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History of Austria

    Today’s Republic of Austria is a small state, whose origins can be traced far back into history. Populated since prehistoric times, Austria’s location in the heart of Europe means that it has had its share of the continent’s historical developments. It evolved from a border region into a powerful empire and multiracial state, which collapsed at the end of the First World War. In 1918, the small, newly proclaimed Republic of Austria had at first to come to terms with its European environment. Austria emerged from the Second World War and the sufferings associated with it as a state that feels secure in its existence and which plays a decisive role in Europe.

FROM THE DAWN OF HISTORY TO A BORDER

   The Danube area was settled as early as the Palaeolithic Age, between 80.000 and 10.000 BC. The "Tänzerin", a small figure symbolising a dancer, found in the environs of Krems, and the "Venus of Willendorf" provide the first significant evidence of early cultures. In 1991 the sensational discovery of a mummified male body dating from the Stone Age was made in the glacial ice of the Ötztal Alps. In the Early Iron Age, from around 800 to 400 BC, Celtic tribes inhabited the territory of what is now Austria, trading throughout Europe in salt and ores.

   Around the time of Christ’s birth, the Roman Empire conquered the greater part of present-day Austria. The provinces of Raetia, Noricum and Pannonia were established as border regions. The Romans founded numerous settlements, of which Carnuntum in Pannonia, lying to the east of Vienna, was the largest Roman town on Austrian territory. In the 2nd century AD, Christianity began to spread in Austria as well.

   The migration of different tribes led to the decline of Roman power. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Roman way of life and culture also disappeared from this area. From the 6th century on, continuous settlement of the region started with the Bavarians, who encountered the Slavs and Avars advancing from the East. The ecclesiastical organisation of the country dates from the 4th century.

   The Frankish ruler Charlemagne (747–814) established on the territory of present-day Austria the Carolingian march, or border province, between the rivers Enns, Raab and Drava. But 907 saw the collapse of this province following a defeat inflicted by the Magyars. It was not until 955 that Otto the Great succeeded in vanquishing the Magyars and re-conquering the region. In 976, Leopold von Babenberg, a descendant of a noble Bavarian family, was invested with the area between the rivers Enns and Traisen. 

RULE OF THE BABENBERGS

   The new rulers of the margravate initially resided in Melk. In 1156 Duke Heinrich II ("Jasomirgott") made Vienna his permanent residence. The Babenbergs extended their possessions to the north of the Danube and further to the east and the south. Before the turn of the millennium (996), a document referred to the region of the Alpine foothills under its present name "Österreich" ("ostarrîchi = Austria).

   In 1156 the Babenbergs secured the transformation of the margravate into a duchy by Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa, which allowed for greater independence from imperial power. In 1192 the Babenberg Leopold V acquired the Duchy of Styria through a contract of inheritance.

   When, in 1246, the childless Duke Friedrich II was killed in the Battle of the Leitha against the Magyars, his lands became the object of his neighbours’ power politics. The Austrian nobility then sided with the Bohemian king, Ottokar II Premysl, who secured the heritage for himself by marrying the last Babenberg’s sister. He quickly succeeded in restoring order, re-conquering Styria and subjugating Carinthia through a contract of inheritance. However, the Holy Roman Empire’s newly elected king, Rudolf von Habsburg, was not prepared to recognise the Bohemian king’s power without his swearing an oath of allegiance. When both sides took up arms, Ottokar was killed in the Battle of Dürnkrut in 1278. In 1282 Rudolf invested his two sons with the Duchies of Austria and Styria, thus laying the foundation for Habsburg dynastic power.

600 YEARS OF HABSBURG RULE

   From the end of the 13th century to the middle of the 15th century the Habsburgs expanded their territory by gaining the Duchy of Carinthia (1335), the Earldom of Tyrol and the "Windische Mark" (1365). Losses of territory in

   Switzerland were offset by the acquisition of parts of today’s province of Vorarlberg. The gifted Rudolf IV, referred to as "The Founder", not only founded the University of Vienna but succeeded in strengthening the position of this family for future generations by forging a document known as the "Privilegium maius".

   His capable successor, Duke Albrecht V, was married to Emperor Sigismund’s daughter, thus becoming King of Bohemia and Hungary. After the death of his father-in-law he be-came the first Habsburg to again be elected German king of the Holy Roman Empire. Following his untimely death during a battle against the Turks in 1439, Friedrich V (as emperor, Friedrich III) from the Tyrolean line of the Habsburgs began to rule in Austria and in the Holy Roman Empire. Through his prudent policy of alliances he laid the foundations for the Habsburg Empire. He married his son Maximilian to the Burgundian heiress Maria. Maximilian used a shrewd marital policy to secure the hereditary succession in Bohemia, Hungary and Spain for his grandsons Ferdinand and Karl. The Habsburg dynasty subsequently divided into the Austro-German and the Spanish-Dutch lines. In 1526, after the death of the last Jagellonian king Ludwig II in the Battle of Mohács, Bohemia and Hungary were united with Austria.

   The Ottoman Empire, which had been encroaching on Europe ever since the 14th century, posed an ever-greater threat to the continent. Following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks advanced even further westwards and became a permanent danger for the Habsburg lands. Twice, the Ottoman armies reached the gates of Vienna before they were driven back (in 1529 and 1683 – First and Second Turkish Sieges). It took several campaigns with heavy losses to banish the Turks and to re-conquer Hungary. Austria’s emergence as a major power was mainly due to the brilliant military leader Prince Eugene of Savoy, who served under three emperors (Leopold I, Josef I and Karl VI) and proved to be not only an outstanding military commander but also a fine statesman.

   In 1700 the Spanish line of the Habsburgs died out. In the "War of the Spanish Succession", fought in Europe, the House of Austria (casa d´Austria) did not succeed in winning back the Spanish possessions but managed to maintain its rule over Italy and the Netherlands.

   With the death of Emperor Karl VI in 1740, the male line of the Habsburgs came to an end. Karl’s daughter Maria Theresa succeeded her father as empress of the patrimonial lands, since the "Pragmatic Sanction", which had been issued in 1713 – mainly to ensure the indivisibility of the lands – allowed for female succession. The empress, who married Franz Stephan of Lorraine, found herself faced with a host of enemies who were seeking to seize the Habsburg lands. The Prussian king, Friedrich II, was particularly eager to gain possession of this heritage. Maria Theresa had to fight two arduous wars (the Silesian War, 1740–1748, and the Seven Years War, 1756–1763) in order to keep her lands intact, with the exception of the rich province of Silesia, which she lost to Prussia.

   Maria Theresa’s husband, who was elected Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1745 as Franz I, was over-shadowed by his wife throughout his lifetime. The great empress implemented a programme of important reforms in her lands. Her son Joseph II abolished serfdom, issued the Toleration Edict and secularised monasteries and church property, thus paving the way for consistent centralism.

   The system of Austrian absolutism was severely threatened by the ideas emerging from the French Revolution, which spread to Austria, albeit cautiously. Emperor Franz II, grandson of Maria Theresa and nephew of the executed French queen, Marie Antoinette, joined the coalition against revolutionary France. As a result, Austria suffered severe defeats in the campaigns led by Napoleon Bonaparte.

   After Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804, Emperor Franz responded by installing the Empire of Austria. The establishment of the Confederation of the Rhine under the auspices of France led to the disintegration of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Accordingly, Franz II renounced the imperial crown. In his subsequent campaigns Napoleon inflicted devastating defeats upon Austria and even conquered Vienna twice. However, Archduke Carl’s victory over the powerful Corsican at the Battle of Aspern demonstrated that Napoleon was not invincible. The Congress of Vienna, which was presided over by Austrian State Chancellor Prince Clemens Wenzel Lothar Metternich, the "Coachman of Europe", restored the old order in Europe in 1815.

   In the spring of 1848, the ideas of the middle-class revolution originating in France also spread to Austria. The liberals demanded a constitution and freedom of the press. Metternich’s hated police-based system was swept away. However, in October of that same year the uprising was suppressed, with the conservatives gaining on all fronts. The young emperor Franz Joseph I established a neo-absolutist system. His dubious policy of neutrality in the Crimean War (1854–1856) led Austria into a dangerous isolation. It was thus left to face Sardinia, which was allied to France and supported the Italian independence movement, alone. Following its defeats at the Battles of Magenta and Solferino in 1859, Austria was forced to give up Lombardy and, at the same time, to yield to internal pressure for a parliamentary institution by issuing the October Diploma and the February Edict.

   Political developments in the Austrian part of the monarchy ("Cisleithania") were marked by the emergence of the mass parties (Social Democratic Party and Christian Social Party) and the demand for basic civil rights. The first general elections by direct suffrage to the Imperial Council (Reichsrat) were held in 1907.

   The long period of peace which prevailed until the First World War was safeguarded by a complicated system of European alliances, with Austria-Hungary joining up with the German Empire and Italy to form a Triple Alliance. However, growing nationalism within the multiracial state caused severe tension. The justified demands of the working classes for better pay and conditions fit for human beings also clamoured for solution.

   The assassination on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was only the provocation for the outbreak of the First World War. In four years of futile slaughter the European powers opposed one another, until the entry into the conflict of the United States of America finally brought it to an end. After the defeat of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, the German Empire and allied Turkey), the European order crumbled. The dual monarchy disintegrated into national states. The remnants were to form the new Republic of Austria.

Embassy of Austria 


Timeline of Austrian History

Pre-History and Roman Times

Lower Paleolithic Period: first signs of human settlements in Austria

800-450 BC: Hallstatt Period

400 BC: Founding of the Noricum, the first Austrian State

200 BC Romans peacefully enter Austrian territory, mainly for its iron ore resources.

15 BC: Romans occupy Austrian territory to the Danube.

400 AD: Evidence of Christian Cult in Austrian territory

400 AD: Germanic tribes enter from the North


Early Middle Ages

500-700 AD: region is taken over by Bavarians

8th Century: Charlamagne drives out the Avars and establishes a Markgrafschaft (border province), to defend the empire to the east.

880 AD: Magyars take over the border province

955 AD: Battle of Lechfeld. Otto the Great defeats Magyars.


THE BABENBERGS
(ruled for 270 years)

976 AD: Leopold von Babenberg is made Margrave ofAustria.

996 AD: first documentary mention of Ostarrichi (the eastern kingdom), the basis of today's name Österreich

12th Century: Capital is moved successively farther eastward until Heinrich II built the Hofburg, the imperial palace, in Vienna.

1246 AD: The last of the Babenbergs, Friedrich the Quarrelsome, is killed in battle against the Magyars. Austria goes to King Przemysl Ottokar II of Bohemia and Styria to King Béla of Hungary, though Styria is later taken over by Ottokar along with Carinthia and Carniola.


THE HABSBURGS

(ruled for 640 years, with 20 emperors who ruled over the Holy Roman Empire with almost unbroken succession, until 1806)

1273 AD: Count Rudolf von Habsburg is appointed King of the Germans (end of the interregnum in the Holy Roman Empire)

1365 AD: University of Vienna is established. (Oldest university in the German-speaking world)

end of 15th century: Spirit of Humanism spreads through Austria. Austrian rulers extend their influences through carefully chosen marriages.

1516 AD: Habsburg family comes to power in Spain (Karl ?)

1520 onwards: Two distinct Habsburg lines: one ruling over Austrian lands, the other over Spain and the Netherlands.

16th century: "The sun never sets" over the Habsburg Empire of Karl V, because the Spanish line of the Habsburg had acquired territories in the New World.

See map: Expansion of the Austrian Habsburg domains until 1795


THE TURKISH WARS

1529 and 1683 AD: Vienna is under siege by vast Turkish armies, but without success. As the Turks are pushed back, Austria begins to emerge as a major power, and Prince Eugene of Savoy emerges as a major player in military strategy and diplomacy.

16th and 17th Century: Austria Baroque develops.


THE REFORMS OF MARIA THERESA

17OO AD: End of the Habsburg's Spanish line. They hold on to territories in Italy and the Netherlands.

1740 AD: After the male line of the Habsburgs comes to an end, Maria Theresa becomes Empress (1740-1780)

1740-80 AD: Maria Theresa's reforms:

  • Austria becomes single, centrally administered unit
  • financial system is updated
  • legal system is seperated from administrative system
  • torture and other severe punishments are abolished
  • elementary schooling was introduced
  • universities are made state, rather than church, institutions

after 1780: Maria Theresa's son Joseph II continues his mother's reforms:

  • abolition of serfdom
  • introduction of complete freedom of religion

The period is also the great age of Austrian Classical music:

  • Gluck
  • Haydn
  • Mozart

The New Europe

18th and 19th Centuries: Major goal of Austrian policies was to counter Napoleaon's expansionism

1804: Franz II declares himself "heredetary emperor of Austria" (because the HRE had ceased to be a political reality)

1806: Franz II renounces the crown of the HRE => End of the Holy Roman Empire

1809: First defeat of Napoleon in the battle of Aspern (Austrian armies led by Archduke Karl)

soon thereafter: Austrian defeat at Wagram: Napoleon dictates the Peace of Schönbrunn

Napoleon also suppresses a popular uprising in Tirol led by Andreas Hofer

1813: Napoleon defeated at the Battle of Leipzig (Austrian armies led by Prince Karl Schwarzenberg)

1814: Congress of Vienna (presided over by Metternich) lays the groundwork for a new Europe and a lasting peace.

1815: Vienna Polytechinic founded. Advances in technology.

1816: Austrian NAtional Bank founded

1837: first Austrian railway

1848: wave of middle class revolutions also affects Austria => Metternich's police state collapses. Austrian constitution is drawn up (still with many absolutist elements). Hungary gains independence. Emperor Ferdinand abdicates, and his 18 year-old nephew Farnz Joseph takes over for the next 50 years.

1854: first mountain railway (over the Semmering pass)

1866: Austria defeated by the Prussians at the Battle of Sadowa (near Prague)

1867: dual Autro-Hungarian Monarchy established (separate parliaments).

1907: after the granting of basic civil rights and selective suffrage, universal suffrage is established.

early 20th century: emering nationalism leads to tensions in the multi-ethnic empire. Social problems as a result of induystrialization. Founding of Social; Democratic Party (Victor Adler). Vienna develops into a modern metropolis.


The Republic

June 28th, 1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Austrian throne ) is assassinated in Sarayevo by Serbian conspirators => immediate cause for WWI

Nov. 1916: Franz Joseph dies. He is succeeded by Karl.

Nov. 11, 1918: Karl abdicates: Austria is declared a republic.

Post WWI: Treaties of St. Germain and Trianon led to the setablishment of Austrai, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Serbia. Romania and Poland receive receive large areas which had been part of the empire.

Effects: major economic problems due tp the braek up of the large economic bloc. Customs tariffs and closed borers hinder trade. Germany and Italy establish authoritarian regimes. Internally, serious troubles between left and right wing political groups.

March 4, 1933: Dollfuss takes over the government and rules by decree=> the end of democracy in Austria

Feb 12, 1934: civil war breaks out in Austria and Hitler begins to support Austrian National Socialists

July 25, 1934: Dollfuss is murdered during failed Nazi coup.=> Karl Schuschnigg takes over and seeks to preserve Austrian independence.

Feb. 12, 1938: Fruitless meeting between Schuschnigg and Hitler.=> Schuschnigg announces plebiscite on the question of Austrian independence for March 13, 1938.

March 12, 1938: German troops cross the border.

March 13, 1938: The Austrian "Anschluss" is complete.

September 1939: WWII starts.


Restoration

end of March 1945: Liberation of Austria begins.

April 27, 1945: provisional government headed by Karl Renner is formed.

May 1, 1945: Austria's democratic constitution is reinstated.

November 25, 1945: First election for National Assembly under Allied supervision.

December 1945: Coalition government (ÖVP and SPÖ) is established. Allies officially recognize this government. Austria is devided into 4 zones, Vienna into four sectors, with one district remaining international territory

1946: Marshall plan awards economic aid from the USA under the European Recovery Program (ERP)

May 15, 1955: State Treaty of Vienna is signed.

July 27, 1955: State Treaty of Vienna comes into effect: The allied troops withdraw.

Oct.26, 1955: National Assembly passes the law on Austrian Neutrality. Oct. 26 becomes Austrian National Day.

Austria is a sovereign country again.

Encyclopedia Britannica 

 

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