1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Silesia

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SILESIA, the name of a district in the east of Europe, the greater part of which is included in the German empire and is known as German Silesia. A smaller part, called Austrian Silesia, is included in the empire of Austria-Hungary.

German Silesia.

German Silesia is bounded by Brandenburg, Posen, Russian Poland, Galicia, Austrian Silesia, Moravia, Bohemia and the kingdom and province of Saxony. Besides the bulk of the old duchy of Silesia, it comprises the countship of Glatz, a fragment of the Neumark, and part of Upper Lusatia, taken from the kingdom of Saxony in 1815. The province, which has an area of 15,576 sq. m. and is the largest in Prussia, is divided into three governmental districts, those of Liegnitz and Breslau comprising lower Silesia, and of Oppeln taking in the greater part of mountainous Silesia.

Physiographically Silesia is roughly divided into a flat and a hilly portion by the so-called Silesian Langental, which begins on the south-east near the river Malapane, and extends across the province in a west-by-north direction to the Black Elster, following in part the valley of the Oder. The south-east part of the province, to the east of the Oder and south of the Malapane, consists of a hilly outpost of the Carpathians, the Tarnowitz plateau, with a mean elevation of about 1000 ft. To the west of the Oder the land rises gradually from the Langental towards the southern boundary of the province, which is formed by the central part of the Sudetic system, including the Glatz Mountains and the Riesengebirge (Schneekoppe, 5260 ft.). Among the loftier elevations in advance of this southern barrier the most conspicuous is the Zobten (2356 ft.). To the north and north-east of the Oder the province belongs almost entirely to the great North-German plain, though a hilly ridge, rarely attaining a height of 1000 ft., may be traced from east to west, asserting itself most definitely in the Katzengebirge. Nearly the whole of Silesia lies within the basin of the Oder, which flows through it from south-east to north-west, dividing the province into two approximately equal parts. The Vistula touches the province on the south-east, and receives a few small tributaries from it, while on the west the Spree and Black Elster belong to the system of the Elbe. The Iser rises among the mountains on the south. Among the chief feeders of the Oder are the Malapane, the Glatzer Neisse, the Katzbach and the Bartsch; the Bober and Queiss flow through Silesia, but join the Oder beyond the frontier. The only lake of any extent is the Schlawa See, 7 m. long, on the north frontier; and the only navigable canal, the Klodnitz canal, in the mining district of upper Silesia. There is a considerable difference in the climate of Lower and Upper Silesia; some of the villages in the Riesengebirge have the lowest mean temperature of any inhabited place in Prussia (below 40° F.).

Of the total area of the province 56% is occupied by arable land, 10.2% by pasture and meadow, and nearly 29% by forests. The soil along the foot of the mountains is generally good, and the district between Ratibor and Liegnitz, where 70 to 80% of the surface is under the plough, is reckoned one of the most fertile in Germany. The parts of lower Silesia adjoining Brandenburg, and also the district to the east of the Oder, are sandy and comparatively unproductive. The different cereals are all grown with success, wheat and rye sometimes in quantity enough for exportation. Flax is still a frequent crop in the hilly districts, and sugar-beets are raised over large areas. Tobacco, oil-seeds, chicory and hops may also be specified, while a little wine, of an inferior quality, is produced near Grünberg. Mulberry trees for silk-culture have been introduced and thrive fairly. Large estates are the rule in Silesia, where about a third of the land is in the hands of owners possessing at least 250 acres, while properties of 50,000 to 100,000 acres are common. The districts of Oppeln and Liegnitz are among the most richly wooded parts of Prussia. The merino sheep was introduced by Frederick the Great, and since then the Silesian breed has been greatly improved. The woods and mountains harbour large quantities of game, such as red deer, roedeer, wild boars and hares. The fishery includes salmon in the Oder, trout in the mountain streams, and carp in the small lakes or ponds with which the province is sprinkled.

The great wealth of Silesia, however, lies underground, in the shape of large stores of coal and other minerals, which have been worked ever since the 12th century. The coal measures of Upper Silesia, in the south-east part of the province, are among the most extensive in continental Europe, and there is another large field near Waldenburg in the south-west. The output in 1905 exceeded 34 million tons, valued at £12,500,000 sterling, and equal to more than a quarter of the entire yield of Germany. The district of Oppeln also contains a great quantity of iron, the production in 1905 amounting to 862,000 tons. The deposits of zinc in the vicinity of Beuthen arc perhaps the richest in the world, and produce two-thirds of the zinc ore of Germany (609,000 tons). The remaining mineral products include lead, from which a considerable quantity of silver is extracted, copper, cobalt, arsenic, the rarer metal cadmium, alum, brown coal, marble, and a few of the commoner precious stones, jaspers, agates and amethysts. The province contains scarcely any salt or brine springs, but there are well-known mineral springs at Warmbrunn, Salzbrunn and several other places.

A busy manufacturing activity has long been united with the underground industries of Silesia, and the province in this respect is hardly excelled by any other part of Prussia. On the plateau of Tarnowitz the working and smelting of metals is the predominant industry, and in the neighbourhood of Beuthen, Königshütte and Gleiwitz there is an almost endless succession of iron-works, zinc-foundries, machine-shops and the like. At the foot of the Riesengebirge, and along the southern mountain line generally, the textile industries prevail. Weaving has been practised in Silesia, on a large scale, since the 14th century; and Silesian linen still maintains its reputation, though the conditions of production have greatly changed. Cotton and woollen goods of all kinds are also made in large quantities, and among the other industrial products are beetroot sugar, spirits, chemicals, tobacco, starch, paper, pottery, and “Bohemian glass.” Lace, somewhat resembling that of Brussels, is made by the women of the mountainous districts. The trade of Silesia is scarcely so extensive as might be expected from its important industrial activity. On the east it is hampered by the stringent regulations of the Russian frontier, and the great waterway of the Oder, though in process of being regulated, is sometimes too low in summer for navigation. The extension of the railway system has, however, had its usual effect in fostering commerce, and the mineral and manufactured products of the province are freely exported.

At the census of 1905 the population of Silesia was 4,942,611, of whom 2,120,361 were Protestants, 2,765,394 Catholics and 46,845 Jews. The density is 317 per sq. m., but the average is of course very greatly exceeded in the industrial districts such as Beuthen. Three-fourths of the inhabitants and territory are German, but to the east of the Oder the Poles, more than 1,000,000 in number, form the bulk of the population, while there are about 15,500 Czechs in the south part of the province and 25,000 Wends near Liegnitz. The Roman Catholics, most of whom are under the ecclesiastical sway of the prince bishop of Breslau, are predominant in Upper Silesia and Glatz; the Protestants prevail in Lower Silesia, to the west of the Oder, and in Lusatia. The nobility is very numerous in Silesia, chiefly in the Polish districts. The educational institutions of the province are headed by the university of Breslau. In 1900 the percentage of illiterate recruits, in spite of the large Polish-speaking contingent, was only 0.05. The capital and seat of the provincial diet is Breslau (q.v.), which is also by far the largest and most important town. The towns next in point of size are Görlitz, Liegnitz, Königshütte, Beuthen, Schweidnitz, Neisse and Glogau. The province sends thirty-five members to the Reichstag and sixty-five to the Prussian chamber of deputies. The government divisions of Breslau and Oppeln together form the district of the 6th army corps with its headquarters at Breslau, while Liegnitz belongs to that of the 5th army corps, the headquarters of which are at Posen. Glogau, Glatz and Neisse are fortresses.

History. — The beginnings of Silesian history do not reach back beyond the 10th century A.D., at which time the district was occupied by clans of Slavonic nationality, one of which derived its name from the mountain Zlenz (mod. Zobtenburg), near Breslau, and thus gave rise to the present appellation of the whole province. The etymology of place-names suggests that the original population was Celtic, but this conjecture cannot be verified in any historical records. About the year 1000 the Silesian clans were incorporated in the kingdom of Poland, whose rulers held their ground with difficulty against continuous attacks by the kings of Bohemia, but maintained themselves successfully against occasional raids from Germany. The decisive factor in the separation of Silesia from Poland was furnished by a partition of the Polish crown's territories in 1138. Silesia was henceforth constituted as a separate principality, and in 1201 its political severance from Poland became complete.

A yet more important result of the partition of 1138 was the transference of Silesia to the German nation. The independent dynasty which was then established was drawn under the influence of the German king, Frederick Barbarossa, and two princes who in 1163 divided the sovereignty among themselves as dukes of Upper and Lower Silesia inaugurated the policy of inviting German colonists to their vacant domains. More extensive immigrations followed, in the course of which the whole of Silesia was covered with German settlements. The numerous townships which then sprang up acquired rights of self-government according to German law, Breslau being refounded about 1250 as a German town, and a feudal organization was introduced among the landholding nobility. By the end of the 13th century Silesia had virtually become a German land.

This ethnical transformation was accompanied by a great rise in material prosperity. Large areas of forest or swamp were reclaimed for agriculture; the great Silesian industries of mining and weaving were called into existence, and Breslau grew to be a leading centre of exchange for the wares of East and West. The growing resources of the Silesian duchies are exemplified by the strength of the army with which Henry II., duke of Lower Silesia, broke the force of the Mongol invasion at the battle of Liegnitz (1241), and by the glamour at the court of the Minnesinger, Henry IV. (1266-1290). This prosperity, however, was checked by a growing tendency among the Silesian dynasties to make partitions of their territories at each new succession. Thus by the end of the 14th century the country had been split up into 18 principalities: Breslau, Brieg, Glogau, Jauer, Liegnitz, Münsterberg, Öls, Schweidnitz and Steinau in Lower Silesia; Beuthen, Falkenberg, Kosel, Neisse, Oppeln, Ratibor, Strehlitz, Teschen and Troppau in the upper district. The petty rulers of these sections wasted their strength with internecine quarrels and proved quite incompetent to check the lawlessness of their feudal vassals. Save under the vigorous rule of some dukes of Lower Silesia, such as Henry I. and Bolko I., and the above-named Henry II. and IV., who succeeded in reuniting most of the principalities under their sway, the country fell into a state of growing anarchy.

Unable to institute an effective national government, and unwilling to attach themselves again to Poland, the Silesian princes began about 1290 to seek the protection of the German dynasty then ruling in Bohemia. The intervention of these kings resulted in the establishment of their suzerainty over the whole of Silesia and the appropriation of several of its petty states as crown domains. The earliest of these Bohemian overlords, King John and the emperor Charles IV., fully justified their intrusion by the vigorous way in which they restored order and regularized the administration; in particular, the cities at this time attained a high degree of material prosperity and political importance. Under later rulers the connexion with Bohemia brought the Silesians no benefit, but involved them in the destructive Hussite wars. At the outbreak of this conflict in 1420 they gave ready support to their king Sigismund against the Bohemian rebels, whom they regarded as dangerous to their German nationality, but by this act they exposed themselves to a series of invasions (1425-1435) by which the country was severely devastated. In consequence of these raids the German element of population in Upper Silesia permanently lost ground; and a complete restitution of the Slavonic nationality seemed imminent on the appointment of the Hussite, George Podiebrad, to the Bohemian kingship in 1457. Though most of the Silesian dynasts seemed ready to acquiesce, the burghers of Breslau fiercely repudiated the new suzerain, and before he could enforce his claims to homage he was ousted by the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus, who was readily recognized as overlord (1469).

Matthias enforced his authority by the vigorous use of his mercenaries and by wholesale confiscations of the lands of turbulent nobles. By instituting a permanent diet of Silesian princes and estates to co-operate with his vicegerent, he took an important step towards the abolition of particularism and the establishment of an effective central government. In spite of these reforms the Silesians, who felt severely the financial exactions of Matthias, began to resent the control of the Bohemian crown. Profiting by the feebleness of Matthias' successor Vladislav, they extorted concessions which secured to them a practical autonomy. These privileges still remained to them at the outset of the religious Reformation, which the Silesians, in spite of their Catholic zeal during the Hussite wars, accepted readily and carried out with singularly little opposition from within or without. But a drastic revolution in their government was imposed upon them by the German king, Ferdinand I., who had been prevented from interference during his early reign by his wars with the Turks, and who showed little disposition to check the Reformation in Silesia by forcible means, but subsequently reasserted the control of the Bohemian crown by a series of important enactments. He abolished all privileges which were not secured by charter and imposed a more rigidly centralized scheme of government in which the activities of the provincial diet were restricted to some judicial and financial functions, and their freedom in matters of foreign policy was withdrawn altogether. Henceforth, too, annexations of territory were frequently carried out by the Bohemian crown on the extinction of Silesian dynasties, and the surviving princes showed an increasing reluctance to the exercise of their authority. Accordingly the Silesian estates never again chose to exercise initiative save on rare occasions, and from 1550 Silesia passed almost completely under foreign administration.

An uneventful period followed under the rule of the house of Habsburg, which united the kingship of Bohemia with the archduchy of Austria and the imperial crown. But this respite from trouble was ended by the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), which brought Silesia to the verge of ruin. Disquieted by some forcible attempts on Rudolph II.'s part to suppress Protestantism in certain parts of the country, and mistrusting a formal guarantee of religious liberty which wa.s given to them in 1609, the Silesians joined hands with the Bohemian insurgents and renounced their allegiance to their Austrian ruler. Their defection, which was terminated by a capitulation in 1621, was not punished severely, but in spite of their attempt to maintain neutrality henceforth they were quite unable to secure peace. Silesia remained a principal objective of the various contending armies and was occupied almost continuously by a succession of ill-disciplined mercenary forces whose depredations and exactions, accentuated at times by religious fanaticism, reduced the country to a state of helpless misery. Three-quarters of the population are estimated to have lost their lives, and commerce and industry were brought to a standstill. Recovery from these disasters was retarded by the permanent diversion of trade to new centres like Leipzig and St Petersburg, and by a state of unsettlement due to the government's disregard of its guarantees to its Protestant subjects. A greater measure of religious liberty was secured for the Silesians by the representatives of King Charles XII. of Sweden on their behalf, and effective measures were taken by the emperor Charles VI. to stimulate commercial intercourse between Silesia and Austria. Nevertheless in the earlier part of the 18th century the condition of the country still remained unsatisfactory.

An important epoch in the history of Silesia is marked by the year 1740, when the dominion of Austria was exchanged for that of Prussia. Availing himself of a testamentary union made in 1537 between the duke of Liegnitz and the elector of Brandenburg, and of an attempt by the elector Frederick William to call it into force in spite of its annulment by Ferdinand I. in 1546, Frederick II. of Prussia raised a claim to the former duchies of Liegnitz, Brieg, Jägerndorf and Wohlau. The empress Maria Theresa, who was at this time involved with other enemies, was unable to prevent the occupation of Lower Silesia by Frederick and in 1741 ceded that province to him. In the following year Frederick renewed his attack and extorted from Austria the whole of Silesia except the districts of Troppau, Teschen and Jägerndorf, the present province of Austrian Silesia.

Though constrained by the general dangers of her position to make terms with Prussia, Maria Theresa long cherished the hope of recovering a possession which she, unlike her predecessors, valued highly and held by a far better title than did her opponent. A second war which Frederick began in 1744 in anticipation of a counter-attack from her only served to strengthen his hold upon his recent conquest; but in the famous Seven Years' War (q.v.) of 1756-63 the Austrian empress, aided by France and Russia, almost effected her purpose. Silesia was repeatedly overrun by Austrian and Russian troops, and Frederick's ultimate expulsion seemed only a question of time. Yet the Prussian king recovered his lost ground by gigantic efforts and eventually retained his Silesian territory undiminished.

The annexation by Frederick was followed by a complete reorganization in which the obsolete powers of the local dynasts were abolished and Silesia became a mere province of the highly centralized Prussian state. Owing to the lack of a corporate Silesian consciousness and the feebleness of their local institutions, the people soon became reconciled to their change of rulers. Moreover Frederick, who had proved by his wars the importance which he attached to Silesia, was indefatigable in times of peace in his attempts to justify his usurpation. Making yearly visits to the country, and further keeping himself in touch with it by means of a special “minister of Silesia,” he was enabled to effect numerous political reforms, chief of which were the strict enforcement of religious toleration and the restriction of oppressive seignorial rights. By liberal endowments and minute but judicious regulations he brought about a rapid development of Silesian industries; in particular he revived the mining and weaving operations which at present constitute the country's chief source of wealth.

After its incorporation with Prussia Silesia ceases to have an independent political history. During the Napoleonic wars it was partly occupied by French troops (1806-1813), and at the beginning of the War of Liberation it was the chief scene of operations between the French and the allied armies. In 1815 it was enlarged by a portion of Lusatia, which had become detached from Silesia as far back as the 11th century and since then had been annexed to the kingdom of Saxony. During the rest of the 19th century its peace has been interrupted from time to time by riots of discontented weavers. But the general record of recent times has been fone of industrial development and prosperity hardly inferior to that of any other part of Germany.

See C. Grünhagen, Geschichte Schlesiens (2 vols., Gotha, 1884-1886), and Schlesien unter Friedrich dem Grossen (2 vols., Gotha, 1890-1892); M. Morgenbesser, Geschichte von Schlesien (Berlin, 1892); Knötel, Geschichte Oberschlesiens (Kattowitz, 1906); H. Grotefend, Stammtafeln der schlesischen Fürsten bis 1740 (Breslau, 1889); F. Rachfahl, Die Organisation der Gesamtstaatsverwaltung Schlesiens vor dem dreissigjährigen Kriege (Leipzig, 1894); H. Fechner, Geschichte des schlesischen Berg- und Hüttenwesens 1741-1806 (Berlin, 1903); see also the Zeitschrift des Vereins für Geschichte und Altertum Schlesiens (Breslau, 1855 sqq.), and Oberschlesische Heimat, Zeitschrift des ober schlesischen Geschichtsvereins (Oppeln, 1905 sqq.).

Austrian Silesia.

Austrian Silesia (Ger. Österreichisch-Schlesien) is a duchy and crownland of Austria, bounded E. by Galicia, S. by Hungary and Moravia, W. and N. by Prussian Silesia. It has an area of 1987 sq. m. and is the smallest province of Austria. Silesia is divided by a projecting limb of Moravia into two small parts of territory, of which the western part is flanked by the Sudetic mountains, namely the Altvater Gebirge; while the eastern part is flanked by the Carpathians, namely the Jablunka Gebirge with their highest peak the Lissa Hora (4346 ft.). A great proportion of the surface of Silesia is occupied by the offshoots of these ranges. The province is traversed by the Vistula, which rises in the Carpathians within eastern Silesia, and by the Oder, with its affluents the Oppa and the Olsa. Owing to its mountainous character, and its slopes towards the N. and N.E., Silesia has a somewhat severe climate for its latitude, the mean annual temperature being 50 F., while the annual rainfall varies from 20 to 30 in.

Of the total area 49.4% is arable land, 34.2% is covered by forests, 6.2% by pasturages, while meadows occupy 5.8% and gardens 1.3 %. The soil cannot, as a rule, be termed rich, although some parts are fertile and produce cereals, vegetables, beetroot and fruit. In the mountainous region dairy-farming is carried on after the Alpine fashion and the breeding of sheep is improving. Large herds of geese and pigeons are reared, while hunting and fishing constitute also important resources. The mineral wealth of Silesia is great and consists in coal, iron-ore, marble and slate. It possesses several mineral springs, of which the best known are the alkaline springs at Karlsbrunn. Like its adjoining provinces, Silesia boasts of a great and varied industrial activity, chiefly represented by the metallurgic and textile industries in all their branches. The cloth and woollen industries are concentrated at Bielitz, Jägerndorf and Engelsberg; linen is manufactured at Freiwaldau, Freudenthal and Bennisch; cotton goods at Friedek. The iron industry is concentrated at Trzinietz, near Teschen, and various industrial and agricultural machines are manufactured at Troppau, Jägerndorf, Ustron and Bielitz. The organs manufactured at Jägerndorf enjoy a good reputation. Other important branches of industry are chemicals at Hruschau and Petrowitz; sugar refineries, milling, brewing and liqueurs.

In 1900 the population numbered 680,422, which corresponds to 342 inhabitants per sq. m. The Germans formed 44.69% of the population, 33.21% were Poles and 22.05% Czechs and Slavs. According to religion, 84.73% were Roman Catholics, 14% Protestants and the remainder were Jews. The local diet is composed of 31 members, and Silesia sends 12 deputies to the Reichsrat at Vienna. For administrative purposes Silesia is divided into 9 districts and 3 towns with autonomous municipalities: Troppau, the capital, Bielitz and Friedek. Other principal towns are: Teschen, Polnisch-Ostrau, Jägerndorf, Karwin, Freudenthal, Freiwaldau and Bennisch.

The actual duchy is only a very small part, which was left to Austria after the Seven Years' War, from its former province of the same name. It formed, with Moravia, a single province until 1849, when it was created a separate duchy.

See F. Sláma, Österreichisch-Schlesien (Prague, 1887); and A. Peter, Das Herzogtum Schlesien (Vienna, 1884).