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Like many cultural regions of Europe, Swabia's borders are not clearly defined. However, today it is normally thought of as comprising the former German state of Württemberg (with the Prussian Hohenzollern Province) and the administrative region of Bavarian Swabia.
In the Middle Ages, the term Swabia indicated a larger area, covering all the lands associated with the Frankish stem duchy of Alamannia stretching from the Vosges Mountains in the west to the broad Lech river in the east: This also included the region of Alsace and the later Margraviate of Baden on both sides of the Upper Rhine Valley, as well as modern German-speaking Switzerland, the Austrian state of Vorarlberg and the Principality of Liechtenstein in the south.
Two thousand years ago, the Suebi or Suevi were an Elbe Germanic tribe whose origin was near the Baltic Sea, which was thus known to the Romans as the Mare Suebicum (today, the term "Swabian Sea" is applied to Lake Constance). They migrated to the southwest, becoming part of the Alamannic confederacy. The Alamanni were ruled by independent kings throughout the fourth and fifth centuries. Also, a number of Suevi (20,000–50,000) reached the Iberian Peninsula under king Hermeric and established an independent kingdom in 410 in what is now northern Portugal, Galicia, and western regions of Asturias and most of León (in northwest Spain). Their kingdom was known as Galliciense Regnum and endured until 585. Its political center was Braccara Augusta (present-day Braga, Portugal).
Swabia became a duchy under the Frankish Empire in 496, following the Battle of Tolbiac. Swabia was one of the original stem duchies of East Francia, the later Holy Roman Empire, as it developed in the 9th and 10th centuries. The Hohenstaufen dynasty (the dynasty of Frederick Barbarossa), which ruled the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries, arose out of Swabia, but following the execution of Conradin, the last Hohenstaufen, on October 29, 1268, the original duchy gradually broke up into many smaller units.
Charlemagne's family is known to have hailed from Swabia. The major dynasties that arose out of the region were the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns, who rose to prominence in Northern Germany. Also stemming from Swabia are the local dynasties of the Dukes of Württemberg and the Margraves of Baden. The Welf family went on to rule in Bavaria and Hanover, and are ancestral to the British royal family that has ruled since 1714. Smaller feudal dynasties eventually disappeared, however; for example, branches of the Montforts and Hohenems lived until modern times, and the Fürstenberg survive still. The region proved to be one of the most divided in the Empire, containing, in addition to these principalities, numerous free cities, ecclesiastical territories, and fiefdoms of lesser counts and knights.
Fearing the power of the greater princes, the cities and smaller secular rulers of Swabia joined to form the Swabian League in the 15th century. The League was quite successful, notably expelling the Duke of Württemberg in 1519 and putting in his place a Habsburg governor, but the league broke up a few years later over religious differences inspired by the Reformation, and the Duke of Württemberg was soon restored.
The region was quite divided by the Reformation. While secular princes like the Duke of Württemberg and the Margrave of Baden-Durlach, as well as most of the Free Cities, became Protestant, the ecclesiastical territories (including the bishoprics of Augsburg, Konstanz and the numerous Imperial abbeys) remained Catholic, as did the territories belonging to the Habsburgs (Further Austria), Hohenzollerns and the Margrave of Baden-Baden.
In the wake of the territorial reorganization of the Empire of 1803 by the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, the shape of Swabia was entirely changed. All the ecclesiastical estates were secularized, and most of the smaller secular states, and almost all of the free cities, were mediatized, leaving only Württemberg, Baden and Hohenzollern as sovereign states. Much of Eastern Swabia became part of Bavaria, forming what is now the Swabian administrative region of Bavaria.
Outside of Germany, many Swabians settled in eastern Croatia (Slavonia and Syrmia), and southern and eastern Hungary, including part of what is now Serbia and Romania (the Danube Swabians and Swabian Turkey) in the 18th century, where they were invited as pioneers to repopulate some areas. They also settled in Russia, Bessarabia, and Kazakhstan. They were well-respected as farmers. Outside of Europe, Swabian settlements can also be found in Brazil, Canada, and the United States. The town of Swaffham, Norfolk, means "homestead of the Swabians", some of whom must presumably have settled in England alongside the Angles and Saxons. Among the Germans who emigrated to the United States in the 19th century, Swabians in some areas maintained their regional identity and formed organizations for mutual support. Almost all of the several million Swabians were expelled from Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia during the period 1944–1950, as part of the ethnic cleansing against their German minorities.
In several languages of eastern and southeastern Europe, the local name for "Swabian" has come to be used as a colloquial name for "Germans" in general.
In the past, Swabians were the target of many jokes and stories where they are depicted as excessively stingy, overly serious, prudish, or as simpletons, for instance in "The Seven Swabians" (Die sieben Schwaben) published in Kinder- und Hausmärchen by the Brothers Grimm. However, this has ceased to a large extent, while Swabians are nowadays said to be frugal, clever, entrepreneurial and hard-working. In a widely respected publicity campaign on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Baden-Württemberg, economically the most successful state in modern Germany, the Swabians famously replied to the former jokes with: "We can do everything—except speak Standard German" (Wir können alles. Außer Hochdeutsch), alluding to the region's distinct local dialect.
Many Swabian surnames end with the suffixes -le,-er, -el, -ehl, and -lin. Examples would be: Schäuble, Egeler, Rommel, and Gmelin. The popular surname Schwab is derived from this area, meaning literally "Swabian".
As of 2013, "Swabian" has been used, particularly in Berlin, as shorthand for prosperous Germans from southern Germany who live in gentrified neighborhoods such as Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. "Swabians" were reported to have fought back with spätzle and absurd separatist demands. There was a serious side to this dispute which mirrors a genuine divide between the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and the remainder of Germany which to a certain extent is financed by subsidies collected from the more prosperous south.
Angela Merkel has praised the "thrifty Swabian housewife" and suggested Swabian women's supposed practice of making lots of money but saving it rather than spending it as a model for Europe, to the irritation of many outside Germany. This is expressed by the saying "Schaffe schaffe, Häusle baue" (literally "working working, building a house" meaning "you've got to work a lot, then you'll be able to afford a nice home").
In Switzerland, "Schwab" (or stronger "Sauschwab", pig swabian) is a derogatory term for Germans, derived from the Swabian War of 1499. In Macedonian, Polish, and Bulgarian, "Shvab" or "Szwab" may be a pejorative term for any German, not just one from Swabia. In parts of the former Yugoslavia (i.e., Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina), the more neutral term Švabo is somewhat applied to all German peoples who lived in those regions until shortly after World War II (called Danube Swabians though most of them came from neighboring Lorraine and the Palatinate), and to their descendants; it is even occasionally used as a slang or derogatory term to refer to all German speakers including Austrians and Swiss Germans.
Swabian (Schwäbisch) is one of the Alemannic German dialects of High German, spoken in the region of Swabia, present in the North-Eastern area of the Alemannic Sprachraum. A separate version of Wikipedia is maintained in Alemannic German.
The following is an abbreviated list of individuals who hailed from the region. Inclusion in this list is not indicative of descent from the original Swabians.
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Swabia.|