In the second half of the twelfth century in countries situated east of the River Elbe there appeared a new type of town, characterized by urban liberties (granted by charter) and a regular spatial layout. These elements did not exist in earlier towns in this part of Europe. They usually had a polycentric urban structure, whose inhabitants came under the authority of the prince, like inhabitants of villages. 1 The process of urbanization in Europe took place to a large extent with the use of the legal and organizational forms developed in western and southern Europe from the second half of the eleventh century. The establishment of new towns (the foundation charter) or the restructuring of already existing towns was connected with defining legal conditions for urban development, the most important of which was the granting of town rights and the legal regulation of duties towards the territorial ruler. On the other hand, the foundation charter directed the location of a town and its layout. In central European countries, as in other parts of Europe, the founding of towns had become one of the main means of building up territorial authority and of strengthening the economic, social and military potential of the country (melioratio terre, ‘land improvement’). New towns were not only centres of trade and production; they also played an administrative and religious role, as well as being strategic military centres. 2