Peitz Show on the map

A Weichbild is becoming a Small Town

In cultural tourism, Peitz is mainly known for the impressive buildings of its early modern fortress, created by the two fortress builders Francesco Chiaramella di Gandino and Count Rochus zu Lynar († 1596) in two phases between 1559 and 1595.[1] Both of them were also involved in parallel for the construction of the famous fortress of Spandau, commissioned by the Elector of Brandenburg, and in this way, they combined fundamental construction knowledge in both places. The building measures did not remain without consequences for the small urban community in Peitz, which was gradually enclosed by the mighty defensive structure around 1580. Unlike the history of the fortress, the connections of the citizenry, which constituted itself in the Middle Ages, to Magdeburg’s legal customs are hardly known.

The first mention of the town of Peitz dates back to 1301, in connection with the sale of the Mark of Lusatia to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg by Margrave Diezmann (Dietrich IV) (r. 1291–1303).[2] Immediately afterwards, Archbishop Burchard of Magdeburg (held office 1307–1325) – now as feudal lord – enfeoffed Dietzmann with the same Mark, which he had bought from him before. In 1336, Archbishop Otto of Magdeburg (held office 1327–1361) made another enfeoffment, which was now received by Ludwig von Wittelsbach (r. 1323–1348), who ruled in Brandenburg. In the enumeration of numerous places and possessions in the document, Peitz appears again, which is now called “wybilde” (“Weichbild”).[3] This term, which comes from Low German, shows that Peitz was perceived as a town-like settlement with its own municipal rights.[4]

Peitz probably experienced an economic boom during this period, thanks to the important traffic route between Cottbus and Frankfurt (Oder) that passed through the town. The fact that the transport route had to lead through Peitz was legally established during the reign of Emperor Charles IV (1355–1378) in 1371. The corresponding document refers to Peitz as a “stetel” (“small town”), in which customs duties or escort had to be paid by those passing through.[5] Thanks to these traffic and trade taxes, the lordship based at Peitz Castle received significant revenues. However, the more influential citizens living about 12 kilometers south in Cottbus obtained an exemption from the Peitz customs and escort. This may well have carried some weight.

Until the middle of the 15th century, Peitz changed the assessor several times, who was also the town lord.[6] An inheritance dispute survives from this time, which Margarete Cruczmanns led against Jakob Wulf over a field located near Peitz. Since the Peitz judges and aldermen were unable to decide to whom the piece of land claimed by both parties should rightfully belong, they asked the aldermen of the town of Luckau for advice and judgment in 1441. The latter complied with the request and communicated their decision according to “Lugkowisschen rechte” (“Luckau laws”). Accordingly, it is obvious that the citizens of Peitz oriented themselves on the customs of Luckau law, which showed a close relationship to Magdeburg law.

However, the citizenry of Peitz did not develop a comparable self-administration and autonomy in the Middle Ages as other nearby towns, such as Beeskow, Luckau or Guben, for a time. When the Brandenburg margrave received Lower Lusatia as a pledge, “sloß Pytz herlichkeyt mit dem stettichen” (“magnificent Peitz Castle with the little town”) came into the possession of Reinhard von Cottbus for life in 1445.[7] With the Peace of Guben in 1462, Peitz finally belonged entirely to the possession of the Margrave of Brandenburg, who transformed the town into a sovereign office and entrusted it to faithful captains.

Under the new lordly structures, there were repeated interventions in the affairs of the town, as was, indeed, quite typical for official towns. An instrument used by medieval towns in the sense of their self-administration, such as the town order or arbitrariness, thus became dependent on the town lord residing at the Peitz Castle/Fortress. An example is the “Ordnungk im Städteleinn Peize” (“Order in the Small Town of Peitz”), written in 1600, which was decreed by the captain Casper von Löben and declared legally valid with his “Pezschafft” (seal).[8] The Peitz council was obliged to obey and had to “strictly supervise and enforce the provisions of this order”.[9] Its own leeway was thus severely limited, although it may have had a share in shaping the individual provisions. The mere fact that not the council but the Peitz captain acted as the issuer of the town order illustrates the limited autonomy of the Peitz town fathers. The council was also controlled by the captain in financial matters and had to present him the account books with revenues and expenditures every year. Nevertheless, it was not a will-less instrument. Within the town, the council still had room for maneuver, watched over the observance of the municipal ordinance and made decisions at its own discretion, as was typical of early modern rule. Thus, also in Peitz, forms of communal structures can be seen that were characteristic of towns under Magdeburg law.

Author: Sascha Bütow
(English translation: Uli Nickel)



[1] Ralf Gebuhr, „Peitz, das lausitzische Mantua, hat nur als Festung eine Geschichte.“ Fragen an die Geschichte eines Ortes, in: Von Vestungen. Die brandenburgisch-preußischen Festungen Spandau, Peitz und Küstrin, edited by Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Spandau, Berlin 2001, pp. 60–77.

[2] For more information on the history of the event, see Rudolf Lehmann, Geschichte des Markgraftums Niederlausitz, Dresden 1937, pp. 31–35, on Peitz and the surrounding towns, pp. 48–49.

[3] Adolf Friedrich Riedel, Codex Diplomaticus Brandenburgensis, series B, vol. 2, no. 728, p. 112–114, here p. 114: „wybilde tzu Pyzne“.

[4] On this [last retrieved 13.08.2020].

[5] Woldemar Lippert, Cottbus als Knotenpunkt von Handelsstraßen im 14. Jahrhundert. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Verkehrs in der Niederlausitz, in: Niederlausitzer Mitteilungen 3 (1893/94), pp. 73–85, here no. 2, pp. 78–79.

[6] Rudolf Lehmann, Peitz, in: Handbuch der historischen Stätten, vol. 10, Berlin und Brandenburg, edited by Gerd Heinrich, 3rd edition, Stuttgart 1995, pp. 307–308.

[7] Rudolf Lehmann (ed.), Quellen zur Geschichte der Niederlausitz, part 1, Cologne/Vienna 1972, p. 211.

[8] Reprinted at Franz Groger, Urkundliche Geschichte der Stadt und ehemaligen Festung Peitz, Peitz 1913, attachment 36, pp. 393–394.

[9] Ibid., p. 394.


Cite as:

Sascha Bütow, Peitz. A Weichbild is becoming a Small Town, in: Magdeburg Law. A building block of modern Europe, 04/12/2023,