1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saxe-Altenburg

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SAXE-ALTENBURG (Ger. Sachsen-Altenburg), a duchy in Thuringia, forming an independent member of the German Empire and consisting of two detached and almost equal parts, separated from each other by a portion of Reuss, and bounded on the S. and W. by the grand duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, on the N. by Prussia, and on the E. by the kingdom of Saxony. There are in addition twelve small exclaves. The total area is 511 sq. m., of which 254 are in the east, or Altenburg, division, and 257 in the west, or Saal-Eisenberg, division. The eastern district, traversed by the most westerly offshoots of the Erzgebirge and watered by the Pleisse and its tributaries, forms an undulating and fertile region, containing some of the richest agricultural soil in Germany. The western district, through which the Saale flows, is rendered hilly by the foothills of the Thuringian Forest, and in some measure makes up by its fine woods for its comparatively poor soil. The mineral wealth of Saxe-Altenburg is scanty; lignite, the chief mineral, is worked mainly in the eastern district. Nearly 60% of the entire duchy is occupied by arable land, and about 26% by forests, mainly consisting of conifers. Oats, rye, wheat and potatoes are the chief crops. Cattle-raising and horse-breeding are of considerable importance. About 35% of the population are directly supported by agriculture. The manufactures of the duchy are varied, though none is of first-rate importance; woollen goods, gloves, hats, porcelain and earthenware, bricks, sewing-machines, paper, musical instruments, sausages and wooden articles are the chief products. Trade in these, and in horses, cattle and agricultural produce, is brisk. The chief seats of trade and manufacture are Altenburg the capital, Ronneburg, Schmölln, Gössnitz and Meuselwitz in the Altenburg division; and Eisenberg, Roda and Kahla in the Saal-Eisenberg division. Besides these there are the towns of Lucka, Orlamünde and Russdorf in an exclave. The duchy includes one of the most densely inhabited districts in the Thuringian states. The population in 1905 was 206,508, of whom 200,511 were Protestants and 5449 Roman Catholics. In the west division the population is wholly Teutonic, but in the east there is a strong Wendish or Slavonic element, still to be traced in the peculiar manners and costume of the country-people, though these are gradually disappearing. The Altenburg peasants are industrious and prosperous; they are said to be avaricious, but to love pleasure, and to gamble for high stakes, especially at the card game of Skat (q.v.), which many believe to have been invented here. Their holdings are rarely divided, and a common custom is the inheritance of landed property by the youngest son. They are decreasing in numbers.

Saxe-Altenburg is a limited hereditary monarchy, its constitution resting on a law of 1831, subsequently modified. The diet consists of 32 members, elected for 3 years, of whom 9 are returned by the highest taxpayers, 11 by the towns and 12 by the country districts. The franchise is enjoyed by all males over 25 years of age who pay taxes. The duke has considerable powers of initiative and veto. The executive is divided into four departments, justice, finance, the interior, and foreign and ecclesiastical affairs. The annual revenue and expenditure stand at about £230,000 each. There was a public debt in 1909 of £44,370. Saxe-Altenburg has one vote in the Reichstag and one in the Bundesrat (federal council).

History. — The district now forming the duchy of Saxe-Altenburg came into the possession of the margrave of Meissen about 1329, and later with Meissen formed part of the electorate of Saxony. On the division of the lands of the Wettins in 1485 it was assigned to the Albertine branch of the family, but in 1554 it passed by arrangement to the Ernestine branch. In 1603 Saxe-Altenburg was made into a separate duchy, but this only lasted until 1672, when the ruling family became extinct and the greater part of its lands was inherited by the duke of Saxe-Gotha. In 1825 the family ruling the duchy of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg became extinct and another division of the Saxon lands was made. Frederick (d. 1834) exchanged the duchy of Saxe-Hildburghausen, which he had ruled since 1780, for Saxe-Altenburg, and was the founder of the present reigning house. In answer to popular demands a constitution was granted to Saxe-Altenburg in 1831, and greater concessions were extorted by the more threatening disturbances of 1848. In November of this year Duke Joseph abdicated and was succeeded by his brother George. Under George's son Ernest (1826-1908), who became duke in 1853, a period of reaction began and the result was that the constitution was made less liberal. In 1874 a long dispute over the public domains was settled, two-thirds of these being assigned to the duke in lieu of a civil list. In 1908 Ernest was succeeded by his nephew Ernest (b. 1871).

See Frommelt, Sachsen-altenburghische Landeskunde (Leipzig, 1838-1841); L. von Braun, Erinnerungsblätter aus der Geschichte Altenburgs 1525-1826 (Altenburg, 1876); Mälzer, Die Landwirtschaft im Herzogtum Altenburg (Stuttgart, 1907); Albrecht, Das Domanenwesen im Herzogtum Saxe-Altenburg (Jena, 1905) ; and E. Löhe, Altenburgica (Altenburg, 1878).