Imperial City as an Argument

Mühlhausen/Thuringia, 12th – 14th February 2018

Sixth academic conference of the Research Working Group “History of the Free Imperial Cities”, in cooperation with the Friedrich Lesser Stiftung and the Historical Society of Mühlhausen.


In the power structure of the German Empire the Imperial Cities held a special status. Thanks to the imperial immediacy they enjoyed freedoms that other cities did not possess: they were represented on court meetings and the Imperial Diet, and they were better protected from the grip of the princes. This increased their scope for action and entailed far reaching autonomy which they demonstrated more or less clearly vis-à-vis other cities and towns. On the other hand, Imperial Cities were also more affected than ‘regular’ towns by imperial politics such as throne disputes, Interregnum, the search for peace within the Empire, and religious questions. Imperial immediacy thus often entailed dangers and additional burdens, for instance being compelled to support the Empire in military conflicts or financially.

To be a free Imperial City was therefore not only a question of the legal status within the Empire, but more than anything else it was a political question – depending on very specific constellations of power – and a question of the perception and self-awareness of the urban elites.

Hence, the meaning of the status ‘Imperial City’ was not clearly defined but rather a result of negotiation processes which perpetually re-defined the status of Imperial Cities. So depending on its particular circumstances it could be advantageous for a city to emphasise its status as Imperial City, or it could be advisable to deny its privileged position within the Empire in order, for example, to fend off claims by the King and Emperor.

The conference ‘Imperial City as an Argument’ attempts to reveal specific and recurrent patterns of argumentation and contexts over the extended period from the late Middle Ages to the End of the Holy Roman Empire and to discuss them in a comparative perspective. What comes to the fore in this discussion is the basic question of the self-image of cities as Imperial Cities.

… conference programme