The German Peasants' War or Great Peasants' Revolt was a widespread popular revolt in the German-speaking areas of Central Europe, 1524–1526. At its height in the spring and summer of 1525, the conflict involved an estimated 300,000 peasants: contemporary estimates put the dead at 100,000. It consisted, like the preceding Bundschuhmovement and the Hussite Wars, of a series of both economic and religious revolts in which peasants, town-dwellers and noblesparticipated.
In mounting their insurrection, peasants faced several basic problems. The democratic nature of their organization complicated their military organization. They were further frustrated by lack of such important resources as artillery and cavalry. Most of them had little, if any, military experience and their resources were insufficient for them to hire mercenaries who did. Their opposition, on the other hand, had experienced military leaders and deep pockets with which to fund military operations against them. Despite the obstacles, the German Peasants' War was Europe's largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to theFrench Revolution of 1789. It involved townspeople, rural dwellers and aristocrats; it incorporated rhetoric from the emerging religious reform movement, through which the peasants sought legitimation. The war broke out in separate insurrections, beginning in the southwestern part of what is now Germany and neighboring Alsace, and spread in subsequent insurrections to the central and eastern areas of Germany and present-day Austria. After the uprising in Germany was suppressed, it flared briefly in several of the Swiss Cantons.
In historiography, the German Peasants' War also formed the basis of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx's concept of historical materialism. Engels described the peasants' failure in 1524–1526, in his monumental work, The Peasant War in Germany.Engels ascribed the failure of the peasants revolt to the fundamental peasant conservativism. This led both Marx and Engels to conclude that the communist revolution, when it occurred, would be led not by a peasant army but by an urban proletariat. Since then, other historians have interpreted the economic aspects of the German Peasants' War differently and social and cultural historians continue to disagree on the nature of the revolt and its causes: whether it grew out of the emerging religious controversy centered on Martin Luther; whether a wealthy tier of peasants saw their own wealth and rights slipping away and sought to re-inscribe them in the legal, social and religious fabric of society; or whether it was peasant resistance to the emergence of a modernizing, centralizing political state