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The origins of Prussia by F. L. Carsten
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The origins of Prussia

by F. L. Carsten

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This book takes you back to a time long before the Prussia we generally know - indeed it is a very different world - and ends with the birth of the Prussia we did know.

Carsten describes the main phases of Prussian history well - the conquest of the Baltic Prussians by the Teutonic knights, the development of a new colonial state, its transformation into a Central European mixed urban/rural medieval society that grew to resent its Teutonic masters and welcomed its defeat by the Poles, the agrarian crisis and the decline of the Hanseatic League that underlined the demise of princely authority and opened the way for Frederick William Hohenzollern to take advantage of the Thirty Years War and Polish/Swedish Wars to takeover Prussian society in a rather thuggish manner.

It is not just a book about Prussia, but developments in Pomerania and Brandenburg are covered well. These states are contrasted to the more urban societies in the west of the German sphere when Cleves and Mark are joined to the Hohenzollern world.

The takeover by Frederick William shows up the essence of the modern state - monopolizing the use of force, imposing taxation to support his activities and undermining his opposition (the town-based Estates) and developing a class of supporters in the nobility that had an interest in advancing Frederick William's cause.

Carsten does show Frederick William to be a man possessed by a vision with the determination to restructure society to his interest and carefully develop a supporting class to consolidate his power.

Glad I didn't live in his times. ( )
  motorbike | Jul 25, 2014 |
This is a political and economic history of East Prussia, Pomerania, and Brandenburg, from the 12th to the middle of the 17th century. It's rather dry, and packed dense with names, dates, places, and lots of numbers. The author assumes the reader has a good foundation in medieval and German history. I have a fairly good grasp of the former, but little of the latter, so I had to look up quite a few German terms. However, that being said, there's hardly anything published on the subject in English. This book lists hundreds of sources, yet only one English book. There are good books on the Crusades to this area, by William Urban and Eric Christiansen. I skimmed two recent books on Prussia, but one starts in the 17th century and the other gives short shrift to the medieval period. ( )
  nathanm | May 1, 2011 |
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