Saxony is the tenth largest of Germany's sixteen states, with an area of 18,413 square kilometres (7,109 sq mi), and the sixth most populous, with 4 million people.
Located in the middle of a large, formerly all German-speaking part of Europe, the history of the state of Saxony spans more than a millennium. It has been a medieval duchy, an electorate of the Holy Roman Empire, a kingdom, and twice a republic.
The area of the modern state of Saxony should not be confused with Old Saxony, the area inhabited by Saxons. Old Saxony corresponds approximately to the modern German states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and the Westphalian part of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Saxony is divided into 10 districts:
1. Bautzen (BZ)
2. Erzgebirgskreis (ERZ)
3. Görlitz (GR)
4. Leipzig (L)
5. Meißen (MEI) (Meissen)
6. Mittelsachsen (FG)
7. Nordsachsen (TDO)
8. Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge (PIR)
9. Vogtlandkreis (V)
10. Zwickau (Z)
In addition there are three cities which have the status of an urban district (German: kreisfreie Städte):
- Chemnitz (C)
- Dresden (DD)
- Leipzig (L)
Between 1990 and 2008, Saxony was divided into the three regions (Regierungsbezirke) of Chemnitz, Dresden and Leipzig. After a reform in 2008, these regions - with some alterations of their respective areas - were called Direktionsbezirke. In 2012, the authorities of these regions were merged into one central authority, the Landesdirektion Sachsen.
The Erzgebirgskreis district includes the Ore Mountains, and the Schweiz-Osterzgebirge district includes Saxon Switzerland and the Eastern Ore Mountains.
The largest cities in Saxony according to the 31 December 2015 estimate. To this can be added that Leipzig forms a metropolitan like region with Halle, known as Ballungsraum Leipzig/Halle. The latter city is located just across the border to Saxony-Anhalt. Leipzig shares for instance an S-train system (known as S-Bahn Mitteldeutschland) and an airport with Halle.
Saxony has, after Saxony Anhalt, the most vibrant economy of the states of the former East Germany (GDR). Its economy grew by 1.9% in 2010. Nonetheless, unemployment remains above the German average. The eastern part of Germany, excluding Berlin, qualifies as an "Objective 1" development-region within the European Union, and is eligible to receive investment subsidies of up to 30% until 2013. FutureSAX, a business plan competition and entrepreneurial support organisation, has been in operation since 2002.
Microchip makers near Dresden have given the region the nickname "Silicon Saxony". The publishing and porcelain industries of the region are well known, although their contributions to the regional economy are no longer significant. Today the automobile industry, machinery production and services contribute to the economic development of the region. Saxony is also one of the most renowned tourist destinations in Germany - especially the cities of Leipzig and Dresden and their surroundings. New tourist destinations are developing, notably in the lake district of Lausitz.
Saxony reported an average unemployment of 8.8% in 2014. By comparison the average in the former GDR was 9.8% and 6.7% for Germany overall. The unemployment rate reached 8.2% in May 2015 (6.3% for all of Germany).
The Leipzig area, which until recently was among the regions with the highest unemployment rate, could benefit greatly from investments by Porsche and BMW. With the VW Phaeton factory in Dresden, and many part suppliers, the automobile industry has again become one of the pillars of Saxon industry, as it was in the early 20th century. Zwickau is another major Volkswagen location. Freiberg, a former mining town, has emerged as a foremost location for solar technology. Dresden and some other regions of Saxony play a leading role in some areas of international biotechnology, such as electronic bioengineering. While these high-technology sectors do not yet offer a large number of jobs, they have stopped or even reversed the brain drain that was occurring until the early 2000s in many parts of Saxony. Regional universities have strengthened their positions by partnering with local industries. Unlike smaller towns, Dresden and Leipzig in the past experienced significant population growth.
The population of Saxony has been declining since 1950, a process which accelerated after German reunification in 1990. In recent years only the cities of Dresden and Leipzig and some towns in their hinterlands have had increases. The following table illustrates the population of Saxony since 1905:
The average number of children per woman in Saxony was 1.49 in 2010, the highest of all German states. In 2014, the value reached 1.57. Within Saxony, the highest is the Bautzen district with 1.77, while Leipzig is the lowest with 1.49. Dresden's birth rate of 1.58 is the highest of all German cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants.
Saxony has a long history as a duchy, an electorate of the Holy Roman Empire (the Electorate of Saxony), and finally as a kingdom (the Kingdom of Saxony). In 1918, after Germany's defeat in World War I, its monarchy was overthrown and a republican form of government was established under the current name. The state was broken up into smaller units during communist rule (1949–1989), but was re-established on 3 October 1990 on the reunification of East and West Germany.
In prehistoric times, the territory of Saxony was the site of some of the largest of the ancient central European monumental temples, dating from the 5th century BC. Notable archaeological sites have been discovered in Dresden and the villages of Eythra and Zwenkau near Leipzig. The Slavic and Germanic presence in the territory of today's Saxony is thought to have begun in the 1st century BC.
Parts of Saxony were possibly under the control of the Germanic King Marobod during the Roman era. By the late Roman period, several tribes known as the Saxons emerged, from which the subsequent state(s) draw their name. For the origins of the Saxon tribes, see Saxons.
The first medieval Duchy of Saxony was a late Early Middle Ages "Carolingian stem duchy", which emerged around the start of the 8th century AD and grew to include the greater part of Northern Germany, what are now the modern German states of Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony-Anhalt. The Saxons converted to Christianity during this period.
While the Saxons were facing pressure from Charlemagne's Franks, they were also facing a westward push by Slavs to the east. The territory of the Free State of Saxony, called White Serbia was, since the 5th century, populated by Slavs before being conquered by Germans e.g. Saxons and Thuringii. A legacy of this period is the Sorb population in Saxony. Eastern parts of present Saxony were ruled by Poland between 1002 and 1032 and by Bohemia since 1293.
The territory of the Free State of Saxony became part of the Holy Roman Empire by the 10th century, when the dukes of Saxony were also kings (or emperors) of the Holy Roman Empire, comprising the Ottonian, or Saxon, Dynasty. Around this time, the Billungs, a Saxon noble family, received extensive fields in Saxony. The emperor eventually gave them the title of dukes of Saxony. After Duke Magnus died in 1106, causing the extinction of the male line of Billungs, oversight of the duchy was given to Lothar of Supplinburg, who also became emperor for a short time.
In 1137, control of Saxony passed to the Guelph dynasty, descendants of Wulfhild Billung, eldest daughter of the last Billung duke, and the daughter of Lothar of Supplinburg. In 1180 large portions west of the Weser were ceded to the Bishops of Cologne, while some central parts between the Weser and the Elbe remained with the Guelphs, becoming later the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The remaining eastern lands, together with the title of Duke of Saxony, passed to an Ascanian dynasty (descended from Eilika Billung, Wulfhild's younger sister) and were divided in 1260 into the two small states of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg. The former state was also named Lower Saxony, the latter Upper Saxony, thence the later names of the two Imperial Circles Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg. Both claimed the Saxon electoral privilege for themselves, but the Golden Bull of 1356 accepted only Wittenberg's claim, with Lauenburg nevertheless continuing to maintain its claim. In 1422, when the Saxon electoral line of the Ascanians became extinct, the Ascanian Eric V of Saxe-Lauenburg tried to reunite the Saxon duchies.
However, Sigismund, King of the Romans, had already granted Margrave Frederick IV the Warlike of Meissen (House of Wettin) an expectancy of the Saxon electorate in order to remunerate his military support. On 1 August 1425 Sigismund enfeoffed the Wettinian Frederick as Prince-Elector of Saxony, despite the protests of Eric V. Thus the Saxon territories remained permanently separated. The Electorate of Saxony was then merged with the much bigger Wettinian Margraviate of Meissen, however using the higher-ranking name Electorate of Saxony and even the Ascanian coat-of-arms for the entire monarchy. Thus Saxony came to include Dresden and Meissen. In the 18th and 19th centuries Saxe-Lauenburg was colloquially called the Duchy of Lauenburg, which in 1876 merged with Prussia as the Duchy of Lauenburg district.
Saxony-Wittenberg, in modern Saxony-Anhalt, became subject to the margravate of Meissen, ruled by the Wettin dynasty in 1423. This established a new and powerful state, occupying large portions of the present Free State of Saxony, Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Bavaria (Coburg and its environs). Although the centre of this state was far to the southeast of the former Saxony, it came to be referred to as Upper Saxony and then simply Saxony, while the former Saxon territories were now known as Lower Saxony.
In 1485, Saxony was split. A collateral line of the Wettin princes received what later became Thuringia and founded several small states there (see Ernestine duchies). The remaining Saxon state became still more powerful and was known in the 18th century for its cultural achievements, although it was politically weaker than Prussia and Austria, states which oppressed Saxony from the north and south, respectively.
Between 1697 and 1763, the Electors of Saxony were also elected Kings of Poland in personal union.
In 1756, Saxony joined a coalition of Austria, France and Russia against Prussia. Frederick II of Prussia chose to attack preemptively and invaded Saxony in August 1756, precipitating the Third Silesian War (part of the Seven Years' War). The Prussians quickly defeated Saxony and incorporated the Saxon army into the Prussian army. At the end of the Seven Years' War, Saxony recovered its independence in the 1763 Treaty of Hubertusburg.
In 1806, French Emperor Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire and established the Electorate of Saxony as a kingdom in exchange for military support. The Elector Frederick Augustus III accordingly became King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. Frederick Augustus remained loyal to Napoleon during the wars that swept Europe in the following years; he was taken prisoner and his territories declared forfeit by the allies in 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon. Prussia intended the annexation of Saxony but the opposition of Austria, France, and the United Kingdom to this plan resulted in the restoration of Frederick Augustus to his throne at the Congress of Vienna although he was forced to cede the northern part of the kingdom to Prussia. These lands became the Prussian province of Saxony, now incorporated in the modern state of Saxony-Anhalt except westernmost part around Bad Langensalza now in the one of Thuringia. Also Lower Lusatia became part of Province of Brandenburg and northeastern part of Upper Lusatia became part of Silesia Province. The remnant of the Kingdom of Saxony was roughly identical with the present federal state, albeit slightly smaller.
Meanwhile, in 1815, the southern part of Saxony, now called the "State of Saxony" joined the German Confederation. (This German Confederation should not be confused with the North German Confederation mentioned below.) In the politics of the Confederation, Saxony was overshadowed by Prussia. King Anthony of Saxony came to the throne of Saxony in 1827. Shortly thereafter, liberal pressures in Saxony mounted and broke out in revolt during 1830—a year of revolution in Europe. The revolution in Saxony resulted in a constitution for the State of Saxony that served as the basis for its government until 1918.
During the 1848–49 constitutionalist revolutions in Germany, Saxony became a hotbed of revolutionaries, with anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin and democrats including Richard Wagner and Gottfried Semper taking part in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849. (Scenes of Richard Wagner's participation in the May 1849 uprising in Dresden are depicted in the 1983 movie Wagner starring Richard Burton as Richard Wagner.) The May uprising in Dresden forced King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony to concede further reforms to the Saxon government.
In 1854 Frederick Augustus II's brother, King John of Saxony, succeeded to the throne. A scholar, King John translated Dante. King John followed a federalistic and pro-Austrian policy throughout the early 1860s until the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian War. During that war, Prussian troops overran Saxony without resistance and then invaded Austrian (today's Czech) Bohemia. After the war, Saxony was forced to pay an indemnity and to join the North German Confederation in 1867. Under the terms of the North German Confederation, Prussia took over control of the Saxon postal system, railroads, military and foreign affairs. In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Saxon troops fought together with Prussian and other German troops against France. In 1871, Saxony joined the newly formed German Empire.
After King Frederick Augustus III of Saxony abdicated on 13 November 1918, Saxony, remaining a constituent state of Germany (Weimar Republic), became the Free State of Saxony under a new constitution enacted on 1 November 1920. In October 1923 the federal government under Chancellor Gustav Stresemann overthrew the legally elected SPD-Communist coalition government of Saxony. The state maintained its name and borders during the Nazi era as a Gau, but lost its quasi-autonomous status and its parliamentary democracy.
As World War II drew to its end, U.S. troops under General George Patton occupied the western part of Saxony in April 1945, while Soviet troops occupied the eastern part. That summer, the entire state was handed over to Soviet forces as agreed in the London Protocol of September 1944. Britain, the USA, and the USSR then negotiated Germany's future at the Potsdam Conference. Under the Potsdam Agreement, all German territory East of the Oder-Neisse line was annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union, and, unlike in the aftermath of World War I, the annexing powers were allowed to expel the inhabitants. During the following three years, Poland and Czechoslovakia forcibly expelled German-speaking people from their territories, and some of these expellees came to Saxony. Only a small area of Saxony lying east of the Neisse River and centred around the town of Reichenau (now called Bogatynia), was annexed by Poland. The Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SVAG) merged that very small part of the Prussian province of Lower Silesia that remained in Germany with Saxony.
On 20 October 1946, SVAG organised elections for the Saxon state parliament (Landtag), but many people were arbitrarily excluded from candidacy and suffrage, and the Soviet Union openly supported the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). The new minister-president Rudolf Friedrichs (SED), had been a member of the SPD until April 1946. He met his Bavarian counterparts in the U.S. zone of occupation in October 1946 and May 1947, but died suddenly in mysterious circumstances the following month. He was succeeded by Max Seydewitz, a loyal follower of Joseph Stalin.
The German Democratic Republic (East Germany), including Saxony, was established in 1949 out of the Soviet zone of Occupied Germany, becoming a constitutionally socialist state, part of COMECON and the Warsaw Pact, under the leadership of the SED. In 1952 the government abolished the Free State of Saxony, and divided its territory into three Bezirke: Leipzig, Dresden, and Karl-Marx-Stadt (formerly and currently Chemnitz). Also areas around Hoyerswerda was part of Cottbus one.
The Free State of Saxony was reconstituted with slightly altered borders in 1990, following German reunification. Besides the formerly Silesian area of Saxony, which was mostly included in the territory of the new Saxony, the free state gained further areas north of Leipzig that had belonged to Saxony-Anhalt until 1952.
Saxony has traditionally been predominantly Protestant (though the monarchs of the Saxon Kingdom themselves were Catholic as an ancestral relic of being Kings of Poland), but after World War II and 40 years of Communist rule, the majority of the population has become secular. In 1925, 90.3% of the Saxon population was Protestant, 3.6% was Roman Catholic, 0.4% was Jewish and 5.7% was placed in other religious categories. As of 2011, the Evangelical Church in Germany represented the largest faith in the state, adhered to by 21.4% of the population. Members of the Roman Catholic Church formed a minority of 3.8%. About 0.9% of the Saxons belonged to an Evangelical free church (Evangelische Freikirche, i.e. various Protestants outside the EKD), 0.3% to Orthodox churches and 1% to other religious communities, while 72.6% did not belong to any public-law religious society.
The most common patois spoken in Saxony are combined in the group of "Thuringian and Upper Saxon dialects". Due to the inexact use of the term "Saxon dialects" in colloquial language, the Upper Saxon attribute has been added to distinguish it from Old Saxon and Low Saxon. Other German dialects spoken in Saxony are the dialects of the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains), which have been affected by Upper Saxon dialects, and the dialects of the Vogtland, which are more affected by the East Franconian languages.
Upper Sorbian (a Slavic language) is still actively spoken in the parts of Upper Lusatia that are inhabited by the Sorbian minority. The Germans in Upper Lusatia speak distinct dialects of their own (Lusatian dialects).
Saxony has four large universities and five Fachhochschulen or Universities of Applied Sciences. The Dresden University of Technology, founded in 1828, is one of Germany's oldest universities and University of Applied Sciences, Zwickau founded in 1897 With 36,066 students as of 2010, it is the largest university in Saxony and one of the ten largest universities in Germany. It is a member of TU9, a consortium of nine leading German Institutes of Technology. Leipzig University is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university (by consecutive years of existence) in Germany, founded in 1409. Famous alumni include Leibniz, Goethe, Ranke, Nietzsche, Wagner, Angela Merkel, Raila Odinga, Tycho Brahe, and nine Nobel laureates are associated with this university.
Saxony is a well known tourist destination. Dresden and Leipzig are two of Germany's most visited cities. Areas along the border with the Czech Republic, such as the Lusatian Mountains, Ore Mountains, Saxon Switzerland, and Vogtland, attract significant visitors, largely Germans. Saxony has well-preserved historic towns such as Meissen, Freiberg, Pirna, Bautzen, and Görlitz.
A minister-president heads the government of Saxony. Stanislaw Tillich has been minister-president since 28 May 2008. See: List of Ministers-President of Saxony, for a full listing.