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Silesia (Polish Śląsk, German Schlesien, Czech Slezsko) is a historical region in central Europe. It now lies mostly in Poland, but with a small part in the Czech Republic, and another small region, which only became part of Silesia in 1815, in Germany. Silesia is located along the upper and middle Oder (Odra) River and along the Sudetes mountains. In a local Silesian language or dialect it is called Ślonsk or Ślunsk.

The Polish portion of Silesia, which forms the bulk of the region, is now divided into the voivodships of Lower Silesian Voivodship, Opole Voivodship, and Silesian Voivodship. The latter two are sometimes called Upper Silesia. The small portion in the Czech Republic is joined with Moravia to form the Moravian-Silesian Region of that country, while the Görlitz area now is a part of the German state of Saxony. Silesia lies directly adjacent to Saxony, Little Poland, Greater Poland, and Brandenburg. The largest city of Silesia is Wroclaw (formerly Breslau).

Silesia was in the middle ages a Polish province that became a possession of the Bohemian crown under the Holy Roman Empire and passed with that crown to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1526. In 1742 most of Silesia was seized by Frederick the Great of Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession. This part of Silesia composed the Prussian provinces Upper and Lower Silesia until 1945, when most of Silesia became part of Poland.

Table of contents
1 Natural resources
2 History
3 Demographics
4 Name of the region

Natural resources

Silesia is a resource rich and populous region. Coal and iron can both be found there, and a substantial munfacturing industry has grown up, but in post-communist times the outdated nature of many of the facilities have led to problems. It is also a good agricultural area producing grains, potatoes, and sugar beets.


Early peoples

Silesia was inhabited by various peoples belonging to changing archeological cultures in the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

According to Tacitus, in the 1st century Silesia was inhabited by a multi-ethnic league dominated by the Lugii/Lygii. Also part of this federation were the Silingii, most likely a Vandalic people, that lived south of the Baltic Sea in the Elbe, Oder, and Vistula river area.

Middle Ages

Early documents mention a couple of tribes most probably living in Silesia. The Bavarian Geographer (ca. 845) specifies the following peoples: Slenzanie, Dzhadoshanie, Opolanie, Lupiglaa and Golenshitse. And a document of Prague bishopric (1086) mentions Zlasane, Trebovyane, Poborane and Dedositze.

In the 9th and 10th centuries the territory later called Silesia was subject to the Moravian and then Bohemian rulers of the neighbouring area covered by today's Czech Republic to the south. About 990 Silesia was incorporated into Poland by Mieszko I (although some historians are moving the date to 999 and rule of Boleslaus I, duke of the Polanie and later king of Poland). During Poland's fragmentation (1138-1320) into duchies ruled by different branches of the Piast royal family, Silesia was ruled by descendants of the former royal family.

In 1146, senior duke Wladislaw II acknowledged the overlordship of the Holy Roman Empire over Poland, but was driven into exile. Seventeen years later, in 1163, his two sons took possession of Silesia with imperial backing, dividing the land between them as dukes of Lower and Upper Silesia. The policy of subdivision continued under their successors, with Silesia being divided into 16 principalities by the 1390s.

From around 1210 Henry I the Bearded, duke of Lower Silesia, and his wife Hedwig of Andechs invited the Knights Templar and other religious orders, many of them from what is now Germany, to settle the land. The ruling classes increasingly adopted German language and culture, causing great ethnic tensions in Silesia. Germans moved in from other parts of the Holy Roman Empire in the wake of the dislocation caused by the 1241 Mongol invasion of Silesia. 160 cities and 1500 towns were founded or relocated with German charters and laws (German law was however quickly separated from ethnicity of the founders and usually new Polish settlements were also located or relocated with German laws, which were considered more modern and superior to older, customary Polish laws).

In 1335, Duke Henry VI of Wroclaw and the Upper Silesian dukes recognized the overlordship of the king of Bohemia (John of Luxemburg). Last independent Piast duchies in Silesia ceased to exist in 1368. Since that time Silesia has indirectly become a part of the Holy Roman Empire, as Bohemia was itself an autonomous part of the empire. Silesia remained part of the lands of the Bohemian crown until 1740, under kings of Czech, Polish and German dynasties.

Under the emperor and king of Bohemia Charles IV, Silesia and especially Wroclaw gained greatly in importance, and many great buildings and large Gothic churches were built.

Between 1425 and 1435, devastation was caused by Hussite rebellion in Bohemia proper - Silesia remained largely Catholic however.

Early Modern Period

The Protestant reformation took an early hold, and most of Silesia became Lutheran. The second "Defenestration of Prague", in 1618, sparked the Thirty Years' War, caused by attempts of the Catholic Habsburg ruler to restore Catholicism and stamp out Protestantism.

After the end of the Thirty Years' War, the Habsburgs greatly encouraged Catholicism, and succeeded in reconverting around sixty percent of the population of Silesia.

By 1675 the last Silesian Piast rulers had died out.

In 1740 the seizure of Silesia by Friedrich II of Prussia began the War of the Austrian Succession, which ended in 1748. At the end of this war, Prussia had conquered almost all of Silesia. (Some parts of Silesia in the extreme southeast remained possessions of Austria.) The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) confirmed this result. Silesia became a province of Prussia. In 1815 the area around Görlitz was made a part of that province in an administrative reform.

Silesia in the Modern World

Silesia became part of the German Empire within the unification of Germany (1871). There was considerable industrialization in Upper Silesia, and many people moved there. A majority of the population was Polish-speaking and Roman Catholic, and in whole Silesia Polish-speakers were estimated to more than 30%, concentrated in regions of Upper Silesia and Opole.

After Germany's and Austria's defeat in World War I the Austrian parts of Silesia were divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia. In the Treaty of Versailles it was decided that the population of Upper Silesia should hold a plebiscite in order to determine the future of the province. This plebiscite was held in 1921 and organised by the League of Nations. The outcome of the referendum was 706,000 votes for Germany, and 479,000 for Poland. However, in the southeastern areas which were the backbone of economy and industry, there was a strong majority for Poland. Nonetheless Upper Silesia remained German. Silesia was then reorganised within the two Prussian provinces of Upper and Lower Silesia.

After the referendum, there were three Silesian Insurrections, and as a result of them the League of Nations decided that the province should be split and areas that voted for Poland should become autonomous Silesian Voivodship (Wojewodztwo Śląskie), as part of Poland.

Germany took possession of these parts of Silesia again in 1939, when the attack on Poland marked the begin of the Second World War. The Silesian Poles were killed or deported, and German settlers were brought to their homes subsequent to these atrocities.

In 1945 all of Silesia was occupied by Soviet troops, by then a large proportion of German population had fled Silesia. The treaty between the USSR, Great Britain, France, and the United States assigned the major part of Silesia east of the rivers Oder (Odra) and Neisse (Nysa) to Poland. Most of the Silesian Germans were forcibly expelled from the lands east of the Oder-Neisse line. A little part of Silesia surrounding the city of Görlitz remained German (now part of the Federal State of Saxony).

The industry of Silesia was afterwards rebuilt, the region was populated by Poles from other areas (mostly by Poles who were themselves expelled from lands annexed by the Soviet Union). Today more than 20 % of the entire population of Poland live in Silesia.


Modern Silesia is inhabited mostly by the Poles and Silesians, but also by minorities of Germans, Czechs and Moravians.

The last Polish census of 2002 showed that the Silesians are the largest ethnic minority in Poland, Germans being the second - both groups are located mostly in the Silesian region.

Czech Silesia is inhabited by the Czechs, Moravians and Poles.

Prior to the second world war, Silesia were mainly inhabited by Germans. The 1905 census showed a population of 3/4 Germans and 1/4 Poles. In 1945 and after, the German majority fled Silesia or were expelled. A large group of exiled Silesians today live in present-day Germany. They have organized themselves into the Landsmannschaft Schlesien. One of its most notable spokesmen is the CDU politician Herbert Hupka.

Name of the region

There are many theories as to how Silesia derived its name. These theories tend to fall along the lines of national interest. One theory claims that the name is derived from the Silingii, most likely a Vandalic people, who supposedly lived south of the Baltic Sea along the Elbe, Oder, and Vistula rivers in the 2nd century. The other theory is based on etymology and the fact that the place names in the area have for long been Polish, or germanized Polish names. Also archeological finds from the 7th and 8th centuries uncovered largely populated areas protected by a dense system of fortifications from West and South. Lack of such systems from North or East adds to the assumption that Silesia was a part of a larger state populated by early Slavic tribes.

A third theory claims that the area was indeed "originally" (as far as they are the first people purported to have lived in the area) inhabited by the Silingii. When the Silingii moved from the area during the Migration Period, or Völkerwanderung, they left remnants of their society behind. The most evident remnants were in the place-names, which were adopted (in Slavic form) by the new inhabitants, who were in fact Slavic (Polish Śląsk, OldPol. Śląžsk [-o], OldSlav. *Sьlьąžьskъ [<*Sьlьągьskъ] from OldGerman *Siling-isk [land]). These people became associated with the place, and were known as Silesians (using a Latinized form of the name, Pol. Ślêžanie), even though they had nothing in common with the Silingii.