Reich: Wikis


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Reich (pronounced /ˈraɪk/; German: [ˈʁaɪç]  ( listen)) is a German loanword cognate with the English reign, but used most often to designate an empire, realm, or nation. The qualitative connotation from the German is "(imperial,) sovereign state." It is also cognate with the Latin word regnum (kingdom) and the Scandinavian rike/rige, Dutch: rijk, Sanskrit: raj, English: -ric; as found in bishopric. It is the word traditionally used for a variety of sovereign entities, including Germany in many periods of its history. It is also found in the compound Königreich, "kingdom" (Königtum), and in the country names Frankreich (France), Österreich (Austria, the "Eastern Realm"), Sverige (Sweden, the "Realm of the Swedes") and in England as Surrey - Suthrige, 'southern realm'. The German version of the Lord's Prayer uses the words Dein Reich komme for "ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου" (usually translated as "thy kingdom come" in English), and the Lord's Prayer in Scandinavian also uses the cognate word; so it is in Old English - 'Tobecyme thin rice'.

Like its Latin counterpart, imperium, Reich does not necessarily connote a monarchy; the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany continued to use the name Deutsches Reich while being republican in structure.

Used adjectivally, reich is the German word for "rich".


Reich, German

The term Reich was part of the German names for Germany for much of its history. Reich was used by itself in the common German variant of the Holy Roman Empire, the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" (Heiliges römisches Reich deutscher Nation). Der rîche was a title for the Emperor. However, it should be noted that Latin, not German, was the formal legal language of the medieval Empire, so English-speaking historians are more likely to use Latin imperium than German Reich as a term for this period of German history.

The unified Germany which arose under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in 1871 was called in German Deutsches Reich. Deutsches Reich remained the official name of Germany until 1945, although these years saw three very different political systems more commonly referred to in English as: "the German Empire" (1871–1918), the Weimar Republic (1919–1933; the term is a postwar coinage not used at the time), and Nazi Germany (the Third Reich) (1933–1945).

Use during Weimar Republic

After 1918 "Reich" was usually not translated as "Empire" in English-speaking countries, and the title was instead simply used in its original German. During the Weimar Republic the term "Reich" and the prefix "Reichs-" referred not to the idea of empire but rather to the institutions, officials, affairs etc. of the whole country as opposed to those of one of its constituent federal states. Das Reich meant the legal persona of the (federal) State, similar to The Crown designating the State (and its treasury) in Commonwealth countries, and "the Union" or "the federal government" in the United States of America.

Use by Nazis

The Nazis sought to legitimize their power historiographically by portraying their rule as a continuation of a Germanic past. They coined the term Das Dritte Reich ("The Third Empire" – usually rendered in English in the partial-translation "The Third Reich"), counting the Holy Roman Empire as the first and the 1871-1918 monarchy as the second. During the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in 1938 the Nazi propaganda also used the political slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer ("One people, one Reich, one leader"). Although the term "Third Reich" is in common use, the terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich" for the earlier periods are seldom found outside Nazi propaganda. To use the terms "First Reich" and "Second Reich", as some commentators did in the post-war years, is generally frowned upon as accepting Nazi historiography. The term Altes Reich ("old Reich"; cf. French ancien regime for monarchical France) is sometimes used to refer to the Holy Roman Empire. The term Altreich was also used after the Anschluss to denote Germany with her pre-1938 post-WWI borders.

Possible negative connotations in modern use

A number of previously neutral words used by the Nazis have later taken on negative connotations in German (e.g. Führer or Heil); while in many contexts Reich is not one of them (reich, rich; Frankreich, France), it can imply German imperialism or strong nationalism if it is used to describe a political or governmental entity. Reich has thus not been used in official terminology since 1945, though it is still found in the name of the Reichstag building, which since 1999 has housed the German federal parliament, the Bundestag. The decision not to rename the Reichstag building was taken only after long debate in the Bundestag; even then, it is described officially as Reichstag - Sitz des Bundestages (Reichstag, seat of the Bundestag). As seen in this example, the term "Bund" (federation) has replaced "Reich" in the names of various state institutions such as the army ("Bundeswehr").

Continued limited usage during German Democratic Republic

The exception is that during the Cold War, the East German railway incongruously continued to use the name Deutsche Reichsbahn (German National Railways), which had been the name of the national railway during the era of the Weimar Republic and Third Reich. This is because the Reichsbahn was specifically mentioned in several postwar treaties and directives regarding the right to operate the railroad in West Berlin; had the East German government changed the name of the railways to, for example, Staatsbahn der DDR (State Railways of the GDR), it would likely have lost this right. Even after German reunification in October 1990, the Reichsbahn continued to exist for over three years as the operator of the railroad in eastern Germany, ending finally on 1 January 1994 when the Reichsbahn and the western Deutsche Bundesbahn were merged to form the privatized Deutsche Bahn AG.

Rike, rige, riik

Rike is the Swedish and Norwegian word for "realm", in Danish spelled rige, of similar meaning as German Reich. The word is traditionally used for sovereign entities; a country with a King or Queen as head of state, such as the United Kingdom or Sweden itself, is a (kunga)rike, literally a "royal realm". Riik is an Estonian word for country and realm.

The word is used in "Svea rike", with the current spelling Sverige, the name of Sweden in Swedish. The derived prefix "riks-" implies nationwide or under central jurisdiction such as in riksväg, the Swedish name for federal road. It is also present in the names of institutions such as the Riksdag, Sveriges Riksbank, Riksåklagaren, Rikspolisstyrelsen, Riksteatern, riksdaler, etc.

The Lord's Prayer uses the words in the Swedish version — Tillkomme ditt rike (Thy kingdom come) in the 1917 version; Låt ditt rike komma! (Let your kingdom come) in the 2000 version.


Rijk is the Dutch and Afrikaans equivalent of German Reich. In a political sense in the Netherlands the word rijk often connotates a connection with the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the ministerraad is the executive body of the Netherlands' government and the rijksministerraad that of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a similar distinction is found in wetten (laws) versus rijkswetten (kingdom laws). The word rijk can also be found in institutions like Rijkswaterstaat, Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, and Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

Like in German, the adjective rijk means "rich".

Etymology and cognates

Reich comes from a Germanic word for "king", which was borrowed from Celtic. (See Calvert Watkins, American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots, p.70.) It has cognates in many other languages, all ultimately descended from the Proto-Indo-European root *reg-, meaning "to straighten out" or "rule", also the source of English right. The Sanskrit derived cognates in Hindi are "Raja" meaning King and also the name of an ethnic group: Rajput meaning progeny of Rajas. The cognates can be grouped linguistically as follows:


Celtic group

Proto-Celtic *rīg-, "king", from the lengthened e-grade (see: Indo-European ablaut).

  • Various Celtic words for "king" including Gaelic righ.
  • Borrowed into Germanic as *rīks-. Hence:
  • Borrowed from Germanic:
  • Italian: ricco (borrowed from Germanic)
  • French: riche (borrowed from Germanic)
  • Old Prussian: reiks (borrowed from Germanic)
  • Spanish and Portuguese: rico (borrowed from Gothic)
  • Lithuanian: rikė
  • Various Slavonic words borrowed from Germanic, all loaned from Old High German dialects and include Slavonic phonetic innovations (like the change from r into ř-sound and soft Germanic "ch" into Slavonic "š" (like the "sh" in "she"). The PIE root "*reg-" (rule) is non-existent in Slavonic. There is also no native Slavic root for "king" and "kingdom" or similar words, probably because the early Slavic societies were highly democratic and ruled by an ancient form of parliament "wiec". Hence, Slavonic words generally meaning "king" derive from the name of Charlemagne in Old French, "Karol". Similarly, the words that mean more or less the aristocratic title "prince" come from Gothic "kunings" (with many local phonetic changes, e.g. "knędz" in Old Polish, "książę" in Polish and "kniaz'" in Ruthenian).
  • Polish: rzesza - nowadays often associated with "Trzecia Rzesza" (The Third Reich) in colloquial speech; second meaning: "a great group of people, throng, mob"
  • Czech: říše
  • Slovak: ríša

Original Germanic group

Although the line of descent of Reich and its closest cognates came into Germanic sideways from Celtic, Germanic also inherited the same Indo-European root directly in a suffixed form of the e-grade, *reg-to-, hence:


The basic e-grade form of the root came into Latin as: regere (supine stem rectus), "to rule"; rex, regis, "king"; regalis, "kingly". A suffixed, lengthened e-grade form, *rēg-ola- gives us Latin regula, "rod". Hence:

  • Italian: re "king"
  • French: roi "king", droit "law, right" and many others.
  • Spanish: rey "king", derecho "law, right"
  • Portuguese: rei "king"
  • Romanian: rege "king"
  • German: regieren "to govern, to rule", Regierung "government", Regel "law, rule"
  • English (straight from Latin): regent; regal; regulate; rector; rectangle; erect; (borrowed via French): royal, reign; viceroy; realm; ruler (both senses) and countless others.


The Sanskrit word, from a lengthened-grade suffixed form *rēg-en-, is rājā, "king", hence the words for rulers in various Indian languages. The word has made its way into common English usage as Raj—used by the British during their rule in India—and Maharaja, literally "the great king" (exactly parallel to Latin magnus rex).

See also



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also reich




  • IPA: /raɪx/, /raɪk/, SAMPA: /raIx/, /raIk/


From German Reich (empire).


Wikipedia has an article on:



  1. The territory of a German empire, or its government


Related terms

See also


  • Anagrams of cehir
  • Cheri



From Old High German rīhhi (power, might, empire), from Proto-Germanic *rīkjan, itself either a substantivised *rīkjaz (rich, mighty) (whence also German reich (rich)), or a direct borrowing from a Celtic language; cf. Middle Irish ríge (kingdom).[1]

Cognates include Old English rīċe (kingdom, empire), Danish rige (empire, realm), Dutch rijk (empire, realm), Swedish rike and Icelandic ríki.



Reich n. (genitive Reichs or Reiches, plural Reiche)

  1. empire or significant State
  2. realm (also e.g. of plants)

Proper noun

Reich n.

  1. the Second Reich (until 1918)
  2. the Third Reich (1933 to 1945)
    Heim ins Reich - Nazi phrase implying to re-attach invaded countries to a notion of an ur-empire.
  3. a family name


  • Notes:
  1. ^ Orel, Vladimir (2003). A Handbook of Germanic etymology, pp. 305, Leiden & Boston: Brill.


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