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History of the Nahe valley

The colonization of the Nahe area and Hunsrück by the people of the Late Stone Age (8000-2000 B.C.), the Bronze Age (2000-800 B.C.) and the Iron Age (800-50 B.C.) is documented by a number of finds. However, utensils, cult objects, weapons, and jewellery give insufficient information about the living conditions and social structure of this historical period. In the last century before Christ (58-51 B.C.), Roman troops under Julius Caesar invaded Gaul and pushed into areas on the left bank of the Rhine of today's Germany. At that time, the Nahe area and Hunsrück were part of the area settled by the Celts, who had built up the first high culture of western and central Europe with its own coin minting, writing and shared language. The name "Nahe" stems from this language. The Celts called the river "Nawa", which loosely translates into "torrential river". There are many indications that suggest that the Celts already had a primitive viticulture. The grounds with the ring walls on Donnersberg mountain or in Otzenhausen, appear gigantic and cause even modern-day visitors to stand in amazement. They are very impressive testaments to the collective contribution of the Celtic tribe of Treverians. Similar structures of more modest proportions, can be found almost everywhere on the high-lying regions of the Nahe valley and Hunsrück. Evidence of almost 500 years of Roman rule (51 B.C. - 406 A.D.) are also found throughout this region. For example, the Roman villa discovered in Bad Kreuznach with more than 50 rooms and two large mosaics, gives an impressive picture of the wealth and luxury of that time.

After the fall of the Roman empire (brought about by the attacks of the Germanic tribes of Vandals, Suevi and Alans during 406/407 and the raids of the Huns under their king Attila) passing Alemanni from southern Germany assumed the onetime Roman dominion over the Nahe Valley and Hunsrück. This was after the Burgundians in Worms had suffered devastating defeats by Roman and Hunnic troops between 435 and 451 and been expelled. In 496, under the Merovingian king Clovis I, the Salian Franks, who had already brought the whole of Gaul under their rule, took over the entire region and thereby also occupied the Nahe area. The newly formed, vast Franconian Empire was divided into provinces, which were ruled by Earls ("provincial governments") on the basis of a district-oriented constitution. Interestingly, this "new" governmental structure very strongly resembled the administrative units from Roman times. The concept "province" (Latin: pagus) was, first of all, only a geographic designation, while the concept "county" (Latin: comitatus) denoted the administrative unit. The Earls were initially appointed to lifetime posts by the king and exercised the legal, financial and policing authority in lieu of the king. The inheritance of the title of Earl was not legally allowed until the 11th century. The counties themselves were in turn partitioned into the regional districts of "Hundertschaften" (Latin: centenae), to which were allotted the exercise of jurisdiction in trifling matters only. The names of many villages today (for example, those ending with -heim, -hausen, -stätten, or -weiler) date back to Frankish origins. The local "Emicho" family, named after their Earls with the names Emicho I to Emicho V, ruled the "Nahe province" from the 10th to the end of the 11th centuries. From about 1100, their descendants called themselves "Wildgraves": Earls who had jurisdiction over uncultivated areas, forests and uninhabited districts (e.g. chief forester, gamekeeper) They built Kyrburg above the valley Kirn as a family castle, and Schmidtburg Castle in Hahnenbach Valley itself. At the end of the 12th century they also built Dhaun Castle, approximately 10 km down the Nahe between Kirn and Bad Sobernheim. From 1124 the county of Sponheim around Bad Kreuznach developed into an important power in the region, whose influence eventually reached from the Nahe to the Mosel rivers. However, by 1230 it had already been partitioned into an "anterior" and a "back" county. After the Sponheim line died out in the year 1437, the Nahe region fell to the Electoral Palatinate (Kurpfalz), the Margraviate of Baden and the Earl of Veldenz. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) the Nahe-Hunsrück region was badly devastated and the population reduced by a third. During that time there were Spanish (1620) and Swedish (1632) military administrations in Bad Kreuznach. Towards the end of the 17th century, French troops under Louis XIV pushed into the Nahe region. In the process, many fortresses, towns, and villages were badly damaged, destroyed or burned, such as Bad Sobernheim in 1689.

In the year 1798, under Napoleon, the entire area on the left bank of the Rhine became part of France. This included the introduction of the French legal system (Code civile Napoléon) and the French monetary system. At the same time, however, this also meant the end of the regional feudal system with its class privilege, serfdom, and the unspeakable drudgery of enforced labour. The most noticeable relief for the people, though, was the division of the administration and judicial administration. In the years 1813/1814, the Austrians, Prussians and Russians forced Napoleon to retreat. From 1815, the Prussians spread out from the north to the Nahe river, whose lower course partially formed the border to Hesse and its middle the border to Bavaria and the Hesse-Homburg territory. The upper course of the river belonged to the Birkenfeld land, which Grand Duke Peter Ludwig von Oldenburg had received from the Viennese congress as reparation for areas lost —this was a perpetuation of the centuries old breaking up of the region for reasons of power politics. The "Principality of Birkenfeld" existed until 1937, when it became a Landkreis (rural district) of the Rhine province. Today, the Nahe flows through two German states: Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz). The picture shows an engraving of Bad Kreuznach with a view over the Nahe Valley and Rheingrafenstein near Bad Münster am Stein (Jakob Rieger, 1788).

For further information: W. Dotzauer, Geschichte des Nahe-Hunsrück-Raumes von den Anfängen bis zur französischen Revolution, Steiner 2001
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