THURINGIA (German Thuringen), an historical division of Germany, but now a territorial term without political significance.
It strictly designates only that district in upper Saxony that is bounded by the Werra, the Harz Mountains, the Saale and the Thuringian Forest; in common parlance, however, it is frequently used as equivalent to the Thuringian states, i.e. the group of small duchies and principalities lying between Prussia, Hesse-Nassau, Bavaria and the kingdom of Saxony. Such Thuringian states are Saxe-Weimar-Kisenach, Saxe- CoburgGotha, Saxe-Meiningen, Saxe-Altenburg, Schwarzburg- Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, and the two principalities of Reuss, all of which are separately described. Besides these, the term Thuringia also, of course, includes the various " exclaves. " of Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria and Bohemia which lie embedded among them.
The Thuringians are first mentioned by Vegetius Renatus about A.D. 420 when they occupied the district between the Harz Mountains and the Thuringian Forest. They were probably descended from the Hermunduri, a Suevic people referred to by Tacitus as living in this region during the 1st century. They were tributary to Attila the Hun, under whom they served at the battle of Chalons in 451. They were governed by kings, whose realm in the early 6th century touched both the Danube and the lower Elbe. At this time King Basin divided Thuringia among his three sons. The eldest, Hermannfried, eventually obtained sole possession by the help of Theuderich I., king of Austrasia, but having refused to pay the price he had promised for this assistance, was defeated by Theuderich in a series of battles and murdered by him in 531. The northern portion of the kingdom was given to the Saxons who had joined him against Hermannfried; the southern part was added to Austrasia; and the name of Thuringia was confined to the district bounded by the Harz Mountains, the Werra, the Thuringian Forest and the Saale. It remained under the direct rule of the Prankish kings until 634, when Radulf was appointed duke of the Thuringians by King Dagobert I. Radulf made himself practically independent of the Franks, in spite of an attack made on him by Sigebert III., king of Austrasia. About this time the conversion of the Thuringians to Christianity was begun by British missionaries and continued by St Boniface, who founded a bishopric at Erfurt. They were again reduced to dependence on the Franks by Charles Martel, who abolished the office of duke and divided the country among Prankish counts. About 804 Charlemagne, in order to defend the line of the Saale against the Slavs, founded the Thuringian mark, which soon became practically coextensive with the former duchy. In 849 King Louis the German recognized Thakulf as duke (dux Sorabici limitis), and some of his successors bore the title of margrave until the death of Burkhard in 908, when the country was seized by Otto the Illustrious, duke of Saxony. Thuringia was retained by Otto's son and successor, Henry I. the Fowler, in spite of the opposition of the German king, Conrad I., and ceased for a time to enjoy a separate political existence. It appears to have been united with Meissen for some time, and this was certainly the case from 1046 to 1067, when both countries were ruled by William and Otto, counts of Weimar. During the 11th century the Thuringians refused to pay tithes to Siegfried, archbishop of Mainz, and this was probably one reason why they joined the rising of the Saxons against the emperor Henry IV. in 1073.
About this time a new dominion was founded by Louis the Bearded, who by purchase, gift or marriage obtained several counties in Thuringia. These passed on his death in 1056 to his son Louis the Springer (d. 1123), who took part in the Saxon risings against the emperors Henry IV. and Henry V., built the castle of the Wartburg near Eisenach, which was the residence of his family for nearly 200 years, and founded the monastery of Reinhardsbrunn, where as a monk he passed his last days. His son Louis was appointed landgrave of Thuringia in 1130 by the emperor Lothair II.; by his marriage with Hedwig of Gudensberg in 1137 he obtained a large part of Hesse. He was succeeded in 1140 by his son Louis II. the Hard, who married Judith, a sister of the emperor Frederick I., and on his behalf took a leading part in the opposition to his powerful neighbour Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony. In 1172 he was succeeded by his son Louis III. the Pious. He acquired the Saxon palatinate in 1179, on the death of Adalbert, count of Sommerschenburg, went to Italy to assist Frederick I. in 1157, joined in the war against Henry the Lion in 1180, and distinguished himself at the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade, on the return from which he died at Cyprus in 1190. He was succeeded by his brother Hermann I., during whose reign Thuringia suffered greatly from the ravages of the adherents of Philip, duke of Swabia, and also from those of his rival Otto of Brunswick. The next landgrave (1217-1227) was his son Louis IV. the Saint, who married St Elizabeth, daughter of Andrew II., king of Hungary, and acted as guardian for his kinsman Henry III. the Illustrious, margrave of Meissen. This Louis, who is celebrated in story, destroyed many robber-castles in Thuringia and died at Otranto while accompanying the emperor Frederick II. on crusade. The next ruler was Henry Raspe, who made himself regent on behalf of his nephew Hermann II. from 1227 to 1238 and in 1241 succeeded his former ward as landgrave. Henry was appointed regent for King Conrad IV., but he soon transferred his allegiance from the emperor to Pope Innocent IV., and in 1246 was chosen German king at Beitshochheim. He defeated Conrad near Frankfort in August 1246, but died in the following year at the Wartburg, when the male line of the family became extinct.
In 1242 Thuringia had been promised by Frederick II. to Henry III. the Illustrious, margrave of Meissen, a maternal grandson of the landgrave Hermann I. Henry, however, found himself obliged to defend his title against Sophia, wife of Henry II., duke of Brabant, who was a daughter of the landgrave Louis IV., and it was not till 1263 that an arrangement was made by which Thuringia and the Saxon palatinate fell to Henry. Two years later Henry apportioned Thuringia to his son Albert the Degenerate, who sold it in 1 293 to the German king Adolph of Nassau for 12,000 marks of silver. Albert's sons Frederick the Undaunted and Dietrich contested this transaction, and the attempts of Adolph and his successor Albert I. to enforce it led to the infliction of great hardships upon the Thuringians. Frederick defeated Albert decisively and in 1314 was formally invested with Thuringia by the emperor Henry VII. His son Frederick II. the Grave (1323-1349) consolidated the power of his dynasty against rebellious vassals and the neighbouring counts of Weimar and Schwarzburg. His son Frederick III. the Strong (1349-1381) and his grandson Balthasar (1381-1406) further extended their dominion by marriage and conquest, and the latter of these founded the university at Erfurt (1392). Balthasar's son, Frederick the Peaceful, became landgrave in 1406 but left the government largely to his father-in-law Gunther, count of Schwarzburg. He died childless in 1440, and Thuringia then passed to the electoral dynasty of Saxony. After a joint rule by Frederick II. and his brother William, the latter in 1445 became sole landgrave as William III. and died without sons in 1482. In 1485 his nephews and heirs Albert and Ernest made a division of their lands, and Thuringia was given to the Ernestine branch of the family of Wet tin, with which its subsequent history is identified (see SAXONY).
BIBLIOGRAPHY. F. Wachter, Thuringische und Obersacksische Geschichte bis zum Anfalle Thiiringens an die Markgrafen von Meissen (Leipzig, 1826); T. Knochenhauer, Geschichte Thiiringens in der karolingischen und sdchsischen Zeit (Gotha, 1863), and Geschichte Thuringens zur Zeit des ersten Landgrafenhauses (Gotha, 11871); H. Gebhardt, Thuringische Kirchengeschichte (Gotha, 1870-1882); Thuringische Geschichtsquellen, edited by F. X. Wegele and R. von Liliencron (Jena, 1854-1859); and Regesta diplomatica necnon efnstolaria historiae Thuringiae, published by O. Dobenecker, vols. i. and ii. (Jena, 1896-1900).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)