Margraviate of Meissen

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Margraviate of Meissen
Markgrafschaft Meißen
State of the Holy Roman Empire
Coat of arms
Coat of arms
Wettin lands of Meissen, Lusatia and Osterland (Landsberg) about 1260
Capital Meissen
Government Feudal monarchy
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Partitioned from Marca Geronis 965
 •  Investiture Controversy¹ 1067
 •  War of Thuringian Succession  
 •  Acquired most of Thuringia  
 •  Battle of Lucka 1307
 •  Frederick IV assigned Saxe-Wittenberg 1423
 •  Acquired Burggraviate 1426
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Image missing Marca Geronis
Electorate of Saxony Electoral Saxony
1: As a result of the Investiture Controversy in 1067, the territory was lost from the Brunonen to the Wettin dynasty.

The Margraviate of Meissen (German: Markgrafschaft Meißen), sometimes 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 margraviate was finally merged into the Saxon Electorate in 1423.


Central Europe 919–1125

The Margraviate of Meissen was sometimes called the Thuringian March or March of Thuringia. Usually this was a term for the land east of the Saale, a land inhabited by Polabian Slavs. Formerly, the "Thuringian march" was called the "Sorbian march". The eastern part of the Thuringian March around the fortress near the Dresden Basin became the Meissen march.


Meissen, with Albrechtsburg and Cathedral

In 928/29, during a campaign against Slavic Glomacze tribes, the German king Henry the Fowler had a fortress built on a hill above the Elbe River. The later Albrechtsburg was then named Meissen after the nearby Meisa stream.

A town soon developed at the foot of the castle. Henry, however, made no attempts to Germanise the Slavs or to create a chain of supporting burgwards for his new fortress; rather Meissen sat alone, like Brandenburg, with little organisation around it.[1] That did not last, however. The town grew, eventually becoming one of the most important cities in the large Marca Geronis which covered the lands east of the German stem duchy of Saxony.

King Henry continued his Slavic campaigns into the lands of the Polabian Milceni tribes around Bautzen, resumed by his son and successor King Otto I in 939, with their territory gradually incorporated into the Saxon eastern march. When the marca was divided in 965 upon the death of Margrave Gero, Meissen formed the centre of a new march primarily to control the local Sorbian population. The first Meissen margrave Wigbert is mentioned in the 968 charter of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. That same year, the castle became also the see of the newly created Bishopric of Meissen. In 978, the Saxon count Rikdag became Margrave of Meissen, who also acquired the marches of Merseburg and Zeitz in the west. By 982, the territory of the march had extended as far as the Neisse and Kwisa (Queis) rivers to the east and to the slopes of the Ore Mountains to the south, where it bordered with the Přemyslid duchy of Bohemia.

Mark Meissen (hatched) about 1000

In 983, following word of 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 were destroyed and the March of Zeitz devastated. Margrave Rikdag joined forces with the margraves of Lusatia and the Northern March as well as with the Bishop of Halberstadt and the Archbishop of Magdeburg and defeated the Slavs in the Balsamgau near Stendal.[2] Nevertheless, large territories of the Northern March were lost, where the Germans were once again limited to the land west of the Elbe.

When Margrave Eckard I succeeded Rikdag in 985, he and his sons of the Ekkeharding noble family would held the title until 1046. However, in 1002, King Bolesław I Chrobry of Poland conquered the Thuringian March,[3] starting a German–Polish War, whereafter the Meissen margraves by the 1018 Peace of Bautzen had to cede the Milceni territory of later Upper Lusatia to him. Not until 1031, King Conrad II of Germany was able to reconquer the Milceni lands, which again came under control of Meissen.

In 1046, the margraviate went to Count Otto of Weimar-Orlamünde and, in 1067, to the Brunonids, whose representative Margrave Egbert II entered into longstanding conflict with Emperor Henry IV. He had to renounce the Milceni lands in favour of Duke Vratislaus II of Bohemia in 1076 and was finally deposed during the Investiture Controversy in 1089.

Wettin rule

Emperor Henry IV then granted Meissen to Count Henry of Eilenburg, of the Wettin dynasty under whose rule the margraviate would remain for the rest of its existence. Under Wiprecht von Groitzsch in the 1120s, Meissen ultimately underwent Germanisation.[4] He was followed by Conrad the Great (1123–56), Otto the Rich (1156–91), and Dietrich the Hard-Pressed (1191–1221), under whom the march was expanded and developed.

In 1264, Henry III asserted himself in the war of the succession of the Landgraviate of Thuringia, 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 margraviate was de facto independent of any sovereign authority.

In the years following Lucka, there would be joint rule of the principality by multiple members of the Wettin dynasty at any given time. In the years 1382 and 1445, this even led to the division of the march. However, the cadet branches of the family frequently became extinct and the lands consequently reunited. At the same time, the territory could be extended by marriage, purchase, or conquest, which is how the margraviate gained the rights to the burgraviate in 1426. At the end of 15th century, the area ruled over by the Wettin dynasty covered the lands between the Werra and the Oder.

In 1423, Frederick the Militant became Margrave and was assigned the Duchy of Saxony-Wittenberg. With it the Margraviate 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.


Around 1068, Meissen received its own burgrave. In time the Meinheringer family would come to control the burgraviate.

See also


  1. Thompson, p. 481.
  2. Thompson, p. 490.
  3. Thompson, p. 643.
  4. Thompson, p. 481.