A Brief Introduction to the History of Hesse (Hessen)

The Hessians entered written history as a German tribe called the Chatti and pronounced „Hatti“. We know of this tribe from Roman sources of late antiquity. From the ninth century B.C. they settled along the rivers Schwalm, Eder and lower Fulda, later pushing along the Lahn River to the Rhine and into the Wetterau region, and up the Fulda River as far as the hills of the Rhön River . Chatti villages have been excavated near Maden, Altenritte, Niederhone, Unterweissenborn, Wetzlar and the Giessen city-owned forest. A fort of sorts, called Altenburg Fort by some today, near Niedenstein was their headquarters, not really a town nor even a village, but a fenced-in area that was a place of refuge which could provide shelter to many thousands of people. Such a structure is referred to by the Latin term Oppidum (plural Oppida). The German tribes did not have villages, towns or cities as we know them today. They had no urban infrastructure at all. The Altenberg Oppidum was probably destroyed and burned down by the Romans in 15 A.D. in revenge for Chatti involvement in the battle of Teutoberger Wald in which an entire Roman Legion was wiped out.

With the retreat of the Romans behind the „Limes Linea“, the fortified border which protected Roman controlled lands from the German tribes, all trace of the Chatti disappears into the darkness of history for several hundred years. They did not reappear until the rule of the Franks from what is today France, began to spread across the region where they were settled. This is when we find the first recorded mention of the name Hessians. In 738, Pope Gregory III wrote,“To all nobles and the people in the provinces of Germany, to the Thuringians and Hessians…“. With the Franks came St. Boniface, who converted the still pagan Hessians and Thuringians to Christianity. Throughout the Middle Ages the ties between Hesse (Hessen) and Thuringia remained very close. It was the Landgrave of Thuringia ruled Hesse. And it was in the town of Marburg, in Hesse (Hessen), where Elizabeth of Thuringia founded a famous charity hospital. In 1264 Heinrich I, son of Sophie of Brabant and Elizabeth’s grandson, was recognized as the first Landgrave of Hesse (Hessen). Marburg became the first capital of Hesse (Hessen) and it’s Elizabeth Church simultaneously an important place of pilgrimage.

However, the state only achieved any great significance in the Reformation period, when Count Philip the Magnanimous (1504 — 1567) supported the rebellious monk Martin Luther and, in 1527, founded the world’s first protestant university in Marburg. Hesse became an important base for German Protestants. In 1567 the state was divided between Phillip’s heirs. As a consequence, for centuries there were two, and sometimes three, states of Hesse: Nassau, Hessen-Kassel in the north, and Hessen-Darmstadt in the south, often in political opposition to one another. Even during the Thirty Years‘ War, which cruelly devastated state, the two Hessian states of the time were on different sides. In the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 the two princes of Hesse (Hessen) supported Austria — and thus the loser. As a result, Hessen-Kassel, Nassau and the free Imperial city of Frankfurt were annexed by Prussia.

The present federal states of Hesse (Hessen) was created by the US occupying forces in 1945. On the advice of German historians, Dwight D. Eisenhower, US commander in chief and military governor, and his deputy Lucius D. Clay amalgamated the formerly independent provinces of Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Kassel and Nassau. Shortly before hand, there had been a small but spectacular exchange of territory in the north of Hesse (Hessen) between the US and Russian occupation zones, with several villages being swapped on account of a railway line. On February 4, 1946 the first refugee group from the east reached Weilburg. Many more were to follow. In 1946 alone, Hesse had to „accommodate“ 400,000 refugees and expelled Germans from eastern parts of Germany that were taken over by the Russians or their puppet states. In the course of time, this number grew to 1.25 million refugees arriving in Hesse (Hessen) alone. Emergency accommodation was provided, after which housing developments were built. The refugees found a new home in Hesse (Hessen) and help to build up the state and its economy.

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