Historic Overview

Neue Burg in Vienna

From Noricum to Ostarrichi

The first embryonic state in the area that is now Austria was the Celtic kingdom of Noricum, which was for the most part integrated into the Roman Empire around 15 BC. Under Roman rule, the settlement Vindobona was founded, which would later become the capital Vienna. From 976, the Babenberg family ruled over the territory, the name “Ostarrichi” first appears in 996.

The Habsburg era

In 1282, the Habsburgs, who originated from what is now Switzerland, were given the Duchy of Austria. In 1522 the Habsburgs split into an Austrian and a Spanish line. The Austrian line of the Habsburgs gained possession of Bohemia and Hungary, and, after battling against Ottoman attempts of expansion twice successfully in the 16th and 17th centuries, gained additional territory. After the Spanish line of the Habsburgs died out in 1700, the House of Austria controlled the largest expanse of territory in its history.

18th and 19th century

In the 18th century, Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II established the basis for a modern state with their reforms based on the principles of enlightened absolutism: central administration, compulsory education, abolition of serfdom, the Patent of Tolerance and reform of churches and monasteries. Imperial Vienna became a centre of music, Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart created their immortal works here.

After Napoleon’s defeat, a new European order was established at the Congress of Vienna (1814/15). Until the Revolution of 1848, Austria’s policy was determined by the conservative Austrian State Chancellor Prince Clemens von Metternich. In 1867, Austria under Emperor Franz Joseph lost power over the German Confederation to Prussia. As a consequence, the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy was established. Nationalism became a growing problem under the Habsburg reign.

First World War

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo 1914 sparked the outbreak of the First World War. After the defeat of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, the German Reich and the allied Ottoman Empire) in the autumn of 1918, the European order crumbled. The Dual Monarchy disintegrated into nation-states. The small state of Austria became a republic.

First Republic, Anschluss and Nazi-Dictatorship

The First Republic faced a difficult beginning. The economy lay in tatters, large-scale unemployment led to political polarization. Democracy came to a temporary end in Austria in 1933 when Federal Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss established a dictatorial state. Dollfuss was assassinated in July 1934 in an attempted coup staged by the National Socialists.

In March 1938, German troops crossed the border; the Anschluss of Austria into Greater Germany was “legalized” by a referendum on 10 April. During the following years, around 65 000 Austrian Jews died in the Holocaust. In addition, minorities and Austrians who opposed the Nazi regime were sent to prisons and death camps.

Second Republic

In the first democratic elections after the War, Leopold Figl was elected federal chancellor. Austria’s economic recovery moved ahead rapidly thanks to the generous help of the US Marshall Plan.

On 15 May 1955, after years of negotiations with the Allies, the foreign ministers of the four occupying powers signed the State Treaty in Vienna’s Schloss Belvedere. Austria thus regained its full independence and sovereignty. On 26 October 1955 (the national holiday), the National Council adopted the constitutional law of permanent neutrality.

Austria in Europe and in the world

Austria became a member of the United Nations in December 1955, and since then has been actively involved in the UN’s numerous tasks and missions. In 1956 it joined the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. Membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) followed in 1960. Austria entered into extensive free trade agreements with the European Community in 1972.

With the end of the Cold War, Austria moved from its position on the periphery between East and West into the centre of a larger Europe with new forms of partnership. After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Austria’s relations with the countries of Eastern and South-East Europe were intensified. On 1 January 1995 Austria became a member of the European Union (EU) and an observer in the Western European Union (WEU).