At the beginning of the eighteenth century Prussia was a third-rate power linked by disparate patches of land that were difficult to administer and even more difficult to defend. It suffered from poor agricultural land, declining trade and had a sparse population. This was hardly the stuff out of which great powers were made, yet within a few decades it rose to become one of the most important political players in Germany and on the European scene.Only by appreciating Prussia's unique social, economic and cultural make-up is it possible to understand its startling emergence as a leading power. With specially-commissioned chapters from leading authorities in their fields, this book demonstrates the full diversity of Prussia. It goes beyond the conventional examination of the political, military and diplomatic concerns of the Prussian elite, whose record of events is the one upon which most histories of Prussia are based, and sets out to explain its rise in relation to Prussian society as a whole. The political analysis is therefore integrated with material on such areas as agrarian society, urban life and religion, which are not fully examined in existing accounts.With the rise of Prussia as a great power, its traditional seventeenth century structures had to compete with economic and political forces sweeping though society at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The tensions these forces created are further explored in the companion volume to this book, Modern Prussian History 1830-1947.Phillip Dwyer is Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.