Reich (/ˈraɪk/; German: [ˈʁaɪç] ( listen)) is a
German word literally meaning "realm". The terms Kaiserreich
(literally "realm of an emperor") and Königreich (literally "realm of
a king") are used in German to refer to empires and kingdoms
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary indicates
that in English usage, the term "the Reich" refers to "
the period of Nazi control from 1933 to 1945".
As such, the term Deutsches
Reich (sometimes translated to "German
Empire") continued to be used even after the collapse of the German
Empire and abolition of the monarchy in 1918. There was no emperor but
many Germans had imperialistic ambitions. According to
The continued use of the term 'German Empire', Deutsches Reich, by the
Weimar Republic....conjured up an image among educated Germans that
resonated far beyond the institutional structures Bismarck created:
the successor to the Roman Empire; the vision of God's
Empire here on
earth; the universality of its claim to suzerainty; and a more prosaic
but no less powerful sense, the concept of a German state that would
include all German speakers in central Europe--'one People, one Reich,
one Leader', as the Nazi slogan was to put it.
The term derives from the Germanic word meaning "realm" in general,
but is typically used in German to designate a kingdom or an empire,
especially the Roman Empire. The terms Kaisertum (roughly
"Emperordom") and Kaiserreich are used in German to more specifically
define an empire ruled by an emperor.
Reich is comparable in meaning and development (as well as descending
from the same
Proto-Indo-European root) to the English word realm (via
French reaume "kingdom" from
Latin regalis "royal"). It is used for
historical empires in general, such as the Roman
Empire (Perserreich), and both the Tsardom of Russia
and the Russian
Empire (Zarenreich, literally "
Tsar realm"). The
Realm (Österreich) of the Holy Roman
Empire is still the name
used today for Austria.
In the history of
Germany specifically, it is used to refer to:
the early medieval Frankish
Realm (Francia) and Carolingian Empire
Reich and Karolingerreich);
the Holy Roman
Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich), which lasted from
the coronation of
Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor in 800, until
1806, when it was dissolved during the Napoleonic Wars;
Reich or Deutsches Kaiserreich), which
lasted from the unification of
Germany in 1871 until its collapse
after World War I, during the German Revolution of 1918–1919;
Weimar Republic of 1919–1933 continued to use Deutsches
its official name;
Nazi Germany, the state often referred to as the Third Reich, which
lasted from the
Machtergreifung in 1933 until the end of World War II
in Europe in 1945.
The term "Third Reich" was adopted by the Nazis as propaganda to
legitimize their government as a successor to the retroactively
renamed "First" and "Second" Reichs. The terms "First Reich" and
"Second Reich" are not used by historians, whilst the term "Fourth
Reich" is used mainly in fiction and for political humour, however it
also used by those who subscribe to the belief of
Neo-Nazism or the
belief of "Aryan Supremacy".
2 Usage throughout German history
Empire (1st Riech)
2.2 Holy Roman Empire
2.2.1 Modern age
2.3 German Reich
2.4 During the Weimar Republic
2.5 During the Nazi period
2.6 Possible negative connotations in modern use
2.7 Limited usage in the railway system of the German Democratic
2.8 Personal names
3 Usage in related languages
3.1 In Scandinavian languages
3.2 In Estonian
3.3 In English
4 See also
Reich in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/rīkijan in Wiktionary, the free
Look up Reconstruction:Proto-Germanic/rīks in Wiktionary, the free
Latin equivalent of
Reich is imperium or rather with a king
regnum. Both terms translate to "rule, sovereignty, government",
usually of monarchs (kings or emperors), but also of gods, and of the
Christian God. The German version of the
Lord's Prayer uses the
Reich komme for "ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου"
(usually translated as "thy kingdom come" in English). Himmelreich
is the German term for the concept of "kingdom of heaven".
The German noun
Reich is derived from
Old High German
Old High German rīhhi, which
together with its cognates in
Old English rīce
Old Norse ríki
(modern Scandinavian rike/rige) and Gothic reiki is from a Common
Germanic *rīkijan. The English noun is extinct, but persists in
composition, in bishopric.
The German adjective reich, on the other hand, has an exact cognate in
English rich. Both the noun (*rīkijan) and the adjective (*rīkijaz)
are derivations based on a
Common Germanic *rīks "ruler, king",
reflected in Gothic as reiks, glossing ἄρχων "leader, ruler,
It is probable that the Germanic word was not inherited from
pre-Proto-Germanic, but rather loaned from Celtic (i.e.
Welsh rhi, both meaning 'king') at an early time.
The word has many cognates outside of Germanic and Celtic, notably
Latin rex and Sanskrit Raj "rule". It is ultimately from a
Proto-Indo-European root *reg-, meaning "to straighten out or rule".
Usage throughout German history
Empire (1st Riech)
Frankenreich or Fränkisches
Reich is the German name given to the
Frankish Kingdom of Charlemagne. Frankenreich came to be used of
Francia and medieval
France after the development of Eastern
Francia into the Holy Roman Empire. The German name of France,
Frankreich, is a contraction of Frankenreich used in reference to the
France from the late medieval period.
Holy Roman Empire
See also: Holy Roman Empire
Reich was part of the German names for
Germany for much of
Reich was used by itself in the common German variant of
the Holy Roman Empire, (Heiliges Römisches
Reich (HRR)). Der rîche
was a title for the Emperor. However, Latin, not German, was the
formal legal language of the medieval
Sacrum), so English-speaking historians are more likely to use Latin
German Reich as a term for this period of German
history. The common contemporary
Latin legal term used in documents of
the Holy Roman
Empire was for a long time regnum ("rule, domain,
empire", such as in Regnum Francorum for the Frankish Kingdom) before
imperium was in fact adopted, the latter first attested in 1157,
whereas the parallel use of regnum never fell out of use during the
At the beginning of the modern age, some circles redubbed the HRE into
the "Holy Roman
Empire of the German Nation" (Heiliges Römisches
Reich Deutscher Nation), a symptom of the formation of a German nation
state as opposed to the multinational state the
Empire was throughout
Prussia opposed this movement.
Resistance against the
French revolution with its concept of the state
brought a new movement to create a German "ethnical state", especially
after the Napoleonic wars. Ideal for this state was the Holy Roman
Empire; the legend arose that
Germany were "un-defeated when unified",
especially after the
Franco-Prussian War (Deutsch-Französischer
Krieg, lit. "German-French war"). Before that, the German question
ruptured this "German unity" after the 1848 Revolution before it was
Austria-Hungary as a multinational state could not
become part of the new "German empire", and nationality conflicts in
Prussia with the Prussian Poles arose ("We can never be Germans –
Prussians, every time!").
The advent of national feeling and the movement to create an
Empire did lead directly to nationalism in 1871.
Ethnic minorities declined since the beginning of the modern age; the
Polabs, Sorbs and even the once important Low Germans had to
assimilate themselves. This marked the transition between Antijudaism,
where converted Jews were accepted as full citizens (in theory), to
Antisemitism, where Jews were thought to be from a different ethnicity
that could never become German. Apart from all those ethnic minorities
being de facto extinct, even today the era of national feeling is
taught in history in German schools as an important stepping-stone on
the road to a German nation.
The term royal reich, or reich royale, was coined to describe a
monarchy or royalty-backed network that characterizes many of the same
Nazi Germany possessed, notably privilege of royal
rank, repression and silencing of expression.
See also: German Reich
In the case of the Hohenzollern
Empire (1871–1918), the official
name of the country was Deutsches
Reich ("German Realm"), because
under the Constitution of the German Empire, it was legally a
confederation of German states under the permanent presidency of the
King of Prussia. The constitution granted the King of
title of "German Emperor" (Deutscher Kaiser), but this referred to the
German nation rather than directly to the "country" of Germany.
The exact translation of the term "German Empire" would be Deutsches
Kaiserreich. This name was sometimes used informally for Germany
between 1871 and 1918, but it was disliked by the first German
Emperor, Wilhelm I, and never became official.
Germany which arose under Chancellor
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck in
1871 was the first entity that was officially called in German
Deutsches Reich. Deutsches
Reich remained the official name of Germany
until 1945, although these years saw three very different political
systems more commonly referred to in English as: "the German Empire"
Weimar Republic (1919–1933; this term is a
World War II
World War II coinage not used at the time), and Nazi Germany
During the Weimar Republic
After 1918 "Reich" was usually not translated as "Empire" in
English-speaking countries, and the title was instead simply used in
its original German. During the
Weimar Republic the term
Reich and the
prefix Reichs- referred not to the idea of empire but rather to the
institutions, officials, affairs etc. of the whole country as opposed
to those of one of its constituent federal states (Länder), in the
same way that the terms Bund (federation) and Bundes- (federal) are
Germany today, and comparable to The Crown in Commonwealth
countries and The Union in the United States.
During the Nazi period
The Nazis sought to legitimize their power historiographically by
portraying their ascendancy to rule as the direct continuation of an
ancient German past. They adopted the term Drittes
Empire" – usually rendered in English in the partial-translation
"the Third Reich"), first used in a 1923 book entitled Das Dritte
Reich by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, that counted the medieval
Empire as the first and the 1871–1918 monarchy as the
second, which was then to be followed by a "reinvigorated" third one.
This ignored the previous 1918–1933 Weimar period, which the Nazis
denounced as a historical aberration, contemptuously referring to it
as "the System". In the summer of 1939 the Nazis themselves actually
banned the continued use of the term in the press, ordering it to use
expressions such as nationalsozialistisches Deutschland ("National
Socialist Germany"), Großdeutsches
Reich ("Greater German Reich"), or
Reich (German Reich) to refer to the German state
instead. It was Adolf Hitler's personal desire that Großdeutsches
Reich and nationalsozialistischer Staat ("[the] National Socialist
State") would be used in place of Drittes Reich. Reichskanzlei
Reich Chancellery Berchtesgaden"), another nickname of
the regime (named after the eponymous town located in the vicinity of
Hitler's mountain residence where he spent much of his time in office)
was also banned at the same time, despite the fact that a sub-section
of the Chancellery was in fact installed there to serve Hitler's
Although the term "Third Reich" is still in common use to refer to
this historical period, the terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich" for
the earlier periods are seldom found outside Nazi propaganda. To use
the terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich", as some commentators did
in the post-war years, is generally frowned upon as accepting Nazi
historiography. During and following the Anschluss
Austria in 1938 Nazi propaganda also used the
political slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein
Führer ("One people, one
Reich, one leader"), in order to enforce pan-German sentiment. The
Reich ("old Reich"; cf. French ancien regime for
monarchical France) is sometimes used to refer to the Holy Roman
Empire. The term Altreich was also used after the
Anschluss to denote
Germany with its pre-1938 post-
World War I
World War I borders. Another name that
was popular during this period was the term Tausendjähriges Reich
("Thousand-Year Reich"), the millennial connotations of which
Nazi Germany would last for a thousand years.
The Nazis also spoke of enlarging the then-established Greater German
Reich into a "
Greater Germanic Reich
Greater Germanic Reich of the German Nation"
Reich Deutscher Nation) by gradually annexing all
the historically Germanic countries and regions of Europe (Flanders,
the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway,
Sweden etc.) directly into the Nazi
Possible negative connotations in modern use
A number of previously neutral words used by the Nazis have later
taken on negative connotations in German (e.g.
Führer or Heil); while
in many contexts
Reich is not one of them (Frankreich, France;
Römisches Reich, Roman Empire), it can imply German imperialism or
strong nationalism if it is used to describe a political or
Reich has thus not been used in official
terminology since 1945, though it is still found in the name of the
Reichstag building, which since 1999 has housed the German federal
parliament, the Bundestag. The decision not to rename the Reichstag
building was taken only after long debate in the Bundestag; even then,
it is described officially as Reichstag – Sitz des Bundestages
(Reichstag, seat of the Bundestag). As seen in this example, the term
"Bund" (federation) has replaced "Reich" in the names of various state
institutions such as the army ("Bundeswehr"). The term "Reichstag"
also remains in use in the
German language as the term for the
parliaments of some foreign monarchies, such as Sweden's
Japan's pre-war Imperial Diet.
Limited usage in the railway system of the German Democratic
The exception is that during the Cold War, the East German railway
incongruously continued to use the name Deutsche Reichsbahn (German
Reich Railways), which had been the name of the national railway
Weimar Republic and the Nazi era. Even after German
reunification in October 1990, the Reichsbahn continued to exist for
over three years as the operator of the railroad in eastern Germany,
ending finally on 1 January 1994 when the Reichsbahn and the western
Deutsche Bundesbahn were merged to form the privatized Deutsche Bahn
The early medieval form of the word, used in the sense "strong",
"powerful" or "ruler", appears as an element in many male personal
names from the Germanic heroic tradition, such as
heart), Dietrich (ruler of the people), Heinrich (ruler of the
home), or Friedrich (guardian of the peace).[citation
Usage in related languages
In Scandinavian languages
The cognate of the word
Reich is used in all the Scandinavian
languages with the identical meaning, i.e. "realm". It is spelled rike
in Swedish and modern Norwegian and rige in Danish and older Norwegian
(before the 1907 spelling reform). The word is traditionally used for
sovereign entities, generally simply means "country" or "nation" (in
the sense of a sovereign state) and does not have any special or
political connotations. It does not imply any particular form of
government, but it does imply that the entity is both of a certain
size and of a certain standing, like the Scandinavian kingdoms
themselves; hence the word might be considered exaggerated for very
small states, like a city-state. Its use as a stand-alone word is more
widespread than in contemporary German, but most often it refers to
the three Scandinavian states themselves and certain historical
empires, like the Roman Empire; the standard word for a "country" is
usually land and there are many other words used to refer to
countries. The word is part of the official names of Denmark, Norway
Sweden in the form of kongerike (Norwegian), kongerige (Danish)
and konungarike (Swedish), all meaning kingdom, or literally the
"realm of a king" (a kingdom can also be called kongedømme in Danish
and Norwegian and kungadöme in Swedish, direct cognates of the
English word). Two regions in
Norway that were petty kingdoms before
the unification of
Norway around 900 AD have retained the word in the
names (see Ringerike and Romerike).
The word is also used in "Svea rike", with the current spelling
Sverige, the name of
Sweden in Swedish. Thus in the official name of
Sweden, Konungariket Sverige, the word rike appears twice.
The derived prefix "riks-" (Swedish and Norwegian) and "rigs-" (Danish
and pre-1907 Norwegian) implies nationwide or under central
jurisdiction. Examples include riksväg and riksvei, names for a
national road in Swedish and Norwegian. It is also present in the
names of numerous institutions in all the Scandinavian countries. It
is used in words such as utrikes (Swedish), utenriks (Norwegian) and
udenrigs (Danish), relating to foreign countries and other things from
abroad. The opposite word is inrikes/innenriks/indenrigs, meaning
Lord's Prayer uses the word in the Swedish, Norwegian and Danish
versions: Tillkomme ditt rike, Komme ditt rike, Komme dit rige ('Thy
kingdom come' – old versions). Låt ditt rike komma!, La ditt rike
komme, Komme dit rige ('Let your kingdom come' – new versions).
Riik is also an Estonian word for country and realm.
"Rike" is also a now-archaic English word cognate with "reich".
Rijk is the Dutch and ryk the
Afrikaans equivalent of German Reich.
In a political sense in the
Netherlands and Belgium the word rijk
often connotes a connection with the Kingdom of the
Belgium as opposed to the European part of the country or as opposed
to provincial or municipal governments; the ministerraad is the
executive body of the Netherlands' government and the
rijksministerraad that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a similar
distinction is found in wetten (laws) versus rijkswetten (kingdom
laws), or the now-abolished rijkswacht for gendarmerie in Belgium. The
word rijk can also be found in institutions like Rijkswaterstaat,
Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, and Rijksuniversiteit
In Afrikaans, ryk refers to rulership and area of governance (mostly a
kingdom), but in a modern sense the term is used in a much more
figurative sense (e.g. Die Hemelse Ryk (the heavenly kingdom, China)),
as the sphere under one's control or influence, such as:
die drie ryke van die natuur: die plante-, diere- en delfstowweryk
(the three kingdoms of nature: the plant, animal and mineral kingdom)
die duisendjarige ryk (the thousand year realm, the Biblical
die ryk van die verbeelding, van drome (the realm of the imagination,
'n bestuurder wat sy ryk goed beheer (a manager that controls his
Like in German, the adjective rijk/ryk means "rich".
^ See "the Reich" in Cambridge Dictionary (2013)
Richard J. Evans
Richard J. Evans (2005). The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin.
^ a b c Harper's magazine, Volume 63. Pp. 593.
^ see e.g. Jacob Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, s.v. "
Lord's Prayer in Scandinavian also uses the cognate word; so it
Old English – 'Tobecyme thin rice'
^ Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch, original suggestion from Karl Brugmann
grundrisz der vergl. gramm. 1, 65. Also mentioned in e.g. Calvert
Watkins, American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots,
Deutsches Wörterbuch cites
Conrad of Megenberg
Conrad of Megenberg (fastn.
140.14): ich pin ein konig aus Frankreich.
^ The man who invented the Third Reich: the life and times of Arthur
Moeller van den Bruck. Npi Media Ltd. May 1, 1999.
^ a b c Schmitz-Berning, Cornelia (2000). Vokabular des
Nationalsozialismus. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 10875
Berlin, pp. 159–160. (in German) 
^ Elvert, Jürgen (1999) (in German). Mitteleuropa!: deutsche Pläne
zur europäischen Neuordnung (1918–1945), p. 325. Verlag Wiesbaden
GmbH. ISBN 3-515-07641-7. 
Richard - Oxford Reference".
^ "Henry - Oxford Reference".