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History of Austria

This is the history of Austria. See also the history of Europe and history of present-day nations and states.

Much of present-day Austria was once the Roman territory of Noricum. Under the Franks, parts of modern-day Austria were considered first part of Bavaria and later the Eastern Frankish Kingdom and the Ostmark, or Eastern March. The Marches were overseen by a comes or dux as appointed by the king. The most normal translation of these offices is count or duke, but these titles conveyed very different meanings in the Early Middle Ages, and the Latin terminology is preferable to any modern translation. In German-speaking countries, the title was eventually regularized to Margrave (Ger. Markgraf). (ie "Mark count"). In 1154 the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy ruled by the Babenberg family.

The first record showing Austria is appr. 955 where it is written down as Ostaricci.

Following the extinction of the Babenbergs in the 13th century, Austria came briefly under the rule of the Czech King Ottokar II. Ottokar was defeated and killed by German King Rudolf I of Habsburg, who took Austria and gave it to his sons in 1278. Austria was ruled by the Habsburgs for the next 640 years. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs began to accumulate other provinces in the vicinity of Austria proper, which was a small Duchy along the Danube - Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Tyrol, and other smaller provinces. These provinces, together, became known as the Habsburg Hereditary Lands, although they were sometimes all lumped together simply as Austria.

In 1438, Duke Albert V of Austria was chosen as the successor to his father-in-law, Emperor Sigismund. Although Albert himself only reigned for a year, from then on, every emperor was a Habsburg, with only one exception. The Habsburgs began also to accumulate lands far from the Hereditary Lands. In 1477, the Archduke Maximilian, only son of Emperor Frederick III, married the heiress of Burgundy, thus acquiring most of the Low Countries for the family. His son Philip the Fair married the heiress of Castile and Aragon, and thus acquired Spain and its Italian, African, and New World appendages for the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs' hereditary territories, however, were soon separated from this enormous empire when, in 1520, Emperor Charles V left them to the rule of his brother, Ferdinand.

In 1526, following the Battle of Mohacs, in which Ferdinand's brother-in-law Louis II, King of Hungary and Bohemia, was killed, Ferdinand expanded his territories, bringing Bohemia and that part of Hungary not occupied by the Ottomans under his rule. Habsburg expansion into Hungary, however, led to frequent conflicts with the Turks, particularly the so-called Long War of 1593 to 1606.

Austria and the other Habsburg hereditary provinces (and Hungary and Bohemia, as well) were much affected by the Reformation. Although the Habsburg rulers themselves remained Catholic, the provinces themselves largely converted to Lutheranism, which Ferdinand I and his successors, Maximilian II, Rudolf II, and Mathias largely tolerated. In the late 16th century, however, the Counter-Reformation began to make its influence felt, and the Jesuit-educated Archduke Ferdinand, who ruled over Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, was energetic in suppressing heresy in the provinces which he ruled. When, in 1619, he was elected Emperor to succeed his cousin Mathias, Ferdinand II, as he became known, embarked on an energetic attempt to re-Catholicize not only the Hereditary Provinces, but Bohemia and Habsburg Hungary as well. Although carried out in the midst of the Thirty Years War, which had greatly negative consequences for Habsburg control of the Empire itself, these campaigns within the Habsburg hereditary lands were largely successful, leaving the Emperors with much greater control within their hereditary power base.

The long reign of Leopold I (1657-1705) saw the culmination of the Austrian conflict with the Turks. Following the successful defense of Vienna in 1683, a series of campaigns resulted in the return of all of Hungary to Austrian control by the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699. At the same time, Austria was becoming more involved in competition with France in Western Europe, with Austria fighting the French in the Third Dutch War (1672-1679), the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697) and finally the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which the French and Austrians (along with their British and Dutch allies) fought over the inheritance of the vast territories of the Spanish Habsburgs. Although the French secured control of Spain and its colonies for a grandson of Louis XIV, the Austrians also ended up making significant gains in western Europe, including the former Spanish Netherlands (now called the Austrian Netherlands, including most of modern Belgium), the Duchy of Milan in Northern Italy, and Naples and Sardinia in Southern Italy. (The latter was traded for Sicily in 1720).

The latter part of the reign of Emperor Charles VI (1711-1740) saw Austria whittle away many of these fairly impressive gains. This was largely due to Charles's apprehensions at the imminent extinction of the House of Habsburg. Charles was willing to trade concrete advantages in order to secure other powers' worthless recognitions of the Pragmatic Sanction that made his daughter Maria Theresa his heir. The most notable instance of this was in the War of the Polish Succession whose settlement saw Austria cede Naples and Sicily to the Spanish Infant Don Carlos in exchange for the tiny Duchy of Parma and Spain and France's adherence to the Pragmatic Sanction. The latter years of Charles's reign (1736-1739) also saw an unsuccessful war against the Turks, which resulted in the Austrian loss of Belgrade and other border territories.

And, as many had anticipated, when Charles died in 1740, all those assurances from the other powers proved of little worth to Maria Theresa. The peace was initially broken by King Frederick II of Prussia, who invaded Silesia. Soon other powers began to exploit Austria's weakness. The Elector of Bavaria claimed the inheritance to the hereditary lands and Bohemia, and was supported by the King of France, who desired the Austrian Netherlands. The Spanish and Sardinians hoped to gain territory in Italy, and the Saxons hoped to gain territory to connect Saxony with the Elector's Polish Kingdom. Austria's allies - Britain, Holland, and Russia, were all wary of getting involved in the conflict. Thus began the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), one of the more confusing and less eventful wars of European history, which ultimately saw Austria holding its own, despite the permanent loss of most of Silesia to the Prussians.

For the next eight years, Maria Theresa plotted revenge on the Prussians. The British and Dutch allies who had proved so reluctant to help her in her time of need were dropped in favor of the French in the so-called Reversal of Alliances of 1756. That same year, war once again erupted on the continent as Frederick, fearing encirclement, launched a pre-emptive invasion of Saxony. The Seven Years War, too, was indecisive, and saw Prussia holding onto Silesia, despite Russia, France, and Austria all combining against him, and with only Hanover as a significant ally on land.

The War of Bavarian Succession was ended on May 13, 1779 when Russian and French mediators at the Congress of Teschen negotiated an end to the war. In the agreement Austria receive a part of its territory that was taken from them (the Inn District).

Following its defeat of Austria-Hungary in World War I, on November 12, 1918 Austria became a republic.

On October 20, 1920 a plebiscite in Carinthia was held, where the population of this state denied the claims of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Another plebiscite was held in Sopron earlier this year, which ended in favour of Hungary.

During World War II Austria was part of Nazi Germany, on March 30, 1945 Red Army forces occupied the country and took the capital, Vienna. In the same year, Austrian independence was restored. The country was then under official Allied occupation from May 9, 1945 to July 27, 1955.

See also: History of Italy, History of Slovenia, History of Switzerland, History of Germany, History of the Czech Republic, History of Slovakia, History of Hungary, History of Croatia.