Last modified on April 9, 2019, at 19:47


Prussia was a former German state in eastern Europe dating back to the union of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg (with its capital Berlin) in 1618. It became a kingdom in 1701, and by military prowess became a major power under Frederick the Great. It expanded rapidly, winning new territory after each major war. Later, under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck Prussia defeated Denmark, Austria and France, and in 1871 it became the core of a new German empire. It included East Prussia, Brandenburg, Pomerania, Silesia, a large part of Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Hannover, Westphalia, Hesse-Nassau, the Rhine Province, and the Hohenzollern Lands in southwest Germany. The total area was 113,000 square miles (293,000 km2), second in Europe in size and population only to Russia. The Hohenzollern family ruled the Prussian lands from the 11th century to 1918.

Second Reich

see German Empire

The Prussian king became the German Emperor (Deutscher Kaiser). Bismarck became Chancellor. He and other Protestant Prussians dominated the new Germany, and began a Kulturkampf ("culture war") against the Catholics and Socialists in Germany.

Prussia was long synonymous with militarism (military control of the government) and a very high degree of military professionalism. Dominating politics were the rich landowners in the east known as "Junkers." The Junkers supported rapid industrialization in order to support a strong army and navy.

Bismarck was a master diplomat and kept the peace in Europe until his removal by a new young Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890. Wilhelm led Germany to a disastrous defeat in World War I and he and all the aristocrats lost their titles and power in 1918 - though, in contrast to Austria, the titles weren't dropped altogether, but became part of the family names.

The Prussian monarchy was abolished in 1918 just before the end of World War I. Prussia continued as a province of Germany until 1945, when it was dissolved by the Allies after World War II, and the oldest eastern part was divided between Poland and Russia.

Early Prussia

The history of the Duchy of Prussia prior to 1618 is complicated, too. The area, which laid outside of the German Empire, was conquered by the Teutonic Knights, who followed an invitation of the Masovian Duke Konrad I. in 1226. Western Prussia became part of Poland in 1466, while Eastern Prussia stayed with the Teutonic Knights, who moved the capital to Koenigsberg. In 1525, the Grand Master Albrecht von Brandenburg-Ansbach became Lutheran and secularised Eastern Prussia, in effect making it a duchy for his family.

Further reading

  • Barraclough, Geoffrey. The Origins of Modern Germany (2d ed., 1947)
  • Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (2009), standard scholarly history
  • Haffner, Sebastian. The Rise and Fall of Prussia (1998) 192 pp
  • Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany (3 vol 1959-64); col 1: The Reformation; vol 2: 1648-1840 online and text search; vol 3. 1840-1945
  • Jeep, John M. Medieval Germany: An Encyclopedia (2001), 928pp, 650 articles by 200 scholars cover A.D. 500 to 1500 excerpt and text search
  • Koch, H. W. History of Prussia (1987), short scholarly history
  • Maehl, William Harvey. Germany in Western Civilization (1979), 833pp
  • Reinhardt, Kurt F. Germany: 2000 Years (2 vols., 1961), stress on cultural topics
  • Shennan, M. The Rise of Brandenburg Prussia (1997), on 1600-1740 excerpt and text search
  • Taylor, A. J. P. The Course of German History: A Survey of the Development of German History since 1815. (2001). 280pp; online edition