An almost complete history of Austria
In less than 1000 words

Stone and Iron Ages

The area of today′s Austria was first populated at the time of the Neanderthal. The countries oldest piece of art is a display of a woman and 32,000 years old. The frost mummy "Ötzi" was found in the Alps and is 5300 years old. In the Iron Age, there were two important cultures; the Hallstatt Culture drew its prosperity from salt trade and had important connections with Mediterranean civilisations; later the Celtic Latene Culture led to the formation of the Kingdom Noricum.

Celtic Kingdom, Roman Province, German county:
15 BC - 976 AD

In 15 BC, Noricum was annexed by the Roman Empire. Many cities were founded, streets built and the mixed Romano-Celtic population was Christianised in the 4th century. The invasion of different barbarian tribes in the 6th and 7th century led to a predominantly Bavarian population north of and in the Alps and a Slavonic one south-east of the mountains.

The region was re-Christianised and came under the rule of the Franconian Empire, consolidated through Charlemagne. To protect the Eastfranconian lands from invasions of Aware and Hungarians, a county was formed. It was given to the rule of the house of Babenberg in 976 and later called eastern mark or Ostarrichi (Austria).

Early Middle Ages & Habsburg expansion 1500

The Babenbergs were ambitious builders and transformed Austria from a wilderness into a centre of medieval culture. In 1156, Vienna became the capital. They also extended the territory and gained some autonomy rights ("Privilegium Minus") until the last Babenberger died in 1246. In 1278, the Habsburg family succeeded in securing Austria for their house. They revived the determined politics of the Babenberger, until succession fights paralysed Austria in the late Middle Ages.

Once they were sorted, Habsburgs became Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation in 1452. This allowed them to rule as a European heavy-weight. Around 1500, Emperor Maximilian I started a policy of strategic marriages to increase his power and possessions. This way, the Habsburgs gained control over large parts of Southern Germany, the Netherlands, Burgundy, Spain with its colonies and Southern Italy. Karl V said that he ruled over an empire in which the sun never sets.

Reformation, Turks & baroque enlightenment

The 16th century saw a significant loss of power for the church; in the heat of the reformation, Karl V had to resign and the Habsburgs were split into a Spanish and an Austrian line. The reformation and Habsburg′s loyalty to the pope also stoked the 30 Years War (1608-1638) with its devastating effects on Central Europe. Another drastic factor was the threat of a Turkish invasion, most immediately felt at the two sieges of Vienna (1529 and 1683).

Once the religious conflicts had settled and the Turks had been defeated in the early 18th century, Austria bloomed in Baroque glory, a very shaping period for the country. The Baroque Empress Maria Theresia and her son Emperor Joseph II modernised the Austria and the other "crownlands" and introduced many reforms driven by new ideas of enlightenment.

French Revolution, Napoleon & Austria-Hungary: 1790-1900

In the late 18th century, the French revolution shocked Europe′s nobility. Its ideas of freedom and equality and spreading nationalism were fought with a stubborn policy of censorship and suppression by the Habsburgs. In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was extinguished when Franz I resigned and later declared himself Emperor of Austria in response to Napoleon′s coronation. After the Napoleonic Wars, Europe looked for a new order at the Vienna Congress.

Austria gained Salzburg and became the chair in the German Union. It returned to absolutism until a revolution in 1848 forced the Emperor to resign and grant basic civil rights. Increasing nationalism in the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire led to the autonomy for Hungary, which stoked the urge for independence among other ethnic groups. Around 1900, Vienna was one of the biggest cities in the World and its intellectual and cultural life peaked again.

WWI, first republic, WWII & Holocaust: 1914-1945

When the Archduke of Austria was shot by a Serbian nationalist, World War I started in 1914. It left millions dead and was a disaster for the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which split into many tiny countries. The Habsburg reign ended in 1919, when Austria turned into a Republic, suffering badly from inflation, unemployment and the loss of a national identity. Tensions between Social Democrats and Conservatives accumulated into open fights. In 1934, a Conservative government took the legislative powers from the parliament, thereby de-facto making Austria a fascist country.

Nazis and Socialists were prosecuted and independence from Nazi-Germany made a priority. In 1938, the Wehrmacht went into Austria and was welcomed by cheering crowds ("Anschluss"). Austria was merged with Nazi-Germany. Its extensive Jewish population largely fled the country. World War II and the holocaust caused 300,000 Austrian victims (mostly soldiers, but also many Jews, Socialists and other prosecuted groups), with many Nazi-criminals including Hitler being Austrian, too.

 Post-war & today′s Austria

After World War II, much of the infrastructure was destroyed. With international help, much was re-built in the following years. In 1955, Austria declared its neutrality and re-gained full sovereignty. The neutral status allowed the country to establish itself as a bridge between East and West during the Cold War.

Vienna became a centre for international organisations like the UN. The economy recovered and in the 1970ies, Social Democrat governments shaped Austria through a pronounced socialist tradition similar to Scandinavia. After the Iron Curtain had fallen, Austria was back at the heart of Europe. It joined the EU in 1995 and introduced the Euro in 2002. Politically, the two traditional blocks (conservative and social democrats) have lost in relevance since the 1980ies and ideologies fade for the sake of current issues.

There′s more to Austria. If you care (and you should), read my more extensive essay "A History of Austria - With many details that I find interesting".

Further Reading

A detailed History of Austria in 13 parts

A Jewish History of Austria

Wikipedia on the History of Austria

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