Once a thriving border city colonised by the Franks in around 800, Nordhausen was one of the centres of Imperial power. Originally a fief of the Emperors it was given status of Imperial Free City by Frederick II in 1220. Unlike many of its close neighbouring cities Nordhausen was not endowed with estates and therefore comprises a comparatively small area.
Allying with other local free cities like Goslar and Muhlhausen it was able to fend off the advances of the regional counts who liked to extort money out of them and would end the medieval era rich, prosperous and free of outside interference. It would be one of the first German states to embrace the new Lutheran articles of faith (in 1523) and with the closure of several monasteries it gained even more money and parcels of territory, using them to buy out 'foreign' control of city institutions from nobles.Well-governed, peaceful and rich it was one of the leading lights of medieval Germany but it was utterly ruined by the Fifty Years War. Occupied by Luxembourg from 1625, its population dwindled and its city elders in exile in Denmark, spent the treasury raising an underwhelming Pomeranian army. That the army did actually liberate the city in 1630 was held by many on the Protestant side as a sign of gross incompetence on the Imperial side, but when Luxembourg re-took it the following year the city was burnt and reprisals emptied it of what little population was left. Svealand would capture the city and hold it from 1653. Through all of this the formidable city walls remained intact and as such it was restored to immediacy on conclusion of the war.
Much of its later history has been a slow struggle to regain a semblance of its old glory and this effort has been repeatedly stymied by fires, such as in 1784 and 1825. A dedicated fire brigade (one of the first in Germany) was incorporated in 1826 as a result. The city would not regain its pre-war population (c. 8000) until 1850, however the economy had mostly recovered long before then. Tobacco, alcohol and paper production now fuels the economy and the completion of the railway network in the area in the 1920s finally re-established its economic dominance over the surrounding counties.
Nordhausen is governed by a single-chambered Diet with elections held every four years. The current mayor is Klaus Rinke.