Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

Historical Insights The Thirty Years’ War

The Thirty Years’ War was gruesome—peasants fought against trained soldiers and cities were decimated by the conflict. At the Battle of Prague in 1648, Swedes looted the city, murdering its citizens. 1648, Germany. Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images

The Thirty Years’ War

Beginning as a fight for religious freedom, the Thirty Year’s War enveloped the European continent in conflict during the mid-1600s.

When Ferdinand III became the Holy Roman Emperor in the early 1600s, he began restricting the religious practices of his subjects, particularly the Protestants in Germany and Bohemia. Hundreds of churches were torn down and citizens fined or imprisoned for worshipping outside the Catholic faith. Some major European powers, including Sweden and Denmark, took up arms in defense of the Protestants in 1618, turning an appeal for religious liberty into a thirty-year struggle for political dominance. Villagers across Germany and Bohemia lived in constant fear of soldiers plundering and pillaging as they marched through, exacting their pay from the poor and helpless. By the time the Peace of Münster was signed in May 1648, around 8 million soldiers and civilians had lost their lives, including nearly twenty percent of Germany’s population. The Thirty Years’ War resulted in a fragmented Europe, as Germany was divided into thousands of territories that would endure more political rifts in years to come.