- Officially Brandenburg-Prussia since the unification of the Duchy of Prussia with the Margraviate of Brandenburg under the Hohenzollern Dynasty in 1618, named the Kingdom of Prussia after 1701, a north German state transformed during the last half of the eighteenth century into a Great Power under the enlightened absolutism of Frederick II, better known as “the Great.” A resourcepoor and strategically vulnerable state was made into a force to be reckoned with through the introduction of a civil code, a professional bureaucracy, economic centralization, fiscal prudence, education reform, and the development of a highly professional standing army. Frederick II then tested Prussian arms in the Silesian Wars from 1740 to 1763 and managed to add Habsburg lands to Prussia’s territory. Under King Frederick Wilhelm II, Prussia acquired additional territory through the partition of Poland.The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars were for Prussia as traumatic as for any of the other continental powers but were also critically formative. Preoccupied with its rivalry Austria and even yet more apprehensive over the long-term threat posed by the Russian Empire, Prussia failed to appreciate either the full political implications of revolutionary France or martial strength of its Napoleonic successor. A policy of prevarication and neutrality was not set aside until the Fourth Coalition, which Prussia joined in October 1806 only to see its armies and those of its new Austrian ally soundly thrashed at Saalfeld, Jena, and Auerstädt. The humiliation of defeat and Napoleonic occupation - in which, after all, Napoleon Bonaparte viewed Prussia as a way-station on the road to greater glory in Russia -prompted sweeping reforms under Frederick Wilhelm III. Prussian forces formed a major portion of the allied armies at Leipzig in 1813 and were decisive in Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Prussia then realized significant territorial gains at the Congress of Vienna and then propelled itself into a new era of bureaucratic reform under Stein and Hardenberg; military reform under Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, von Roon, and Maunteuffel; land reform under von Schön and von Schroetter; and education reform under von Humboldt. Prussia adamantly and successfully resisted the European liberal movement of the 1840s and 1850s to become, after 1860, a modernizing absolutist state presiding over rapid and thorough industrialization. Under Otto von Bismarck, who became chief minister in 1862, Prussia also became the principal agent for the economic and political uni-fication of the German states, through the extension of the Zollverein on the one hand and successful wars against Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866, and France in 1871 on the other. The proclamation of the Deutsches Reich or German Empire at Versailles in January 1871, with Wilhelm I of Prussia as German Emperor, represented the capstone of the unification project and marked the dawn of a new era in German and European history.See also <
>; < >; < >; < >; < >; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Carsten, F. The Origins of Prussia. Oxford: Clarendon, 1954;Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006;Craig, Gordon A. Germany, 1866–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978;Schroeder, Paul W. The Transformation of European Politics, 1763–1848. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.CARL CAVANAGH HODGE
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.