Fachportal zur Geschichte und Kultur der Deutschen in Kaukasien

Political Developments

Why migrate?

On the Russian side, alongside the ties of family relationship with the Kingdom of Württemberg and the fact that at the time Tsar Alexander I (1777–1825) had a passing interest in the Chiliasts (Millenialists) around Juliane von Krüdener (1764–1824), hopes of having an increased Christian presence and above all an economically active element in that turbulent region played an important role. 

On the Württemberg side, the reasons can be found in the difficult political and socioeconomic conditions in the southern German states during the Napoleonic wars. The constant pressure to house troops, pay raised taxes and send young men to serve in the military led to rapid impoverishment of the population. In addition King Friedrich II (1754-1816) was trying to re-organize his state with radical means.   

The year without a summer

Between 1800 and 1804, about 17,500 people emigrated from Württembert. To make matters worse, the volcano Tambora on the Indonasian island of Sumbawa erupted on April 5 1815, spitting 140 billion tons of volcanic material into the stratosphere and causing dramatic climate anomalies. In the "year without a summer", 1816, this meant what scarce food there was became five to ten times as expensive. This led to a mass exodus. Poverty, unemployment and crushing taxations stayed the main reasons for emigration. In the year 1816 alone 20,000 subjects of the king left their home country. In 1817, that number grew even higher. From 1816 to 1914, half a million people from Württemberg emigrated into the US alone. 

Friedrich the I had abolished a law that constrained marriages in 1807, but re-introduced it during the famine. It meant that marriage required "proof of sufficient sustenation". Only those that owned a trade or farm business or had enough money were able to receive this proof. These constraints may have been an added reason for emigration. In addition, a law restricting emigration had been lightened in 1815 and  officially abolished by King Wilhelm I. two years later.

Katarina Pavlovna (1788-1819), sister to the Russian Tsar Alexander I. and wife to King Wilhelm I., organized soup kitchens and delevoped the so-called "Hungertaler" (famine coins). Those with means could buy these copper coins with colored pictures on the inside in order to support the poor. 


Stettner's famine coin with inlaid picture / Source: Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, HStAS J 290 Nr.

While many of them emigrated to North America, it can be noted that the majority of the emigrants to Southern Russia and the Caucasus were pietists. Religious motives were especially strong for the initiators and group leaders. They believed that the second coming of Christ and the rapture was near. They were enthusiastic about an idea that had been introduced into Millenarianism by pietists Johann Albrecht Bengel  (1687–1752), Johann Jakob Friedrich (1759–1827) and Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817): Finding a quiet safe spot in the vicinity of Jerulasem or the mountain Ararat and, together with Christ, erect the peaceful in-between kingdom that would last for a thousand years. 

However, in the emigration lists of 1817-1820, 53.1% listed "insufficient food, impoverishment, hope for better luck", 25.1% "religious enthusiasm", 12.4% "better work prospects", 7.8% "marriage, certain employment in a foreign country" and 1.6% "relations emigrated before" as reasons for leaving Württemberg. 

Conditions for settling in the Russian Empire - Caucasia

The conditions of settlement in the Caucasus were determined by so-called manifestoes. These documents determined the rights and duties of the new settlers. While there were several modifications, their main points were: 

  • individual freedom for everyone,
  • free choice of settlement within the Russian Empire, 
  • religious freedom and the right to build churches, 
  • local autonomy, with the administration directly reporting to the crown, and the possibility of leaving the Russian Empire again always open, 
  • exception from military service, with volunteers being paid 30 rubles, 
  • exception from all taxes, services and housing of troops for 30 years (when living in cities: 5-10 years); after that, common taxation and farm services 
  • granting loans (interest-free, to be paid back after ten years) to pay for building houses,
  • granting travelling money from the Russian border up to the intended place of settlement,
  • granting land to the colonists without time restriction; however, not as personal property of individual settlers, but as a common good of the colony
  • right to succession for the youngest son to that land, 
  • permission to buy property by individuals with the goal of economic advancement.