The first united principality of Anhalt was established in 1570 as a state within the Holy Roman Empire. It was short-lived, and in 1603 it was split up into the mini states of Anhalt-Dessau, Anhalt-Bernburg, Anhalt-Köthen, Anhalt-Zerbst and Anhalt-Plötzkau.
In 1806 Napoleon elevated the remaining states of Anhalt-Bernburg, Anhalt-Dessau and Anhalt-Köthen to duchies. (Anhalt-Plötzkau and Anhalt-Zerbst had ceased to exist in the meantime.) These duchies were united in 1863 to form a united Anhalt again. The new duchy consisted of two large portions — Eastern and Western Anhalt, separated by the interposition of a part of the Prussian province of Saxony — and of five enclaves surrounded by Prussian territory: Alsleben, Muhlingen, Dornburg, Goednitz and Tilkerode-Abberode. The eastern and larger portion of the duchy was enclosed by the Prussian government district of Potsdam (in the Prussian province of Brandenburg), and Magdeburg and Merseburg (belonging to the Prussian province of Saxony). The western or smaller portion (the so-called Upper Duchy or Ballenstedt) was also enclosed by the two latter districts and by the duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
The capital of Anhalt (whenever it was a united state) was Dessau.
In 1918 Anhalt became a state within the Weimar Republic. After World War II it was united with the Prussian parts of Saxony in order to form the new area of Saxony-Anhalt. After being dissolved in 1952 the state was reestablished prior to the German reunification and is now part of the Bundesland Saxony-Anhalt in Germany.
In the west, the land is undulating and in the extreme southwest, where it forms part of the Harz range, mountainous, the Ramberg peak being the tallest at 1900 ft. From the Harz the country gently shelves down to the Saale; and between this river and the Elbe is fertile country. East of the Elbe, the land is mostly a flat sandy plain, with extensive pine forests, interspersed with bog-land and rich pastures. The Elbe is the chief river, intersecting the eastern portion of the former duchy, from east to west, and at Rosslau is met by the Mulde. The navigable Saale takes a northerly direction through the western portion of the eastern part of the territory and receives, on the right, the Fuhne and, on the left, the Wipper and the Bode.
The climate is generally mild, less so in the higher regions to the south-west. The area of the former duchy is 906 sq. m., and the population in 1905 was 328,007, a ratio of about 351 to the square mile.
The following is copied from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica and consists of mostly outdated facts:
The country was divided into the districts of Dessau, Köthen, Zerbst, Bernburg and Ballenstedt, of which that of Bernburg was the most, and that of Ballenstedt the least, populated. Of the towns, four, viz. Dessau, Bernburg, Cothen and Zerbst, had populations exceeding 20,000. The inhabitants of the former duchy, who mainly belonged to the upper Saxon race, were, with the exception of about 12,000 Roman Catholics and 1700 Jews, members of the Evangelical (Union) Church. The supreme ecclesiastical authority was the consistory in Dessau; while a synod of 39 members, elected for six years, assembled at periods to deliberate on internal matters touching the organization of the church. The Roman Catholics were under the bishop of Paderborn.
There were within the former duchy four grammar schools (gymnasia), five semi-classical and modern schools, a teachers' seminary and four high-grade girls' schools.
Of the whole surface, land under tillage amounted to about 60%, meadowland to 7% and forest to 25%. The chief crops were grains (especially wheat), fruit, vegetables, potatoes, beet, tobacco, flax, linseed and hops. The land was well cultivated, and the husbandry on the royal domains and the large estates especially so. The pastures on the banks of the Elbe yielded cattle of excellent quality. The forests were well stocked with game, such as deer and wild boar, and the open country was well supplied with partridges. The rivers yielded abundant fish, salmon (in the Elbe), sturgeon and lampreys.
The country was rich in lignite, and salt works were abundant. Of the manufactures of Anhalt, the chief were its sugar factories, distilleries, breweries and chemical works. Commerce was brisk, especially in raw products — grain, cattle, timber and wool. Coal (lignite), guano, oil and bricks were also articles of export. The trade of the country was furthered by its excellent roads, its navigable rivers and its railways (165 m.), which were worked in connexion with the Prussian system. There was a chamber of commerce in Dessau.
Constitution. —The duchy, by virtue of a fundamental law, proclaimed on September 17, 1859 and subsequently modified by various decrees, was a constitutional monarchy. The duke, who bore the title of "Highness", wielded the executive power while sharing the legislation with the estates. The diet (Landtag) was composed of thirty-six members, of whom two were appointed by the duke, eight were representatives of landowners paying the highest taxes, two of the highest assessed members of the commercial and manufacturing classes, fourteen of the other electors of the towns and ten of the rural districts. The representatives were chosen for six years by indirect vote and must have completed their twenty-fifth year. The duke governed through a minister of state, who was the praeses of all the departments—finance, home affairs, education, public worship and statistics. The budget estimates for the financial year 1905-1906 placed the expenditure of the estate at £1,323,437. The public debt amounted on June 30, 1904 to £226,300.
By convention with Prussia of 1867 the Anhalt troops formed a contingent of the Prussian army.
Appeal from the lower courts of the duchy lay to the appeal court at Naumburg in Prussian Saxony.
History. —During the 9th century the greater part of Anhalt was included in the duchy of Saxony, and in the 12th century it came under the rule of Albert the Bear, margrave of Brandenburg. Albert was descended from Albert, count of Ballenstedt, whose son Esico (d. 1059 or 1060) appears to have been the first to bear the title of count of Anhalt. Esico's grandson, Otto the Rich, count of Ballenstedt, was the father of Albert the Bear, by whom Anhalt was united with the mark of Brandenburg. When Albert died in 1170, his son Bernard, who received the title of duke of Saxony in 1180, became count of Anhalt. Bernard died in 1212, and Anhalt, separated from Saxony, passed to his son Henry, who in 1218 took the title of prince and was the real founder of the house of Anhalt.
On Henry's death in 1252 his three sons partitioned the principality and founded respectively the lines of Aschersleben, Bernburg and Zerbst. The family ruling in Aschersleben became extinct in 1315, and this district was subsequently incorporated with the neighbouring bishopric of Halberstadt. The last prince of the line of Anhalt-Bernburg died in 1468 and his lands were inherited by the princes of the sole remaining line, that of Anhalt-Zerbst. The territory belonging to this branch of the family had been divided in 1396, and after the acquisition of Bernburg Prince George I made a further partition of Zerbst. Early in the 16th century, however, owing to the death or abdication of several princes, the family had become narrowed down to the two branches of Anhalt-Cothen and Anhalt-Dessau.
Wolfgang, who became prince of Anhalt-Cothen in 1508, was a stalwart adherent of the Reformation, and after the battle of Muhlberg in 1547 was placed under the ban and deprived of his lands by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. After the peace of Passau in 1552 he bought back his principality, but as he was childless he surrendered it in 1562 to his kinsmen the princes of Anhalt-Dessau. Ernest I of Anhalt-Dessau (d. 1516) left three sons, John II, George III, and Joachim, who ruled their lands together for many years, and who, like Prince Wolfgang, favoured the reformed doctrines, which thus became dominant in Anhalt. About 1546 the three brothers divided their principality and founded the lines of Zerbst, Plotzkau and Dessau. This division, however, was only temporary, as the acquisition of Cothen, and a series of deaths among the Vuling princes, enabled Joachim Ernest, a son of John II, to unite the whole of Anhalt under his rule in 1570.
Joachim Ernest died in 1586 and his five sons ruled the land in common until 1603, when Anhalt was again divided, and the lines of Dessau, Bernburg, Plotzkau, Zerbst and Cothen were refounded. The principality was ravaged during the Thirty Years' War, and in the earlier part of this struggle Christian I of Anhalt-Bernburg took an important part. In 1635 an arrangement was made by the various princes of Anhalt, which gave a certain authority to the eldest member of the family, who was thus able to represent the principality as a whole. This proceeding was probably due to the necessity of maintaining an appearance of unity in view of the disturbed state of European politics. In 1665 the branch of Anhalt-Cothen became extinct, and according to a family compact this district was inherited by Lebrecht of Anhalt-Plotzkau, who surrendered Plotzkau to Bernburg,and took the title of prince of Anhalt-Cothen. In the same year the princes of Anhalt decided that if any branch of the family became extinct its lands should be equally divided between the remaining branches. This arrangement was carried out after the death of Frederick Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst in 1793, and Zerbst was divided between the three remaining princes. During these years the policy of the different princes was marked, perhaps intentionally, by considerable uniformity. Once or twice Calvinism was favoured by a prince, but in general the house was loyal to the doctrines of Martin Luther. The growth of Prussia provided Anhalt with a formidable neighbour, and the establishment and practice of primogeniture by all branches of the family prevented further divisions of the principality. In 1806 Alexius of Anhalt-Bernburg was created a duke by the emperor Francis II.