Austria - Arrive & Revive
Austria, largely mountainous landlocked country of south-central Europe. Together with Switzerland, it forms what has been characterized as the neutral core of Europe, notwithstanding Austria’s full membership since 1995 in the supranational European Union (EU).
A great part of Austria’s prominence can be attributed to its geographic position. It is at the centre of European traffic between east and west along the great Danubian trade route and between north and south through the magnificent Alpine passes, thus embedding the country within a variety of political and economic systems. In the decades following the collapse in 1918 of Austria-Hungary, the multinational empire of which it had been the heart, this small country experienced more than a quarter century of social and economic turbulence and a Nazi dictatorship. Yet the establishment of permanent neutrality in 1955, associated with the withdrawal of the Allied troops that had occupied the country since the end of World War II, enabled Austria to develop into a stable and socially progressive nation with a flourishing cultural life reminiscent of its earlier days of international musical glory.
Its social and economic institutions too have been characterized by new forms and a spirit of cooperation, and, although political and social problems remain, they have not erupted with the intensity evidenced in other countries of the Continent. The capital of Austria is historic Vienna (Wien), the former seat of the Holy Roman Empire and a city renowned for its architecture.
History of Austria
Prehistory and Roman times
In the territories of Austria, the first traces of human settlement date from the Lower Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age). In 1991 a frozen human body dating from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age) was discovered at the Hauslabjoch pass in the Ötztal Alps, on the Italian-Austrian border. At 5,300 years old, the so-called Iceman, nicknamed Ötzi, was the oldest intact mummy ever discovered. The archaeological material becomes richer and more varied for subsequent periods, giving evidence of several distinct cultures succeeding one another or coexisting. The Austrian site of Hallstatt gave its name to the principal culture of the Early Iron Age (c. 1100–450 bce). Celtic tribes invaded the eastern Alps about 400 bce and eventually founded the kingdom of Noricum, the first “state” on Austrian territory known by name. In the west, however, the ancient Raetian people were able to maintain their seat (see Raetian language). Then, attracted by the rich iron resources and the strategic importance of the region, the Romans began to assert themselves. After an initially peaceful penetration during the last two centuries bce, Roman troops finally occupied the country about 15 bce, and the lands as far as the Danube River became part of the Roman Empire, being allotted to the Roman provinces of Raetia, Noricum, and Pannonia. (See also ancient Rome.)
The Romans opened up the country by an extensive system of roads. Among the Roman towns along the Danube, Carnuntum (near Hainburg) took precedence over Vindobona (Vienna), while Lauriacum (Lorch; near the confluence of the Enns River and the Danube) belonged to a later period. Roman municipalities (municipia) also grew up at Brigantium (Bregenz), Juvavum (Salzburg), Ovilava (Wels), Virunum (near Klagenfurt), Teurnia (near Spittal), and Flavia Solva (near Leibnitz). North of the Danube the Germanic tribes of the Naristi, Marcomanni, and Quadi settled. Their invasions in 166–180 ce arrested the peaceful development of the provinces, and, even after their repulse by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, the country could not regain its former prosperity. In the 3rd century the Roman frontier defenses began to be hard-pressed by invasions from the Alemanni. Finally, in the 5th century, heavy attacks by the Huns and the eastern Germans put an end to the Roman provincial defense system on the Danube.
There is archaeological evidence of a Christian cult in this area from the 4th century, and the biography of St. Severinus by Eugippius constitutes a unique literary source for the dramatic events of the second half of the 5th century. At that time several Germanic tribes (the Rugii, Goths, Heruli, and, later, Langobardi) settled on Austrian territory. In 488 part of the harassed Norican population was forced to withdraw to Italy.
Early Middle Ages
Germanic and Slavic settlement
Following the departure of the Langobardi to Italy (568), further development was determined by the Bavarians in a struggle with the Slavs, who were invading from the east, and by the Alemanni, who settled in what is now Vorarlberg. The Bavarians were under the political influence of the Franks, whereas the Slavs had Avar rulers. At the time of their greatest expansion, the Slavs had penetrated as far as Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), Steiermark (Styria), Kärnten (Carinthia), and eastern Tirol. After 624 the western Slavs rose against the Avars under the leadership of the Frankish merchant Samo, whose short-lived rule may also have extended over the territories of the eastern Alps. About 700 the Bavarian lands again bordered on Avar territory, with the lower course of the Enns forming the approximate frontier. On the death of the Frankish king Dagobert I (639), the Bavarian dukes from the house of Agilolfing became virtually independent.
Christianity had survived only here and there among the remnants of the Roman population when, about 600 and again about 700, Christian missionaries from the west became active, with the support of the Bavarian dukes. At the end of the 7th century, St. Rupert, who came from the Rhine, founded the church of Salzburg. When they were threatened once more by the Avars, the Alpine Slavs (Karantani) placed themselves (before 750) under the protection of the Bavarians, whose mission was extended to them. At the same time, Bavarian settlers penetrated into the valleys of Kärnten and Steiermark. Charlemagne, emperor of the neighbouring Franks, however, deposed the Bavarian duke Tassilo III, wiping out the Bavarian dukedom for a century. During the following years (791–796), Charlemagne led a number of attacks against the Avars and destroyed their dominion. Surviving Avars were made to settle in the eastern part of Lower Austria between the rivers of Fischa and Leitha, where they soon disappeared from history, most probably mixing with the native population.
As was the usual Frankish practice, border provinces (Marken, or marches) were instituted in the newly won southeastern territories. The Avar March on the Danube and Lower and Upper Pannonia and Karantania were to form a border fortification, but this arrangement soon became less effective because of frequent disagreements among the nobility. To that unrest was added a threat from the Bulgarians and from the rulers of Great Moravia (see Moravia). Nevertheless, the process of Germanization and Christianization continued, during the course of which the churches of Salzburg and Passau came into conflict with the eastern mission, which was led by the Slav apostles Cyril and Methodius. The Frankish kingdom richly endowed the church and nobility with new lands, which came to be settled by Bavarian and Frankish farmers.
In 881 the beginning of incursions by the Magyars led to a first clash near Vienna. By 906 they had destroyed Great Moravia, and in 907 near Pressburg (Bratislava, Slvk.) the Magyars defeated a large Bavarian army that had tried to win back lost territory. Liutpold of Bavaria as well as Theotmar, the archbishop of Salzburg, were killed in battle. The Lower Austrian territories as far as the Enns River, and Steiermark as far as the Koralpe massif, fell under Magyar domination. Nevertheless, a certain continuity of German-Slav settlement was maintained so that, after the victory of the German king Otto I (later Holy Roman emperor) in 955 and the further repulse of the Magyars in the 960s, a fresh start could be made. (See also Germany: History; Holy Roman Empire.)
Early Babenberg period
The first mention of a ruler in the regained territories east of the Enns is of Burchard, who probably was count (burgrave) of Regensburg. It appears that he lost his office as a result of his championship of Henry II the Quarrelsome, duke of Bavaria. In 976 his successor, Leopold I of the house of Babenberg, was installed in office. Under Leopold’s rule the eastern frontier was extended to the Vienna Woods after a war with the Magyars. Under his successor, Henry I, the country around Vienna itself must have come into German hands. New marches were also created in what were later known as Carniola and Steiermark.
Wars against Hungarians and Moravians occupied the reign (1018–55) of Margrave (a count who ruled over a march) Adalbert. Parts of Lower Austria on both sides of the Danube were lost temporarily; after they were retaken, they became the so-called Neumark (New March), which for some time enjoyed independence—as did the Bohemian March to the north of the Babenberg territories. The position of the Babenbergs was at that time still a modest one; their territorial rights were no greater than those of other leading noble families. Their power within their own official sphere was further diminished by ecclesiastical immunities (Passau in particular but also Salzburg, Regensburg, and Freising), with numerous monasteries owning large territories as well.
Austria was repeatedly drawn into the disputes of the Investiture Controversy, in which Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV (later Holy Roman emperor) fought for control of the church in Germany. In 1075 Margrave Ernest, who had regained the Neumark and the Bohemian March for his family, was killed in the Battle of the Unstrut, fighting on the side of Henry IV against the rebellious Saxons. Altmann, bishop of Passau, a leader of church reform and a champion of Gregory VII, influenced the next Babenberg margrave, Leopold II, to abandon Henry’s cause. As a result, Henry roused the Bohemian duke Vratislav II against him, and in 1082 Leopold II was defeated near Mailberg, his territories north of the Danube devastated. The Babenbergs, however, managed to survive these setbacks. Meanwhile, the cause of church reform gained ground, with its centres in the newly founded monasteries of Göttweig, Lambach, and, in Steiermark, Admont.
Under Leopold III (1095–1136) the history of the Babenbergs reached its first culmination point. In the struggle between emperor and pope, Leopold avoided taking sides until a consensus had built up among the German princes that it was Emperor Henry IV who stood in the way of a final settlement. Then Leopold did not hesitate to side with Henry’s rebellious son, Henry V, in 1106. For this he was rewarded with the hand of Henry V’s sister Agnes, who had formerly been married to the Hohenstaufen Frederick I of Swabia. The intermarriage with the reigning dynasty not only increased Leopold’s reputation but also no doubt brought him additional power. Leopold was even proposed as a candidate to the royal throne, but he declined. It was apparently his intention to concentrate on consolidating his position in Austria. He was the first Austrian margrave to describe himself as the holder of territorial principality (principatus terrae), and during his time Austrian common law was mentioned for the first time, another proof of the developing national consciousness.
Leopold’s reputation with the clergy was high, and he was eventually canonized (1485). He gave generous endowments to religious communities, establishing the Cistercians at Heiligenkreuz, and he founded, or at least restored, the monastery of Klosterneuburg, which he then gave to Augustinian canons. In Klosterneuburg he built a residence in which he stayed even after he had acquired Vienna.
On the death of Leopold III, the Babenbergs were drawn into a conflict between the two leading dynasties of Germany, the Hohenstaufen and the Welfs; the Babenbergs took the side of the Hohenstaufen because of their family ties. In 1139 the German king Conrad III bestowed Bavaria, which he had wrested from the Welfs, on his half brother, Leopold IV. After the latter’s untimely death, Henry II Jasomirgott succeeded to the rule of Austria and Bavaria.
The Holy Roman emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) tried to put an end to the quarrel between the Welfs and the Hohenstaufen, and, in the autumn of 1156 at Regensburg, he arranged a compromise. Bavaria was restored to the Welf Henry III (the Lion), duke of Saxony, while the Babenbergs were confirmed in their rule of Austria, which was made a duchy, and were given the “three counties,” the actual location of which is disputed. Also, the obligations of the dukes of Austria toward the empire were reduced. Their attendance at royal court days was called for only when court was held in Bavaria, and they were compelled to participate only in campaigns of the empire that were directed against Austria’s neighbour—that is, Hungary. Henry II Jasomirgott and his wife, Theodora, a Byzantine princess, were granted succession through the female line and the right, in the event of the premature deaths of their children, to appoint a candidate for the succession. The Babenbergs also were given the right of approving the exercise of jurisdiction by other powers within the new duchy, permitting Henry to exert pressure against rival internal powers, secular as well as ecclesiastical. The rights of the duke were laid down by imperial charter (Privilegium Minus). For centuries, however, Austria continued to contain territorial dominions not ruled by the duke. Henry moved his residence to Vienna, where he also founded the monastery of the “Scottish” (actually Irish) monks.
Later Babenberg period
In 1192 the Babenbergs’ territory was greatly extended when they won the duchy of Steiermark. In Steiermark the margraves of the family of the Otakars of Steyr had gradually asserted themselves—under conditions similar to those of the Babenbergs—over their rivals, the noble families of the Eppensteiner, Formbacher, and Aribonen. The most successful among Steiermark’s margraves was Otakar III (reigned 1130–63). Then, in 1180, Emperor Frederick I, in the course of a renewed anti-Welf policy, raised Steiermark to the status of a duchy and granted it complete independence from Bavaria. A few years later a treaty of inheritance (Georgenberg; 1186) was concluded between the dukes Leopold V of Austria (reigned 1177–94), a son of Henry II Jasomirgott, and Otakar IV of Steiermark, the ailing last Otakar ruler. When Otakar died in 1192, Leopold succeeded him, and thus the Babenbergs came into the inheritance.
Except for a short intermission (1194–98), the reigning Babenberg thereafter ruled both duchies, Austria and Steiermark. Steiermark then included parts of the Traungau, which eventually was to become part of Upper Austria, and the province of Pitten, north of the Semmering Alpine pass, afterward assigned to Lower Austria. In logical continuation of the Babenberg policy, Leopold VI (the Glorious) and his successor, Frederick II (the Warlike), the last representative of the dynasty, extended their domains farther south, gaining fiefs in Carniola.
Before he inherited the duchy of Steiermark, Leopold V had taken part in the Third Crusade, during which, on the ramparts of Acre (modern ʿAkko, Israel), he became involved in a quarrel with the English king Richard I (the Lion-Heart). Later, on his return journey to England, Richard tried to make his way through Austria in disguise but was recognized near Vienna, taken prisoner, and later handed over to the Holy Roman emperor Henry VI. England had to pay a heavy ransom, a share of which Leopold obtained and invested in the foundation, extension, and fortification of towns as well as in the stamping of a new coin, the so-called Wiener pfennig. The road connecting Vienna and Steiermark was improved, and the new town of Wiener Neustadt was established on its course to protect the newly opened route across the Semmering.
On Leopold V’s death the Babenberg domains were divided between his sons for four years, until the death of one of them, Frederick I, in 1198. His brother Leopold VI, the most outstanding member of the family, then took over as sole ruler (1198–1230). This was a time of great prosperity for the Babenberg countries. In imperial politics Leopold VI again took sides with the Hohenstaufen, backing Philip of Swabia. In church matters he was a great supporter of the monasteries, founding a Cistercian monastery at Lilienfeld (c. 1206). He tried to concentrate patronage rights over ecclesiastical property in his own hands and took rigorous action against the heretics (the Cathari and Waldenses). He participated in several crusades in Palestine, Egypt, southern France (against the Albigenses), and Spain (against the Saracens). Leopold VI’s efforts to emancipate Austria ecclesiastically by creating a separate Austrian bishopric in Vienna came to naught because of the opposition of the church in Passau and also in Salzburg; nor did his son Frederick II succeed in the same matter. Leopold VI played some role in imperial politics, bringing about the Treaty of San Germano between the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX (1230). He met his death in San Germano (now Cassino, Italy), and his body was transported to Lilienfeld for burial.
A change came about under the last representative of the dynasty, Frederick the Warlike, Leopold’s son. His harsh internal policy and military excursions against neighbouring lands, together with his opposition to the emperor Frederick II, led in 1237 to the temporary loss of both Austria and Steiermark. The crisis, however, was overcome, and fresh opportunities were about to open for the duke when, on June 15, 1246, he was killed in battle against the Hungarians on the Leitha River. With him the male line of the family came to an end.
The political history of Austria from the end of the 10th century to the middle of the 13th is marked by the establishment and consolidation of territories. This process was most advanced in the Babenberg domains but was not confined to them. Dukes Herman (1144–61) and Bernhard (1202–56) of Kärnten achieved a comparable status, and Count Albert of Tirol (died 1253) moved in the same direction. The archbishops of Salzburg strove to eliminate all secular powers and patrons of their see, but, in the other territories, secular princes strengthened their rule.
Another milestone of this period was the completion of the colonization of the Austrian territories. New settlements were established by clearing the woods and advancing to more remote mountain areas. Several old and new settlements grew into market centres and towns and were eventually granted charters. The colonization movement also affected the ratio of the German to non-German population. Except for some places in the Alpine regions, the Slavs were gradually assimilated, and the same held true of the remnants of the Roman population in Salzburg and northern Tirol.
The intellectual life of the period deserves mention. The Babenberg court was famous enough to attract some of the leading German poets. At the beginning of the 13th century, the saga known as the Nibelungenlied was written down by an unknown Austrian. Historical writing flourished in the monasteries. The era also produced first-rate Romanesque and early Gothic architecture.
Late Middle Ages
Contest for the Babenberg heritage
Upon the death of Frederick the Warlike, the Babenberg domains became the political objects of aspiring neighbours. The emperor and the pope also tried to intervene. Two female descendants of the Babenbergs, Frederick’s niece Gertrude and his sister Margaret, were considered to embody the claims to the heritage. Gertrude married first the Bohemian prince Vladislav and afterward the margrave Hermann of Baden, who died in 1250. After Hermann’s death, Otakar II, prince of Bohemia (from 1253 king) and a member of the house of Přemysl, married the widowed Margaret. Thereupon Hungarian forces intervened. Under the Treaty of Ofen (1254) Otakar was to rule Austria, while King Béla IV of Hungary received Steiermark. Troubles in Salzburg, stemming from a conflict between Bohemia and Hungary, inspired a rising among Steiermark’s nobles. Otakar intervened and in the Treaty of Vienna (1260) took over Steiermark as well. The state of anarchy that prevailed in Germany during this period proved advantageous to Otakar, who was granted Austria and Steiermark in fief from Richard, earl of Cornwall, the titular German king.
The grant, however, was only by writ and was invalid according to German law. During the following years, Otakar’s energetic rule met with growing opposition among the Austrian nobility. He introduced foreigners into important official positions, broke fortresses that had been erected without his consent, and dissolved his childless marriage with Margaret. Otakar had two of the opposition leaders, Otto of Meissau and Seifried of Mahrenberg, executed. The gentry and the inhabitants of the cities, on the other hand, generally favoured Otakar, who supported the churches and monasteries. To complete his success, Otakar gained Kärnten and Carniola, which Ulrich of Spanheim, duke of Kärnten, willed to him in 1269.
Reverses came only when Count Rudolf IV of the house of Habsburg was elected German king as Rudolf I on September 29, 1273. Cautiously but nevertheless energetically, Rudolf set out to undermine the powerful position Otakar had created for himself. He challenged the legitimacy of Otakar’s acquisitions and finally placed the Bohemian king under the ban of the empire. In 1276 Rudolf and his allies invaded Austria, forcing Otakar to do homage and to renounce his claims to Austria. Two years later, while trying to recover what he had lost, Otakar was defeated by the united forces of Rudolf and the Hungarians and was killed on the battlefield near Dürnkrut (August 26, 1278).
Accession of the Habsburgs
As the German princes had not cared to give Rudolf adequate support against Otakar, he did not feel bound to them and set out to acquire the former Babenberg lands for his own house. In 1281 he made his eldest son, Albert (later Albert I, king of Germany), governor of Austria and Steiermark; on Christmas, 1282, he invested his two sons, Albert and Rudolf II, with Austria, Steiermark, and Carniola, which they were to rule jointly and undivided. As the Austrians were not used to being governed by two sovereigns at the same time, the Treaty of Rheinfelden (June 1, 1283) provided that Duke Albert should be the sole ruler. In 1282 Carniola had already been pawned to Meinhard II of Tirol (of the counts of Gorizia), one of the most reliable allies of Rudolf who, in 1286, was also invested with Kärnten.
At first the Habsburg rulers were far from popular in Austria. Albert’s energetic and relentless rule aroused bad feeling, and the Swabian entourage that had arrived with the new dynasty to occupy key positions was despised by native nobles. There were conflicts with Bavaria, Salzburg, and Hungarian nobles who violated the Austrian frontier. After the death of King Rudolf (1291), all the neighbours and rivals of the Habsburgs and the counts of Gorizia united. Albert, however, succeeded in negotiating a peace with his most dangerous foes, the Hungarians and the Bohemians, and he broke the fortresses of the rebel nobility. Meanwhile, Meinhard II had stifled the uprising in Kärnten.
In 1292 Albert was passed over in the German election, and Adolf of Nassau was called to the throne. When Adolf fell out with the electoral princes, however, they went over to Albert, who had just subdued another rebellion in Austria. After Adolf was defeated and killed near Göllheim (1298), Albert had himself elected a second time. In his Austrian lands Albert’s main concern was to provide for an effective administration, in which he was assisted by his privy councillors, most of whom were foreign. Records were set up to codify the prerogatives and returns of the ducal property. Eventually Albert did not spare the church, either. When the Přemysl family died out in 1306, Albert aspired to the Bohemian throne. He had his eldest son, Rudolf III, elected Bohemian king, but Rudolf died the following year. Albert was preparing for a new campaign when he was murdered by his nephew John and some accomplices in 1308.
On Albert’s death the anti-Habsburg movement flared up again in Austria, but his sons, Frederick I (the Fair) and Leopold I, managed to maintain control. Frederick stood for election as German king (as Frederick III), and for the next several years the Habsburg countries had to support the cost of the war with his rival, Louis IV of Bavaria, until 1322, when Frederick was defeated near Mühldorf. Earlier, another decisive battle had been lost by the Habsburgs to the Swiss at Morgarten in 1315. From that time on, the Habsburg domains in the territory south of the Rhine and Lake Constance began to crumble away. Frederick the Fair spent his last years in Austria and was buried in the Carthusian monastery of Mauerbach (1330). He seems to have been the first of the Habsburgs for whom Austria meant home. From his time on, Habsburg rule and Habsburg territories were known as the Austrian domains (dominium Austriae), a term that was replaced, in the course of the 14th and 15th centuries, by the new concept of the house of Austria.
After Frederick’s death the Habsburgs were for some time ruled out as possible candidates for the German throne; but, under the brothers Albert II and Otto, Habsburg Austria received its first important accession of territory. In 1335 Kärnten and Carniola were acquired after the death of Henry of Gorizia, while, with the help of Luxembourg troops, Henry’s daughter Margaret Maultasch managed to retain the Tirol. Albert and his brother Otto had not gotten on too well, but, when Albert came to rule on his own, he proved to be of sound judgment and keen on preserving the peace. It was a time of calamities: bad harvests, floods, earthquakes, and in 1348–49 the Black Death. This last event brought a persecution of the Jews, who were falsely accused of intentionally spreading the plague; this was suppressed, however, by the duke. Albert arranged several tours around his domains to establish contacts with the populace and to improve jurisdiction. Two campaigns against the Swiss failed to yield any spectacular results, but they helped to consolidate the weakened Habsburg position. At his death in 1358 Albert left four sons. Though in 1355 a family ordinance had decreed that all the male members of the family were to rule jointly over the undivided domains, only the eldest of them, Rudolf, was then fit to rule. Throughout his short reign (1358–65), Rudolf IV showed himself extremely energetic and ambitious. He started to rebuild St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the Gothic style, and he founded the University of Vienna (1365). With these two projects, he imitated and rivaled his father-in-law, the Holy Roman emperor Charles IV, at Prague.
In 1359 Rudolf’s forged charter, the Privilegium Majus, by which he claimed immense privileges for Austria and its dynasty, as well as the title of archduke, caused a breach between him and the emperor Charles IV. Charles was not prepared to accept the Privilegium Majus to its full extent (although it later was sanctioned by Frederick III, the Habsburg king of Germany and, from 1452, Holy Roman emperor, in 1442 and again in 1453). Upon news of the death of Margaret Maultasch’s son, Duke Meinhard, in 1363, Rudolf prevailed upon Margaret to make over the Tirol to him. On this occasion the emperor backed the Habsburgs against the rulers of Bavaria, the Wittelsbachs, and the Tirol thus passed to the house of Austria.
Division of the Habsburg lands
Rudolf was succeeded in 1365 by his two brothers, Albert III and Leopold III. After some years of joint rule, however, they quarreled and in 1379, by the Treaty of Neuberg, partitioned the family lands. Albert, as the elder brother, received the more prosperous countries on the Danube (Upper and Lower Austria). The rest of the widespread domains fell to Leopold (including Steiermark, Kärnten, Tirol, the old Habsburg countries in the west, and central Istria). The treaty also contained several points on mutual wardship, preemption rights, and common titles, by which some connection between the two lines was to be preserved.
In 1382 the resourceful duke Leopold took advantage of the weak position of Venice in its war with Genoa and seized Trieste, which had broken away from Venice. His efforts to expand his rule in the west, however, were less successful, though he seemed lucky enough at first. Envisaging a connection between the original Habsburg territories in the west and the new domains in the Tirol, the Habsburgs looked for a foothold in the region west of the Arlberg (modern Vorarlberg). Neuberg on the Rhine was won in 1363 and Feldkirch in 1375. Another important acquisition was the city of Freiburg in the Breisgau region. But then Leopold came into conflict with the Swiss, which led to defeat and his death in the Battle of Sempach in 1386. An army of his brother, Albert III, was likewise defeated in the Battle of Näfels in 1388, and the Habsburgs suffered heavy territorial losses. Leopold’s sons recognized the wardship of Albert, who acquired Bludenz and the Montafon Valley west of the Arlberg in 1394. In his own domains Albert was forced to check the dynasty of the Schaunbergs (in Upper Austria), who tried to create an independent domain around Peuerbach and Eferding. Albert III especially favoured the city of Vienna as his capital, and it was because of his reorganization that the university Rudolf IV had founded there was able to survive.
After Albert’s death in 1395, new Habsburg family troubles arose, differences that the treaties of Hollenburg (1395) and Vienna (1396) tried to settle. Under the Vienna treaty, the line of Leopold III split into two branches, resulting in three complexes of Austrian territories—a state of affairs that was to reappear in the 16th century. The individual parts came to be known by the names of Niederösterreich (“Lower Austria,” comprising modern Lower and Upper Austria), Innerösterreich (“Inner Austria,” comprising Steiermark, Kärnten, Carniola, and the Adriatic possessions), and Oberösterreich (“Upper Austria,” comprising the Tirol and the western domains, known as the Vorlande, or Vorderösterreich [the Austrian provinces west of the Arlberg]).
In 1396 the Austrian estates, or diets, were first assembled to consider the Turkish threat; thereafter they were to play an important political role in Austria. In them the nobility usually took the lead, but they also included representatives of the monasteries, towns, and marketplaces. In the Tirol, in Vorarlberg, and, at times, in Salzburg, the peasants also sent their representatives to attend the diets. Because of the Habsburg partitions and frequent regencies, the estates were able to gain in importance. They did not obtain the right to pass laws, but they obstinately insisted on the privilege to grant taxes and duties.
After the short rule of Albert IV (1395–1404) and a troublesome tutelary regime (1404–11), Albert V came into his own, and with him the Danube countries again enjoyed a strong and energetic rule (1411–39). Albert, however, had married the daughter of the Holy Roman emperor Sigismund and was thus drawn into the Hussite religious wars, in the course of which the Austrian lands north of the Danube were ravaged. In the Austrian west, Duke Frederick IV of the Tirolean branch lost the Aargau to the Swiss but was able to assert himself in Tirol against a rebellion of his nobles.
When Sigismund died, Albert inherited his positions. In 1438 he was elected Hungarian king, with the German (as Albert II) and the Bohemian crowns to follow later. Albert no doubt had many of the qualities of a born ruler, but he died prematurely in 1439 on an unsuccessful campaign against the Turks. Soon thereafter his widow gave birth to a son and heir, Ladislas Posthumus, to whom Frederick V of Steiermark, as the senior member of the house, became guardian. Frederick also had Sigismund, the son of Frederick IV of Tirol, under his tutelage.
Thus began the long reign of Frederick V (as Holy Roman emperor he was to become Frederick III). His reign was marked by almost ceaseless strife with the estates, with his neighbours, and with his jealous family. When he tried unsuccessfully to take advantage of a conflict between the Swiss Confederates, the Tiroleans made Frederick release Duke Sigismund from tutelage (1446). In 1452, on his return from Rome, where he had been crowned emperor, his enemies at home and abroad forced him also to give up Ladislas, who was then the recognized king (as Ladislas V) of Hungary and Bohemia. The boy king’s policies were made by Count Ulrich of Cilli. Ulrich was murdered at Belgrade, Serbia, in 1456, however, and a year later King Ladislas died. In Bohemia and Hungary, national kings came to power. Frederick now won himself a foothold in the Austrian domains on the Danube and succeeded in acquiring the rich estates and fiefs of Ulrich.
People of Austria
Ethnic Austrians constitute the vast majority of the population. Small but significant groups of German-speaking Swiss and ethnic Germans also reside in the country. Serbs, Bosniaks (Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina; living mainly in the larger cities), Turks (living primarily in Vienna), Hungarians and Croats (living mainly in Burgenland), and Slovenes (living mainly in Kärnten) constitute the major ethnic minorities.
Although Croatian, Hungarian, Slovenian, Turkish, and other languages are spoken by the various minority groups, nearly all people in Austria speak German. The dialect of German spoken in Austria, except in the west, is Bavarian, sometimes called Austro-Bavarian. About seven million people speak Bavarian in Austria. A Middle Bavarian subdialect is spoken chiefly in Ober- and Niederösterreich as well as in Vienna. A Southern Bavarian subdialect is spoken in Tirol (including southern Tirol), in Kärnten, and in parts of Steiermark. The speech of most of the remainder of the country’s inhabitants tends to shade into one or the other of those subdialects. In the west, however, an Alemannic (Swiss) dialect prevails: the inhabitants of Vorarlberg and parts of western Tirol are Alemannic in origin, having cultural and dialectal affinities with the German Swiss to the west and Swabians in Germany to the north.
About three-fourths of Austrians are Christian. The overwhelming majority of Christians are adherents to Roman Catholicism; Protestants (mainly Lutherans) and Orthodox Christians form smaller groups. Islam has a small but important following, mainly among the Bosniak and Turk populations. Vienna’s Jewish population, which was all but destroyed between 1938 and 1945 (see Holocaust), has increased steadily since that time but remains tiny. More than one-tenth of the population is nonreligious.
Cultural Life of Austria
Austria has been a leader and guardian of some of the most sublime achievements in music, theatre, literature, architecture, medicine, and science. Austrian culture is a part of the mainstream of Germanic culture that is shared with Germany and Switzerland. But what has shaped it and dominated it, what has made it essentially Austrian, are the Habsburg empire and the Christian church.
The emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1493–1519) was a poet and a patron of the theatre, and the era that began in the reign of Maria Theresa (1740–80) and ended in that of Francis Joseph (1848–1916) was an age of spectacular flourishing in the arts and sciences. During this time an aggregation of genius and talent in often interlocking circles was gathered in Vienna. Moreover, the Habsburg dynasty’s tradition of patronage of the arts has carried over to the modern republic of today.
The church was a powerful influence on Austrian architecture, drama, and music. The great Romanesque monasteries, the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, and the splendours of the quintessentially Austrian Baroque—exemplified by the works of Austrian architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and the Bohemian architects Christoph Dientzenhofer and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer—and Rococo obviously derive from the church. The Austrian theatre has its origins in late medieval religious drama, and the affinities of the church with Austrian music continue down to modern times.
Despite the fact that Austrian high culture never has been contained by the borders of the country but rather is considered part of the greater cultural realm of the German-speaking world, many Austrians long imagined their country as blissfully isolated and neutral—an “island of the blessed.” In fact, for many years after World War II, Austria promoted the idea of having been the first “victim” of Nazi Germany and, some would say, deliberately avoided confronting the guilt surrounding its participation in the Anschluss (“Union”) with Germany. But by the end of the 20th century, the forces of globalization and international competition, spurred by the opening of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and Austria’s admittance to the EU in 1995, had brought Austria’s imagined perfection into question. The increased immigration of foreigners into the country has caused particular concern among many Austrians, who fear that their carefully tailored social welfare system may be overburdened and their own Austrian identity threatened. Such sentiment has appeared particularly strong in Vienna, where large numbers of immigrants reside.
Daily life and social customs
Most ordinary Austrians may be aware of Austria’s historical contributions to high culture, but in general only members of the educated middle class and the elite circles of society participate in glamorous cultural events like the Salzburg Festival of theatre and music. Ordinary Austrians, particularly those who live in small towns and in the rural valleys of the countryside, pursue a more common—but in no way less typically Austrian—cultural life, with its roots in regional traditions, age-old rituals and customs, and a friendly communal spirit. Membership in local organizations called Vereine plays a great role in this culture. Informal gatherings are commonplace as well, and going out to meet friends in restaurants or cafés is an integral part of everyday life. A surprisingly large number of Austrians play instruments in bands, sing in choirs, or make music in smaller groups at home or with neighbours. Many wear traditional costumes (Trachten), such as full-skirted dirndls or loden coats, every day, and many more wear them on weekends and on festive or special occasions, including weddings and funerals. Although popular music, motion pictures, television, and other elements of popular culture are enjoyed throughout the country, these aspects of traditional Austrian culture remain important, even to the young.
Most Austrians celebrate the major Christian holidays, though many revered Austrian traditions surrounding these holidays are said to have their roots in pre-Christian times. Glöcklerlauf, a festival that takes place the evening before Epiphany (January 6), is celebrated especially in the mountainous regions of Oberösterreich, Steiermark, and Tirol and features activities meant to drive away the evil spirits of winter. During the festival, young men and boys wear loudly clanging bells and carry handmade masks—often extremely large, lighted from within, and decorated with Christian and secular designs—on their heads and shoulders.
Austria is known for its contributions to music, especially during the Classical and Romantic periods. The major work of outsiders such as Ludwig van Beethoven (from Bonn [Germany]), Johannes Brahms (from Hamburg), and—in part—Richard Strauss (from Munich) is no less associated with Vienna than that of such natives of Austria and the empire as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, and Hugo Wolf. Much of the pioneer work in modern music was done by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern, who are known collectively as the Second Viennese school. Vienna is also associated with two popular genres of music: the waltz and the operetta. Both forms find a common source in the person of Johann Strauss the Younger, who with his father, Johann the Elder, and his brothers, Josef and Eduard, constituted a virtual musical dynasty in the 19th century. The Viennese operetta, drawing heavily from the Slavic and Hungarian regions of the empire, reached its apogee about 1900, the prototypical composer being Franz Lehár.
The theatre has occupied a central position in the cultural life of Austria. The 19th-century Viennese playwrights Johann Nestroy, Franz Grillparzer, and Ferdinand Raimund developed a drama with distinctly Austrian traits. The stage director Max Reinhardt, the writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and the composer Richard Strauss were instrumental in founding the Salzburg Festival in 1920.
Literature in Austria had auspicious beginnings. The great epic of the German Middle Ages, the anonymous Nibelungenlied, was written in Austria. The most renowned Middle High German lyric poet, Walther von der Vogelweide, served at the Viennese court in the late 12th century.
In the late 19th century, distinctly Austrian literary styles and mannerisms emerged. The writer Hermann Bahr was associated with an era of literary impressionism, the expressly Austrian characteristics of which—a heightened self-consciousness and feelings of ambivalence and tentativeness—were coupled with forebodings of being at the end of an overripe civilization. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, poet, dramatist, essayist, and librettist of six operas by Richard Strauss, and Arthur Schnitzler, whose dramas are thought to epitomize a hothouse Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, have best conveyed these sensibilities. Karl Kraus, whose literary, political, and social criticism and satire contemplated an entire era in his review Die Fackel (1899–1936), focused on the importance of language. Coming from Prague to Vienna, Franz Kafka, with his haunting works of the individual confronted with anonymous, unheeding power, has entered the canon of world literature.
Robert Musil’s unfinished novel Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (1930–43; “The Man Without Qualities”) is said to be a metaphor for Austria itself. The Expressionist poet Georg Trakl wrote elegiacally of decay and death. Franz Werfel, another Expressionist, excelled as a poet, playwright, and novelist. Stefan Zweig, poet, dramatist, and story writer of imaginary and historical characters, was influenced by another Viennese, Sigmund Freud. Also writing in the first half of the 20th century were the Vienna-born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and innovative novelist Hermann Broch.
The novelist Heimito von Doderer, who took an earlier Austria as his milieu, is a link between the vanished literary world of the pre-Anschluss years and the later 20th century. Austrian writers completed a number of works that won international attention in the second half of the 20th century; among them are Ilse Aichinger, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard, and Peter Handke. The Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004.
In painting, a distinctly Viennese school developed in the movement known as the Vienna Secession (referring to its breakaway in 1897 from the academic painters of the Künstlerhaus), which was part of the Jugendstil, as Art Nouveau is known in the German regions. Led by Gustav Klimt, the movement tangentially involved a number of innovative architects, including Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, and Josef Hoffmann, who also helped found a cooperative enterprise for crafts and design called the Wiener Werkstätte (“Vienna Workshop”). Led by Klimt, a later group split from the Secession and held an exhibition known as the Kunstschau (“Art Show”); from this group emerged some of the most illustrious modern Austrian painters, including Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin, and Egon Schiele.
Among later 20th-century artists, the abstract paintings of Friedensreich Hundertwasser recall the Secession. The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism has leaned toward surrealism. Other groups have included Junge Wilde (“Young Wild Ones”), of whom Siegfried Anzinger has won acclaim abroad. In sculpture, which in the interwar years was dominated by Anton Hanak, the preeminent figure after 1945 was Fritz Wotruba.
Clemens Holzmeister, perhaps the best-known 20th-century Austrian architect, had considerable influence on modern church design and was responsible for the two major festival theatres in Salzburg. The designs of Adolf Loos, Roland Rainer, Erich Boltenstern, and Carl Auböck had an impact on housing and office development. The avant-garde architecture firm Coop Himmelblau and architect Hans Hollein were well known in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Moviemaking in Austria has tended to concentrate on highbrow or controversial themes. The German-language motion picture industry has not been able to keep pace with Hollywood imports, and foreign films and television shows outnumber Austrian or German productions. A number of 20th-century Austrian actors began their careers in Austria and later found success in Hollywood, including Paul Henreid, Oscar Homolka, Hedy Lamarr, and Maximilian Schell. Also born in Austria were the directors Erich von Stroheim and Otto Preminger. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born bodybuilder, actor, and politician, is admired for his films and other accomplishments in the United States.
Austria’s Imperial capital offers a unique blend of imperial traditions and stunning modern architecture. It is famous for its cultural events, imperial sights, coffee houses, cozy wine taverns, and the very special Viennese charm.
Vienna’s history dates back to the first post-Christian century when the Romans established the military camp Vindobona. Today’s cityscape is characterised by the abundance of Baroque buildings created mostly under the rule of Empress Maria Theresia (1740 – 1780) and Franz Joseph (1848 – 1916), who was largely responsible for the monumental architecture round the Ringstraße.