How to found a city?

New cities in Central and Eastern Europe were most often founded under the so-called German law, which was created in Magdeburg already in the 11th century.

The Magdeburg Law soon became a model for numerous cities in Silesia, the Wielkopolska Region and even Ruthenia. Among its provisions was the one which said that a city should comprise of a central market square with a city hall and a network of streets leading to it.

This law was also implemented in Poznań thanks to the settlers who had seen it work first hand in the cities founded earlier than Poznań. The city space as well as the functioning of the local government and the judicial system were organised according to the Magdeburg model. Citizens were granted privileges and charged with duties towards the ruler. The law was drawn up in such a way as to bring benefit for all parties: the local community, German settlers and the duke.

Borrowing the Magdeburg Law guaranteed that Poznań had a solid legal framework which was effective from the Middle Ages until the end of 18th century.

The treaty IUS MUNICIPALE, that is the Magdeburg City Law from Jan Wolrab the Younger’s printing house in Poznań (1610), public domain

Main photo - How to found a city?

Nothing about us without us

‘we are granting […] the commune administrator and his successors the power to adjudicate and judge in all legal cases, be that disputes, battery and hanging, and in all disagreements between a German and a Pole, which took place inside the city and on the outside territories belonging to it…’

The whipping post, which today is a popular meeting place in the Old Market Square, is located at the heart of the city. And not without reason. It was here that during the foundation ceremony a wooden post was stuck in the ground and the city’s boundaries were delineated around it. What is more, the whipping post testified to a certain amount of independence of the city and its inhabitants. Townspeople were supposed to settle all legal cases on their own – the duke’s and bishop’s representatives were not allowed to interfere. The whipping post was often used to punish convicts.

The city, therefore, was self-governed. First, the commune administrator and then, the City Council were responsible for running the city and delivering justice. The townspeople were also exempt from military service during military campaigns. That is why a popular saying went: the city air makes one free.

The living conditions in the city were good for both German settlers and native people. It is not surprising, then, that a townsman asked about his identity would say that he was, first and foremost, a Poznań citizen. Only then would he mention the name of his home country.

The whipping post, a place where people were brought to justice, is a geometric centre of the old Poznań, photo by Jarosław Tritt