Honours & Medals

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Military and Civil Order of Merit

The absolutist states, that existed or were newly created before and after the French occupation required administrative institutions and fiscal authorities and, above all, the army as an important base of power. Of course, a loyal and reliably working civil service was the prerequisites for central administration. These tasks were undertaken by the so-called service gentry as well as professionally qualified representatives of the middle classes.

The order system that existed hitherto, in the sense of knight orders or house orders, was limited to members of the ruling house and to a selection of the nobility, with the elitist character excluded large parts of the population. Especially those who worked in the interests of the state and were devoted to the sovereign where not able to participate in the award system.

At the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, this led to the creation of orders of merit and clearly expressed a change in the character and content of nature of orders. These new orders or medals were means and instrument for the appreciation and reward of rendered and, above all, measurable services. Therefore the award was no longer an initiation into a community, but rather an awarding through the handing over of an order as a visible sign to be worn. This also changed the meaning of the term, instead of belonging to an order, it was now considered to be an awarded piece, named order.

In order to be able to reward achievements in a wide variety of areas and positions, it was necessary to differentiate these awards according to performance and ranking. Opening the medals for more members or for more awards resulted in a division into classes. This was based on the division of medieval orders. The differentiation into the classes "Grand Cross", "Commander's Cross" and "Knight's Cross" corresponded to the social structure of the 18th century and the moral and honorary understanding at this time. The bestowal of these awards no longer required nobility, but rather often resulted in the elevation to the nobility. This was handled differently by the sovereigns. So it could be the conferment of personal nobility (as with the Hanover Guelph Order) or the elevation to the hereditary nobility. This awarding practice first found widespread use through military orders of merit in the army. With the elevation to the nobility linked to the award, the content and award modalities of these medals remained stuck to the absolutist system.

However, farmers and craftsmen, soldiers and NCOs could not receive any medals. As a result, symbols of merit and commemoration were created as wearable awards in many states, which do not belong to the classification of the orders. They were awarded for achievements and merits in lower civil and military fields. These can be general or specifically named merits.

The Iron Cross is one of the most famous decorations for bravery. This was donated on March 10, 1813 by King Friedrich Wilhelm III. and marked a turning point in Prussia's awarding system. As the first award, it was granted to all men for war merit regardless of social origin, religious affiliation or rank and status. The Iron Cross was intended as a one-off foundation; its award was only limited to the struggle for liberation against Napoleonic rule. The content of the foundation and the practice of awarding this coveted award would have been inconceivable without the bourgeois reform of the state and army in Prussia from 1808 to 1813. Economical and correct awarding of real merits ensured that the award was symbolic. As with the French Legion of Honor, the porters enjoyed the highest esteem.

Commemorative signs were created for participation in campaigns and battles or for other special occasions of all kinds. The war memorials enjoyed great popularity in Germany. The tradition of their edition goes back to the Wars of Liberation. These commemorative coins were popular awards that corresponded to the character of the time.


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