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The hammer and pick: symbol of mining Schlaegel und Eisen nach DIN 21800.svg
The hammer and pick: symbol of mining

The Bergregal [1] (German: [ˈbɛʁk.ʁeˌɡaːl] ) was the historic right of ownership of untapped mineral resources in parts of German-speaking Europe; ownership of the Bergregal meant entitlement to the rights and royalties from mining. Historically, it was one of those privileges that constituted the original sovereign rights of the king. [2]

Property rights are theoretical socially-enforced constructs in economics for determining how a resource or economic good is used and owned. Resources can be owned by individuals, associations or governments. Property rights can be viewed as an attribute of an economic good. This attribute has four broad components and is often referred to as a bundle of rights:

  1. the right to use the good
  2. the right to earn income from the good
  3. the right to transfer the good to others, alter it, abandon it, or destroy it
  4. the right to enforce property rights
Mining law branch of law relating to the legal requirements affecting minerals and mining

Mining law is the branch of law relating to the legal requirements affecting minerals and mining. Mining law covers several basic topics, including the ownership of the mineral resource and who can work them. Mining is also affected by various regulations regarding the health and safety of miners, as well as the environmental impact of mining.

Mineral rights are property rights to exploit an area for the minerals it harbors. Mineral rights can be separate from property ownership. Mineral rights can refer to sedentary minerals that do not move below the Earth's surface or fluid minerals such as oil or natural gas. There are three major types of mineral property; unified estate, severed or split estate, and fractional ownership of minerals.


In addition to the Bergregal, another important sovereign privilege was the Münzregal or "minting rights", which was a consequence of the Bergregal since coins were minted near the mines from which their metal was obtained. [3]


In the early days of the Roman Empire, the landowner had the right to extract minerals. The reason behind this was that mineral resources were seen as "fruit of the soil" which were deemed to belong the landowner. [4] The first regalia, or royal privileges, emerged in the first millennium, but there was still no Bergregal governing mining rights as part of the laws regulating property. Emperors and kings, the nobility or clerics who ruled over a territory, established this right for themselves, based on their ownership of land and the mineral resources found therein. This was easy for the king or territorial princes because, as a rule, they were the actual landowners. [5] But it was often political and economic circumstances rather than law and statute that were instrumental in the establishment of the Bergregal.

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–476 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Roman Republic period of the ancient Roman civilization. Ruled by emperors, it had large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. From the constitutional reforms of Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, the Empire was a principate ruled from Italy, homeland of the Romans and metropole of the empire, with the city of Rome as capital. The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided in a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus after capturing Ravenna and the Senate of Rome sent the imperial regalia to Constantinople. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to barbarian kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Nobility privileged social class

Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately under royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy. Nobility possesses more acknowledged privileges and higher social status than most other classes in society. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be largely honorary, and vary by country and era. As referred to in the Medieval chivalric motto "noblesse oblige", nobles can also carry a lifelong duty to uphold various social responsibilities, such as honorable behavior, customary service, or leadership positions. Membership in the nobility, including rights and responsibilities, is typically hereditary.

An estate in land is an interest in real property that is or may become possessory.

Statue of Otto the Rich in Freiberg, centre of mining in the Ore Mountains Ottoderreiche1.jpg
Statue of Otto the Rich in Freiberg, centre of mining in the Ore Mountains

The Emperor, Barbarossa, had the Bergregal recorded in writing for the first time in Germany as part of the Roncaglian Constitution in 1158. This effectively removed the right to extract minerals from the landowner who, from then on, had to purchase such rights from the king. As a result of the Roncaglian Constitution, mining rights passed over time into the hands of the territorial lords. This led to arbitrary presumptions of rights by these territorial princes. [4] Because of Kleinstaaterei – the plethora of minor states – and the special position of ecclesiastical principalities in the Holy Roman Empire, enforcement of the Bergregal by the emperor was virtually impossible. [5] and so, in many cases, it was given to the princes. For example, Frederick I vested this privilege in Otto the Rich, the Margrave of Meissen. [6] Likewise, the Bishop of Chur was given the Bergregal in 1349 [4] and the King of Bohemia already received these rights even before the Golden Bull was issued.


Kleinstaaterei is a German word used, often pejoratively, to denote the territorial fragmentation in Germany and neighboring regions during the Holy Roman Empire and during the German Confederation in the first half of the 19th century. It refers to the large number of virtually sovereign small and medium-sized secular and ecclesiastical principalities and Free Imperial cities, some of which were little larger than a single town or the grounds of the monastery of an Imperial abbey. Estimates of the total number of German states at any given time during the 18th century vary, ranging from 294 to 348 or more.

Holy Roman Empire Varying complex of lands that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. The largest territory of the empire after 962 was the Kingdom of Germany, though it also came to include the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, the Kingdom of Italy, and numerous other territories.

In 1356, the Golden Bull finally enshrined in writing that these rights were ultimately held, not by the emperor, but by the seven electoral princes (the archbishops of Cologne, Mainz and Trier, the King of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg) as his territorial lords. [6] Existing grants of rights to lower-ranking lords were unaffected. In general, the electoral princes were keen to retain the Bergregal for themselves.

Electoral Palatinate historical territory of the Holy Roman Empire

The County Palatine of the Rhine, later the Electorate of the Palatinate or simply Electoral Palatinate, was a territory in the Holy Roman Empire administered by the Count Palatine of the Rhine. Its rulers served as prince-electors (Kurfürsten) from time immemorial, were noted as such in a papal letter of 1261, and were confirmed as electors by the Golden Bull of 1356.

Electorate of Saxony State of the Holy Roman Empire, established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate 1356

The Electorate of Saxony was a state of the Holy Roman Empire established when Emperor Charles IV raised the Ascanian duchy of Saxe-Wittenberg to the status of an Electorate by the Golden Bull of 1356. Upon the extinction of the House of Ascania, it was feoffed to the Margraves of Meissen from the Wettin dynasty in 1423, who moved the ducal residence up the river Elbe to Dresden. After the Empire's dissolution in 1806, the Wettin Electors raised Saxony to a territorially reduced kingdom.

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, saw the rights of the Bergregal pass from the electoral princes to the lesser nobility. To enforce their mining rights, the territorial lords had mining regulations enacted, the so-called Bergordnung , which regulated in detail the mining activities, the duties or tithes (the Zehnt), the structure of the mining authorities and the privileges of the miners themselves. [7]


The Bergordnung were the mining regulations or law enacted in order to exercise the royal mining rights or Bergregal in central Europe in medieval times.

Tithe religious donation

A tithe is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or maybe compulsory tax to government. Today, tithes are normally voluntary and paid in cash, cheques, or stocks, whereas historically tithes were required and paid in kind, such as agricultural products. Several European countries operate a formal process linked to the tax system allowing some churches to assess tithes.

A Bergamt or mining office is a mining supervisory authority in German-speaking countries below the level of the state. It exercises immediate supervision of all activities, facilities and equipment associated with mining. This includes the promotion and monitoring of operational safety and workplace safety.

In the 19th century the Bergregal in the German states was gradually superseded by mining acts or Berggesetze. In Prussia, the Bergregal was ended by the General Mining Act for the Prussian States (Allgemeine Berggesetz für die Preußischen Staaten) or ABG of 24 June 1865. Landowners' rights were removed and mining regulations were clearly defined in the Berggesetz. [8] This process began with the Napoleonic conquests, when French law was temporarily enacted in many parts of Germany, and was largely completed with the adoption of the General Mining Act of the Kingdom of Saxony (Allgemeinen Berggesetzes für das Königreich Sachsen) on 16 June 1868. [9]

As a result of the Bergregal, there was a legal separation of property ownership and mining rights. Local landowners were only left with exploration and mining rights for a few unimportant minerals. [6] The territorial prince, on the other hand, had three options by which he could exercise his rights under the Bergregal:

  1. He could reserve the right to mine for himself (self-profit)
  2. He could award mining rights to a third party (transfer of profit)
  3. He could give everyone the right to mine (alienation of the Bergregal to third parties)

The first opportunity for mining to be operated for the benefit of the state came in those countries in which mining was regulated by free declaration (Freierklärung). But here, the ruler had to have explicitly renounced his rights to the exploitation of natural resources. In practice, no German state – indeed no European state – had a monopoly over mining rights.

The way mining rights were granted went back to the days of feudalism. However, mining privileges was not just granted to certain individuals, but also to entire estates or towns. [10] In particular, towns involved in the mining industry for a long time were given special privileges and rights. One of these was the granting of the "freedom to mine" (Bergfreiheit), with its associated privileges, to the miners and burghers of the towns. These privileges were intended to support the mining industry and growth of the towns. [11] However, this freedom was not part of the Bergregal; it was based, in the German states at least, on the old mining constitutions. In these constitutions, the Bergregal was exercised through the declaration of such freedom. It was also quite common for all three options described above to be used simultaneously in the same state. [10]

Distinctions and demarcations

Specifically which minerals were governed by the Bergregal varied from state to state, but generally there were two categories: the "upper" or "higher" Bergregal and the "lower" Bergregal. [12] The upper Bergregal, which covered the mining of precious metals (gold and silver), but could include salt and precious stones remained, almost without exception, in the hands of the state rulers. [13] Precious stones and salt were not part of the upper Bergregal in all countries, however. [14] The lower Bergregal covered the mining of base metals, like iron, tin, copper, cobalt, lead and bismuth, as well as the minerals arsenic, sulphur, saltpetre and antimony. In many cases these rights were awarded to a third party or granted to landowners under the mining regulations ( Bergordnung ). [13]

The mining of bituminous coal, brown coal and peat did not initially come under the Bergregal; instead ownership remained with the landowners because these resources were classed as fossil fuels. But the territorial lords very quickly realised that coal mining was potentially very lucrative and, as a result, the Bergregal was soon extended to cover coal too. [6] Peat cutting continued to fall outside the Bergregal, [12] as did the quarrying of gravel, clay, marl and limestone. These minerals were the property of the landowners. [14] In the Prussian states, semi-precious stones and precious stones were not part of the Bergregal if they were lying loose in a field or were brought to light in the course of economic activity such as ploughing. [12]


Issues inevitably arose over the Bergregal. In states where specific resources were not governed by a mining act (Bergrecht), but were now regulated by a newly introduced Bergregal, there was serious opposition from the mining companies. They did not initially want to denounce their ownership in order to lease the right to mine or to have to lease their mine property. In addition, new taxes, such as the mine tithe and special mine duties like the so-called Quatembergeld, led to unrest amongst the mine operators. [8] The introduction of coal tithes frequently led to disputes. To pay the coal tithe, 10 per cent of coal production had to be separated into special heaps. This coal had to be sold first, the profit going to the territorial lords. This coal was often stolen by night. [6] As a result, the mining companies had to be supervised by mining authorities (Bergbehörde). In the mining fields of the Mark of Brandenburg, there was such unrest that the military had to intervene. [8]

Other problems were caused by the location of the ore deposits. If a deposit extended over two territories, there could be disagreements at the state border. The mining operators often ended up in conflict. Because different organizations were responsible on either side of the border, there was the question of which mining jurisdiction (mining court or Berggericht) was responsible for handling a case. These disputes could adversely affect the relationship between the territorial princes as well as the local mining industry. The situation was aided slightly, if the powers of one mining court were greater than those of the other. [15]


The Bergregal represented a considerable source of income for its owner. The entitlement to a fixed percentage (usually 10%) of the commodity (in the early days of mining usually salt or ore) from each pit, (the so-called mine tithe, Bergzehnt or Fron) formed the basis for the wealth of the great rulers, for example, in the Electorate of Hanover and Duchy of Saxony, helping to finance their expensive royal households. [14] The owner of the Bergregal also had the option of first refusal. This effectively resulted in a monopoly. In this way, many regions laid the economic foundations for their future development and the territorial lords and princes showed great interest in the promotion of the mines in their lands, whether through advances, grants or joint construction, because a decline in the mining industry could result in an empty treasury.

Present-day regulations

Following the end of the Bergregal, mining acts were introduced in the individual states to govern the extraction of mineral resources. In Germany the exploration and extraction of natural resources is governed by the Federal Mining Act (Bundesberggesetz). [16] The Austrian equivalent is the Raw Materials Act (Mineralrohstoffgesetz). [17] In Switzerland, the exploration and mining of minerals is regulated by the Swiss Bergregal. [18] In 1649, ten courts in Graubünden broke away from Austrian rule. At that time it was already laid down that mining rights under the Bergregal lay with the landowner. This regulation is still in force today. [19]

See also


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  1. Berg , "mountain" or, in this context, "mining" + Regal , "regalia" or "right", as in droit de régale . Sometimes seen as Bergwerksregal.
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