Gau (territory)

Gau (Dutch: gouw [ɣʌu], West Frisian: gea [ɡɪə] or goa [ɡoə]) is a Germanic term for a region within a country, often a former or actual province. It was used in medieval times, when it can be seen as roughly corresponding to an English shire. The administrative use of the term was revived as a subdivision during the period of Nazi Germany in 1933–1945. It still appears today in regional names, such as the Rheingau or Allgäu.

Middle Ages


The Germanic word is reflected in Gothic gawi (neuter; genitive gaujis) and early Old High German gewi, gowi (neuter) and in some compound names still -gawi as in Gothic (e.g. Durgawi "Canton of Thurgau", Alpagawi "Allgäu"), later gâi, gôi, and after loss of the stem suffix gaw, gao, and with motion to the feminine as gawa[1] besides gowo (from gowio). Old Saxon shows further truncation to gâ, gô.[2] As a gloss of Latin pagus, a gau is analogous with a pays of the Kingdom of France.

Old English, by contrast, has only traces of the word, which was ousted by scire from an early time, in names such as Noxga gā, Ohtga gā and perhaps in gōman, ġēman "yeoman", which would then correspond to the Old High German gaumann,[3] although the Oxford English Dictionary prefers connection of yeoman to young.

Conceptual history

In the Carolingian Empire, a Gau was a subdivision of the realm, further divided into Hundreds. The Frankish gowe thus appears to correspond roughly to the civitas in other barbarian kingdoms (Visigoths, Burgundians, or the Italian Kingdom of the Lombards). After the end of the Migration Period, the Hundred (centena or hunaria, Old High German huntari) had become a term for an administrative unit or jurisdiction, independent of the figure hundred. The Frankish usage contrasts with Tacitus' Germania, where a pagus was a subdivision of a tribal territory or civitas, corresponding to the Hundred, i.e. areas liable to provide a hundred men under arms, or containing roughly a hundred homesteads each, further divided into vici (villages or farmsteads).[4] Charlemagne, by his capitulary legislation, adopted the comitatus subdivision and appointed local rulers as deputies of the central Imperial authority.

In the German-speaking lands east of East Francia, the Gau formed the unit of administration of the realm during the 9th and 10th centuries and ruled by a Gaugraf ("gau count"). Similar to many shires in England, during the Middle Ages, many such Gaue came to be known as counties or Grafschaften, the territory of a Graf (count) within the Holy Roman Empire. Such a count or Graf would originally have been an appointed governor, but the position generally became an hereditary vassal princedom, or fief in most of continental Europe.

Nazi period

The term Gau was revived in German historical research in the 18th and 19th centuries, and was erroneously considered an ancient administration structure of Germanic peoples. It was adopted in the 1920s as the name given to the regional associations of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). Each Gau denoted an administrative region, created by a party statute dated May 22, 1926. Each Gau was headed by a Gauleiter. The original 33 Gaue were generally coterminous with the Reichstag election districts of the Weimar Republic, based on the constituent states (Länder) and the provinces of Prussia. Following the suppression of the political institutions of the Länder in the course of the Nazi Gleichschaltung process and the implementation of Reichsstatthalter (Reich Deputies) in 1933, the Gaue became the de facto administrative regions of the government and each individual Gauleiter had considerable power within his territory.


With the beginning of the annexation of neighbouring territories by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, a new unit of civil administration, the Reichsgau, was established. After the successful invasion of France in 1940, Germany re-annexed Alsace-Lorraine. The former département of Moselle was incorporated into the Gau of Saar-Palatinate, while Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin became part of the Gau Baden. Similarly, the formerly independent state of Luxembourg was annexed to Koblenz-Trier, and the Belgian territories of Eupen and Malmedy were incorporated into Cologne-Aachen.

German-speaking territories annexed to Germany from 1938 were generally organised into Reichsgaue. Unlike the pre-existing Gaue, the new Reichsgaue formally combined the spheres of both party and state administration.

Following the annexation of Austria in 1938, the country, briefly renamed "Ostmark" between 1938 and 1942, was sub-divided into seven Reichsgaue. These had boundaries broadly the same as the former Austrian Länder (states), with the Tyrol and Vorarlberg being merged as "Tyrol-Vorarlberg", Burgenland being divided between Styria and "Lower Danube" (Niederdonau, the renamed Lower Austria). Upper Austria was also renamed "Upper Danube" (Oberdonau), thus eliminating the name of "Austria" (Österreich in German) from the official map. A small number of boundary changes also took place, the most significant of which was the massive expansion of Vienna's official territory, at the expense of "Lower Danube".

Northern and eastern territory annexed from the dismembered Czechoslovakia were mainly organised as the Reichsgau of Sudetenland, with territory to the south annexed to the Reichsgaue of Lower and Upper Danube.

Following the Axis invasion of Poland in 1939, territories of the Pomeranian and Poznań voivodeships as well as the western half of Łódź voivodeship were reannexed to Germany as the Reichsgaue of Danzig-Westpreussen (which also incorporated the former Free City of Danzig) and Wartheland. Other parts of Nazi-occupied Poland were incorporated to bordering gaus of East Prussia and Upper Silesia i.e. Zichenau (region); and Silesian voivodeship with the counties of Oświęcim, Biała respectively.

Legacy in topography

The medieval term Gau (sometimes Gäu; gouw in Dutch) has survived as (second, more generic) component of the names of certain regions – some named after a river – in Germany, Austria, Alsace, Switzerland, Belgium, South Tyrol, and the Netherlands.



  1. ^ numerous variant spellings; gauwa, gowa, gouwa, geiwa, gauia, gawia, gowia, govia, gaugia
  2. ^ Deutsches Wörterbuch
  3. ^ Deutsches Wörterbuch
  4. ^ Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, Fourth Edition, 1885–1892.


  • Der große Atlas der Weltgeschichte. Munich: Orbis Verlag, 1990. ISBN 3-572-04755-2 (book of historical maps)

External links

Brunswick Rally Badge

Brunswick Rally Badge, also known as the Badge of the SA Rally at Brunswick 1931 (Das Abzeichen vom SA - Treffen in Braunschweig 1931), was the third badge recognised as a national award of the NSDAP (Nazi Party). Through the regulations of 6 November 1936, a special Party Honour Badge commemorating the SA Assembly in Braunschweig on 17-18 October 1931 was created.

Gaw (surname)

Gaw is a surname with at least four different origins. First, it may be derived from the Gaelic word gall meaning "foreigner" or "stranger". The surnames Gall and Gaul are derived from the same word. In Brittany it became a surname for immigrants from France, in Lincolnshire for Bretons, in Perthshire and Aberdeen for Lowlanders. Second, it may have originated by shortening the name McGaw, which is an Anglicised form of Mag Ádaimh meaning "son of Adam". Third, it may be an old spelling of the German surname Gau, which originated as a toponymic surname; see Gau (territory). Finally, it may be an Anglicisation of the Southern Min pronunciation of the Chinese surname pronounced Wu in Mandarin; this spelling came into use in Hong Kong by a family of Chinese immigrants from Myanmar.The surname is relatively rare. There were 334 people on the island of Great Britain and 174 on the island of Ireland with the surname Gaw as of 2011, according to statistics cited by Patrick Hanks.People with the surname include:

Anthony Gaw (1941–1999), Hong Kong businessman, founder of Pioneer Global Group

Chippy Gaw (1892–1968), American baseball player

Elizabeth Eleanor D'Arcy Gaw (1868–1944), Canadian-American metalwork artist

Goodwin Gaw (born c. 1968), Hong Kong businessman

Kenneth Gaw (born 1970), Hong Kong businessman

Steve Gaw (born 1957), American politician


In the south German language (of the Alemannic-speaking area, or in Switzerland), a gäu landscape (gäulandschaft) refers to an area of open, level countryside. These regions typically have fertile soils resulting from depositions of loess (an exception is the Arme Gäue ["Poor Gäus"] of the Baden-Württemberg Gäu).

The intensive use of the Gäu regions for crops has displaced the originally wooded countryside (→climax vegetation – in contrast with the steppe heath theory and disputed megaherbivore hypothesis). The North German equivalent of such landscapes is börde.

List of medieval Gaue

The following is a list of German Gaue which existed during the Middle Ages.

It lists the names of the Frankish or German Gaue, many of which are still used today regionally, primarily in local traditions. Their locations are often no longer widely known, but are known from publications.

Outline of German language

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to German language:

One of the major languages of the world, German is the first language of almost 100 million people worldwide and the most widely spoken native language in the European Union. Together with French, German is the second most commonly spoken foreign language in the EU after English, making it the second biggest language in the EU in terms of overall speakers.

Designations for types of administrative territorial entities

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