1902 Encyclopedia > Silesia


SILESIA (Germ. Schlesien), a district in the eastern part of Germany, between 49° 28' and 52° 7' N. lat. and 13° 50' and 19° 20' E. long., was formerly united with the kingdom of Bohemia in the form of a duchy (or rather group of duchies), and is now unequally shared between Prussia and Austria. Geographically it is divided into Lower and Upper Silesia, the whole of the former and part of the latter belonging to Prussia. The total area is 17,540 square miles.

It is generally asserted that the original inhabitants of Silesia were the Germanic tribes of the Lygii and Quadi, who retired before the Slavonic immigrations of the 6th century, but this statement is beyond the range of posi-tive proof. The earliest form of the name, Sleenzane or Zlesane, shows a Slavonic origin, and further than this we have no means of penetrating. Various explanations have been given of the name, and one old writer gravely connects it with the prophet Elisha; but there is little doubt that it was first applied to the district round Mount Zlenz (the modern Zobten) and the river Zlenza (Lohe), and thence spread gradually over the whole region now known as Silesia. These early Slavonic inhabitants be-longed to the family of Lechs (Poles), and the modern Polish name for the inhabitants is Zlesaki. The history of Silesia consists substantially of the process which has converted it from a Slavonic territory into a predominantly German land.

The earliest notices of Silesia are extremely vague, nor can we exactly define the scope of the name in the first thousand years of our era. It seems to have formed part of the great but short-lived kingdom of MORAVIA (q.v.) in the 9th century, and afterwards oscillated between the neighbouring kingdoms of Bohemia and Poland, becoming definitely incorporated with the latter at the end of the 10th century. Christianity was introduced about the year 960, and from 1000 on we have an unbroken list of bishops of Breslau. The first contact of Germany with Silesia was disastrous to the former, as it was on the fastnesses of Silesia that Henry V. squandered his strength in his unsuccessful expedition against Poland in 1109. More fortunate was the intervention of Frederick Barbarossa in 1163 in behalf of the three sons of the dispossessed Ladislaus, a member of the Polish royal family of the Piasts. He succeeded in securing as their share of the Polish dominions the whole of Silesia, though it was not till forty or fifty years later that it could be said to have gained actual independence of Poland. These three princes were the ancestors and founders of the various ducal lines that henceforth ruled in Silesia, and their intimate connexion with the German king accounts in great measure for the process of Germanization which Silesia now began to undergo, chiefly through the in-troduction of German colonists in scantily peopled or desolated districts. The eldest of the three sons of Ladislaus received the town of Breslau and by far the largest portion of territory, so that the history of Silesia for the next two or three generations is practically that of his line. Under his grandson Henry the Bearded (1202-1238) the Germanization of Silesia made rapid progress, and the duchy at that time may be looked upon as a bulwark or mark against the Slavs in the south-east of Germany, just as the duchy of Prussia was in the north-east. Henry extended his sway much beyond the limits of Silesia, and in fact united under his sceptre nearly three quarters of the old Polish dominions. His son Henry II. (1238-1241) had a short reign with a glorious end, falling in 1241 at the battle of Liegnitz, where his determined resistance turned back from Germany the alarming Mongolian invasion. On his death his territories were shared among his sons, and the series of divisions and subdivisions began which resulted in almost every Silesian town of any importance becoming the capital of an independent prince. At the beginning of the 14th century there were no fewer than 17 principalities of this kind, nearly all held by dukes of the Piast family. It was inevitable that these petty rulers should feel the want of a support against the encroach-ments of Poland, and it was inevitable, too, that the rela-tion opened in consequence with Bohemia should gradually change from mere protection to feudal supremacy. By 1355 the supremacy of Bohemia was formally recognized as extending over the whole of Silesia, though the Silesians retained a considerable measure of independence, including the right to hold general diets for the settlement of their internal relations. The kings of Bohemia at this time (John, Charles IV.) were members of the German house of Luxemburg, and Silesia under their sway may be looked upon as an entirely German land.

During the Hussite wars of the 15th century Silesia, which adhered zealously to the old faith, suffered greatly from Hussite forays. The Luxemburg dominion broke up in 1458, when Hungary and Bohemia elected rulers of their own nationality. Silesia, however, neglected the opportunity to elect a German king for itself, and sup-ported the Bohemian king George Podiebrad. Breslau, still the most powerful of the principalities, threw in its lot with Matthew Corvinus of Hungary, who fought many of his battles on Silesian soil. By the treaty of Olmiitz in 1479 Matthew acquired all the tributary lands of the Bohemian crown, including Silesia, which remained attached to Hungary down to 1490. In that year Bohemia and Hungary became once more united under the same king. In 1526 Silesia passed with the rest of the Bohemian inheritance to the house of Hapsburg (see BOHEMIA). The Reformation at first made rapid progress in Silesia, and the native dukes placed little opposition in its way. The Hapsburg princes, however, acted very differently, and the Silesian Protestants suffered much persecution before, during, and after the Thirty Years' War. It was not indeed till the 18 th century that they acquired formal recognition and the restoration of some of their confiscated churches.

The First Silesian War between Austria and Prussia, which broke out in 1740, had its ultimate cause (nomin-ally at least) in a compact of mutual succession entered into in 1537 by the elector of Brandenburg on the one side and the duke of Liegnitz on the other. The emperor, as feudal superior of the duke, had indeed refused to recognize this agreement, but the Great Elector did not fail to put in his claim on the death of the last duke in 1675, and Frederick now thought the opportunity too good to be lost. The progress of the three Silesian wars is recounted in the article AUSTRIA (vol. iii. p. 127-129). At the peace of Hubertusburg (1763) Prussia was left in possession of nearly the whole of Silesia, with the frontier as it still exists. Frederick exerted himself to atone for the evils brought upon the district through the ravages of war by introducing colonists and capital, reforming the administration, granting complete religious liberty, and the like. That this seed did not fall on ungrateful soil seems proved by the modern prosperity of Silesia and the loyalty with which its inhabitants have clung to the Prussian cause. Silesia formed part of the reduced kingdom of Prussia left by the peace of Tilsit in 1806, and it was the centre of the national rising of 1813, when the king issued his celebrated address "To my People " from Breslau. Stein's emancipating edict of 1807 was wel-comed with profound satisfaction in Silesia, where the conditions of serfdom had been particularly oppressive, and no doubt contributed materially to the enthusiasm with which the Silesians flocked to the standard a few years later.

PRUSSIAN SILESIA, the largest province of Prussia (see vol. xx. plate I.), with an area of 15,560 square miles, forms the south-eastern limb of the kingdom, and 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 frag-ment of the Neumark, and part of Upper Lusatia, taken from Saxony in 1815. The province is divided into three governmental districts,—Liegnitz and Breslau corresponding to lower Silesia, while Oppeln takes in the greater part of upper, southern, or mountainous Silesia.

Physiographically Silesia is roughly divided into a flat and a hilly portion by the so-called Silesian Langenthal, which begins on the south-east near the Malapane, and extends across the pro-vince 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 feet. To the west of the Oder the land rises gradually from the Langenthal towards the southern boundary of the province, which is formed by the central part of the Sudetie system, including the Glatz Mountains and the Rie-sengebirge (Schneekoppe, 5266 feet). Among the loftier elevations in advance of this southern barrier the most conspicuous is the Zobten (2215 feet), the historical connexion of which with the name of the province has been mentioned above. 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 attain-ing a height of 1000 feet, may be traced from east to west, assert-ing 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 (right), the Glatzer Neisse (left), the Katzbach (left), and the Bartsch (right); 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 miles long, on the north frontier. There is a considerable difference in the climate of Lower and Upper Silesia, and some of the villages in the Riesengebirge have the lowest mean temperature of any inhabited place in Prussia (below 40° Fahr.).

Of the total area of the province 56 per cent, is occupied by arable land, 10'8 per cent, by pasture and meadow, and nearly 29 per cent, by forests. The soil along the foot of the mountains is generally good, and the district between Ratibor and Liegnitz, where 70 to 80 per cent, 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 more sugar-beets are raised in Silesia than in any other Prussian province except Saxony. Tobacco, oil-seeds, chicory, and hops may also be specified, while a little wine, of an inferior quality, is produced near Griinberg. Mulberry trees for the silk-culture have been introduced and thrive fairly. Large estates are the rule in Silesia, where 35 per cent, 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. According to the live-stock census for 1883, Silesia contains 275,122 horses, 1,397,130 cows, 1,309,495 sheep, 518,612 pigs, 175,283 goats, and 128,828 bee-hives. The merino sheep was introduced by Frederick the Great, and since then the Silesian breed of sheep has been greatly improved. The woods and moun-tains harbour large quantities of game, such as red deer, roedeer, wild boars, and hares, while an occasional wolf finds its way into the province from the Carpathians. 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. Compare the tables in PRUSSIA (vol. xx. p. 14).

The great wealth of Silesia, however, lies underground, in the shape of large stores of coal and other minerals, and its mining records go back to 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. The annual output, ranging between twelve and fifteen millions of tons, valued at nearly £3,000,000 sterling, is equal to more than a quarter of the entire yield of Germany. The district of Oppeln also contains a great quantity of iron (annual produce 750,000 to 800,000 tons, value about £1,000,000). The deposits of zinc in the vicinity of Beuthen are perhaps the richest in the world, and produce four-fifths of the zinc of Germany (550,000 tons). The remaining mineral products include lead (from which a considerable quantity of silver is extracted), copper, cobalt, arsenic, the rare metal cadmium, alum, brown coal, marble, and a few of the commoner precious stones (jaspers, agates, amethysts, &c). The province contains practically no 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 yields the palm to no other part of Prussia except districts in the Rhineland and Westphalia. On the plateau of Tarnowitz the working and smelting of metals is naturally the predominant industry, and in the neighbourhood of Beuthen, Kbnigshiitte, and Gleiwitz there seems an almost endless succession of iron-works, zinc-foundries, machine-shops, and the like. In 1881 the total value of the metals produced in the various foundries of the province was £2,376,250. At the foot of the Riesengebirge, and along the southern mountain line generally, the textile industries pre-vail. 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 (157,000 tons in 1883-84), 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 is sometimes too low in summer for naviga-tion. 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 1880 the population of Silesia was 4,007,925, of whom 2,082,084 were Roman Catholics, 1,867,489 Protestants, and 52,682 Jews. About 35 per cent, of the population is urban and 65 per cent, rural. The density is 257 per square mile, less than that of Westphalia (262) and the Rhineland (390); but the average is of course very greatly exceeded in the industrial districts, such as Beuthen. The occupation census of 1883 shows that 44 per cent, of the population are supported by agriculture, 36 per cent, by industries, 8.4 per cent, by trade, and 2.2 per cent, by daily labour and domestic service, while 4 per cent, belong to the official and 5 per cent, to the unemployed classes. Nearly three-fourths of the inhabitants and territory are German, but to the east of the Oder the Poles (nearly 1,000,000) form the bulk of the population, while there are about 50,000 Czechs in the south part of the province and 30,000 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 noblesse is very numerous in Silesia, chiefly in consequence of the Polish districts it includes. The educational institutions of the province are headed by the university of Breslau. In 1883-84 the percentage of illiterate recruits, in spite of the large Polish-speaking contingent, was only 170. The capital and seat of the provincial diet is Breslau, which is also by far the largest and most important town (298,893 inhabitants in 1885). The towns next in point of size are Gbrlitz (55,120 inhabitants), Liegnitz (43,351), Kbnigshiitte (31,831), Beuthen (26,478), Schweidnitz (23,775), Neisse (21,444), and Glogau (20,003). 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 (seat, Breslau), while Liegnitz belongs to that of the 5th army corps, the headquarters of which are at Posen. Glogau, Glatz, Neisse, and Cosel are fortresses.

AUSTRIAN SILESIA, the part of the duchy that remained to Austria after the Seven Years' War, is a mere fraction of the whole, its area being only 1980 square miles, or about one-eighth of that of Prussian Silesia. It falls into two small portions of territory, separated by a projecting limb of Moravia and surrounded by Prussian Silesia, Moravia, Hungary, and Galicia. Until 1849 it was for administrative purposes reckoned a part of Moravia, but since that year it has been a crownland of the Austrian empire (the smallest of all), with the style of duchy. The Troppau or western division of the crownland is flanked by the Sudetic Mountains (Altvater, 4678 feet), and the Tesehen or eastern half by the Carpathians (Lissahorn, 4330 feet), and a great proportion of the surface is occupied by offshoots of these ranges. The Vistula rises on the Carpathians, within Austrian Silesia, while the western part of the crownland is close to the headwaters of the Oder, which rises near at hand in Moravia. Owing to its mountainous character and its slope towards the north and north-east the crownland has a somewhat severe climate for its latitude, the mean temperature being only 50° Fahr., while the annual rainfall varies from 20 to 30 inches. Upwards of 45 per cent, of the surface is occupied by arable land, 7J per cent, by meadows and gardens, 104 Per cent, by pastures, and 32 per cent, by forests, while 4J per cent, is unproductive ground. The soil cannot as a rule be termed rich, though some of the valleys are fertile. The chief crops are oats, rye, barley, potatoes, clover, and flax. Dairy-farming is carried on in the mountains after the Alpine fashion, and sheep are fairly numerous. Geese and pigeons are reared in great quantities, and the hunting and fishing are both very prolific.
The principal mineral resources are coal (Silesia producing 13 per cent, of the produce of Austria-Hungary), iron, marble, and slate. Like its Prussian neighbour, the crownland boasts a very busy industrial activity, the chief products of which are its iron and steel goods, textile fabrics (linen, woollen, cotton, velvet, silk), chemicals, liqueurs, and beetroot sugar. The trade is chiefly a transit one, though the manufactures and agricultural produce of the province are exported in considerable quantity. Troppau, the capital of the duchy, contains large cloth manufactories, while Tesehen, Bielitz, and Jagerndorf are also busy places. The population in 1885 was 577,593, of whom 81,000 were Protestants and 9000 Jews. About 48 per cent, of the population is supported by agriculture and 27.5 per cent, by industry. Divided according to nationalities, there are 275,000 Germans, 130,000 Czechs, and 158,000 Poles. The German element is predominant in the towns, the Polish in the eastern or Tesehen division. The duchy sends ten members to the Austrian house of representatives and has a provincial diet of thirty-one members. (J. F. M.)

The above article was written by: J. F. Muirhead, Berlin.

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