Austrian History

Figure 1.--Catholcism has played a major role in Austrin history. Here a year before the NAZI Anschluss the two most important Austrian officials are seen in Vienna participating in a street religious ceremony. The press caption read, "Austria's head man kneel to faith: The highest government officials of Austria are pictured kneeling before an improvised street altar following a solemn religious procession in Vienna, President Wilhelm Miklas is alone (at extreme left)of photo) while behind him are, (L-R) Chancellor Schuschnigg, Minister Prester, Minister Hirstenau, and Minister Mandirfer." The photograph was taken June 8, 1937. We are not sure who the boys wearing sailor suits are. Miklas for his opposition was placed under house arrest, but protected by of all people future Waffen-SS colonel Otto Skorzeny. Schuschnigg in contrast was arrested and spent World War II in NAZI concentration camps.

Austria has had a tumultous history. Its history has ocilated from a small oribcipality to a great European empire and finally to a small republic. It began as a small, multi-ethnic Alpine principality and evolved into a major European power. The Austrian Empire came to dominate much of central Europe building a vast multi-ethnic empire governed by a German dynaty. The Hapsburg dynasty came to be the principal source of German emperors and during the Reformation led the Catholic forces trying to supress Protestantism. With Russia they contested control of the Balkans with the Ottoman Turks. Austria confronted both Louis XIV expansion plans. Austria under Empress Maria Theressa had to confront Prussia in the War of the Austrian Sucession. The two countries fought again in the Seven Years War. Te three empires (Austria, Prussia, and Russia) conspired in the Polish Prtitions. Austria was the major continental power which initially confronted the French Revolution and Napoleon. After the Napoleonic Wars Austria, layed a major role in the Congress of Vienna which reorganized Europe, attempting to reinstiture the Old Regime. Austria then struggled with Prussia to unify Germany. Prussia prevailed and Austria formed the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Emigrants from the Empire played an important role in diversifying America. The problem in governing restive ethnic groups eventually led to World War I and the Empire's demise. Austria became a small, mosly German republic, but was eventually annexed by NAZI Germany in the Anschluss. After World War II Austria again became an independent republic which as a result of the Cold War was premised on neutrality.


The Celts

The Celts dominated most of Western Europe north of the Alps. They were, however, a pre-literate people and thus their history is rather murky. Much of what we know about them comes from Greek and Roman accounts. Celtic peoplesare believed to have settled in the eastern Alps (5th century BC). Noricu, a A Celtic state, centered on ironworks appeared (2nd century BC).


The Romans occupied Noricum without any resistance (9 BC). This made the Danube River the effective northern frontier of the Roman Empire. Germanic tribes began to move west and south pressing on the Empire. This migration was promted by the movement east of Asiatic tribes. Ceasar ventured beyond the Rhine, but a major effort to conquer the Germanic tribes was launched by Augustus late in his reign. This effort ended in disater in the Tutoberg Forrest (9 AD). The Germanic tribes began raiding into Roman territory (2nd centiry AD). The Roman Legions and diplomacy were, however, strong enough to maintain the Rhine and Danube as an effective frontier. Eventually with the decline of the Western Empire the balance of power changed. The Roman defeat at Adrianople was a turning point (378 AD). The Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, and other tribes were able to establish settlements in Roman territory west of the Rhine and south of the Danube. The Roman presence in what is now Austria became indefensible. The now Christian, Romanized population evacuated the area (488). The Ostrogoths invaded the Italian Peninsula and seized control of what remained of the western half of the Roman Empire (493).

Germanic Tribes (5th-6th century)

The area of what is now southern Germany and Austria was overrun by Huns, Goths, Lombards, and Bavarians The Bavarians, a Germanic tribe, with the decline if Roman power settled in what is now southern Germany and western Austria (5th and 6th century). The Alemans settle in what is now Vorarlberg. The Bavarians and Alemans to an extent mix with the existing Rhaeto-Romanic population as well as pushing it up into the mountains on less productive land.


The Avars were one of many Mongolian tribes. They were known to the Chinese as the Juan-Juan. The Avars were among the Mongol and Turkic tribes raiding into northern China (4th century AD). Another of these groups were the Huns. It was the Hunic movement west that drove the Germanic tribes west, eventually leading go the fall of Rome and leading to the fall of the Western Empire. The departure of the Huns led to the rise of the Kök Türük (the Blue or Celestial Turks) as the major power in Central Asia. They in turn drove the Avars and other Turlish groups west. The Juan-Juan migrated through northern Persia eventually reaching the Russian steppes. Here they mingled with other Turkic and Hunic people, especially the Uighurs. They ultimateky reached Eastern Europe (about 550). They formed a confederacy known as the Avars which threatened both Byzantium and Western Europe. The appearance of the Croats and other Slavic tribes into southeastern Europe is believed to be related to the Avars, presumably they were fleeing the Avars much as the Germans fled the Huns. The relationship is described variously in medieval accounts. Byzantine records suggest that the Emperor Heraclius invited the Croats to settle Dalmatia to help resist the Avar threat. Another account suggests that the Croats were not invited by the Byzantines, but rther forced into the Empire by the Avars and successfully resisted domination (about 620). De Administrando Imperio] Another medieval source supports this account. [Thomas the Archdeacon] Both these accounts were written centuries after the events they describe and thus have to be treated with caution. The high point of Avar power was a joint Avar-Persian attack on Constantinople (626). The Avars were joined by the Huns, Gepids and Bulgars. The Persians provided a fleet. After this theAvars declined as the Slavic and Bulgar tribes expanded into their territory. Charlemagne launched a major offensive and delivered a crushing blow, destroying the Avar Ring of fotresses (791). The remanent was destoyed by the Bulgar King Krum (early 9th century).

Karantania (7th century)

Austria appears as a small principality in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. Slavs migrated into the Alps escaping from their Avar overlords (7th century). They mixed with the existing Celto-Romanic population. Karantania emerged in an area apprximately that of what is now eastern and central Austria. Karantania was not strong enough to resist the Avars on theiir own. They were absorbed by Bavaria and became a , under pressure of the Avars, lost its independence to Bavaria and became a margraviate (745).


Bavarian settlers gradually expand down the Danube and move up into the Alps. In the process, what is now Austria becomes a largely German-speaking area. The Bavarians are absorbed in to the the empire of the Franks, a more powerful Germanic tribe. Bavaria become a Duchy of the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Tassilo III who resisted was defeated by Charlemagne (788). After Charlemagne's death his empire desintegrated. The Magyars overun Bavaria (909). Holy Roman Emperor Otto I reconquered the area (955). What is now Austrian was attached as an eastern march to Bavaria (955-76).

Babenberg (976-1251)

Austria as a magraviate was ulled by the house of Babenberg. It became a duchy (1156).

Bohemia (1251-76)

Ottocar II of Bohemia acquired Austria (1251). Ottocar was forced to cede Austria along with Styria, Caritnthia and Carniola to a Hapsburgh--Rudolf II (1276). The subsequent history of Austria is largely associated with the Hapsburgh dynasty until the formation of the First Republic following World war I (1918).

The Habsburgs

One of the longest ruling European royal families was the Hapsburgs. The Habsburgs often dominated European history from the 16th to the 19th century. Even in their declining years of Hapsburg rule, the family played a key role in the 20th century. It was the assasination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand that was to lead to World War I. Like the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs took their name from a family castle in Medieval Germany. This renowened family of German origins was in various periods the ruling family of Germany, as a separate family and as part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the Hapsburgs who stopped the advance of the Ottimans into Christain Europe. The height of the dynasty's powers came in the 15th and 16th centuries with Philip I and Charles V who united Germany and Spain making the Hapsburgs the doiminate power in Europe. His son Philip II comanded vast armies and navies, but their blind religious faith was to lead to devestating religious wars in Germany and Spain becoming a backwater of Europe. Most European ruling families are associated primarily with one coutry. The Hapsburgs, while of German roots, ruled over many European countries. The Hapsburgs ruled Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, the Netherland, Spain, and many smaller European principalities--not to mention Mexico for a few years. The story of the Hapsburgs is in fact the history of Europe for centuries.

Holy Roman Empire (1276-1740)

With Rudolf's acquisition of Austria, the Duchy's history became associated with the Habsburg dynasty and the Holy Roman Empire. With few exceptions, the Imperial Diet elected a Habsburg emperor. Austria was raised to an arch duchy (1453). The Empire under the Hapsburgs became a bulwark against Ottomon expansion into Western Europe. The final threat was the seige of Vienna (1683). The Habsburgs led the Counter Reformation which attempted to destroy Protestantism. The Hansburgs and Austria lost its primacy within the Empire as a result of the Thirty Years War and the wars of the 18th century. Increasingly Austria looked eastward and southward to expand in non-Germanic areas outside the Holy Roman Empire. The defining moment here was the reign of Maria Thresa although the Holy Roman Empire itself cobntinued until abolished by Napoleon (1806).

Austrian Empire (1740-1867)

Maria Theresa in 1740 ascended the throne and ruled for 40 years. Her reign was challenged by Frederick the Great in the War of the Austria Secession. As a woman, Maria Thresa could not be elected Holy Roman Emperor. So she was received the title as Emperess of Austria. This period is generally acknowledged as the era in which Austria developed as a modern state. During her reign, control was centralised, a civil service was established, the army and economy were reformed and a public education system was introduced. Austria acquired areas of Poland through the Polish Partitions with Prussia and Russia. Until the French Revolution, Austria was a relatively progressive state. Austria played a major role in oposing the French Revolution and then Napoleon. Napoleon decisively defeated Austria at Austerlitz (1805). European conflict dragged on until the settlement at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15. Austria led the conservative forces that attempted to control Europe and prevent liberal reforms associated with the Revolution. Austria was left with control of the German Confederation, but was shaken during the 1848 Revolutions. A Tsarist Army was needed to overwealm Hungarian revolutionaries (1849). Austria's aspirations to unite Germany were ended by defeat in the Austro-Prussian War (1866).

Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918)

Prussia's defeat of Austria led to the formation of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867 under Emperor Franz Josef and exclusion from the new German Empire unified by Bismarck. Fraz Josef reigned for almost the entire existence of the Holy Roman Empire. A period of prosperity followed but Austria's expansionist tendencies in the Balkans led to increasing tensions with Russia. The nationlities question became a major concern of imperil officials. Disaffected subjects were an important source of American immigrants. The Hungarians in particular resisted concessions conessions to the ethnic nationalities. Austria's failure to keep up with Prussia had led to defeat in the Austro-Prussian War and the Empire while still a major European power continued to decline. There was a bright fasade of modernity in Vienna and Budapest. TThe Imperial ediface looked so stable and permannt in the early 20th century. Austria's annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 led to the assassination of the Emperor's nephew in Sarajevo in June 1914 by serbian separatists. A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, the Russians came to the Serbians aid and the slaughter of World War I began in earnest.

World War I (1914-18)

Austria had for centuries been a major European power, dominating the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) essentially ejected Austria from Germany. The Hapsburgs then recreated Austrial as the Dual Monarchy--the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austria-Hungary became a large multi-ethnic empire dominated by a Grman and Hungarian rukling class. The Empire dominated much of central Europe. Ousted from Germany, it expelled into the Balkans where it came into conflict with Russia which had ethnic ties and expansionary goals. These conflicts escalated as Ottoman power wained. Its dealings with the various nationalities were a major political problem. The Hungarians were give dual royal status with Austria. Other nationalities felt oppressed, none more than the Slavs. Serbia secretly supported terrorist forces in Bosnia withits substantial Slavic population. This led to the assasination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and Austria's decession to punish Serbia. The Austrians had no desire to launch a world war which was reflected in their war planning. There were two Austrian war plans, Plans B and R. The difference in the two plans reflected the unknown of the Russian reaction. Plan B provided only for hostilities in the Balkans against Serbia. Three Austro-Hungarian armies would invade Serbia. Three other armies would be heldin reserve along the Russan border. Plan R was a more expansive plan, a modification of Plan B in case the Russians invaded. In this case only two armies would invade Serbia and four armies would defend against the Rusians. It assumed that the Germans would enter the War if the Russians declared war. Ecalating nationalist tensions came to a head when Serbian nationalists assasinated Archduke Ranz Derdinand, heir to Emperor Franz Josef. Germany's decession to support Austria's desire to punish Serbia turned a Balkans crisis into a major European war. It was the Russians that cracked first, but only because the Germans bolstered the Austrins. The enormous losses from the War, however, fundamentally destabilized the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Empire desintegrated in the closing months of World War I (1918).

First Republic (1918-38)

The Austro-Hungarian Empire desintegrated in the closing months of World War I (1918). The Austrians declared a republic and Emperor Karl was forced to abdicate. Austria was now the much reduced territory of German-speaking Austria. The Republic of Austria was forced to recognise the independent states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. The economy suffered from the separation from the former territories of the Empire. Most of the Empoire's industry was in now indepoendent Czecoslovakia abd Yugoslsvia. This forced a paiful adjustment. The political and economic dislocation gave rise to Fascism. Many Austrians after the War wanted to join Germany, but the Allies prohibited this with the Versailles Treaty (1919). The Heimwehr, similar to the German Frei-Korps was used to supress left-wing groups and striking workers. A young Englerbert Dolfuss fisished his law degree and began working in government (1922). He was impressed with the ideas of Karl Freiherr von Vogelsang. Dolfuss, an ardent Catholic, joined the conservative Christian Social Party (CS). He promoted the establishment of agricultural cooperatives as well as the implementation of social insurance and unemployment benefits for farm workers. Consrvatives within the CS rejected these progressuve steps. CS Chancellor Carl Vaugoin appointed him president of the Austrian Federal Railways (1930). The Depression at the time was destabilizing Austrian politics. The Social Democrats (CD), a socialist party, emerged as the the most important party in an election (1930). Vaugoin resigned as chancellor. Dollfuss was named Minister of Agriculture and Forests in a short-lived coalition cabinet of Chancellor Otto Ender (1931). When Ender resigned shirtly after during the Creditanstalt affair. Dolfuss retained his ministry under Ender's successor Karl Buresch. The political situation cointinued to dertriorte after a failed Heimwehr coup d'état. The Austrian NAZIs won seats in Landtag (provincial) elections. When the CS coaltion broke up with the departure of their Greater German allies the Buresch givernmebt vresigned (1932). President Wilhelm Miklas, a fellow CS member, asked Dolfuss to form a government. It was a surprising choice. Dollfuss was only 39 years old and with only one year's experience in the Federal Government, was offered the office of Chancellor by, also a member of the Christian-Social Party. Dollfuss led a coalition government between the Christian-Social Party, the Landbund (a right-wing agrarian party), and the Heimatblock (the parliamentary wing of the Heimwehr, a paramilitary ultra-nationalist group). The coalition with only a narriw minority assumed the difficult task of dealing with the the Great Depression. Dolfuss unable to maintain a parlimentary majority, dismissed parliament, banned the Austrian NAZI Party, and assumed dictatorial powers. He also moved agsinst the SD. They finally resisted with arms, a virtual civil war. After 4our days of fighting, Dollfuss and the Heimwehr emerged victorious. The Social Democratic Party was declared illegal and forced underground. All political parties were abolished except the Fatherland Front (Vaterländische Front), which Dollfuss had founded in 1933 to unite all conservative groups. A new constitution swept away the last remnants of democracy and basic civil rights in Austria. The Heimwehr merged into the Fatherland Front which threatened the Government (1934). Austrian fascists were divided as to wether the country should join Germany. Austrian NAZIs (Regiment 89) without Hitler's approval assasinated Dollfuss -- the July Putsch (1934). Mussolini concluded it was Hitler's attempt a seizing Austria and it nearly resulted in a confrontation. Mussolini had not yet formed an alliance with Hitler. As it was he personally informed Frau Dolfuss who was a guest at his villa in Riccione with her children. Hitler was initally jubilant, but Mussolini's reactuin surprised him. The Austrians NAZIs led by by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, (the future NAZI occupation head in the Netherlands) were agitating for union with Germany. Hitler was not ready for a confrointstion in 1934 as rearmament had just begun. He finally accomplished union with the Anschluss 4 years later (1938). The Anschluss was accompanied with the thunderous approvl of the Austrian people an unimaginably outburst of violence against Austrian Jews.

World War II (1939-45)

The Anschluss was an action that was popular with the great majority, but not all Austrians. Despite the Versailles Treaty prohibition, the British and French did nothing, but submit diplomatic protests. With the Anchluss, Austria ceased to exist. A national referendum in Austria that year supported the annexation. Austria thus participated in World War II as a part of Germany. A particularly brutal Gauleiter was causing problems in Vienna, so Hitler appointed Baldur von Schirach (former Hitler Youth leader) as Gauleiter and Governor of Vienna. He provided a little cultural gloss to the NAZI regime. After successfully transporting Vienna Jews to the death camps, von Schiracht wisely left Vienna as the Red Army approached. Unlike many top NAZIs, he had no intention of fighting to the end or in killing himself and family. He tried to hide as mystery writer after the War. Finally fearing Austrian anti-NAZIs and French occupation troops, he quietly entered the American occupation zone and surrendered. Many Austrians now claim that Austria was an occupied country. In fact, Austrians were vigorous supporters of all aspects of the NAZI war effort, including the Holocaust. Austria was heavily bombed by the Allies. Soviet and American armies reached Austria at the end of the War (April 1945).

Cold War

Austria during Worl War II had been a part of NAAZI Germany and Austrians served in the German Army. In the final months of the War, the Red Army entered Austria from the east (Hungary) and seized Vienna which is close to the eastern border with Czechoslovakia and Hungary (1945). The Americans ebtered Austria from the south (Italy) and the north (Bavaria). The Allies treated Austria as an Axis nation, separating it from Germany. The Allies restored the 1938 frontiers. and diivided Austria into four occupation zones. The Allies remained entrenched in Austria for a decade. Vienna in the Soviet zone was like Berlin divided into occuption zones. The three occupation zones of the Western Allies (America, Britain, and France), as in Germany were eventually combined. After Stalin's death in the brief thaw in East-West relations and before the Hungarian Revolution, the Soviets agreed to withdraw from Austria. The State Treaty established Austria as a neutral nation along the lines of Switzerland (1955). The new Austrian Government moved to normalize relations with neighboring countries. Austria like Switzerland did not participate in European unification. Austria was the only neutral country along the Cold War Iron Curtain, although Yugoslavia to the south was ambiguous. Vienna became the location of Cold War diplomatic intrigue. Austria emerged on the diplomatic stage when it tried to play a co-leading role in the group of neutral and non-allied countries (1970s). This movement gradually became a plantform for antt-Western propaganda andcneaningless left-wing posturing. Austrian policy thus evedntually gravitated toward a more meaningfulnengagement with Europe (1980s). Austria after World War I suffered economically because it was cut off from the traditional markets of the vast Hapsburg eastern lands. After World War II, Austria adjusted to being a small country, developing a vibrant hy economy with high social standards and high value industries. The sjkall market problem was solved by joining the European Union. This had been prevented by the 1955 State Treaty. After the end of the Cold War, Austria began to negotiate entry in the EU (1989) and becane a full mermber (1995).


De Administrando Imperio (10th century). This is the earliest source describing the migration of the Croats and other Slavic Tribes into southeastern Europe.

Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja (12th century).

Thomas the Archdeacon. Historia Salonitana (13th century).


Navigate the Children in History Web Site:
[Return to the Main European history page]
[Return to the Main Austrian page]
[Introduction] [Animals] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Ethnicity] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: 11:55 PM 10/18/2007
Last updated: 4:34 PM 7/31/2018