Former state of N central Europe, it eventually occupied most of N Germany, stretching from Poland to Belgium. Without political significance today, Prussia is now in Germany, while East Prussia is in Poland and Russia. With its capital at Berlin, Prussia was the largest and most powerful state of Germany during the 19th century and was the driving force behind the creation of the German Empire. Because of its military tradition, Prussia came to embody that spirit of militarism that was to lead Germany to war twice during the 20th century.
Prussia originally consisted of the area later known as East Prussia, which was colonized by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century and which passed to the Hohenzollern electors of Brand enburg during the Reformation. The electors gradually extended their land s to the W and E so that when the Hohenzollern elector adopted the title King of Prussia in 1701, Prussia came to designate a large part of northern Germany.
The foundations of the modern Prussian state were laid between 1720 and 1740 by Frederick William I, who enlarged the army and strengthened the central government. Under his son, Frederick the Great, Prussia emerged as a major European power, taking Silesia from Austria during the War of the Austrian Succession of 1740 to 1748 and later participating in the three partitions of Poland , of 1772, 1793, and 1795.
During the Napoleonic Wars Prussia was defeated by France at Jena and Auerstedt. By the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 it ceded valuable territories, including its land s W of the Elbe River. In 1813, however, Prussia rose again against France, defeating Napoleon at Leipzig and playing an important part in the Allied victory at Waterloo in 1815.
In the 19th century Prussia took the lead in the unification of Germany, initially through the introduction of a customs union or Zollverein. Under her chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, Prussia snatched Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark in 1862 and humiliated Austria in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. This victory confirmed Prussia as the leader of the German states and resulted in the creation of the North German Confederation, from which Austria was excluded. Prussia’s victory against France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 completed the process of unification and saw the creation of the German Empire. Prussia continued as a constituent state of the German Empire and later of Germany until 1934, when Hitler abolished the political significance of the separate German states.