Settled in ancient times, the Central European land that is now Austria was occupied in pre-Roman times by various Celtic tribes.
The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was later claimed by the Roman Empire and made a province. Present day Petronell-Carnuntum in Eastern Austria was an important army camp turned capital city in what became known as the Upper Pannonia province.
Fifty thousand people called Carnuntum (see left) home for nearly 400 years.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the area was invaded by Bavarians, Slavs and Avars.
The Slavic tribe of the Carantanians migrated into the Alps and established the realm of Carantania, which covered much of eastern and central Austrian territory.
Charlemagne (see right) conquered the area in 788 AD, encouraged colonisation and introduced Christianity.
As part of Eastern Francia, the core areas that now encompass Austria were bequeathed to the house of Babenberg.
The area was known as the marchia Orientalis and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976.
The first record showing the name Austria is from 996 where it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March.
In 1156 the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy.
In 1192, the Babenbergs also acquired the Duchy of Styria.
With the death of Frederick II in 1246, the line of the Babenbergs went extinct.
As a result Ottokar II of Bohemia effectively assumed control of the duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia.
His reign came to an end with his defeat at Dürnkrut at the hands of Rudolph I of Germany in 1278.
Thereafter, until World War I, Austria’s history was largely that of its ruling dynasty, the Habsburgs.
Austria later became engaged in a war with Revolutionary France, at the beginning highly unsuccessful, with successive defeats at the hands of Napoleon meaning the end of the old Holy Roman Empire in 1806.
Two years earlier, in 1804, the Empire of Austria was founded.
In 1814 Austria was part of the Allied forces that invaded France and brought to an end the Napoleonic Wars.
It thus emerged from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as one of four of the continent’s dominant powers and a recognised great power.
The same year, the German Confederation, (Deutscher Bund) (see right) was founded under the presidency of Austria.
Because of unsolved social, political and national conflicts the German lands were shaken by the 1848 revolution aiming to create a unified Germany.
A unified Germany would have been possible either as a Greater Germany, or a Greater Austria or just the German Confederation without Austria at all.
As Austria was not willing to relinquish its German-speaking territories to what would become the German Empire of 1848, the crown of the newly formed empire was offered to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV.
In 1864, Austria and Prussia fought together against Denmark and successfully freed the independent duchies of Schleswig and Holstein.
Nevertheless as they could not agree on a solution to the administration of the two duchies, they fought in 1866 the Austro-Prussian War.
Defeated by Prussia in the Battle of Königgrätz, Austria had to leave the German Confederation and subsequently no longer took part in German politics.
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Ausgleich, provided for a dual sovereignty, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, under Franz Joseph I.
The Austrian-Hungarian rule of this diverse empire included various Slavic groups including Croats, Czechs, Poles, Rusyns, Serbs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Ukrainians, as well as large Italian and Romanian communities.
As a result, ruling Austria–Hungary became increasingly difficult in an age of emerging nationalist movements, causing a high reliance on the use of an expanded secret police.
Yet the government of Austria tried its best to be accommodating in some respects: The Reichsgesetzblatt, publishing the laws and ordinances of Cisleithania, was issued in eight languages, all national groups were entitled to schools in their own language and to the use of their mother tongue at state offices, for example.
The government of Hungary to the contrary tried to magyarise few ethnic entities and thus the wishes of ethnic groups dwelling in both parts of the dual monarchy hardly could be solved.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (see left) in Sarajevo in 1914 by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip was used by leading Austrian politicians and generals to persuade the emperor to declare war on Serbia, thereby risking and prompting the outbreak of World War I which led to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Franz Ferdinand, eldest son of Carl Ludwig, the brother of Emperor Franz Josef, was born in 1863. Educated by private tutors, he joined the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1883.
His military career included service with an infantry regiment in Prague and with the hussars in Hungary.
While in the army Ferdinand received several promotions: captain (1885), major (1888), colonel (1890) and general (1896).
In 1889, Crown Prince Rudolf, the son of Franz Josef, shot himself at his hunting lodge.
The succession now passed to Franz Ferdinand’s father, Carl Ludwig.
When he died in 1896, Franz Ferdinand became the new heir to the throne.
After attending the official reception at the City Hall, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie von Chotkovato were driven through the city.
Gavrilo Princip, the assassin, stepped forward, drew his gun, and at a distance of about five feet, fired several times into the car.
Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck and Sophie von Chotkovato in the abdomen. Princip’s bullet had pierced the archduke’s jugular vein but before losing consciousness, he pleaded “Sophie dear! Sophie dear! Don’t die! Stay alive for our children!” Franz Urban drove the royal couple to Konak, the governor’s residence, but although both were still alive when they arrived, they died from their wounds soon afterwards.
Over one million Austro-Hungarian soldiers died in World War I.
On 21 October 1918, the elected German members of the Reichsrat (parliament of Imperial Austria) met in Vienna as the Provisorische Nationalversammlung für Deutschösterreich (Provisional National Assembly for German Austria).
On 30 October the assembly founded the State of German Austria by appointing a government, called Staatsrat.
This new government was invited by the emperor to take part in the decision on the planned armistice with Italy, but refrained from this business; this left the responsibility for the end of the war on 3 November 1918, solely to the emperor and his government.
On 11 November the emperor, counseled by ministers of the old and the new government, declared he would not take part in state business any more; on 12 November German Austria, by law, declared itself to be a democratic republic and part of the new German republic.
The constitution, renaming Staatsrat to Bundesregierung (federal government) and Nationalversammlung to Nationalrat (national council) was passed on 10 November 1920.
The Treaty of Saint-Germain of 1919 (for Hungary the Treaty of Trianon of 1920) confirmed and consolidated the new order of Central Europe which to a great part had been established in November 1918, creating new states and resizing others.
Over 3-million German speaking Austrians found themselves living outside of the newborn Austrian Republic as minorities in the newly formed or enlarged respective states of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Italy.
This included the provinces of South Tyrol and German Bohemia, the later which would play a role in sparking WWII.
The South Tirol Question would become a lingering problem between Austria and Italy until it was officially settled by the 1980s with a large degree of autonomy being granted by the Italian national government.
Between 1918 and 1919 Austria was known as the State of German Austria (Staat Deutschösterreich).
Not only did the Entente powers forbid German Austria to unite with Germany, they also rejected the name German Austria in the peace treaty to be signed; it was therefore changed to Republic of Austria in late 1919.
The First Austrian Republic lasted until 1933 when Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, using what he called “self-switch-off of Parliament” (Selbstausschaltung des Parlaments), established an autocratic regime tending toward Italian fascism.
The two big parties at this time, the Social Democrats and the Conservatives, had paramilitary armies; the Social Democrats’ Schutzbund was now declared illegal but still operative as civil war broke out.
In February 1934 several members of the Schutzbund were executed, the Social Democratic party was outlawed and many of its members were imprisoned or emigrated.
On 1 May 1934, the Austrofascists imposed a new constitution (“Maiverfassung”) which cemented Dollfuss’s power but on 25 July he was assassinated in a Nazi coup attempt
His successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, (see right) struggled to keep Austria independent as “the better German state”, but on 12 March 1938, German troops occupied the country while Austrian Nazis took over government.
On 13 March 1938, the Anschluss of Austria was officially declared.
Two days later Hitler, a native of Austria, proclaimed the “re-unification” of his home country with the rest of Germany on Vienna’s Heldenplatz.
He established a plebiscite confirming the union with Germany in April 1938.
Austria was incorporated into the Third Reich and ceased to exist as an independent state.
Vienna fell on 13 April 1945, during the Soviet Vienna Offensivejust before the total collapse of the Third Reich.
Karl Renner and Adolf Schärf (Socialist Party of Austria [Social Democrats and Revolutionary Socialists]), Leopold Kunschak (Austria’s People’s Party [former Christian Social People’s Party]) and Johann Koplenig (Communist Party of Austria) declared Austria’s secession from the Third Reich by the Declaration of Independence on 27 April 1945 and set up a provisional governmentin Vienna under state Chancellor Renner the same day, with the approval of the victorious Red Army and backed by Stalin.
At the end of April, most of Western and Southern Austria still was under Nazi rule.
On 1 May 1945, the federal constitution of 1929, which had been terminated by dictator Dollfuss on 1 May 1934, was declared valid again.
Total Austrian military deaths from 1939–1945 are estimated at 260,000.
Much like Germany, Austria was divided into British, French, Soviet and American zones and governed by the Allied Commission for Austria.
As forecast in the Moscow Declaration in 1943, there was a subtle difference in the treatment of Austria by the Allies.
The Austrian Government, consisting of Social Democrats, Conservatives and Communists (until 1947) and residing in Vienna, which was surrounded by the Soviet zone, was recognised by the Western Allies in October 1945 after some doubts that Renner could be Stalin’s puppet. Thereby the creation of a separate Western Austrian government and the division of the country could be avoided. Austria, in general, was treated as though it had been originally invaded by Germany and liberated by the Allies.
On 15 May 1955, after talks which lasted for years and were influenced by the Cold War, Austria regained full independence by concluding the Austrian State Treaty with the Four Occupying Powers.
On 26 October 1955, after all occupation troops had left, Austria declared its “permanent neutrality” by an act of parliament, which remains to this day.
Following a referendum in 1994, at which consent reached a majority of two thirds, the country became a member of the European Union on 1 January 1995.