The old town lies on the Main’s left bank on the "left knee" of the Mainviereck ("Main Square") between the Spessart and Odenwald ranges. Since the Main riverbed in the Miltenberg area is relatively near the foot of the Odenwald, only a narrow strip of usable land is left, little over 150 meters in width, which in past centuries was time and again flooded by the Main. The historic centre, which stands on this land, often sustained considerable damage in these floods. Only in the 21st century efficient flood control measures, most of all a wall, have significantly reduced the adverse effects of these floods. Since about the beginning of the 20th century, after buying land from the neighbouring community of Großheubach, Miltenberg has been expanding on the right bank.
In pre-Roman times, circular ramparts were built on the Greinberg above Miltenberg and on the Bürgstadter Berg (also known as Wannenberg) northeast of Bürgstadt. These were in use as early as the Neolithic (Michelsberg culture) but mostly date from the late Bronze Age (Urnfield culture).
In the 150s, the Roman Empire pushed outwards its fortified border in Germania, establishing the Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes which replaced the Odenwald-Neckar-Limes. From Miltenberg on northwards, the river Main became the border. East of Miltenberg a fortified palisade stretched to the south and east towards Walldürn and on to Lorch.
Two castra were established: the Altstadtkastell between Miltenberg and Kleinheubach (2.7 hectares) to the north and the Kastell Miltenberg-Ost in the direction of Bürgstadt (0.6 hectares). The former, which was likely built some years in advance of the overall change in the borderline, housed a cohort, the southernmost military presence on the Main. In 190/1, this was the cohort I Sequanorum et Rauricorum equitata (a mixed infantry and cavalry unit of 480 men). In addition, a scout unit (exploratores Triputienses) was based in the area, either in the Altstadtkastell or in a nearby separate fort. The cohort castrum likely was continuously occupied until about 260, when the Romans abandoned this part of their border after heavy raids by Germanic tribes. The castrum was destroyed by the Alemanni.
The Limes itself met the Main near the eastern castrum, Miltenberg-Ost which housed a Numerus, a smaller military unit. The exact line the wall followed for the first few kilometers near the Main is not known. This smaller fort was likely built in the 2nd century, probably soon after 150. It was in use at most until the middle of the 3rd century.
During their presence, the Romans also built at least two sanctuaries dedicated to Mercury on the Greinberg.
After the withdrawal of the Romans from the area, the regional population declined. Burgundians and Alemanni moved through the lower Main region, but it was only under the Franks (after 500 AD) that the population density again rose noticeably. Their settlements often did not simply grow out of the formerly Roman cores but included separate newly established sites.
Early Medieval settlers concentrated on the area south of the former Altstadtkastell, northwest of the current town. A Carolingean church was likely built there (9th century) and stones from the castrum were used in early Medieval fortifications nearby. In the 10th to 12th century a town wall was added to this castle-like structure, largely following the foundations of the castrum. A flooded moat surrounded the wall. A Romanesque church was built inside the walled area. This settlement likely was the civitas Walehusen, owned by the Count Palatinate in his role as Vogt of Lorsch Abbey. This was destroyed in 1247 by troops of the Archbishop of Mainz, Siegfried III.
At this point, the population of Walehausen/Wallhausen was likely moved to the village Miltinburc, previously founded by Mainz during the first quarter of the 13th century and mentioned first in 1226. Another village, Vachhausen, in between Miltinburc and Wallhausen, was abandoned in the Middle Ages, but the Gothic Laurentiuskapelle, located far from the Medieval center of Miltenberg, was built on the remains of the earlier Romanesque parish church of Vachhausen.
Already by the early Middle Ages, the area's red buntsandstein was highly sought-after, with products such as grindstones and columns being hewn in the surrounding woods. The so-called Heunensäulen (de) were made near Miltenberg. They are special bunter columns likely intended for Mainz Cathedral when it was built around the year 1000. The master builder, however, apparently decided that they were not needed, so they never became part of the cathedral. One of the monoliths now stands in Mainz’ cathedral square, a gift to the city on the occasion of the cathedral's 1,000th anniversary in 1975. Other columns are at Munich (Bayerisches Nationalmuseum) and Nuremberg (Germanisches Nationalmuseum).
Miltenberg/Miltinburc grew around a Mainz toll station built on the river bank in the 13th century, protected by the Mildenburg (castle). The castle itself dates from the 12th century. In 1237, the village was awarded the status of town. It profited from the Stapelrecht which forced passing merchants to store their wares locally and offer them for sale for some days. This boosted construction of inns and warehouses. For protection, walls from the castle were extended around the town. This oldest part of the town was just 100 meters east to west, extending west from today's Schnatterloch. The first expansion of the settlement stretched east to the Mittelturm and west to the Schwertfegerturm (both later demolished). By the 14th century, the town had expanded to the limits which roughly endured until the 19th century: from Würzburger Tor (east) to Spitzenturm/Mainzer Tor (west).
During its financial heyday, Miltenberg also saw considerable construction activity: Of the many profane Gothic structures today only the winery, a warehouse and the former synagogue remain. Gothic churches included the Stadtkirche (St Jakobus) but it mostly lost its original exterior character when it was rebuilt in the 1830s. The nearby Wallfahrtskapelle Maria ad gradus (built circa 1400) was demolished in 1825. Close to the Spital zum heiligen Petrus, a hospital dedicated to St. Peter and founded circa 1310 by Peter of Aspelt, Archbishop of Mainz, the Spitalkirche was constructed (demolished 1846).
Its strategic position on the bend of the navigable river and on the important trade route Nuremberg-Frankfurt made Miltenberg a politically influential member of the nine town league (Neun-Städte-Bund) of Mainz. This state of affairs lasted until the German Peasants' War in 1525, when the local representative, Friedrich Weygand, sided with the peasants and was executed. He had also favoured the Reformation and after 1522, when Miltenberg finally became independent of the Bürgstadt parish, had helped Johann Draconites (de), a supporter of Martin Luther, to head the new parish.
From 1667 the Franziskanerkirche was built by de:Antonio Petrini. Most of the half-timbered houses dominating the appearance of the old town today date from the 15th to 18th centuries. The inn Zum Riesen, originally a Gothic house from circa 1400 was replaced in 1590 by the current building.
Until 1803, Miltenberg belonged to Electoral Mainz. After securalization and the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss, Miltenberg passed to the Principality of Leiningen, with which it was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1806. After having become part of the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1810, the town finally became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria in 1816.
In 1912 and 1951, Miltenberg acquired lands on the Main’s right bank to expand the town.
In 2006, the town made national headlines when parish priest Ulrich Boom rang the bells for 20 minutes during a rally of the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany, thereby disrupting the event. Ulrich Boom later became Auxiliary Bishop.
The following villages were amalgamated into Miltenberg:
Tourism is very important for the economy of Miltenberg. Visitors are mainly day trippers from the urban agglomerations in Hesse (Hanau, Offenbach am Main, Darmstadt, Frankfurt), but bunter sandstone, some small and medium enterprises and crafts and trade are also important.
The council is made up of 21 council members with seats apportioned thus:
(as of the municipal election held in March 2014)
Miltenberg currently has two twin towns:
In 1960, the sponsorship for the Sudeten Germans driven out of the town of Duchcov was undertaken, which eventually resulted in the town-twinning.
The town’s arms might be described thus: Quartered, first and fourth squares are gules with a wheel of six spokes in argent, second and third squares are argent with the letter M in gules.
Miltenberg belonged from its founding in the 13th century until the Old Empire’s downfall in 1803 to Electoral Mainz which is the origin of the Wheel of Mainz. The M first appeared in a seal from the early 16th century that also included Saint Martin, as had earlier seals. The current arms are based on those that were once seen on the now vanished Schindtor, a town gate.
Miltenberg lies on the Fränkischer Rotwein Wanderweg ("Franconian Red Wine Hiking Trail"), which was established in 1990, and leads from Großwallstadt through Miltenberg to Bürgstadt.
A new concept was introduced with the Route der Industriekultur Rhein-Main (“Rhine-Main Industrial Culture Route”), which covers the 160 km between Miltenberg and Bingen. Industrial buildings in this area provide the visitors with the opportunity to learn about the industrial heritage in a regional context 700 buildings have already been scientifically catalogued, including Miltenberg’s old railway station.
Miltenberg lies on the railway line from Aschaffenburg to Wertheim (Main Valley Railway). Moreover, the Madonnenlandbahn (de) branches off here towards Seckach. There are hourly connections to Aschaffenburg by day. In 1977, Deutsche Bundesbahn closed the terminus station right near the town (Miltenberg Hauptbahnhof (de)) and replaced it with Bahnhof Miltenberg (de), a through station on the other side of the river.
Miltenberg is linked to the urban agglomerations in Hesse, where many inhabitants work. In 2008, the town bypass, which had been discussed and planned for more than 25 years was completed. The construction costs, a sum of €55,000,000, were for the first time ever in Bavaria financed by a public-private partnership scheme.
In Miltenberg various kinds of schools are represented: