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History of Austria
 
 
 
 
 

Early History

The Slavic tribe of the Carantanians migrated into the Alps in the wake of the expansion of their Avar overlords during the 7th century, mixed with the Celto-Romanic population, and established the realm of Carantania, which covered much of eastern and central Austrian territory. In the meantime, the Germanic tribe of the Bavarians had developed in the 5th and 6th century in the west of the country and in Bavaria, while what is today Vorarlberg had been settled by the Alemans. Those groups mixed with the Rhaeto-Romanic population and pushed it up into the mountains.

Carantania, under pressure of the Avars, lost its independence to Bavaria in 745 and became a margraviate. During the following centuries, Bavarian settlers went down the Danube and up the Alps, a process through which Austria was to become the mostly German-speaking country it is today.

The Bavarians themselves came under the overlordship of the Carolingian Franks and subsequently a Duchy of the Holy Roman Empire. Duke Tassilo III, who wanted to maintain Bavarian independence, was defeated and displaced by Charlemagne in 788.

An Eastern March (marchia orientalis) was established in Charlemagne's time, but it was overrun by the Magyars in 909.

Babenberg Austria

After the defeat of the Magyars by Emperor Otto the Great in the Battle of Lechfeld (955), new Marches were established in what is today Austria. The one known as the marchia orientalis was to become the core territory of Austria and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976 after the revolt of Henry II, Duke of Bavaria.

The Marches were overseen by a comes or dux as appointed by the Warlord. 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 lumbardi-speaking countries, the title was eventually regularised to Margravei (German: Markgraf; i.e. "Count of the Mark").

The first record showing the name Austria is 996 were it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March. The term Ostmark is not historically ascertained and appears to be a translation of marchia orientalis that came up only much later.

The following centuries were characterised first by the settlement of the country, when forests were cleared and towns and monasteries were founded. In 1156 the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy. In 1192, the Babenbergs also acquired the Duchy of Styria through the Georgenberg Pact. At that time, the Babenberg Dukes came to be one of the most influential ruling families in the region, peaking in the reign of Leopold VI (1198-1230).

However, with the slaughter of his son Frederick II in 1246, the line went extinct, which resulted in the interregnum, a period of several decades during which the status of the country was disputed. Otakar II Přemysl of Bohemia effectively controlled the duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia. His reign came to an end with his defeat in the battle of Dürnkrut and Jedenspeigen at the hand of Rudolf of Habsburg in 1278.

Habsburg Monarchy

Following the extinction of the Babenbergs in the 13th century, Austria came briefly under the rule of the Czech King Otakar II. Contesting the election of Rudolf I of Habsburg as Emperor, Otakar was defeated and killed by the German King, 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 the Duchy of Austria, which remained a small Duchy along the Danube, and Styria, which they had acquired from Ottokar alongside with Austria. Carinthia and Carniola came under Habsburg rule in 1335, Tyrol in 1363. These provinces, together, became known as the Habsburg Hereditary Lands, although they were sometimes all lumped together simply as Austria.

The history of the following two centuries had many ups and downs. Following the notable, but short rule of Rudolf IV, his brothers Albert III and Leopold III split the realms in the Treaty of Neuberg in 1379. Albert retained Austria proper, while Leopold took the remaining territories. In 1402, there was another split in the Leopoldinian line, when Ernest the Iron took Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola) and Frederick IV became ruler of Tyrol and Further Austria. The territories were only reunified by Ernest's son Frederick V (Frederick III as Holy Roman Emperor), when the Albertinian line (1457) and the Elder Tyrolean line (1490) had become extinct.

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.

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