Skip to main content

1354 - The Decapole

Colmar old MapColmar was one of the ten cities comprising the famous league of the Décapole, and which still proudly claim their membership, even today. Popular imagination would have the Décapole representing a time when cities preferred to act together rather than tear each other apart. The Décapole was the first association of communes of the region and would survive right up till the French Revolution. It has now passed into local legend and mythology. The real story, however, is a little different. Towns and cities in the 14th century led to a precarious existence and were under continual pressure from local barons. They had been granted certain privileges by the Emperor, but remained in a parlous state of fragility. They realised that to avoid baronial domination and retain their relative freedom under imperial protection, they had to group together to offer mutual help. 7 Alsatian towns had already formed a league in 1342, with the approval of Emperor Charles IV, who was also a prime mover in the foundation of the confederation of the ten imperial cities of Alsace on 28 August 1354.

Wissembourg, Haguenau, Rosheim, Obernai, Sélestat  Kaysersberg, Colmar, Munster, Turckheim and Mulhouse joined together to form a united front to defend their privileges and status of Imperial cities. The cities agreed on a mutual protection pact if any of them should come under attack from outside or experience internal difficulties. They were realistic enough to realise that a conflict could pit some of them against each other and so they undertook to resolve such disputes amicably. They also made sure that membership of the confederation did not stand in the way of their freedom to act and to exist.

There was no hierarchy or subordination in the Décapole, with all the cities enjoying equal ranking. Haguenau,

where the Landvogt (Imperial Governer) had resided and ruled over the imperial domain in Alsace since the 13th century, was recognised as the administrative centre. Colmar, by far the biggest of the cities, and Haguenau sent deputies to represent the Décapole at the imperial diets and assemblies of imperial cities. The Emperor´s protection also gave the cities a certain degree of military backing and when the need arose, troops were drafted from the cities and placed under the authority of the Landvogt. On the judicial side, the imperial glove could also be seen at work in resolving disputes. A disagreement between an imperial town or city and an "immediate" domain or between a municipal government and the burghers of the city would be arbitrated by the Haguenau authorities. Colmar, by joining the Décapole, demonstrated its freedom and its solidarity with the other cities. By then, it was the second largest imperial city in Alsace, behind Strasbourg, which enjoyed the status of a free city.