Monumental temples in prehistoric Central Europe



The Free State of Saxony (Freistaat Sachsen ; ) is the easternmost federal state of Germany. Located in the country's southeast, it is the tenth-largest in area and sixth-largest in population among Germany's sixteen states, and has a land area of 18,413 km² and a population of 4.3 million.

Saxony has a long history as a duchy, an electorate of the Holy Roman Empire (the Electorate of Saxony), and eventually as a kingdom (the Kingdom of Saxony). Its monarchy was overthrown in 1918 and a republican form of government was established under its current name subsequent to Germany's defeat in World War I. Abolished during communist rule, it was re-established on 3 October 1990 during the re-unification of East and West Germany.

During the early Middle Ages the term Saxony referred to the region occupied by today's states of Lower Saxony and northern North Rhine-Westphalia. The Saxons had migrated there from the area of present-day Schleswig-Holstein between 250 and 500; see History below.

The term Saxon does not always correlate with Saxony; a Saxon is not necessarily an inhabitant of Saxony (e.g. Saxon people, Anglo-Saxons or Transylvanian Saxons); see Saxon (disambiguation).



Saxony is divided into three Direktionsbezirke — Chemnitz, Dresden, Leipzig — which are subdivided into 10 districts:

  1. Bautzen (BZ)
  2. Erzgebirgskreis (ERZ)
  3. Görlitz (GR)
  4. Leipzig (L)
  5. Meißen (MEI)
  6. Mittelsachsen (DL)
  7. Nordsachsen (TDO)
  8. Sächsische Schweiz-Osterzgebirge (PIR)
  9. Vogtlandkreis (V)
  10. Zwickau (Z)

Furthermore there are three urban districts (Kreisfreie Städte / Stadtkreise), which don't belong to any district:

  1. Chemnitz (C)
  2. Dresden (DD)
  3. Leipzig (L)


Saxony has the most vibrant economy among the former GDR states. Its economy grew by 4.0% in 2006, making it the fastest growing region in Germany, which is among other things due to the establishment of a chip producing economy near Dresden. As a result of this the region was given the nickname "Silicon Saxony". Nonetheless, unemployment remains high and investment is scarce. Because of these factors, Saxony, along with the rest of the east (excluding Berlin) qualifies as an "Objective 1" development region within the European Union, and thus can receive investment subsidies of up to 30% until 2013. In the interests of encouraging growth, the state government has attempted to develop tourism in the region, notably in the lake district of Lausitz. The publishing industry and porcelain factories are well known but in total not so important contributors to Saxony's economy.


Prehistoric Saxony was the site of some of the largest of the ancient Central European monumental temples, dating from the 5th millennium BC. Notable archaeological sites have been discovered in Dresden and the villages of Eythra and Zwenkau near Leipzig. For the origins of the Saxon tribes see Saxons.

Foundation of the first Saxon state

The first mediæval Duchy of Saxony was a late Early Middle Ages "Carolingian stem duchy" and emerged about AD 700 covering the greater part of Northern Germany. It covered the area of the modern German states of Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Saxony-Anhalt. In the 10th century the dukes of Saxony were at the same time kings (or emperors) of the Holy Roman Empire (Ottonian or Saxon Dynasty). At that time, a Saxon noble family of Billungs received extensive fiefs in Saxony, and the Emperor eventually gave them the title of Duke of Saxony. After the extinction of the male line of Billungs, the duchy was given to Lothar of Supplinburg, who then also became Emperor for a short time.

In 1137 Saxony was passed to the Welfen dynasty, who were descendants (1) of Wulfhild Billung, eldest daughter of the last Billung duke, and (2) of the daughter of Lothar of Supplinburg. It reached its peak under Duke Henry the Lion, and after his death it began to decline (Henry had declined to participate in the later Italian wars of his liege lord, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and those expeditions to Italy ended in disasters. The furious emperor retaliated and sent his troops to end Duke Henry's dominion). 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 to the Welfs, later forming the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg). The remaining Eastern lands, together with the title of Duke of Saxony, were passed to an Ascanian dynasty (who descended from Eilika Billung, Wulfhild's younger sister) and divided in 1260 into the two small states of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Wittenberg. Saxony-Lauenburg was later renamed Lauenburg and was no longer part of Saxony or its history. Saxe-Wittenberg was confirmed to have inherited the "main" ducal title of the Saxons and as such was recognized as an Elector of the Empire in 14th century.

Foundation of the second Saxon state

Saxony-Wittenberg, in present Saxony-Anhalt, became subject to the margravate of Meißen and ruled by the Wettin dynasty in 1423. A new powerful state was established, occupying large portions of present Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. Although the center of this state was far 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 as 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 even more powerful, becoming known in the 18th century for its cultural achievements, although it was politically inferior to Prussia and Austria, which pressed Saxony from either side.

Saxony in the 19th and 20th centuries

Following the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Electorate of Saxony became a kingdom by decree of the French Emperor Napoleon, and Elector Frederick Augustus III became King Frederick Augustus I. Frederick Augustus made the mistake of remaining loyal for too long to Napoleon, and he was taken prisoner and his territories declared forfeit by the allies in 1813, with the intention of their being annexed by Prussia. Ultimately, the opposition of Austria, France, and the United Kingdom resulted in Frederick Augustus being restored to his throne at the Congress of Vienna, but Saxony was forced to cede the northern part of the kingdom to Prussia. These lands became the Prussian province of Saxony, which is today incorporated in Saxony-Anhalt. What was left of the Kingdom of Saxony was roughly identical with the present federal state.

During the 1848–49 constitutionalist revolutions in Germany, Saxony became a hotbed for 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.

After the Austro-Prussian war Saxony joined the North German Federation in 1867. In 1871 it became part of the German Empire.

After 1918 Saxony was a state in the Weimar Republic and was the scene of Gustav Stresemann's overthrow of the KPD/SPD led government in 1923. The state was abandoned in all but name during the Nazi era, then reconstituted under Soviet occupation. It was officially dissolved in 1952, and divided into three smaller Bezirke based on Leipzig, Dresden and Karl-Marx-Stadt, but reestablished within slightly altered borders in 1990 upon German reunification. Saxony also includes a small part of the former German province of Silesia west of the town of Görlitz which remained German after the Second World War and which for obvious reasons of unavailability as a separate state was thus into Saxony. This part had been part of Silesia only after 1815 and belonged to Upper Lusatia and Bohemia before 1623 and thereafter to Saxony between 1623 and 1815.

Therefore, the current territory of Saxony includes the part of the former Prussian province of Lower Silesia that was located to the west of the 1945 Oder-Neisse line but excludes all territory or part of Saxony east of the same line, which like the majority of Silesia was incorporated into post-war Poland.



The most important patoises that are spoken in Saxony are combined in the group of "Thuringian and Upper Saxon dialects". Due to the incorrect name of "Saxon dialects" in colloquial language the Upper Saxon attribute has been added to distinguish from Old Saxon and Low Saxon. Other German dialects spoken in Saxony are the dialects in the Ore Mountains which has been affected by Upper Saxon dialects and the dialects of the Vogtland which is more affected by the east Frankish languages.

Upper Sorbian (a Slavic language) is still actively spoken in the parts of Upper Lusatia that are occupied by the Sorbian minority. The Germans in Upper Lusatia speak also distinct dialects of their own (Lusatian dialects).


Apart from Dresden and perhaps Leipzig international tourism is not well developed in Saxony, but some regions and cities are national, and potentially international touristic targets. Some attractive regions are the ones shared with Czech Republic, including the Lusatian Mountains, Ore Mountains, Saxon Switzerland, and Vogtland. In Germany Saxony offers an above-average number of very well preserved historic little towns, for example Meißen, Freiberg, Pirna, Bautzen, Görlitz and others; thus tourism from within Germany is important for Saxony.


A Minister-President heads the government of Saxony; see List of Ministers-President of Saxony for a full list.

2004 state election

The CDU lost its absolute majority and formed a grand coalition with the SPD. This election also saw the nationalist NPD enter a Landtag for the first time.

By November 2006, the NPD only held 8 seats after a series of internal disputes saw 4 members leave the party or be expelled.

See also


  • "Still Troubled", The Economist, 27 August – 2 September 2005.

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