HistoryAs Germans began establishing towns throughout northern Europe as early as the 10th century, they often received granting them autonomy from local secular or religious rulers. Such privileges often included the right to self-governance, economic autonomy, criminal courts, and militia. Town laws were more or less entirely copied from neighboring towns, such as the Westphalian towns of Soest, Germany, Soest, Dortmund, Minden, and Münster. As Germans began settling eastward, the colonists modelled their town laws on the pre-existing 12th century laws of Cologne in the west, Lübeck in the north (Lübeck law), in the east ( ), and either Nuremberg or Vienna in the south. The granting of German city rights modelled after an established town to a new town regarded the original model as a ''Rechtsvorort'', or roughly a legal sponsor of the newly chartered town. For instance, Magdeburg became the sponsor of towns using Magdeburg Rights, and its lay judges could rule in ambiguous legal cases in towns using such rights. Certain city rights became known under different names, although they originally came from the same source; the name of some city variants designates the ''Rechtsvorort'' they became famous from, not necessarily that that specific style of rights originated from the ''Rechtsvorort''. As territorial borders changed through the passage of time, changes to German city rights were inevitable. During the course of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, the town laws of many places were modified with aspects of Roman law by legal experts. Ultimately, the older towns' laws, along with local autonomy and jurisdiction, gave way to landed territorial rulers. With the ''Reichsdeputationshauptschluss'' of 1803, almost all of the 51 reichsfrei cities of the Holy Roman Empire were German Mediatisation, mediatised by the territorial princes; the remaining imperial free cities of Frankfurt, Bremen, Hamburg, and Free City of Lübeck, Lübeck became sovereign city-states. The only remnants of medieval town rights (statutes) included in the ''Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch'' of 1 January 1900 were single articles concerning family and inheritance laws. The cities of Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin are currently administered under ''Landesrechte'', or laws of the States of Germany, federal states of Germany. Many towns granted German city rights had already existed for some time, but the granting of town law codified the legal status of the settlement. Many European localities date their foundation to their reception of a town charter, even though they had existed as a settlement beforehand.
ExpansionGerman town law was frequently applied during the ''Ostsiedlung'' of Central and Eastern Europe by German colonists beginning in the early 13th century. Because many areas were considered underpopulated or underdeveloped, local rulers offered urban privileges to peasants from German lands to induce them to immigrate eastward. Some towns which received a German town law charter were based on pre-existing settlements, while others were constructed anew by colonists. Many towns were formed in conjunction with the settlement of nearby rural communities, but the towns' urban rights were jealously guarded. Initially German town law was applied only to ethnic Germans, but gradually in most localities all town-dwellers were regarded as citizens, regardless of ethnic origin.
Lübeck lawLübeck law spread rapidly among the maritime settlements along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea and was used in northern Mecklenburg, Western Pomerania, and parts of Pomerelia and Warmia. It formed the basis of Riga law in Riga, used for some towns in the lands of the Livonian Order in Livonia, Estonia, and Courland.
Magdeburg lawMagdeburg law was popular around the March of Meißen and Upper Saxony and was the source of several variants, including Neumarkt-Magdeburg law (Środa Śląska), used extensively in Upper Silesia, and Kulm law, used in the Monastic State of the Teutonic Order, territory of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia (region), Prussia and along the lower Vistula in Eastern Pomerania. Other variants included Brandenburg, Litoměřice, and Olomouc law.
Litoměřice lawLitoměřice law and codes based on that of Nuremberg, such as Old Prague and Cheb law, were introduced into Bohemia during the reign of King Wenceslaus I, King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus I, while German colonists introduced Brünn (Brno) and Olmütz (Olomouc) law in Moravia. South German law, broadly referring to the codes of Nuremberg and Vienna, was used in Bavaria, Austria, and Slovenia, and was introduced into the Kingdom of Hungary during the rule of King Béla IV of Hungary, Béla IV. Jihlava law was a variant used frequently by mining communities in Bohemia, Moravia, the mountains of Upper Hungary, and Transylvania. Other town laws were only suitable for or were modified to fit local conditions, such as Głubczyce, Görlitz, Goslar, Lüneburg, Lwówek Śląski, Nysa, Spiš, and Székesfehérvár laws.
Neumarkt lawResulting from the reign of King Casimir III of Poland, numerous towns were chartered with Neumarkt town law throughout the Kingdom of Poland (1320–1385), Kingdom of Poland in the 14th century, especially in Masovia, Galicia (Central Europe), Galicia, and Volhynia. Many Transylvanian Saxons, Transylvanian Saxon settlements in Transylvania, especially in the regions of Altland, Burzenland, and Nösnerland, received South German town law in the 14th century. In the 15th century, many towns in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were chartered with the Neumarkt town law used in much of Poland, although this was done through the duplication of Polish administrative methods instead of German colonization. In the 16th century Tsardom of Russia, Muscovy granted or reaffirmed Magdeburg rights to various towns along the Dnieper acquired from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. After the Partitions of Poland, Magdeburg law continued to be used in western Imperial Russia until the 1830s.
See also*List of towns with German town law *Burgrecht * ''''
References*Christiansen, Eric. ''The Northern Crusades''. Penguin Books. London, 1997. *Krallert, Wilfried. ''Atlas zur Geschichte der deutschen Ostsiedlung''. Velhagen & Klasing. Bielefeld. 1958. *Magocsi, Paul Robert. ''Historical Atlas of Central Europe: Revised and Expanded Edition''. University of Washington Press. Seattle. 2002. *''Westermanns Atlas zur Weltgeschichte''. Georg Westermann Verlag Braunschweig. Berlin. 1963.