th century.

Because the distances stated at that time were frequently based on imprecise estimates, Zürner had to survey the distances afresh or check existing data. To achieve that he designed a survey vehicle in the shape of an electoral Saxon baggage coach. The rear wheel of the coach, with its diamenter of one Dresden rod (Dresdner Rute), i.e. 4.531 metres, clocked up revolutions on a counter in the coach by means of a chain. Zürner's assistants used a measuring barrow for those tracks unsuitable for a coach, which likewise measured the distances by the turning of a wheel and as the so-called "fifth wheel on the wagon" (fünftes Rad am Wagen) was carried in a case on the surveying coach. Both methods enabled a very accurate survey of roads.

Known locations of post milestones on a map of the Kingdom of Saxony before the Vienna Congress, whose area of interest coincided largely with that of Electoral Saxony in 1814/15

Another problem was the lack of standard units of measurement. In the electorate at that time there were miles (Meilen) of various length. To achieve standardization, therefore, on 17 March 1722, the Electoral Saxon post mile was introduced, whereby 1 mile = 2 leagues = 2,000 Dresden rods = 9.062 kilometres. To indicate distances on the mileposts, Zürner used the league (Wegstunde), which equalled a half mile.

The survey journeys usually began in Leipzig or Dresden, the counter being set to zero at the posthouse in each city. As a result, one talked of a Leipzig or Dresden distance. During such a journey the assistant to the surveyor had to knock a numbered wooden stake into the ground every quarter of a mile and dig a hole next to it. The excavated material was then used to help fix the wooden post securely. The landowner was responsibility for looking after the survey stake.

In several cases the surveys were also conducted outside the territory of the electorate. Everywhere where Saxon land was interrupted by other territories, roads that were used by the Saxon post office were surveyed, with the permission of the territorial owner.

Surveying was especially difficult in Upper Lusatia because there the landowners of the estates of the realm tried to impede Zürner's activity. Not until 29 June 1723 was Zürner able to begin surveying Upper and Lower Lusatia. The survey work on the most important roads in the state was completed by 1733.

Erection of the columns[edit]

Bernardo Bellotto: view of Dresden (detail); the moats and bridge between the Wilschem Gate and the template post milepost (without coat of arms) by Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, ca. 1750

On 19 September 1721, an electoral command was issued to the offices (Ämter) of Dresden, Meißen and Großenhain, to erect stone columns as post milestones. On 1 November 1721, this command was extended to the entire state. On the same day the responsible state authorities issued the general ordinance for the "Establishment of Stone Postal Columns" (Setzung der steinernen Post-Säulen) and the instruction that the costs of erecting them were to be borne by the landowner of the locations affected. For Upper Lusatia, a separate instruction followed on 24 November 1721.

The detail of which milestones were to be erected, Zürner, who had been tasked by Augustus the Strong on 14 December 1721, worked out himself. Zürner laid down that a large distance column (Distanzsäule) was to be erected in front of the gates of a town. Similarly there were to be quarter-mile, half-mile and whole-mile stones at the corresponding intervals. In the Saxon part of the County of Henneberg cast iron posts were erected instead of the usual stone columns and in the County of Mansfeld there were no milestones at all.

Originally about 300 distance milestones and around 1,200 other roadside milestones were erected. Of those about 200 have at least partly survived or have been faithfully reconstructed. After 1990 replicas were increasingly made.

Today the Saxon section of the Old Dresden to Teplitz Post Road is the historic transport link with the most surviving post milestones.

The material used for the milestones in Saxony varies widely. They were usually made from the prevailing building stone of the local area, something also reflected in the building materials of the Saxony's architectural landscape. Elbe sandstone from several quarries in Saxon Switzerland and the area of the Tharandt Forest was used for most of the stones. Also frequently used was Rochlitz porphyry in Central Saxony and Lusatian granite in eastern Saxony. In the Chemnitz area, Hilbersdorf porphyritic tuff is used as a milestone material, quarried at Hilbersdorf and Flöha. In the upper Ore Mountains and the Vogtland columns of granite from these areas was used, for example, Wiesenbad Granite, granite of the Greifensteine area, Schwarzenberg Granite, Kirchberg Granite or Bad Brambach Granite of the "Fichtelgebirge type". The problems arising from the differing weathering properties of this diversity of stone of is proving in many cases to be a challenge for monument conservation. It also means that numerous columns no longer exist.[1][2]


Coat of arms and inscription block of the distance milestone in Berggießhübel

Both the costs and also the responsibility for erecting the milestones had to be borne by the authorities of the respective towns and villages. As a result the measures did not gain universal approval throughout the land. Because the means of the towns varied considerably depending on their size and industrial structure, the financial impact on them was very variable. Regardless of their size, they often had a similar number of town gates and therefore a comparable number of milestone columns to put up. Frequently there were three to five gates. In 1722, the Saxon Landtag asked the prince elector to cancel the expensive project that had invoked the opposition of many town councils and landowners. Many towns tried to ignore the edict or delay its implementation.[3]

In order to enforce the implementation of his instructions, the elector had resort to harsh measures and threatened, in a "command" of 24 July 1722, disciplinary action for negligence, tardiness or damage to the milestones; and in another edict of 7 September 1724, fines of 20 talers against every official for missing deadlines and for each individual case of neglect. Especially on the roads of Central Saxony, in the towns of Colditz, Grimma, Oschatz, Rochlitz and Waldheim, as well as the routes from these towns to Leipzig and thence Zeitz the gaps were particularly noticeable and were, in a decree of 7 September, subject to public reprimand by the prince elector.[4]

Many places strove in the course of this dispute only to erect one milestone column. Zürner knew the location of many small towns and villages very precisely. During the course of his project, he proceeded to support the towns in their requests and advocated the elector's consent. In many cases their requests were granted. On the national roads, therefore, only wooden mileposts were erected or existing ones repaired.[5] After 1727 the practice of erecting one column per town was carried out in many cases.[6]

As the command dated 19 September 1721 had a comprehensive, 24 point memorandum, accompanied by a list of benefits of the regulation, it appears that problems were anticipated from the outset. For example, as advantages of the national survey, the memorandum called pointed out that the payment of "delivery men, relay services, postal items and other goods" would be verifiable and the prices could no longer be fixed arbitrarily, that there would be fewer complaints from travellers about high fees that had hitherto taken up the time of courts and higher authorities, and that journey times and delivery times would be precisely defined by the survey. Another argument was that the roads would be more easily recognisable in the winter and at night.[7]

Opposition to the post milestones was especially strong in Upper Lusatia. In 1723, the town councils of Bautzen and Görlitz refused to entertain Zürner in this matter. Not until 31 March 1724 did the estates of Upper Lusatia declare themselves ready to carry out the instrutions.[8]

Because milestones were occasionally damaged or even knocked down, a command was issued in 1724 that such crimes would be punished by imprisonment and other "hard and exemplary punishments".[9]

Due to persistent opposition the Saxon Landtage was finally able, on 12 April 1728 and contrary to the elector's wishes, to issue a decree that the milestones need only be erected on main and postal roads.[10]


View of the types of milestone, 1747

To what extent Augustus the Strong was personally involved in the development of the designs for the milestones is not clear. Their final appearance, which was based on baroque and classical prototypes, was linked to the senior state architect (Oberlandesbaumeister), Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann.[11][12]

Distance milestones[edit]

The large distance milestones (Distanzsäule) comprised seven elements. The pedestal was formed by the plinth, dado and cornice (or cap). The column consists of the base (Zwischenplatte or Schaftfuß), shaft, coat of arms block (Wappenstück) and finial (Aufsatz or Spitze). The columns had an average height of 8 ells (4.53 metres) and rested on a pedestal half an ell high. The individual elements were held together by means of iron pegs cast in lead. On the shaft of the column the name of the destination was given in the Fraktur font at Zürner's direction based on the distance tables that had been worked out for each town. Several routes crossed state borders and this was indicated by the letters gr (for Grenze or "border") or a horizontal line. Part of the inscription on all columns was a post horn on all four sides, which was the emblem of the state's postal sovereignty. On the superstructure were the arms of the Electorate of Saxony with a gilded crown and the Polish royal crown with the royal Polish-Lithuanian coat of arms.

The milestones originally erected in front of the town gates usually had the distances marked on two sides and the names of the destination towns on the other two sides. Later columns, erected in the market squares, had the distances marked on all four sides.


The full-milestone (Ganzmeilensäule) was to mark every full mile along the post road. It was about 3.75 metres high and resembled the large distance milestone in shape. They were however more slender and had no coat of arms section. The information was inscribed on two sides so that travellers in both directions could read them. On the road side was the so-called serial number (Reihennummer) with which all roadside columns and milestones were numbered in sequence. Because a number was assigned every quarter of a mile, each full-milestone had a serial number divisible by four.


The half-milestone (Halbmeilensäule), also called the league post (Stundensäule) because the league corresponded to a half-mile, had a lower pedestal surmounted by a shaft that tapered from top to bottom. A roof-shaped, chamfered finial formed the uppermost element. Its total height was about 3 metres. It bore the same inscriptions as the full-milestone. The herm-like design of this column means that, today, there are only a few of this type that have survived. The serial number is even, but not divisible by four.


The quarter-milestone (Viertelmeilenstein) rests on a low pedestal and consists of a rectangular column or stele. Its total height was about 1.7 metres. There were no inscriptions on these milestones, they just bore the monogramme "AR", a post horn symbol, the year of manufacture and, on the narrow side facing the road, the serial number which was an odd number.


Royal Saxon station stone in Altenberg

In the Kingdom of Saxony preparations for the introduction of the metric system were made as part of the work of the Standardization Commission (Normalaichungscommission) and the leading part played in that by Albert Christian Weinlig and Julius Ambrosius Hülße. These two men envisaged a transition phase from the old units. Almost simultaneously, similar efforts were being made at the level of the German Confederation.[13][14] A new survey was carried out in 1858 and between 1859 and 1865 a new system of milestones – the Royal Saxon milestones were made in the shape of station milestones (Stationssteine), full-mile, half-mile, junction (Abzweig-) and border crossing stones (Grenzübergangssteinen), noting that, from 1840, 1 mile = 7.5 km. On the introduction of the metric system in 1900, some of these were converted to kilometer, chaussee, boundary (Flurgrenz) and roadkeeper stones (Straßenwärtersteine).


  • Carl Christian Schramm: Saxonia Monumentis Viarum Illustrata. - Wege-Weisern, Armen- und Meilen-Säulen. Wittenberg, 1727.
  • Eberhard Stimmel: Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen – Bibliographie. Herausgegeben von der Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e. V. Verlag für Bauwesen, Berlin, 1988.
  • Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. Herausgegeben von der Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e. V.. transpress Verlag für Verkehrswesen, Berlin, 1989, ISBN 3-344-00264-3.
  • Gustav Adolf Kuhfahl: Die kursächsischen Postmeilensäulen beim 200jährigen Bestehen. In: Mitteilungen des Landesvereins Sächsischer Heimatschutz. Band 11, Heft 4–6, Dresden, 1922, pp. 69–95, ISSN 0941-1151.
  • Gustav Adolf Kuhfahl: Die kursächsischen Postmeilensäulen. In: Mitteilungen des Landesvereins Sächsischer Heimatschutz. Band 12, Heft 4–6, Dresden 1923, pp. 97–109, ISSN 0941-1151.
  • Gustav Adolf Kuhfahl: Die kursächsischen Postmeilensäulen Augusts des Starken…. Verlag des Landesvereines Sächsischer Heimatschutz, Dresden, 1930.
  • Heinz Burckart: Zur Geschichte der Postsäulenstellung in Kursachsen. In: Sächsische Heimatblätter. Heft 6, 1971, pp. 241–250.
  • Hans-Heinrich Stölzel: Vorhandene kursächsische Postmeilensäulen und Reststücke. In: Sächsische Heimatblätter. Heft 6, 1971, pp. 261–271.
  • Siegfried Rühle: Postsäulen und Meilensteine. Herausgegeben von der Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e. V. 2. Auflage, Sächs. Druck- und Verlagshaus, Dresden, 1996.
  • Postsäulen und Meilensteine. Herausgegeben von der Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e. V. Dresden/Grillenburg (Stadt Tharandt). 3. überarbeitete Auflage, Schütze-Engler-Weber Verlags GbR, Dresden, 2007, ISBN 978-3-936203-09-7.
  • Autorenkollektiv der Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen: Rundbrief 1-88 (1964-2011), Herausgegeben von der Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e. V.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, pp. 115–117.
  2. ^ O. Herrmann: Steinbruchindustrie und Steinbruchgeologie. 1st ed., Berlin, 1899.
  3. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, pp. 99, 100, 121.
  4. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, pp. 96–97.
  5. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, p. 100.
  6. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, p. 111.
  7. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, pp. 95–96.
  8. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, p. 98.
  9. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, p. 97.
  10. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, p. 99.
  11. ^ vgl. Forschungsgruppe Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen e. V.
  12. ^ Autorenkollektiv: Lexikon Kursächsische Postmeilensäulen. 1989, p. 94.
  13. ^ Paul Domsch: Albert Christian Weinlig. Ein Lebensbild nach Familienpapieren und Akten. Chemnitz 1912 (Abhandlungen und Berichte der Technischen Staatslehranstalten in Chemnitz, Heft 2), p. 83.
  14. ^ Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Saxony, 1858, 12 March 1858 No. 18, Gesetz, die Einführung eines allgemeinen Landesgewichts und einige Bestimmungen über das Maaß- und Gewichtswesen im Allgemeinen betreffend.