In the Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...
the Hellweg was an ancient east-west route through Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
, the main corridor from the Rhine east to the mountains of the Teutoburger Wald, reaching from Duisburg
- History :A legend recorded by Johannes Aventinus holds that Duisburg, was built by the eponymous Tuisto, mythical progenitor of Germans, ca. 2395 BC...
, at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers, to Paderborn
Paderborn is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, capital of the Paderborn district. The name of the city derives from the river Pader, which originates in more than 200 springs near Paderborn Cathedral, where St. Liborius is buried.-History:...
, with the slopes of the Sauerland to its south.
In the tenth and eleventh centuries the Hellweg was the preferred route of the Ottonian
The Ottonian dynasty was a dynasty of Germanic Kings , named after its first emperor but also known as the Saxon dynasty after the family's origin. The family itself is also sometimes known as the Liudolfings, after its earliest known member Liudolf and one of its primary leading-names...
and Salian kings and emperors travelling at least yearly between Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....
Aachen has historically been a spa town in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Aachen was a favoured residence of Charlemagne, and the place of coronation of the Kings of Germany. Geographically, Aachen is the westernmost town of Germany, located along its borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, ...
, when they were not in Italy or on campaign.
From the Early Modern period, with the rise of the coal and steel industries, medieval towns founded along the trading route evolved into industrial hubs and absorbed most of the population growth of the region.
The Hellweg, as an essential corridor that operated in overland transit of long-distance trade, was used by Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...
in his Saxon wars
The Saxon Wars were the campaigns and insurrections of the more than thirty years from 772, when Charlemagne first entered Saxony with the intent to conquer, to 804, when the last rebellion of disaffected tribesmen was crushed. In all, eighteen battles were fought in what is now northwestern Germany...
and later was maintained under Imperial supervision. Its breadth was decreed as an unimpeded passageway a lance
A Lance is a pole weapon or spear designed to be used by a mounted warrior. The lance is longer, stout and heavier than an infantry spear, and unsuited for throwing, or for rapid thrusting. Lances did not have tips designed to intentionally break off or bend, unlike many throwing weapons of the...
's width, about three metres, which the landholders through which the Hellweg passed were required to maintain. Its name, connoting the wide "bright" clearway through the forest, derives from Low German
Low German or Low Saxon is an Ingvaeonic West Germanic language spoken mainly in northern Germany and the eastern part of the Netherlands...
helwech with this same significance.
Another etymology for Hellweg is from Salzweg, the "Salt road
A salt road ) is any of the prehistoric and historical trade routes by which essential salt has been transported to regions that lacked it ....
", on the ancient roots hál-s (Greek), and hal (Celtic), "salt".
Yet another meaning connotes a "Way of the Dead". In Grimm's Worterbuch, Helvegr is the route to Hel
Hel may refer to:* Hel , a location in Norse mythology* Hel , ruler of Hel, the location* Hel , a Swedish Viking rock band* Hel, Poland, a town on the Polish Baltic coast* Hel Peninsula, the peninsula on which the town is situated...
, the Underworld
The Underworld is a region which is thought to be under the surface of the earth in some religions and in mythologies. It could be a place where the souls of the recently departed go, and in some traditions it is identified with Hell or the realm of death...