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Amberg in the High and Late Middle Ages

In 1387 both cities of Amberg and Sulzbach as well as the forging masters of Nuremberg created the so-called "Great Forging Agreement," one of the earliest cartels in European economic history.


In 1387 both cities of Amberg and Sulzbach as well as the forging masters of Nuremberg created the so-called "Great Forging Agreement," one of the earliest cartels in European economic history.

The oldest written mention of Amberg dates from 1034. In a document from the 24th of April of this year Emperor Konrad II gave to Eberhard I, Bishop of Bamberg, the legal, trade, customs, and shipping rights and all the rights that the emperor and the Bavarian duke possessed in a place called "Ammenberg." The name "Ammenberg" can be traced back to the appellation "mountain of Ammo." The history of Amberg nevertheless had already begun before 1034 - as the name itself testifies. The first settlement on the Vils is assumed to have appeared in the eighth or ninth centuries, although written evidence is lacking.

In the twelfth century Amberg was already an important place for merchants. Two documents prove this. In 1163 Emperor Friedrich I granted Amberg merchants the same freedoms and rights throughout the kingdom that those in Nuremberg possessed. A large part of Amberg's trade was conducted via water, thus down the Vils and from there over the Naab to the Donau. A charter that the merchants of Amberg received from Passau Bishop Rudbert in 1166 shows how widely Amberg's trade reached. The Regensburg tariff, from 1285, a good century later, shines a good light on Amberg's long-distance trade and the goods handled in it. Above all, Amberg produced iron ore and iron ore products, and into it was imported mostly salt, but also cereals. This trade also had an effect on its development. The fortified market, which is attested in the twelfth century in the Traditionsbook of the Ensdorf cloister, grew into a city in the thirteenth century.

However, Amberg owes its economic upswing not only to its trade, but rather to its iron ore mining as well as its processing of the pig iron supplied by the so-called hammer mills, in which the ore was smelted using water power. Many people from Amberg, but also citizens of Sulzbach as well as several people from Nuremberg, came to possess such forges, which operated outside of the city under the leadership of a smelting master. In 1387 both cities of Amberg and Sulzbach as well as the Nuremberg forging masters created the so-called "Great Forging Agreement," one of the earliest cartels in European economic history.

In 1269 Amberg became the Bamberg fief of the House of Wittelsbach. In 1294 Duke Rudolf I confirmed for Amberg the town charter that his father, Duke Ludwig II, is likely to have granted the city soon after the transfer of power in 1269. The municipal law charter of Rudolf I facilitated the creation of a council that could enter into agreements on behalf of the city. This body met in the city hall, which is first attested in the fourteenth century. Duke Ludwig IV, brother of
Rudolf I, and king from 1314 and Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria from 1328, was a great promoter of Amberg. He privileged the city, not only as sovereign, but also as king and emperor.

The hospital founded by him in 1317 outside of the then-existent walls, which together with the Georg suburb gave the impetus for the expansion of the city after 1326, reminds one of this leader even up to the present day in Amberg. In spite of Ludwig's numerous connections to Amberg, it went to his brother's, Rudolf I, sons with the 1329 housing contract of Pavia, and thus to the palatinate line of the House of Wittelsbach. Amberg became the center of the palatinate possessions in the "upper Palatinate in Bavaria" - from the perspective of Heidelberg (this gave rise to the designation "Upper Palatinate").

On the whole, the connections between the city of Amberg and its palatinate sovereigns were amicable. The years 1453/54, when the city would not recognize Prince Friedrich I ("Amberg Insurrection"), saw tension, as did the time of the Reformation, when it turned to armed force against the Calvinist aspirations of the Heidelberg court in 1592 ("Amberg Roister").

At the end of the Middle Ages Amberg was the scene of a great courtly celebration which posterity remembers not only because of its illustrious group of participants, but also because of the enormous amounts of food and drink that were brought to Amberg: the marriage of Prince Philipp to Margarete, the daughter of Duke Ludwig IX of the kingdom of Bavaria-Landshut, in February of 1474.


Between Reformation and Counterreformation

The council completed the conversion of the city of Amberg to Protestantism in agreement with the reformers Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon in Wittenberg. This contact was made through Amberg citizen Sebastian Fröschel, who stood in close contact with Luther through his studies. The first Protestant preacher, the Salzburg-born Andreas Hügel, came to Amberg in 1538 through Luther’s mediation. On the one hand, with the coming of this "Council Reformation," a time of movement in spiritual and cultural life began in Amberg, while on the other hand the change of denomination brought strong religious and political tensions along with it.

These erupted in a confrontation between the city and its sovereign, the palatinate prince. Since the Augsburg religious peace (1555) the sovereign had been granted the right to determine the religion of his subjects. The situation under Prince Friedrich III (1559-1576) was difficult for Amberg, because the prince was a zealous adherent to Calvin's teaching. The situation also peaked because his son and governor in the Upper Palatinate, Ludwig, was a zealous adherent to Martin Luther's teaching. The uproar of 1592/1593 increased the disruptions. In the so-called "Amberg Roister" 1400 armed citizens of Amberg gathered on the marketplace and threatened the government, which had again taken up a strongly Calvinistic stance. The situation was not alleviated until under the governorship of Christian von Anhalt (1595-1621), who, although likewise a Calvinist, nevertheless at the same time thought it best to help Calvinism achieve its breakthrough by following a politically moderate path.

After the defeat of Prince Friedrich V, the Bohemian "Winter king," by his Bavarian cousin, Duke Maximilian I, in the Battle at the White Mountain, not far from Prague, the prince was placed under imperial ban. In 1621 the Upper Palatinate was presented as war reparations to Maximilian I, to whom it was granted in full in 1623 or 1628. The electoral palatinate government of Amberg became an electoral Bavarian government after the palatinate electorship was likewise given to Bavaria in 1628. The city of Amberg likewise became Bavarian - as it has been before 1329. Prince Maximilian I immediately set to work introducing the Counterreformation of the Upper Palatinate. The population of Amberg was forced to decide between a return to the "old belief" and expatriation. Thus it was predominantly old and wealthy families of Amberg who left in order to establish themselves in the Protestant free imperial cities of Regensburg and Nuremberg. An important element of the Catholic reform lay in the so-called "new" orders. Thus the first Jesuits came to Amberg in 1621 accompanied by Bavarian troops, and the presbytery of the Church of St. George in Amberg was allocated to them in 1624. In 1629 St. George finally became a college church - the building of the college had stalled in the turmoil of the Thirty Years' War, and did not take place until between 1665 and 1669. After the suspension of the Jesuit order in 1773 the Church of St. George and the former college were given to the Bavarian Maltese Order of Knights, founded one year earlier.

From Industrialization to the Present Time

The economic basis of Amberg in the industrial era lay in its weapons factory, which was already moved to the city by 1801, especially the Baumann factory, which in 1869 began production of enamel goods in Amberg. In the time of its greatest expansion, the first years of our century, 2600 workers were active in the factory. In the nineteenth century, however, ore mining also returned. In order to be able to continue processing the ore, a smelting furnace was blown in 1883. A second came into operation on 12 March 1911, the ninetieth birthday of Prince Regent Luitpold; the structure received the name "Luitpold smeltery."

The historical city center of Amberg was spared the bombardments of the Second World War. The city submitted to great difficulties after the collapse of 1945, when the population increased from 32,000 to 44,000 after the arrival of refugees. It wasn’t until an actively pursued, ambitious construction program at the beginning of the sixties was implemented that the housing shortage was remedied. In the seventies the city tackled the renovation of the old city, so that today it again appears in its old splendor.

Through the erection of the "Amberg Congress Center (ACC)" in 1996 the city of Amberg, which has functioned as the regional center since 1994, became an important meeting and convention center. In the same year a national horticultural show was presented in Amberg. On the site of the former "Emperor Wilhelm Barracks" the "Amberg Department" of the Technical College of Amberg-Wieden, devoted to technology, opened its doors in 1995.

Over the past few years several business and industrial areas have arisen, while at the same time the old city has strengthened its value as a trade city through the establishment of new "draws." In 2001 this engagement on the part of the city of Amberg was openly acknowledged by the Bavarian state government through the presentation of the "Bavarian Quality Award for Business-Friendly Communities." In recent times, the high housing demand has been addressed by the increased designation of building zones.

Even though not all problems that the deep-seated structural changes of recent times have brought to various areas can be solved, Amberg is open to the modern and its demands at the threshold of the twenty-first century, but at the same time is bound to its rich heritage. A good example for this historical consciousness is the city of Amberg's successful commitment to a national exhibition, which opened its doors in the year 2003. It was dedicated to Prince Friedrich V, who not only bore the crown of Bohemia for only a year, but also lived in a time of violent upheaval - very much like the people of our day.

Dr. Johannes Laschinger

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