History of Baden-Württemberg

The Duchy of Swabia
(10th to 12th Centuries A.D.)

The Duchy of Swabia

The Duchy of Swabia is to a large degree comparable to the territory of the Alemands. The Suevi (Sueben or Swabians) belonged to the tribe of the Alemands, reshaped in the 3rd century. The name of Swabia is also derived from them. From the 9th century on, in place of the area designation "Alemania," came the name "Schwaben" (Swabia). Our French neighbors to this day call Germans "Allemands."

The empire of the Germans consisted of various tribes: Lorrainers, Saxons, Franks, Bavarians and Swabians. At their heads were dukes. The German kings had to gain recognition through the individual tribes. The tribal duchies were often even called "regna," i.e., "kingdoms." The dukes were in turn dependent on the recognition of the leading nobles of their tribal territory. Just as in the German empire there were "anti-kings," we find "anti-dukes" in the Duchy of Swabia. The same areas did not always come under the sovereignty of the dukes of those days. This is one of the reasons why a map of the Duchy of Swabia cannot be drawn with precise borders.

Nowhere are the borders described without gaps. Only in a few places are there proofs: by Ellwangen, Murrhardt and Heimsheim (near Leonberg) there were "border areas between Swabia and Franconia,"; Basel already belonged to the Duchy of Burgundy; the Lech was named a border. What can we rely on when we speak of the Duchy of Swabia?

One basis would be the territory of the Alemands, who finally established themselves in the southwest in two thrusts (about 260 and in the 5th century). The so-called Swabian-Franconian tribal border in the north is based on this concept. It served as a dialect border between the Alemanic-Swabian and the Frankish dialects for a long time thereafter. In the southeast, the Lech was the border with the Bavarian tribe. Northern Switzerland also belonged to the Alemanic territory, but not Rhaetia, where Rhaeto-Romansch is still spoken today in the southern part. The Alemands also established themselves in Alsace, but this land did not always clearly belong to the Duchy of Swabia.

Another point of departure would be the diocese (jurisdiction) of the bishop of Constance. Namely, the bishopric of Constance is called "simply the Alemanic bishopric." The situation of the episcopal city brings to our attention that Lake Constance was the center of the Duchy of Swabia. The bishopric of Constance was, to be sure, not congruent with the Alemanic territory. Alsace belonged to the bishoprics of Basel and Strassburg. The latter included the right bank of the Rhine as far as the Ortenau.

In medieval Germany there was no law that prevailed throughout the empire. Each was sentenced according to tribal law, a Saxon according to Saxon law, a Frank according to Franconian law. In the Duchy of Swabia, originally the lex Alemannorum, the Alemanic law, prevailed. Later on, one can observe the following: people in Swabia who were banished had to swear "over Lech and Rhine." In this formula two borderlines were again clear: the Lech included the Bavarian Swabia of today, and the Rhine excluded Alsace.

On the map "Staufer, Welfen, Zähringer" we will see what individual noble families amounted to in the division or unification of the Duchy of Swabia. The balance of power changed continuously. Some dukes of Swabia came from other parts of the German empire: from Bavaria, Franconia and Saxony. Their families were mostly tied by kinship.

Instead of seeking firm borders for the Duchy of Swabia, it is more useful to take note of central regions and "important places" of the duchy, for there was never a specific capital of Swabia.

The important places are:

On Lake Constance (Bodensee): Constance (Konstanz) with the Reichenau and St. Gallen monasteries as well as the Hohentwiel as strong points.

In present day Switzerland: Zürich (mint factory). The Einsiedeln monastery and the episcopal city of Chur.

In Upper Swabia: the Marchtal monastery and nearby the almost unknown Rottenacker, where at least two assemblies of Swabian nobility took place (1114 and 1116). Such princely gatherings also took place in Ulm.

In the middle Neckar, Cannstatt, Stuttgart and Esslingen (mint), on the upper Neckar, Rottweil.

On the Upper Rhine, Breisach with its ducal mint.

Between the rivers Iller and Lech, the episcopal city of Augsburg and the monasteries of Kempten and Ottobeuren.

After the Welfens in 1191 and the Zähringers in 1218 became rivals, the Staufers carried out a particularly intensive rule as dukes. Even Alsace belonged to it. Swabia was otherwise of great importance in securing the pass route to Italy. After the fall of the Staufers there was never again a Duchy of Swabia. The Habsburgs and the Württembergers endeavored in vain to resurrect it.


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© 10/2000 by Mike Pantel