Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, a country in Central Europe, is a modern great power, the world's third largest economy, and the world's largest exporter of goods.

Germany is a democratic parliamentary federal republic, historically consisting of several sovereign states with their own history, distinct German tribe dialects, culture, and religious beliefs. Germany was unified as a nation state amidst the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

Known as a land of poets and thinkers, Germany has occupied a central position in the history of western civilization, as the location of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Protestant Reformation. The nation has emerged from the devastation of the great wars of the twentieth century, and division into free-world and communist-world territories, to become the European Union's most populous and most economically powerful member state.


Map of GermanyThe beautiful scenery in southern Bavaria, cold during winters and hot in the summer

Because of its central location, Germany shares borders with more European countries than any other country in Europe. Its neighbors are Denmark in the north, Poland and the Czech Republic in the east, Austria and Switzerland in the south, France and Luxembourg in the southwest, and Belgium and the Netherlands in the northwest. Germany is also bordered to the north by the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

Total land area is 134,835 square miles (349,223 square kilometers), or slightly smaller than the state of Montana in the United States.

The territory of Germany stretches from the high mountains of the Alps, the highest point being the Zugspitze at 9,718 feet (2,962 meters), in the south, to the shores of the North Sea (Nordsee) in the northwest and the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) in the northeast. In between are the forested uplands of central Germany, and the low-lying lands of northern Germany. The lowest point is Neuendorfer/Wilstermarsch at 11.6 feet (3.54 meters) below sea level.

The greater part of Germany lies in the cool/temperate climatic zone in which humid westerly winds predominate. In the northwest and the north, the climate is oceanic and rain falls all year round. Winters there are relatively mild and summers tend to be comparatively cool, even though temperatures can reach above 86°F (30°C) for prolonged periods. Hamburg's average temperatures are 33°F (0.3°C) in January (winter) and 63°F (17.1°C) in July.

In the east, the climate shows clear continental features. Winters can be cold for long periods, and summers can become warm. Here, too, long dry periods are often recorded. Berlin's average temperatures for January are 30°F (−0.9°C), and 65°F (18.6°C) for July.

The three main rivers are the Rhine, with a German part 537 miles (865km) long, and main tributaries including the Neckar, the Main, and the Moselle; the Elbe, with a German part 452 miles (727km) long (which also drains into the North Sea); and the Danube, with a German part 427 miles (687km) long. Further important rivers include the Weser River and the Ems.

The largest lakes are Lake Constance (total area of 207 square miles (536km²), with 62 percent of the shore being German, Müritz, and Chiemsee. Most of Germany is covered by either arable land (33 percent) or forest and woodland (31 percent). Only 15 percent is covered by permanent pastures.


Natural resources include iron ore, coal, potash, timber, lignite, uranium, copper, natural gas, salt, nickel, arable land, and water. Natural hazards include flooding.

The plants and animals are those common to middle Europe. Beeches, oaks, and other deciduous trees make up 30 percent of forests, with increasing areas of conifers as a result of reforestation. Spruce and fir trees grow in the upper mountains, while pine and larch grow in sandy soil. Deer, wild boar, mouflon, fox, badger, hare, and small numbers of beaver live in the wild.

The Black Forest area has the rare breed of Hinterwälder cows, the giant earthworm Lumbricus badensis, and Black Forest Foxes, a breed of horse, previously indispensable for heavy field work. Eagles and owls can be seen at close range as they sweep overhead.

Environmental issues involve emissions from coal-burning utilities and industries that contribute to air pollution; acid rain, resulting from sulfur dioxide emissions, which damages forests; pollution in the Baltic Sea from raw sewage and industrial effluents from rivers in eastern Germany; and hazardous waste disposal. The government established a mechanism for ending the use of nuclear power over a period of 15 years, and was working to meet a European Union commitment to identify nature preservation areas in line with the EU's flora, fauna, and habitat directive.

Germany's capital is Berlin. Many of the governmental institutions and ministries, as well as embassies, were moved there from the former capital of West Germany, Bonn, in 1999. The five largest metropolitan areas are: Rhein-Ruhr with 11,785,196 inhabitants, Frankfurt Rhein-Main Region with 5,822,383, Berlin 4,262,480, Hamburg 3,278,635, and Stuttgart with 2,344,989 inhabitants.

Because of the country's federal and decentralized structure, Germany has a number of larger cities. The most populous are Berlin, with 3,396,990 inhabitants, Hamburg (1,744,215), Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt, and Stuttgart. The federal structure has kept the population oriented towards a number of large cities, and has precluded the growth of any single city that would rival such European capitals as London, Paris, or Moscow for size.

Panoramic view of Frankfurt am Main (Hesse), the banking city of Germany


Stone Age

Wandering bands of hunters and gatherers including the species Heidelberg man populated German forests about 400,000 years ago. Skeletal finds near Steinheim are about 300,000 years old. Neanderthals, the remains of which were found near Düsseldorf, lived about 100,000 years ago, and Cro-Magnons appeared by 40,000 B.C.E. Around 4500 B.C.E., farming peoples from southwest Asia migrated up the Danube Valley into central Germany. Known as the Danubian culture, these villagers lived with their animals in large, gabled wooden houses, made pottery, and traded with Mediterranean people for fine stone and flint axes and shells.

Bronze Age

People from the eastern Mediterranean began working copper and tin deposits in central Germany, Bohemia, and Austria around 2500 B.C.E. Around 2300 B.C.E., battleaxe-wielding Indo-Europeans, probably from southern Russia, settled in northern and central Germany, while Slavic peoples settled in the east, and Celts in the south and west. The Bell-Beaker people, who were skilled metalworkers, moved east from Spain and Portugal about the year 2000 B.C.E., and developed a thriving Bronze Age culture in Germany. From 1800 to 400 B.C.E., Celtic people in southern Germany and Austria developed the Urnfield, Hallstatt, and La Tène metalworking cultures, introduced the use of iron for tools and weapons, and used ox-drawn ploughs and wheeled vehicles.

Co-existence with the Roman Empire

Germanic tribes in 50 C.E.

Under Augustus (63 B.C.E. to 14 C.E.), the Roman General Publius Quinctilius Varus began to invade Germania (a term used by the Romans for territory from the Rhine to the Urals), and it was in this period that the Germanic tribes became familiar with Roman tactics of warfare. In 9 C.E., three Roman legions led by Varus were defeated by the Cheruscan leader Arminius in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. Modern Germany, as far as the Rhine and the Danube, thus remained outside the Roman Empire. By 100 C.E., the time of Tacitus' Germania, Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of the area of modern Germany. The third century saw the emergence of a number of large West Germanic tribes: Alamanni, Franks, Chatti, Saxons, Frisians, Sicambri, and Thuringii.

In 376, the emperor Valens admitted Visigoths as allies to farm and defend the frontier. In the fourth and fifth centuries, nomadic Huns, sweeping in from Asia, set off waves of migration, during which the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards, and other Germanic peoples overran the Roman Empire.


The Roman provinces north of the Alps had been Christianized since the fourth century and dioceses such as that of Augsburg were maintained after the end of the Roman Empire. However, from around 600, Irish-Scottish monks founded monasteries at Würzburg, Regensburg, Reichenau, and other places. The missionary activity in the Merovingian kingdom was continued by the Anglo-Saxon monk Boniface (672-754), who established the first monastery east of the Rhine at Fritzlar. Bishoprics under papal authority were established.

Clovis unites Franks

Clovis I (c. 466 - 511) conquered neighboring Frankish tribes and established himself as sole king. He succeeded his father Childeric I in 481 as King of the Salian Franks, who occupied the area west of the lower Rhine, with their center around Tournai and Cambrai along the modern frontier between France and Belgium. Clovis converted to Roman Catholicism, as opposed to the Arianism common among Germanic peoples, at the instigation of his wife, the Burgundian Clotilda, a Catholic. He was baptized in the Cathedral of Rheims. This act was of immense importance in the subsequent history of France and Western Europe in general, for Clovis expanded his dominion over almost all of the old Roman province of Gaul (roughly modern France). He is considered the founder both of France (which his state closely resembled geographically at his death) and the Merovingian dynasty which ruled the Franks from the mid-fifth to the mid-eighth century. Merovingian rule was ended by a palace coup in 751 when Pippin the Short formally deposed Childeric III, beginning the Carolingian monarchy.

Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire

Charlemagne, portrait by Albrecht Dürer

The Carolingian dynasty (known variously as the Carlovingians or Karlings) was a Frankish noble family with its origins in the Arnulfing and Pippinid clans of the seventh century. The name Carolingian itself comes from Charles Martel, who lived from 686 to 741 (from the Latin Carolus Martellus), who defeated the Moors at the Battle of Tours in 732. The greatest Carolingian monarch was Charlemagne (742 or 747 to 814), a champion of Christianity and supporter of the papacy. Charlemagne fought the Slavs south of the Danube, annexed southern Germany, and subdued and converted pagan Saxons in the northwest. Charlemagne had himself crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III at Rome in 800, an event which revived the Roman imperial tradition in the west, and set a precedent for the dependence of the emperors on papal approval.

He is often seen as the Father of Europe and is an iconic figure, instrumental in defining European identity. His was the first truly imperial power in the West since the fall of Rome. Latin was the official language of the court and the Church, although the West Franks in Gaul adopted the Latinate vernacular that became French. East Franks and other Germanic people spoke various languages that became German. Carolingian rulers encouraged missionary work among the Germans. Non-Frankish Germans, however, retained much pagan belief beneath their newly acquired faith.

The Carolingians had the practice of making their sons (sub-)kings in the various regions (regna) of the Empire, which they would inherit on the death of their father. They also followed the traditional Frankish (and Merovingian) practice of dividing inheritances among heirs, instead of passing everything to the eldest son (primogeniture). The Carolingians disallowed inheritance to illegitimate offspring.

Empire divided

Charlemagne's third son Louis the Pious (778-840) was Emperor and King of the Franks from 814 to his death in 840. The surviving adult Carolingians fought a three-year civil war ending in the Treaty of Verdun (843), which divided the empire among Charlemagne's three grandsons. One received West Francia (modern France), another acquired the imperial title and a territory extending from the North Sea to Italy, while the third, Louis the German (804-876), received East Francia (modern Germany). The Treaty of Mersen (870) divided the middle kingdom, with Lotharingia going to East Francia and the rest to West Francia. In 881, Charles the Fat (839-888) of East Francia, heir of Louis the German, received the imperial title. Six years later he was deposed by Arnulf of Carinthia (850-899), a bastard child of a legitimate Carolingian king, the last Carolingian emperor.

Tribal duchies

By the tenth century, pagan Danes, Magyars, and Moravians invaded East Francia from the north and east, while rival Frankish tribes fought. The Carolingians had granted lands as temporary fiefs to dukes (tribal military leaders), counts (appointed officials), and clergy for their services to the state. As central royal authority declined, feudal lords provided local government and defense, and the fiefs became hereditary. The five main duchies were Franconia, Swabia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Lorraine. Lesser warriors served dukes out of tribal loyalty and in exchange for grants of land. Common people lost the right to bear arms, and worked the fields in return for protection and a share of the crops. By ancient German tradition, the kings were elected, a system that delayed the emergence of a strong German state.

Saxon kings

The last Carolingian died without an heir, so the Franks and Saxons elected Conrad, Duke of Franconia (890-918), as their king, who proved incompetent. Next elected was the Saxon Duke Henry I (876-936), the Fowler, a sober, practical soldier, who made peace with a rival king, defeated Magyars and Slavs, and regained Lorraine. He united the Germanic peoples (Franks, Saxons, Swabians, and Bavarians) and for the first time, the term Kingdom (Empire) of the Germans (Regnum Teutonicorum) was applied to a Frankish kingdom, even though teutonicorum meant something closer to "Realm of the Germanic peoples."

Otto and Italy

The Holy Roman Empire at Otto's death in 973

In 936, Otto I the Great (912-973) was crowned at Aachen. He strengthened the royal authority by appointing bishops and abbots as princes of the Empire (Reichsfürsten), thereby establishing a national church (Reichskirche). Outside threats to the kingdom were contained with the decisive defeat of the Magyars of Hungary near Augsburg at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955 and the subjugation of Slavs between the Elbe and the Oder rivers. In 962, Otto I was crowned emperor in Rome, taking the succession of Charlemagne and establishing a strong Frankish influence over the papacy.

Otto became entangled in Italy, a rich land, and a scene of feudal disorder and Saracen invasions. When Adelheid, widowed queen of the Lombards, asked Otto for help against her captor, Berengar, King of Italy, Otto invaded Italy in 951, and married the widowed Queen, thereby winning the Lombard crown. Pope John XII appealed to Otto for aid against Berengar, so Otto invaded Italy a second time, defeated Berengar, and was crowned Emperor by the pope in 962. A treaty called the Ottonian Privilege guaranteed the pope's claim to papal lands, while future papal candidates had to swear fealty to the emperor.

Otto II (955-983) established the Eastern March (Austria) as a military outpost, but he was defeated by the Saracens in his efforts to secure southern Italy. The pious Otto III (980-1002) attempted to revive the glory and power of ancient Rome with himself at the head of a theocratic state. He engineered the election of his cousin Bruno of Carinthia as Pope Gregory V, the first German pope.

The childless Henry II (972-1022), gentle and devout, encouraged the Cluniac movement and sent out missionaries from his court in the new bishopric of Bamberg. He was crowned King of Germany in 1002, and King of Italy in 1004. He was the only German king to be canonized.

Salian kings

The Salian dynasty was a dynasty in the High Middle Ages of four German Kings (1024-1125), also known as the Frankish dynasty after the family's origin and role as dukes of Franconia. All of these kings were also crowned Holy Roman Emperor (1027-1125). Under the reign of the Salian emperors, the Holy Roman Empire absorbed northern Italy and Burgundy.

Conrad II (990-1039), was a clever and ruthless ruler, who proved that the monarchy no longer depended on contracts between sovereign and territorial nobles-he made the fiefs of lesser nobles hereditary, and appointed lower-class men responsible directly to him as officials and soldiers. He had Burgundy bequeathed to him, strengthened his hold on northern Italy, and had Poland return lands previously taken in conquest.

During the reign of Conrad's eldest son Henry III, the Black (1017-1056), the Holy Roman Empire supported the Cluniac reform of the Church, a series of changes within medieval monasticism focused on restoring the traditional monastic life, encouraging art, and caring for the poor, as well as the prohibition of simony (the purchase of clerical offices). Imperial authority over the Pope reached its peak. An imperial stronghold (Pfalz) was built at Goslar, as the Empire continued its expansion to the East.

Investiture controversy

Pope Gregory VIIHenry IV, left, and son Henry V

A controversy began between Henry IV (1050-1106) and Pope Gregory VII (1025-1085) over appointments to ecclesiastical offices. Henry crushed a Saxon rebellion in 1075 and confiscated land, thus intensifying their hatred of him. When Gregory forbade lay investiture of churchmen, Henry had the Synod of Worms in 1076 depose him. The pope excommunicated Henry and freed his subjects from their oath of loyalty. The emperor was compelled to submit to the Pope at Canossa in 1077.

The princes elected a rival king, Rudolf of Swabia (1025-1080). In 1080, Gregory excommunicated Henry again and recognized Rudolf. Henry marched on Rome, deposed Gregory, installed the Antipope Clement III, and was crowned emperor in 1084. Henry returned to Germany to continue the civil war against a new rival king, since Rudolf had died in 1080. Finally, betrayed and imprisoned by his son Henry, the emperor was forced to abdicate.

Concordat of Worms

In 1122, a temporary reconciliation was reached between Henry V (1086-1125) and the pope with the Concordat of Worms, which stipulated German clerical elections would take place in the imperial presence without simony. The emperor was to invest the candidate with the symbols of his temporal office before a bishop invested him with the spiritual symbols. The consequences of the investiture dispute were a weakening of the Ottonian National Church, Reichskirche, and a strengthening of the Imperial secular princes.

Early medieval society

From 1100, new towns were founded around imperial strongholds, castles, bishops' palaces, and monasteries. The towns began to establish municipal rights and liberties, while the rural population remained in a state of serfdom. In particular, several cities became Imperial Free Cities, which did not depend on princes or bishops, but were directly subject to the emperor. The towns were ruled by patricians (merchants carrying on long-distance trade). Craftsmen formed guilds, governed by strict rules, which sought to obtain control of the towns. Trade with the east and north intensified. Germans colonized and chartered new towns and villages in largely Slav-inhabited territories east of the Oder, such as Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, Poland, and Livonia.

Hohenstaufen-Welf rivalry

Henry V died childless in 1125. His nephews Frederick and Conrad Hohenstaufen were passed over in favor of Lothair III of Supplinburg (1075-1137), Duke of Saxony. During his reign, a succession dispute broke out between the houses of Welf and Staufen; the latter was led by Frederick II and his brother Duke Conrad of Franconia. The Hohenstaufen, or Waiblingen, of Swabia, who were known as Ghibellines in Italy, held the German and imperial crowns, while the Welfs of Bavaria and Saxony, known as Guelphs in Italy, sided with the papacy. In Germany, Lothair fought a civil war with the Hohenstaufen princes, who refused to accept him as emperor. At Lothair's death, the princes chose Conrad of Hohenstaufen (who reigned 1138-1152), and civil war erupted.

Frederick Barbarossa

Frederick Barbarossa in a thirteenth-century chronicle

Frederick I Barbarossa (1122-1190) was elected and crowned King of Germany in 1152, crowned King of Italy in 1154, Holy Roman Emperor in 1155, and King of Burgundy in 1178. Handsome and intelligent, warlike, just, and charming, Frederick Barbarossa was the ideal of the medieval Christian king. Regarding himself as the successor of Augustus, Charlemagne, and Otto the Great, he spent most of his reign shuttling between Germany and Italy trying to restore imperial glory in both.

An accommodation was reached with the rival Guelph party by the grant of the duchy of Bavaria to Henry the Lion (1129-1195), duke of Saxony. Austria became a separate duchy in 1156. Barbarossa tried to reassert his control over Italy, and in 1177 a final reconciliation was reached between the emperor and the Pope. In 1180, Henry the Lion was outlawed and Bavaria was given to Otto of Wittelsbach (founder of the Wittelsbach dynasty which was to rule Bavaria until 1918), while Saxony was divided.

From 1184 to 1186, the Hohenstaufen empire under Barbarossa reached its peak during the Reichsfest (imperial celebrations) held at Mainz and with the marriage of his son Henry in Milan to the Norman princess Constance of Sicily. The power of the feudal lords was undermined by the appointment of "ministerials" (unfree servants of the emperor) as officials. Chivalry and the court life flowered, leading to a development of German culture and literature.

Frederick died leading the Third Crusade. His son Henry VI (1165-1197) put down a rebellion by the returned exile Henry the Lion and then restored him to power, forced the northern Italian cities to submit to him, seized Sicily from a usurping Norman king, but died suddenly in 1197 while planning a crusade to the Holy Land. The empire fell apart.

Frederick II

Frederick II

Frederick II (1194-1250) was raised and lived most of his life in Sicily, his mother, Constance, being the daughter of Roger II of Sicily. He was known in his own time as Stupor mundi ("wonder of the world"), and was said to speak nine languages and be literate in seven. Frederick was a ruler very much ahead of his time, being an avid patron of science and the arts. Frederick II was a religious skeptic, which was unusual for the era in which he lived, and to his contemporaries, highly shocking and scandalous. Of his relations with the Saracens of Sicily, rather than exterminate them, he allowed them to settle on the mainland and build mosques. Not least, he enlisted them in his-Christian-army and even into his personal bodyguards. His empire was frequently at war with the Papal States, so it is unsurprising that he was excommunicated twice and often vilified in chronicles of the time. Pope Gregory IX went so far as to call him the Antichrist. After his death the idea of his second coming where he would rule a 1000-year reich took hold, possibly in part because of this.

Between 1212 and 1250, he established a modern, professionally administered state in Sicily. He resumed the conquest of Italy, leading to further conflict with the papacy. In the Empire, extensive sovereign powers were granted to ecclesiastical and secular princes, leading to the rise of independent territorial states. The popes regarded Frederick as dangerous. When Frederick led a crusade to Jerusalem in 1228, Pope Gregory IX invaded Sicily. Frederick returned home and made peace, but by 1237 he battled the second Lombard League of cities that was allied with the pope. Frederick seized the Papal States, and the new pope, Innocent IV, fled to Lyon.

Frederick died peacefully, wearing the habit of a Cistercian monk, on December 13, 1250, in Castel Fiorentino near Lucera, in Puglia, after an attack of dysentery. His legitimate son Conrad IV inherited the Imperial and Sicilian crowns, but Conrad died four years later and the Hohenstaufen dynasty fell. There followed the Great Interregnum (1254-1273) between the end of Hohenstaufen rule and the beginning of Habsburg rule, during which there was no emperor.

Beginning in 1226 under the auspices of Emperor Frederick II, the Teutonic Knights began their conquest of Prussia after being invited to Chełmno Land by the Polish Duke Konrad I of Masovia. The native Baltic Prussians were conquered and Christianized by the Knights with much warfare, and numerous German towns were established along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. From 1300, however, the Empire started to lose territory on all its frontiers.

Thirteenth-century society

The empire had lost Poland and Hungary by the late thirteenth century, and had lost control of Burgundy and Italy. Seven princes, whose principalities were virtually autonomous, chose weak kings. The Church was a dominant force in society. Towns paid taxes to the emperors in exchange for freedom from feudal obligations. Trade greatly increased. Towns began to form trade associations, the most powerful of which was the Hanseatic League. Rich burghers built city walls, cathedrals, and elaborate town halls and guildhalls. Lofty, richly decorated Gothic cathedrals were built in Bamberg, Strasbourg, Naumburg, and Cologne.

Three princely families vie for crown

Rudolph I of Germany, a stained glass window in Saint Jerome's chapel in town hall in Olomouc (Czech Republic)

By the late Middle Ages, the Habsburgs, Wittelsbachs, and Luxembourgs struggled for the imperial crown. The Great Interregnum ended in 1273, with the selection of Rudolf of Habsburg (1218-1291), a minor Swabian prince who made the Habsburgs one of the great powers in the empire. On Rudolf's death the electors chose Adolf of Nassau (1255-1298), followed by Albert of Austria, then by Henry, Count of Luxembourg (1275-1313), who crossed the Alps in 1310 and temporarily subdued Lombardy. The Roman people crowned him, because the popes had left Rome and were living in Avignon, France, in the Avignon Papacy, the period from 1309 to 1377, during which seven French popes resided in Avignon.

Papal confirmation not required

Civil war raged until the Wittelsbach candidate, Louis IV the Bavarian (1282-1347), defeated his Habsburg rival at the Battle of Mühldorf in 1322. The failure of negotiations between Emperor Louis IV and the papacy led in 1338 to the declaration at Rhense by six electors to the effect that election by all or the majority of the electors automatically conferred the royal title and rule over the empire, without papal confirmation. Between 1346 and 1378 Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia, sought to restore the imperial authority. Around 1350, the Black Death ravaged Germany and most of Europe, killing about one-third of the population.

The Golden Bull

Pope Clement VI

Pope Clement VI (1291-1351) opened negotiations with Charles IV, King of Bohemia (1316-1378), who was chosen in 1347. Charles IV, of the House of Luxembourg, ignored the question of papal assent. In the edict of the Golden Bull in 1356, which provided the basic constitution of the empire up to its dissolution, he specified the seven electors, made their lands indivisible, granted them monopolies on mining and tolls, and secured them “gifts” from candidates, making them the strongest princes. Charles entrenched his own dynasty in Bohemia, bought Brandenburg and took Silesia from Poland, and to obtain cash, he encouraged the silver, glass, and paper industries of Bohemia.

The Council of Constance and the Hussites

Painting of Jan Hus in the Council of Constance by Václav Brožík

Emperor Sigismund (1368-1437), who was King of Bohemia, made John XXIII call the Council of Constance (1414-1418), to end the Papal schism which had resulted from the Avignon Papacy. (John XXIII, born Baldassarre Cossa 1370 - 1419, was antipope during the Western Schism.) The council was attended by roughly 29 cardinals, 100 "learned doctors of law and divinity," 134 abbots, 183 bishops and archbishops, and 1000 prostitutes. Bohemia was convulsed by the Hussite movement, which combined Czech nationalism with a desire for Church reform. Sigismund invited the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus (1369-1415) to state his views, under imperial protection, at the Council of Constance. But the council subsequently had him burned as a heretic, prompting the inconclusive Hussite Wars (1420-1434) against and among the followers of Hus in Bohemia.

The Habsburgs and German society

Around the middle of the fourteenth century, the Black Death ravaged Germany and Europe. From Dance of Death by Hans Holbein (1491).

From 1438, the Habsburgs, who controlled most of the southeast of the empire (more or less modern-day Austria, Slovenia, Bohemia, and Moravia after the death of King Louis II in 1526), maintained a constant grip on the position of the Holy Roman Emperor until 1806.

Emperors included Albert II (1397-1439), who engaged in defending Hungary against the attacks of the Turks, died on October 27, 1439 at Neszmély and was buried at Székesfehérvár; and Frederick III (1415-1493). During his reign from 1493 to 1519, Maximilian I tried to reform the Empire: An Imperial Supreme Court (Reichskammergericht) was established, imperial taxes were levied, the power of the Imperial Diet (Reichstag) was increased. The reforms were frustrated by the continued territorial fragmentation of the empire, which gave rise to increased disunity among the empire's territorial rulers, and prevented the formation of nations in the manner of France and England.

Early-modern European society gradually came into being as a result of economic, religious, and political changes. Gradually, a proto-capitalistic system evolved out of feudalism. The Fugger family gained prominence through commercial and financial activities and became financiers to both ecclesiastical and secular rulers. The knightly classes found their monopoly on arms and military skill undermined by the introduction of mercenary armies a