Magdeburg rights

Last updated
City charter of Krakow, Poland's medieval capital; inscribed in Latin. Przywilej lokacyjny Krakowa.jpg
City charter of Kraków, Poland's medieval capital; inscribed in Latin.

Magdeburg rights (German : Magdeburger Recht; also called Magdeburg Law) were a set of town privileges first developed by Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor (936–973) and based on the Flemish Law, [1] which regulated the degree of internal autonomy within cities and villages granted by the local ruler. Named after the German city of Magdeburg, these town charters were perhaps the most important set of medieval laws in Central Europe. [2] They became the basis for the German town laws developed during many centuries in the Holy Roman Empire. [2] The Magdeburg rights were adopted and adapted by numerous monarchs, including the rulers of Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, a milestone in the urbanization of the region which prompted the development of thousands of villages and cities. [1]



Being a member of the Hanseatic League, Magdeburg was one of the most important trade cities, maintaining commerce with the Low Countries, the Baltic states, and the interior (for example Braunschweig). As with most medieval city laws, the rights were primarily targeted at regulating trade to the benefit of the local merchants and artisans, who formed the most important part of the population of many such cities. External merchants coming into the city were not allowed to trade on their own, but instead forced to sell the goods they had brought into the city to local traders, if any wished to buy them.

Jews and Germans were sometimes competitors in those cities. Jews lived under privileges that they carefully negotiated with the king or emperor. They were not subject to city jurisdiction. These privileges guaranteed that they could maintain communal autonomy, live according to their laws, and be subjected directly to the royal jurisdiction in matters concerning Jews and Christians. One of the provisions granted to Jews was that a Jew could not be compelled to be a Gewährsmann/informant; that is, he had the right to keep confidential how he had acquired objects in his possession. A Jew with this right could voluntarily divulge who had gifted, sold, or loaned him the object, but it was illegal to coerce him to say. Other provisions frequently mentioned were a permission to sell meat to Christians, or employ Christian servants. By at least some contemporary observers, the parallel infrastructure of Jews and gentiles was considered significant; in medieval Poland's royal city development policy, both German merchants and Jews were invited to settle in Polish cities.

Spread of the law

Monument to the Magdeburg Rights in Kyiv Pam'iatnik Magdeburz'komu pravu v Kiievi.jpg
Monument to the Magdeburg Rights in Kyiv

Among the most advanced systems of old Germanic law of the time, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Magdeburg rights were granted to more than a hundred cities, in Central Europe apart from Germany, including Schleswig, Bohemia, Poland, Belarus, [3] Ukraine, especially in Pomerania, Prussia, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (following the Christianization of Lithuania), and probably Moldavia. In these lands they were mostly known as German or Teutonic law. Since the local tribunal of Magdeburg also became the superior court for these towns, Magdeburg, together with Lübeck, practically defined the law of northern Germany, Poland and Lithuania for centuries, being the heart of the most important "family" of city laws. This role remained until the old Germanic laws were successively replaced with Roman law under the influence of the Reichskammergericht, in the centuries after its establishment during the Imperial Reform of 1495.[ citation needed ]

Implementation across Europe

The Law of Magdeburg implemented in Poland was different from its original German form. [4] It was combined with a set of civil and criminal laws, and adjusted to include the urban planning popular across Western Europe – which was based (more or less) on the ancient Roman model. Polish land owners used the location privilege known as "settlement with German law" across the country usually with no German settlers present. Meanwhile, the country people often ignorant of the actual German text, practiced the old common law of Poland in private relations. [4]

Notable Polish, Lithuanian, and today's Belarus and Ukraine towns governed on the basis of the location privilege known as the "settlement with German law" issued by Polish and Grand Duchy of Lithuania landlords (since the 16th to 18th centuries by Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth landlords) included Biecz, Frysztak, Sandomierz, Kraków, Kurów, Minsk, Polotsk, Poznań, Ropczyce, Łódź, Wrocław, Szczecin (which was not a part of Poland when granted town rights; they were given by a Pomeranian landlord), Złotoryja, Vilnius, Trakai, Kaunas, Hrodna, Kyiv, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Brody, Lutsk, Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Sanok, Sniatyn, Nizhyn among many hundreds of others. The advantages were not only economic, but also political. Members of noble families were able to join the city patriciate usually unchallenged. [4] In the medieval Kingdom of Hungary, the first town to receive the Magdeburg rights was Goldberg in 1211 (Latin: "Aurum"; Polish: "Zlotoryja"), then Székesfehérvár in 1237, followed by Trnava (1238), Nitra (1248), Levoča (1271) and Žilina (1369). Towns and cities including Bardejov, Buda, Bratislava and Košice adopted the Southern German Nuremberg town rights, rather than the Magdeburg rights.

See also

Related Research Articles

Elbląg Place in Warmian-Masurian, Poland

Elbląg is a city in northern Poland on the eastern edge of the Żuławy region with 119,317 inhabitants. It is the capital of Elbląg County and has been assigned to the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship. Previously it was the capital of Elbląg Voivodeship (1975–1998) and a county seat within Gdańsk Voivodeship (1945–1975).

Hanseatic League Trade confederation in Northern Europe

The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 1100s, the league came to dominate Baltic maritime trade for three centuries along the coasts of Northern Europe. Hansa territories stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages, and diminished slowly after 1450.

Radom Place in Masovian Voivodeship, Poland

Radom is a city in east-central Poland, located approximately 100 kilometres south of the capital, Warsaw. It is situated on the Mleczna River in the Masovian Voivodeship, having previously been the seat of a separate Radom Voivodeship (1975–1998). Radom is the fourteenth-largest city in Poland and the second-largest in its province with a population of 211,371 as of 2019.

Grodno Region Place in Grodno

Grodno Region or Grodno Oblast or Hrodna Voblasts is one of the regions of Belarus. It is located in the northwestern part of the country.

Łosice Place in Masovian Voivodeship, Poland

Łosice is a town in eastern Poland. It is situated in Masovian Voivodeship ; previously it was in Biała Podlaska Voivodeship (1975–1998). It is currently the seat of Łosice County.

Złotoryja Place in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland

Złotoryja is a historic town in Lower Silesian Voivodeship in southwestern Poland, the administrative seat of Złotoryja County, and of the smaller Gmina Złotoryja. Having been granted town privileges in 1211, Złotoryja is the oldest town in Poland. Since the Middle Ages, it was a centre of gold and copper mining. Złotoryja was also featured among the most beautiful towns in Poland due to its location and architectural heritage.

City rights are a feature of the medieval history of the Low Countries. A liege lord, usually a count, duke or similar member of the high nobility, granted to a town or village he owned certain town privileges that places without city rights did not have.

Bratslav Urban locality in Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine

Bratslav is an urban-type settlement in Ukraine, located in Nemyriv Raion of Vinnytsia Oblast, by the Southern Bug river. It is a medieval European city and a regional center of the Eastern Podolia region founded by government of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, which dramatically lost its importance during the 19th-20th centuries. Population: 5,092

State of the Teutonic Order State formed by the Teutonic Order during the 13th century Northern Crusades

The State of the Teutonic Order, also called Deutschordensstaat or Ordensstaat was a medieval crusader state, located in Central Europe along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It was formed by the knights of the Teutonic Order during the 13th century Northern Crusades in the region of Prussia, and was disestablished in 1525. At its greatest territorial extent, in the early 15th century, it encompassed Chełmno Land, Courland, Gotland, Livonia, Neumark, Pomerelia, Prussia and Samogitia, i.e. territories nowadays located in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

Town privileges

Town privileges or borough rights were important features of European towns during most of the second millennium. The city law customary in Central Europe probably dates back to Italian models, which in turn were oriented towards the traditions of the self-administration of Roman cities

Lida Place

Lida is a city 168 km (104 mi) west of Minsk in western Belarus in Grodno Region.

This article presents the timeline of selected events concerning the history of the Jews in Poland beginning with the formation of the Polish state under its first ruler, Mieszko I of Poland.

Merkinė Town in Dzūkija, Lithuania

Merkinė is a town in the Dzūkija National Park in Lithuania, located at the confluence of the Merkys, Stangė and Nemunas rivers. Merkinė is one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania. The first settlers inhabited the confluence of Merkys and Nemunas in the 9th-10th century BC, at the end of the Paleolithic. On top of Merkinė hill-fort stood one of the most important Lithuanian castles, built in the 13th century, which guarded against invasions of the Teutonic Order. Merkinė was a part of a strategic triangle - Kaunas - Vilnius - Merkinė, protected with the chains of hillforts and castles. The center of Merkinė town is a state-protected urbanistic monument. Merkinė is an important point of Lithuania's domestic tourism.

The history of the Jews in Poland before the 18th century covers the period of Jewish-Polish history from its origins, roughly until the political and socio-economic circumstances leading to the dismemberment of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the second half of the 18th century by the neighbouring empires.

History of the Jews in Lithuania

The history of the Jews in Lithuania spans the period from the 14th century to the present day. There is still a small community in the country, as well as an extensive Lithuanian Jewish diaspora in Israel, the United States and other countries. For more detail, see Lithuanian Jews.

History of the Jews in Belarus

The history of the Jews in Belarus begins as early as the 8th century. Jews lived in all parts of the lands of modern Belarus. Jews were the third largest ethnic group in the country in the first half of the 20th century. In 1897, the Jewish population of Belarus reached 910,900, or 14.2% of the total population. Following the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1920), under the terms of the Treaty of Riga, Belarus was split into Eastern Belorussia and Western Belorussia, and causing 350,000-450,000 of the Jews to be governed by Poland. Prior to World War II, Jews remained the third largest ethnic groups in Belarus and comprised more than 40% of the population in cities and towns. The population of cities such as Minsk, Pinsk, Mahiliou, Babrujsk, Viciebsk, and Homiel was more than 50% Jewish. In 1926 and 1939 there were between 375,000 and 407,000 Jews in Belarus or 6.7-8.2% of the total population. Following the Soviet annexation of Eastern Poland in 1939, including Western Belorussia, Belarus would again have 1,175,000 Jews within its borders, including 275,000 Jews from Poland, Ukraine, and elsewhere. It is estimated 800,000 of 900,000 — 90% of the Jews of Belarus —were killed during the Holocaust. According to the 2019 national census, there were 13,705 self-identifying Jews in Belarus. The Jewish Agency estimates the community of Jews in Belarus at 20,000. However, the number of Belarusians with Jewish descent is assumed to be higher.

Early East Slavs settled the forested hills of today's Minsk by the 9th century. They had been migrating from further south and pushing the preceding Balts northwards. The valley of Svislach river was settlement boundary between two Early East Slavs' tribal unions – Krivichs and Dregovichs. By 980 the area was incorporated into the early medieval Principality of Polatsk, one of the earliest East Slav states along with the principalities of Kiev and Novgorod.

German town law

The German town law or German municipal concerns was a set of early town privileges based on the Magdeburg rights developed by Otto I. The Magdeburg Law became the inspiration for regional town charters not only in Germany, but also in Central and Eastern Europe who modified it during the Middle Ages. The German town law was used in the founding of many German cities, towns, and villages beginning in the 13th century.

History of Germans in Poland Aspect of history

The history of Germans in Poland dates back almost a millennium. Poland was at one point the largest kingdom in Europe; it was also Europe's most multiethnic state during the medieval period. It covered an immense plain with no natural boundaries, with a thinly scattered population of many ethnic groups, including the Poles themselves, Germans in the cities of West Prussia, and Ruthenians in Lithuania. 5-10% of immigrants were German settlers.

Ostsiedlung High Middle Age German migration movement

Ostsiedlung is the term for the High Medieval migration period of ethnic Germans into and beyond the territories at the eastern periphery of the Holy Roman Empire and the consequences for settlement development and social structures in the immigration areas. Generally sparsely and only recently populated by Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples, the area of colonization, also known as Germania Slavica, encompassed Germany east of the Saale and Elbe rivers, the states of Lower Austria and Styria in Austria, the Baltics, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Transylvania in Romania.


  1. 1 2 Jean W. Sedlar (1994). Law and Justice. East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000–1500. University of Washington Press. p. 328. ISBN   0295972904 . Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  2. 1 2 Peter Stearns. "Magdeburg Law 1261: Northern Germany". World History in Documents: A Comparative Reader. New York University Press, 1998. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  3. "Magdeburg Rights granted to Minsk 510 years ago". Belteleradiocompany. 29 July 2009. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 Oskar Halecki; W: F. Reddaway; J. H. Penson. The Law of Magdeburg used in Poland. The Cambridge History of Poland. CUP (Cambridge University Press) Archive. pp. 133–136. ISBN   1001288025 . Retrieved October 23, 2012.