History of the VIA REGIA
We would like to take you on a tour through German history following the course of a road.
During the migration of peoples, Germanic tribes left their settlements in central and northern German areas to head west and south, probably to be safe from attacks by the Huns. The Vandals, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Sillingers and Langobards, to name but the best known among the German tribes, found a new place to live while their old settlement areas came to be inhabited by Slavic tribes, who might have come from the area of today’s Ukraine. Through the development of crafts and trades and the division of labour, the significance of trade grew considerably. Towns, where guilds practiced their trades, came into being. Regions specialised in making particular products and were able to market them elsewhere. Upper Lusatians for example manufactured cloths, which were sold by merchants. This required transportation. In the Baltic area, goods were transported by ship across the sea. Trade blossomed under the Hanseatic League, the most important association of merchants in German history. The river Danube also provided a west-east link for ships carrying cargo. In central and northern Germany, the navigable rivers Oder, Elbe, Weser and Rhine ran from south to north. Goods which were east- or westward bound could only be transported by land. Roads were needed. The most significant east-west connection was the Via Regia or High Road. It linked central and westernEurope and was called Via Regia, the King’s Highway, because it remained under the sovereign’s special protection.
But not just merchants, also pilgrims destined for Aix-la-Chappelle or Santiago de Compostela, where they intended to say a prayer at the grave of St. James, wandered along this road. In addition, the Via Regia was a military road from the High Middle Ages up until the mid-twentieth century. Knights, Hussites, Napoleon’s troops and opponents as well as the armies which fought in the wars of 20th century used this road.
Merchants founded trade posts mostly on river passages, which later developed into towns. Newly-founded towns attracted many trades- and craftsmen from Frisia, Franconia and Thuringia. Farmers followed in their footsteps and introduced progressive cultivation techniques they had brought with them. They all came because on the one hand living conditions were deteriorating in their former settlement areas and on the other hand their knowledge and skills were very much sought-after in and around the new towns.
The Polish Piasts invited German settlers into their land. It was the time of the eastern expansion, which though often fought with the sword also happened peacefully. It is particularly striking that Silesia attracted more settlers to begin with than Upper Lusatia. The Francisans who founded monasteries in Upper Lusatia in the 13th century came from Goldberg in Silesia and not, for example, from Erfurt.
We have seen merchants, pilgrims, craftsmen, farmers, military men and members of religious orders pass by on the Via Regia. But this road did not just facilitate trade and change, it was also a means of cultural exchange and communication. News and messages travelled through messengers, by horse carriage or on foot. Today we use modern media and telecommunication but the direction, from east to west and vice versa, remains the same. With this presentation, our association would like to inform interested parties about the Via Regia and to draw attention to particularities along the Via Regia in the Free State of Saxony. We hope to engage in cultural exchange and communication with our neighbours along the Via Regia, the basis of which is information about the course of the road in Saxony and later, perhaps, in the whole of Europe.