die ostsiedlung

und now is ze time on the hbd chick blog vhen ve dance über die Wichtigkeit der Ostsiedlung sprechen! (i switched to deutsch there, ’cause i wanted to end my sentence with a verb. just so you know.)

i’ve mentioned the ostsiedlung in passing before (see here and here for example), and i’ve even gone so far as to say that it’s:

“from a sociobiological point-of-view, probably the most underappreciated event in recent western european history. that and the reconquest of spain.”

that’s right! never mind your barbarian migrations of late antiquity! forget about them. expunge the barbarian migrations from your mind! the ostsiedlung (and outbreeding and manorialism and all the subsequent natural selection) is (largely) what created the intelligent, efficient, hard-working, gratification-delaying, ordnung-loving, not-so-violent (on a daily basis), consensus-democracy-preferring, slow life history, behind-the-hajnal-line tchermans that we know and love today (luv ya, germans!).

so, what the h*ll was the ostsiedlung?

the ostsiedlung, or “east settling,” was (from what i understand) the latter part of a broader ostkolonisation of central and parts of eastern europe by the medieval ancestors of the people we now refer to as The Germans. during late antiquity, germanic tribes had of course migrated out of southern scandinavia and central and eastern europe into western and southern europe. then, beginning in something like the 800 or 900s, they went and reversed that flow, and some of them began to migrate back into central/eastern europe. migration is one of the major forces in evolution, along with things like mutation and genetic drift, so from a sociobiological/human diversity perspective the ostsiedlung should definitely not be ignored.

it should really not be ignored because what you have to keep in mind is that the tchermans who were migrating back into central/eastern europe in the post-800s were quite different from the the barbarian tchermans who had migrated into western europe four hundred or so years earlier. the barbarian germans had been a bunch of inbreeding, tribal, feuding, kindred-based peoples. the germans who migrated eastwards later in the medieval period were already a population of (comparatively speaking) outbreeders hailing from a population based upon nuclear families (see here). that’s because (imho) these new-and-improved germans, who were coming out of the frankish heartland, had already been pressed for many generations through the outbreeding/manorialism meat grinder. different sorts of individuals had been selected for in this new social environment than had been successful in the old clannish society. and, crucially, these new germans brought that new environment with them when they settled the east.

the ostsiedlung was a huge self-sorting event in medieval europe. jayman and i like to babble about self-sorting a lot, but that’s just because it really is very important. large scale self-sorting of individuals is akin to assortative mating writ large. in fact, it must enable a whole lot of assortative mating. one enormous self-sorting event was the settling of the united states by hackett fischer’s four “folkways” (read: subpopulations) from britain. (others populations came, too.) the fact that various groups having unique characteristics established themselves in different regions of what would become the united states still affects the workings of our country today. on top of that, don’t forget that people in the u.s. have been continually self-sorting along those original settlement lines pretty much ever since the first settlers arrived from europe, so our regional differences are not going away any time soon.

anyway, the medieval ostkonlonisation and ostsiedlung were self-sorting events on a similar scale (the ostsiedlung being just the latter half of the ostkonlonisation really). the earliest part of the ostkolonisation was driven by kings (the carolingians mostly i think) conquering other germanic groups to the east (like the bavarians) in the 800s and 900s. apparently the establishment of ecclesiastical monasteries in the newly conquered territories was pretty heavy at this time. that’s an important little detail that i’ll come back to at a later date, so commit it to memory if you would. the latter part of the ostkolonisation, the ostsiedlung of the eleventh/twelfth to roughly the fourteenth centuries, was quite different in character. from The Germans and the East [pgs. 9 and 28-29]:

“[O]ne could say that ‘Germany’ grew out of the Carlingian East Frankish Kingdom between the Rhine and the Elbe by producing its eastern half on colonized Slavic and to some extent Baltic land. Thus the genesis of the German Empire took place within the perimeters of Europe’s ‘eastward expansion’ (*Osterweiterung*). It consisted, on the one hand, of Christian state-building in the Slavic-Hungarian East in the ninth and tenth centuries, and on the other — beginning in the twelfth century — of the migration and resettlement of the population from the older colonized areas west of the Elbe, the Bohemian Forest and the Enns…. [C]ontinuous new waves of German miners, peasants, craftsmen and merchants, as well as knights and clergymen, emigrated and permanently settled in countries neighboring Germany in the East and Southeast. Jewish emigrants from the West also took part in this migration process….

“Medievalists tend to distinguish two main colonization waves in the history of medieval Europe. The first embraced Carolingian Europe and occurred in the eighth and ninth centuries. The second, which covered almost the entire continent, began in the eleventh century and gained momentum in the following two or three centuries. Without ruling out the matter of a possible relationship between these two waves it is worth noting that the first had a military character, though not exclusively so, as it usually took the form of *Landnahme*, that is, the gain and occupation of conquered territories. The second wave was rather based — though again not exclusively — on economic causes….

“[P]eople went east in search of bread, freedom and adventure — in a word, a better life, as the Flemish settlers sang. These few were still the most industrious and mobile, the most dissatisfied with their social and economic status so far and, in a word, a sort of elite of the elite (indeed not only in the positive sense).”

here’s a really big map of the phases of the ostsiedlung [source – click on the map for a LARGER view]:


so the early part of this migration of the medieval germans eastwards was military in nature — maybe a lot of soldiers from the west settled in the newly taken areas? — and, like i said, many monasteries/ ecclesiastical manors were established at this time. the latter part of the migration eastwards involved the settling of farmers, merchants, and artisans who wanted a better life in newly established manors and towns. the important thing here is not to think of these farmers, merchants, and artisans as comparable to the homesteaders of the wild west in america. they were not. the settling of the east did not at all involve independent migrants setting out on their own to strike it rich. the ostsiedlung was really more plantation-like in nature with the migrants signing up to be a part of some organized settlement project — a manor or a town or whatever. entire “new towns” were organized in this way and sprang up literally (used here in its colloquial sense) overnight in medieval eastern germany. while there were typically enticements for the new settlers to sweeten the deal (e.g. not having to pay taxes for the first five to seven years), they were still signing up to be a subordinate in a project. so, yes, these were people looking to better their lives — willing to work hard probably — but also apparently willing to be…a bit subservient. happy to follow the lead of the manor owner or whomever. (maybe this was less the case for merchants. dunno.)

whatever their average personal characteristics were like — and i could have them wrong here — they should at least be considered wrt the ostsiedlung as a self-sorting event.

btw, the new settlers were usually recruited not by the lords of the manors but by middlemen called “lokators”. here’s one organizing the work teams on a new settlement:


the reason that the hajnal line is where it is in eastern europe — and if you don’t know what i’m talking about, please see this post — is that that is simply the eastern limit of the ostsiedlung. from mitterauer [pgs. 45-46]:

“The most significant expansion of the model agricultural system [manorialism] in the Frankish heartland between the Seine and the Rhine took place toward the east. Its diffusion embraced almost the whole of central Europe and large parts of eastern Europe…. This great colonizing process, which transmitted Frankish agricultural structures and their accompanying forms of lordship, took off at the latest around the middle of the eighth century. Frankish majordomos or kings from the Carolingian house introduced manorial estates (*Villikation*) and the hide system (*Hufenverfassung*) throughout the royal estates east of the Rhine as well…. The eastern limit of the Carolingian Empire was for a long time an important dividing line between the expanding Frankish agricultural system and eastern European agricultural structures. When the push toward colonization continued with more force in the High Middle Ages, newer models of *Rentengrundherrschaft* predominated — but they were still founded on the hide system. This pattern was consequently established over a wide area: in the Baltic, in large parts of Poland, in Bohemia, Moravia and parts of Slovakia, in western Hungary, and in Slovenia.

Colonization established a line streching roughly from St. Petersburg to Trieste. We will come across this line again when studying European family systems and their diffusion. The sixteenth century witnessed the last great attempt to establish the hide system throughout an eastern European region when King Sigismund II of Poland tried it in the Lithuanian part of his empire in what is modern-day Belarus. The eastward expansion of Frankish agrarian reform therefore spanned at least eight centuries….

“Over against this ‘core Europe’ was a ‘peripheral Europe’ that did not acquire these structures until a relatively later date — or not at all. Here we can list Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in the West; the area of eastern Europe beyond the Trieste-St. Petersburg line that was unaffected by the colonization of the East; the entire Balkan region; southern Italy, which was formerly Byzantine, along with the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula that was under Moorish rule for so long a time. The political, economic, and social evolution of many regions in ‘peripheral Europe’ took a different turn because of their clinging to other, traditional agricultural systems.”

and here it is — the hajnal line. with the core area of where manorialism and outbreeding began in the early medieval period roughly outlined in green:

hajnal line - core europe

btw, wikipedia has this to say about the ostsiedlung (so it must be true!):

“The settlers migrated in nearly straight West-to-East lines. As a result, the Southeast was settled by South Germans (Bavarians, Swabians), the Northeast by Saxons (in particular those from Westphalia, Flanders, Holland, and Frisia), while central regions were settled by Franks. As a result, the different German dialect groups expanded eastward along with their bearers, the ‘new’ Eastern forms only slightly differing from their Western counterparts.”

if that was indeed the case, there might be further implications wrt to the self-sorting of medieval german populations, i.e. something to do with subpopulations of germans moving eastwards. so, stay tuned!

previously: big summary post on the hajnal line and behind the hajnal line

(note: comments do not require an email. another planned “new town” of the ostsiedlung.)



  1. So, you weren’t content with being accused of being a racist; now you want to go for neo-Nazi.


  2. “during late antiquity, germanic tribes had of course migrated out of southern scandinavia”: the past is ever in flux. I’m currently reading a book that firmly denies that the Goths came from Scandi.


  3. A historian of the Dark Ages who I was rereading recently remarked that throughout history the Germans have been none too keen on the hard graft of clearing woodland, and preferred to purloin cleared woodland from their neighbours. What a wag, eh??


  4. Remember that most of those “new towns” were actually already existing. E.g. Poznan, supposedly “founded” by Germans in 1253, is one of the oldest POlish towns. 1253 is the date when one of Polish princes (later king of Poland, IIRC it was Przemysl II) simply brought more German settlers, gave them new set of laws, and created new settlement near to already existing centre. German historians tend to overestimate number of settlers and settlements during the ostsiedlung.


  5. That sentence would not normally be a verb-kicker, so it should be after the “wir” or we.


  6. @anonymous – “That sentence would not normally be a verb-kicker, so it should be after the ‘wir’ or we.”

    sch*iße! my german classes were a long time ago. (high school.) a long, long time ago. (*^_^*)


  7. @anon2 – “So, you weren’t content with being accused of being a racist; now you want to go for neo-Nazi.”

    i think i’ve already been called that. -?- can’t remember. (~_^)


  8. Interesting article. I was wondering when you were going to write about “die ostsiedlung”.

    A lot later than the medieval era, but another German-speaking people that migrated south-east into what is now Serbian Vojvodina. Not a lot of demographic information on them due to the expulsion following WWII, but many of them established colonies in Entre Rios province of Brazil.


  9. This is a great post, and a real treat as I had not expected you to post anything besides some Linkfests for the next few months, so thanks.
    I knew only a little about the Ostsiedlung so your post was very interesting and informative.
    A modern-day parallel might be, perhaps to some extent, the settling of large numbers of Chinese workers, managers, investors and business people into various African countries within the last decade.


  10. Just today, I revisited an old favorite, and found something about the self-selection event of the settlement of Britain. Edward Augustus Freeman, Lectures to American Audiences, Part I, The English People in its Three Homes (1882), describes the process of various people from various Teutonic communities joining the movement to Britain:

    Please pardon a lengthy excerpt:

    As I have, for the purpose of these lectures,
    ventured to give a wider sense than is usual to the name
    of New England, so I must venture to give a like wide
    sense to the name of Old England. As I cannot at all
    afford to shut up the name of New England within the
    narrow bounds of the lands which are specially known
    as the New England States, so I cannot at all afford to
    shut up the name of Old England within the much nar-
    rower bounds of the proper Angeln in a corner of the
    duchy of Sleswick. As I must ask leave to carry, for
    my special purposes, the name of New England beyond
    the Alleghanies, beyond the Mississippi, beyond the
    Rocky Mountains, and to give it no boundary short
    of the Eastern Ocean, so I must ask leave to carry the
    name of Old England beyond the Eider, beyond the
    Elbe, beyond the Weser, to the shores of the lake
    which burst its bounds and became the Zuyder Zee.
    Nay, I shall not quarrel with any one who will allow
    me to carry the name further still beyond the mouths
    of the Scheld, perhaps even to the mouth of the Somme.
    I do not mean that there ever was a time when the name
    of England, or even the name of Angeln, was ever ap-
    plied to these lands, any more than I mean that the
    name of New England is commonly applied to the whole
    extent of your North American Union. I only mean
    that, as it is historically accurate to give the name of
    New England the wider sense, so it needs but a very
    slight historical licence to do the like by the name of
    Old England. The wider and unfamiliar sense serves
    best to suit my immediate purpose; it more forcibly
    sets forth the historic truth which it is my present ob-
    ject to set forth. That object is to point out that what
    the isle of Britain was to the continent of North Amer-
    ica, a certain part of the continent of Europe was, ages
    before, to the isle of Britain. That part of the continent
    of Europe it is perhaps easier to point out than to define.
    Among the Teutonic settlers in Britain some tribes
    stand out conspicuously; Angles, Saxons, and Jutes
    stand out conspicuously above all. The Jutes led the
    way; from the Angles the land and the united nation
    took their name ; the Saxons gave us the name by which
    our Celtic neighbours have ever known us. But there is
    no reason to confine the area from which our forefathers
    came to the space which we should mark on the map
    as the land of the continental Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
    So great a migration is always likely to be swollen by
    some who are quite alien to the leading tribe; it is
    always certain to be swollen by many who are of stocks
    akin to the leading tribe, but who do not actually belong
    to it. As we in Britain are those who stayed behind at the
    time of the second great migration of our people, so I ven-
    ture to look on all our Low-Dutch kinsfolk on the con-
    tinent of Europe as those who stayed behind at the time
    of the first great migration of our people. Our special
    hearth and cradle is doubtless to be found in the imme-
    diate marchland of Germany and Denmark, but the great
    common home of our people is to be looked on as
    stretching along the whole of that long coast where
    various dialects of the Low-Dutch tongue are spoken.
    If Angles and Saxons came, we know that Frisians came
    also, and with Frisians as an element among us, it is
    hardly too bold to claim the whole Netherlands as in
    the widest sense Old England, as the land of one
    part of the kinsfolk who stayed behind. Through that
    whole region, from the special Anglian corner far into
    what is now northern France, the true tongue of the
    people, sometimes overshadowed by other tongues, is
    some dialect or other of that branch of the great Teu-
    tonic family which is essentially the same as our own
    speech. From Flanders to Slcswick the natural tongue
    is one which differs from English only as the historical
    events of fourteen hundred years of separation have in-
    evitably made the two tongues — two dialects, I should
    rather say, of the same tongue — to differ. From these
    lands we came as a people. That was our first histor-
    ical migration.



  11. Really late but since you were wondering about how Finland fits in this Hajnal business, this *might* be the answer. There is a lot of evidence of the people now known as Germans or “Saxons” running around in southwestern Finland before the Swedish period (and a curious lack of Old Norse influence). Christianity seems to have been coming from northern Germany first, early Christian names seem to be “German” and not Swedish, some old villages in Finland seem to have “German” names etc

    There has been a long, divided argument on how much influence that means and this is a huge mess since pretty much any opinion will contradict a lot of sacred ideas about the arrival of Christianity and our saints and so on. Some people have favored just occasional Saxon traders, some people have favored the idea of invaders / migrants similar to what went on in the south which would be very consistent with some old villages having “German” male names.

    It would be a very good fit with this Hajnal business if Finland received some of these German migrations with the migrants running into problem that in the harsher climate their manorialism didn’t work very well, leaving Finland with family organization that doesn’t fit well into the Hajnal categories and makes a cline of fitting the Western European better the more southwest you go.

    It will be really interesting to see if we find enough old corpses to settle this debate with DNA since right now we can just speculate on uncertain identifications of place names and such.


  12. Lovely write up. The line extends northwards beginning with the German led Christianization of Sweden starting with the voyages to the north by the Saint Ansgar (8 September 801 – 3 February 865), also known as Saint Anschar, the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. As Sweden was christianized German merchants and later burgers and artisans moved wholesale to the growing Swedish towns. German influence peaked in the mid 14th century (1364) when Albrecht von Mecklenburg made real his ambition to seize the Swedish crowns and thus became King Albert the 1st of Sweden. By this time there was a law stating that half of all burghers in Swedish towns would be Germans and the other half native Swedes. In 1392 the conflict flamed up into a race war in Stockholm when German burghers attacked and killed several Swedish burghers, after the Swedes in Sweden reacted negatively to the growing German dominance of Stockholm (the German mayor even had a private militia that is said to have driven over 300 Swedish burgher families out of Stockholm). Note that Stockholm was not the capital of Sweden at that time, merely the most important trading port.

    I have read somewhere that Swedes are closer genetically today with modern Germans than with either Danes or Norwegians. I suspect (just looking at names is enough) that a portion of Finnish cities must have been populated by ethnic Swedish-German burghers resettling further east.

    To this day almost all Swedish words relating to government, trade, commerce, crafts etc. are German in origin.


  13. Good article and yes the Ostsiedlung was of crucial to both late medieval (and modern) developments in the area. Although I agree it was a self-organizing trend over centuries it’s important to remember what it did *not* entail. It did not entail the replacement of existing populations (Slavic and Baltic) but rather an infusion of settlers in existing built up areas or creation of new cities. In that respect it resembles the Roman colonia more then the American West, German settlements in the middle of or surrounded by Slavic/Baltic settlements).


  14. Just how democracy loving are Germans? Let’s don’t exaggerate things. Germans are way more respectful/subordinate to authority and old methods of doing things than Anglo-Saxons. See what happened to the Second World War.


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