Skip to main content

East Prussia

East Prussia, Ger. Ostpreussen, former province of Prussia, extreme NE Germany. The region of East Prussia has low rolling hills that are heavily wooded, and it is dotted by many lakes (especially in Masuria) and drained by several rivers including the Nemen (Nieman). Its Baltic coast is deeply indented by the Vistula Lagoon (Frisches Haff) and by the Gulf of Kursh (Kurisches Haff). In the 13th cent. the Teutonic Knights conquered the region from the Borussi, or Prussians (a people related to the Liths), displaced the original population, and secured the territory as a fief for their order. In 1309, Malbork became the headquarters of the grand master of the Teutonic Knights.

In 1466, by the Peace of Torun, the knights ceded Pomerelia (see Pomerania; later a part of West Prussia) and Ermeland to Poland and accepted Polish suzerainty over the rest of their domain. Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg, after secularizing the Teutonic order, took the title "duke of Prussia" in 1525, remaining under Polish suzerainty. The duchy was inherited (1618) by the elector of Brandenburg. Frederick William, the Great Elector, won full sovereignty over the duchy at the Peace of Oliva (1660), and in 1701 his son, Frederick III, had himself crowned "king in Prussia" as Frederick I at Königsberg (Kaliningrad).

East Prussia, as the original Prussia came to be called, from 1701 to 1945 shared the history of Prussia. It remained the stronghold of the Prussian landowning and military aristocracy—the Junkers—whose immense estates took up a large part of the province. From 1919 to 1939 it was separated from the rest of Germany by the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig (Gdańsk). Königsberg was the capital. East Prussia bordered on Poland and Lithuania in the south and east and stretched to Memel and the Baltic Sea in the north and northeast.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, East Prussia was overrun by Soviet troops and about 600,000 of its inhabitants were killed. Most Germans who had not left by the end of the war were expelled by the Polish and Soviet governments shortly after its end. At the Potsdam Conference (1945), East Prussia was divided by two transfers; the transfers were made permanent by treaties between West Germany and Poland and the USSR that were signed and ratified between 1970 and 1972. The northern part was assigned at Potsdam to the USSR; it includes the cities of Kaliningrad, Sovetsk (Tilsit), Chernyakhovsk (Insterburg), Gusev (Gumbinnen), and Baltiysk (Pilau). The rest was incorporated into Poland as Olsztyn province; this part includes the cities of Olsztyn (Allenstein), Malbork (Marienburg), and Elbląg (Elbing).

See M. Egremont, Forgotten Land: Journeys among the Ghosts of East Prussia (2011).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"East Prussia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"East Prussia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/east-prussia

"East Prussia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/east-prussia

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.