Demographic History Economic History
First posted on June 8th 2008

Periods in the History of Alsace-Lorraine

Note : The data given below refer to Alsace-Lorraine in her 1871-1918 borders, including historical events pertaining to the territory further back in history / after 1918.

Pre-Roman Period
Roman Period
Germanic, Pre-Christian Period
Frankish Period
High Middle Ages
From the Late Middle Ages to the Reformation
From the Reformation to the 30 Years War
French Acquisition, From 1648 to 1789
French Rule, From 1789 to 1871
German Rule, 1871-1918
to France, 1918-1940
to Germany, 1940-1944
to France, since 1945

Pre-Roman Period, until 50 B.C.
In the 1st century A.D., the territory which in 1871 would constitute Alsace-Lorraine was inhabited by a number of Celtic tribes. When Julius Caesar conquered Gaul in 58-50 B.C., these Celtic tribes found themselves under pressure by Germanic tribes from the opposite bank of the Rhine, who intended to dislodge the former. The Celtic inhabitants of the area were polytheists, and who had 'oppida' (cities) on their territories.

Roman Period, 50 B.C. - 406 A.D.
Caesar was able to stop the Germanic pressure on the Alsace for a number of centuries. The Celtic population of the region assimilated into Roman civilization, adopted Latin language. The Romans founded a number of cities, among them Argentorate (Strasbourg) and Divodurum (Metz). Roman rule provided political stability, especially during the reign of the Soldier Emperors (96-192 A.D.); afterwards the Roman Empire descended in a century of civil wars which allowed the Germanics to raid the country. The fourth century saw a population contraction which was to continue into the 5th century. In 406 several Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine; Roman rule was no longer.

Pre-Christian Period, 406-496
At the time of the termination of the Western Empire (476), the Alsace was in the hands of the pagan Alemanni. Lorraine was in the hands of the pagan Franks. Clovis, King of the Franks, conquered the Alsace, and converted to Catholic christianity in 496; his conversion meant that all Franks, and the Alemanni in the Alsace had to follow suit.

Frankish Period, 496-880
The christianization of Alsace and Lorraine meant the establishment of a church administration, centered on the diocesal sees of Strasbourg, Metz, Verdun, Toul, Basel, and numerous monasteries which initially were responsible for the conversion of the population, and which developed into centers of education and cultivation (viticulture etc.).
The Frankish state(s) was/were repeatedly subject to partition among the sons of the deceased ruler. Reunited under Charlemagne, it reached a climax; in the 9th century it experienced a period of instability (civil strife, Viking raids). The grandchildren of Charlemagne in 843 agreed to partition Charlemagne's kingdom in 3, a West Frankish Kingdom (future France), an East Frankish Kingdom (future Germany) and a Middle Frankish Kingdom, also called Lotharingia (from which 'Lorraine' is derived). The borders were revised in follow-up agreements 870 and 880.
The Alsace formed part of the Duchy of Swabia, including northwestern Switzerland, most of Baden-Württemberg and southwestern Bavaria (Schwaben). The entire area was Alemannic-speaking (a Germanic language). The territory which was to form the Lorraine (Lothringen) section of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 by 880 formed part of the much larger Duchy of Lotharingia (Lorraine), which then included French Lorraine, Brabant, Limburg, even the territory around Utrecht. During the 9th century, the border between Romance-speaking and Germanic-speaking regions emerged (as Germanic speakers in the Romance-speaking regions assimilated into the local culture, Romance- speakers in the Germanic-speaking area vice versa). This language border saw little change until the 19th century; it divided the Duchy of Lorraine (later the smaller Duchy of Upper Lorraine) in a French and a Moselle Frankish (a Germanic language) speaking region. The Duchy of Lorraine had been contested between the West and the East Frankish Kingdom, but ultimately stayed with the East Frankish Kingdom.

High Middle Ages, 880-1254
The Viking siege of Paris in 885 laid open the weakness of the Frankish kingdoms of the time, which lacked stable political institutions. In 887-888 the nobles of the East Frankish Kingdom established a constitutional change; from now on the kingdom was indivisible; the oldest son of the last king would succeed; if there was no son, the nobles would elect a new king. The East Frankish kings emerged as the strongest in Central Europe, and they were regarded the only legitimate candidates to be crowned Emperor; hence the state was called the Roman Kingdom, later Holy Rioman Empire.
The kings respectively emperors mistrusted the notoriously scheming high nobility and relied instead on bishops in their administration of the state. In return for their services, the bishops were rewarded with land; this caused the emergence of the Princebishoprics of Strassburg, Metz, Toul and Verdun.

From the Late Middle Ages to the Reformation, 1254-1517
The fall of the Staufer Dynasty in 1254 resulted in fundamental change in the Holy Roman Empire : the position of king was now elective, the chosen kings lacked the resources to enforce their will on the princes. While the Duchy of Lorraine remained a large political entity out of which only the three Princebishoprics Metz, Toul and Verdun had been carved out, the Alsace transformed into an extremely fragmented political landscape, with the counties Upper Alsace and Lower Alsace, the Princebishopric of Strassburg, a host of immediate cities (Strassburg, Mülhausen, Colmar, Hagenau, Schlettstadt, Weissenburg, Türkheim, Rosheim, Oberehnheim and Kaiserberg, and a host of smaller territories.
The Alsace was a fertile region, located along a major trade route - the Rhine. Lorraine saw the emergence of a pre-industrial iron industry.
From the 12th century on, the Alsace saw a number of feuds between local nobles, the Bishop of Strassburg, the cities. From the 13th century on, peasant rebellions occurred occasionally, indicating that little room was left for the expansion of farmland. Strassburg had developed into a major trade center. The Bishops of Strasburg in 1308 established residence at Molsheim, after the city established her independence.

From the Reformation to the 30 Years War
Alsace was one of the major campaign grounds of the 30 Years War. Strassburg, under Martin Bucer, emerged as a major center of the Proterstant Reformation; Calvin spent 3 formative years here. Yet only part of the Alsatian population turned to Protestantism (and among them a splinter group to Anasbaptism). Molsheim emerged as the center of the Counterreformation.
From the 1580es onward Alsace was of great strategic importance, as the Spanish Road, connecting the port of Genoa with the Netherlands, was the main artery through which the Spanish army reached the Netherlands, and on which her supplies depended. During the 30 Years War, the Alsace suffered not only devastation, but the French (who entered the war in 1635) moved into the Alsace to cut the Spanish Road, and they were to stay.

French Acquisition : from 1648 to 1789
In the Treaty of Westphalia 1648 the Emperor ceded the Habsburg possessions in the Alsace (most notably the Sundgau) to France. Under King Louis XIV., France developed a standing army; the country threatened to establish hegemony. The rich, politically extremely fragmented Alsace could not defend itself against French intrusions; the Emperor, over considerable periods of time, was incapable to protect the region. In the 1670es and 1680es France, in the so-called Reunions, annexed more and more territory in the Alsace; the city of Strassburg fell in 1681. Later wars (War of the Grand Alliance 1689-1697, War of Spanish Succession 1701-1714) did not reverse the French acquisitions. The French authorities discriminated against Protestants, the numbers of whom declined due to emigration and conversions until 1782).
France established a unified administration over those parts of the Alsace it controlled, hence the statement that it was France which created the Alsace (Erbe p.85). After years of political insecurity, France did provide political stability. Immigrants came into the country to restore and develop the economy.
The Dukes of Lorraine found themselfs confronted by an expansionist France, regularly exposed to French intrusions, which brought devastation and occupation. France annexed Lorraine in 1766.

French rule : from 1789 to 1871
The French Revolution brought both political reforms and terror into the Alsace and Lorraine. The Vienna Congress 1815 left both regions with France. The Alsace, which during the 18th century had attracted many immigrants, in the 19th century saw many Alsatians emigrate; episodical Anti-Semitic pogroms also had their origin in the abject poverty of large parts of the population.
While the large majority of the population of what was to form Alsace-Lorraine inj 1871 spoke a Germanic dialect and those among them who were literate could read German, German patriotism was less enthusiastic in the region than on the other bank of the Rhine, especially after 1830, when France became a liberal state.
The French defeat in the Franco-German War of 1870-1871 lead to a result which took the Alsatians and Lorrainers by surprise.

German Rule 1871 to 1918
In the Treaty of Frankfurt, France ceded Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. C. 100,000 emigrated to France, because they did not want to give up their French citizenship. German became the language of administration, jurisdiction and education.

French rule : from 1918 to 1940
In the Treaty of Versailles 1919, Germany returned Alsace-Lorraine to France. C. 200,000 Germans emigrated to Germany. French again became the language of administration, jurisdiction and education. The Maginot-Line was partially constructed on the territory of Alsace-Lorraine.

to Germany : from 1940 to 1944
In June 1940, the French army surrendered to Germany; Alsace-Lorraine for a brief period was returned to Germany.

to France : since 1945
Following the liberation of France in 1944, Alsace-Lorraine was reintegrated into the French state. The process of European Integration since 1957 has greatly reduced the importance of national borders. Franco-German raprochement since the 1950es has turned traditional animosity into amity. Strassburg has gained importance as the seat of Europe's Parliament. In 1974 the Alsace Regional Council was established, establishing a degree of regional autonomy in traditionally centralist France.

Articles Alsace : Hitory, Alsace-Lorraine : History, Duchy of Lorraine : History, Alsace Regional Council, from Wikipedia

REFERENCE Michael Erbe (ed.). Das Elsass. Historische Landschaft im Wandel der Zeiten (Alsace, Historic Landscape in the Course of Time), Stuttgart : Kohlhammer 2002, in German [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted om June 8th 2008

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz