1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dithmarschen

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DITHMARSCHEN, or Ditmarsh (in the oldest form of the name Thiatmaresgaho, Dietmar’s Gau), a territory between the Eider, the Elbe and the North Sea, forming the western part of the old duchy of Holstein, and now included in the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. It contains about 550 sq. m. with 90,000 inhabitants. The territory consists to the extent of one half of good pasture land, which is preserved from inroads of the sea by banks and dams, the other half being mostly waste. It was originally colonized mainly from Friesland and Saxony. The district was subjugated and Christianized by Charlemagne in 804, and ranked as a separate Gau, included perhaps in the countship of Stade, or Comitalus utriusque ripae. From the same century, according to one opinion, or from the year 1182, when the countship was incorporated with their see, according to another, the archbishops of Bremen claimed supremacy over the land; but the inhabitants, who had developed and consolidated a systematic organism for self-government, made obstinate resistance, and rather attached themselves to the bishop of Schleswig. Ditmarsken, to use the Scandinavian form of the name, continued part of the Danish dominions till the disastrous battle of Bornhöved in 1227, when its former independence was regained. The claims of the archbishop of Bremen were now so far recognized that he exercised the royal rights of Heerbann and Blutbann,[1] enjoyed the consequent emoluments, and was represented first by a single advocatus, or Vogt, and afterwards by one for each of the five Döffts, or marks, into which the land was divided after the establishment of Meldorf. The community was governed by a Landrath of forty-eight elective consuls, or twelve from each of the four marks; and even in the 14th century the power of the episcopal advocati was so slight that a chronicler quoted by Conrad von Maurer says, De Ditmarschen leven sunder Heren und Hovedt unde dohn wadt se willen, “the Ditmarschen live without lord and head, and do what they will.” In 1319 and in 1404 they succeeded in defeating the invasions of the Holstein nobles; and though in 1474 the land was nominally incorporated with the duchy by the emperor Frederick III., the attempt of the Danish king Hans and the duke of Gottorp to enforce the decree in 1500 resulted only in their complete rout in the marshes of the Dussend-Düwels-Warf. During the early part of the century which began with such prestige for Ditmarsh, it was the scene of violent internal conflict in regard to the religious questions of the time; and, thus weakened, it was obliged in 1559 to submit to partition among its three conquerors—King Frederick II. of Denmark and Dukes John and Adolphus. A new division took place on Duke John’s death in 1581, by which Frederick obtained South Ditmarsh, with its chief town of Meldorf, and Adolphus obtained North Ditmarsh, with its chief town of Heide; and this arrangement continued till 1773, when all the Gottorp possessions were incorporated with the Danish crown.

See Dahlmann’s edition of Neocorus, Chronik von Dithmarschen (Kiel, 1827), and Geschichte Dänemarks (1840-1844); Michelsen, Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte des Landes Dithmarschen (1834), Sammlung altdithmarscher Rechtsquellen (1842), and Dithmarschen im Verhältniss zum bremischen Erzstift; Kolster, Geschichte Dithmarschens, nach F. R. Dahlmanns Vorlesungen (1873).


  1. That is, the right of claiming military service, and the right of bringing capital offenders to justice.