Ostsiedlung (German pronunciation: [ˈɔstˌziːdlʊŋ], literally "East settling") is the term for the High Medieval migration period of ethnic Germans into and beyond the territories at the eastern periphery of the Holy Roman Empire and the consequences for settlement development and social structures in the immigration areas. Generally sparsely and only recently populated by Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples, the area of colonization, also known as Germania Slavica, encompassed (with relation to modern-day countries) Germany east of the Saale and Elbe rivers, the states of Lower Austria and Styria in Austria, the Baltics, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, and Transylvania in Romania.[1][2]

Ostsiedlung map based on the work of Walter Kuhn, NSDAP member and propagandist of the Germanisation of Poland

Historians have, since the 1980s, interpreted the Ostsiedlung to be a part of civil and social progress, called the High Middle Age Land Consolidation (Hochmittelalterlicher Landesausbau). In a pan-European intensification process from the Carolingian-Anglo-Saxon core countries to the periphery of the continent, societies progressed in culture, religion, law and administration, trade and agriculture.[3]

The majority of settlers moved individually, in independent efforts, in multiple stages and on different routes as there existed no imperial colonization policy, central planning or movement organization. Many settlers were encouraged and invited by the Slavic princes and regional lords.[4][5][6]

Groups of migrants first moved to the east during the early Middle Ages. Larger treks of settlers, which included scholars, monks, missionaries, craftsmen and artisans, often invited, in numbers unverifiable, first moved eastwards during the mid 12th century. The military territorial conquests and punitive expeditions of the Ottonian and Salian emperors during the 11th and 12th centuries are not attributable to the Ostsiedlung, as these actions didn't result in any noteworthy settlement establishment east of the Elbe and Saale rivers. The Ostsiedlung is considered to have been a purely Medieval event as it ended in the beginning of the 14th century. The legal, cultural, linguistic, religious and economic changes caused by the movement had a profound influence on the history of Eastern Central Europe between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathians until the 20th century.[7][8][9]

In the 20th century, the Ostsiedlung was heavily exploited by German nationalists, including Nazi movement, to press the territorial claims of Germany and to demonstrate supposed German superiority over non-Germanic peoples, whose cultural, urban and scientific achievements in that era were undermined, rejected, or presented as German.[10][11][12]

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