Sack of Magdeburg
The Sack of Magdeburg (German: Magdeburgs Opfergang or German: Magdeburger Hochzeit) refers to the siege and subsequent plundering of Magdeburg by the army of the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years' War.
The siege lasted from November 1630 until 20 May 1631.
On the latter date, Imperial Field Marshal Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim, and Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, attacked Magdeburg for its rich stores of goods. When the city was almost lost, the garrison mined various places and set others on fire. After the city fell the Imperial soldiers went out of control and started to massacre the inhabitants and set fire to the city. Of the 30,000 citizens, only 5,000 survived. For fourteen days, charred bodies were carried to the Elbe River to be dumped to prevent disease.
In a letter, Pappenheim wrote of the Sack:
"I consider it cost the city more than 20,000 souls, and most certainly no greater horrors and divine justice have been seen since the Destruction of Jerusalem. All our soldiers have become rich men."
At the time of the Peace of Westphalia ending the war in 1648, the city's population had further dropped to only 450 people still living in the city.
The devastation was so great that "magdeburgization" became an oft-used term signifying total destruction, rape and pillaging for decades. The terms "Magdeburg justice", "Magdeburg mercy" and "Magdeburg quarter" also arose as a result of the Sack, used originally by Protestants when executing Catholics who begged for quarter.
Then was there naught but beating and burning, plundering, torture, and murder. Most especially was every one of the enemy bent on securing much booty. When a marauding party entered a house, if its master had anything to give he might thereby purchase respite and protection for himself and his family till the next man, who also wanted something, should come along. It was only when everything had been brought forth and there was nothing left to give that the real trouble commenced. Then, what with blows and threats of shooting, stabbing, and hanging, the poor people were so terrified that if they had had anything left they would have brought it forth if it had been buried in the earth or hidden away in a thousand castles. In this frenzied rage, the great and splendid city that had stood like a fair princess in the land was now, in its hour of direst need and unutterable distress and woe, given over to the flames, and thousands of innocent men, women, and children, in the midst of a horrible din of heartrending shrieks and cries, were tortured and put to death in so cruel and shameful a manner that no words would suffice to describe, nor no tears to bewail it . . . .