Borussia: Not (Quite) Soccer History

Two leading German soccer teams use the word Borussia as part of their name: Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach. The latter's stadium is called Borussia-Park, too. While everybody uses the word Borussia as a matter of course, do you know what it really means and where it came from? 


As a sports fan, you might easily use the names of Borussia Dortmund or Borussia Monchegladbach. The word can't be connected with soccer directly, as the reigning German champion in table tennis is Borussia Dusseldorf. But have you ever wondered where the name originated or what Borussia could mean? It is time for a little excursion into history to solve that puzzle. 


Borussia is the Latinised name used for Prussia, namely the Kingdom of Prussia as it emerged from the ruins of the Holy Roman Empire; it is also the name for the allegorical figure of Borussia (like Britannia for Britain) and of the national anthem in use between 1820 and 1840. Borussia is a political term used in connection with any territory held by the Kings of Prussia; territories that today are distributed over six European countries from Belgium to Russia. 


The Latin geographical term is Prussia; the geographical extension of Prussia is largely consistent with what we regard today as Prussia but including territories that form part of the Baltic States, Russia, and Poland. The term Prussia was an invention of the Teutonic Knights to denominate the lands they conquered. 


In 1230, the Teutonic Knights started conquering the territory of the pagan Old Prussians (in Latin they were called Prutheni) and established an independent state there. They coined the name Prussia for the territory they conquered as a geographical term. Only when their state was secularized in 1525 did Prussia become part of the name of the Duchy of Prussia. The Duchy was not part of the Holy Roman Empire. When it fell to the Prince Electors of Brandenburg in 1618 by inheritance, it provided them with a power-base to become the most powerful family in the Empire after the Hapsburg Imperial family. It led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Prussia and eventually to the German Empire in the 19th century. 


Prussia and Brandenburg as well as various other lands and territories were not a cohesive political unity but held by the same ruler much like the Queen of the United Kingdom is head of state for several independent countries within the Commonwealth. After the institution of the Kingdom of Prussia, though, Prussia slowly became the term used for all territories held by the King of Prussia even outside of his own kingdom. 


Up to the end of the Great War, Borussia was included in the name of many newly founded sport clubs to express national fervor. At the time, they were part of the political entity of Prussia, though geographically they might have been far removed from the geographical region of Prussia. Sport clubs founded after the Great War sometimes used the name Borussia in emulation of successful clubs of their era. 


The historical use of Borussia has almost been completely lost in less than a century since the fall of the German Empire. It has become exclusively associated with the great soccer clubs of Dortmund and Monchengladbach and the stadium of the latter. But the accolade ‘Borusse’ as a personal noun in German is reserved for the fans of Borussia Dortmund; the fans of Borussia Mönchengladbach are called ‘Gladbacher’; get that wrong and you might end up with a bloody nose. 



The use of Borussia is not limited to soccer. Borussia Dortmund has soccer teams, as well as handball and table tennis teams playing at the highest national level; Borussia Monchengladbach has soccer teams, as well as handball and table tennis teams. Further active sport clubs that use Borussia in their name are: Borussia Brand with its teams in soccer, handball, and table tennis; Borussia Freialdenhoven soccer club; Herforder SV Borussia Friedenstal soccer club; Borussia Fulda, a soccer team successful mainly between 1930 and 1950; Borussia Neunkirchen soccer club; Tennis Borussia Berlin with its teams in table tennis and soccer; Wuppertaler SV Borussia with its teams in soccer, handball, boxing, athletics, and gymnastics; SC Borussia Lindenthal-Hohenlind with its teams in handball and soccer. 


There are some interesting historical sport clubs, too, that got rid of the Borussia denominator: Borussia Gaarden (now TuS Gaarden), Borussia Halle, a soccer team disbanded in 1945; Borussia Lippstadt and Teutonia Lippstadt combined were merged in the SV Lippstadt 08; Borussia Myslowitz now Lechia 06 Mysłowice.


Further reading
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Gay Soccer Players
The Adnan Januzaj Think Tank