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The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria

Updated on October 18, 2009
Roman Ruins in Central Vienna
Roman Ruins in Central Vienna

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria - Beginnings

Modern-day Vienna, circa 500 - 15 BC., was little more than a small town inhabited by a local tribe known as the Vendi.

By 9 AD a strong Roman garrison of Vindobona had been established at this strategic meeting point of two great highways ; one crossing Europe via the Danube, the other joining the Baltic to Italy, and the Romans brought uninterrupted peace for 250 yrs.  Following the fall of the Roman Empire the Dark Ages saw the era of the Huns, Goths, and Visigoths etc.  The Avars, notably, took Austria before being routed by Charlemagne.

In 795 AD, the settlement was integrated into the Carolingian Empire.

From the 10th century onwards, the prime position of its site made the growing city the focus of dynastic rule.

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – Imperial Beginnings

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – Imperial Times

From 976 AD the Babenburg Dynasty governed, establishing Vienna as a staging point for armies’ en-route to fight the medieval Holy Crusades.  The German family’s failure to produce a bloodline male heir in 1246 AD led to a bitter dispute with the Pope in Rome concerning the position and authority of the Church in the State.

The resulting decline in fortune and prestige encouraged enemies with Papal backing to agitate, and in 1273 AD the Babenburgs were finally overthrown by the powerful Habsburg family, who were to remain in power until the changing new world order brought about by World War 1.

Staunchly Catholic, the Habsburgs granted Vienna its first semi-independent mayor and city ‘burgher’ administration in the 1275 Municipal Charter.

Creating strong territorial alliances through astute, political inter-marriage, the Habsburgs were able to strengthen their position by networking favours and hold the city, twice, in the face of overwhelming odds against the Turkish “infidel”.

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – Turkish Invasion

In 1526, the great Turkish Sultan Suleyman “the Magnificent” crushed and captured Budapest leaving only Vienna barring his path into the West.  In 1529, with an army of 120,000, he laid siege to the city, but fierce opposition from the city’s 20,000 defenders rallied under the Count of Salm held the Turkish forces at bay for 18 days.  The early onset of winter snows finally broke the morale of the Turkish forces and Suleyman retreated in disgrace.

Heeding this early warning the city authorities concentrated their efforts and completed the city’s defensive walls in 1570.

The ravages of the Black Death in 1649 claimed between 90 - 150,000 lives, and led the rebel Hungarian leader Imre Tholoky to invite Turkish assistance in attacking Vienna.

In 1653 Mustapha the Black arrived with over 200,000 men.  Supremely confident, Mustapha also set up a makeshift brothel of concubines within his camp, protected by over 700 eunuchs !!  His delay in attack - probably due to these obvious distractions - gave the Habsburgs time to call-in Polish mercenaries, and in a surprise attack under Eugene of Savoy, rout the invader’s armies with little resistance.  ( For humiliating the Turkish people Mustapha was put to death by Sultan Mehmet 4th on Xmas Day 1653.)

Thus, Vienna twice saved Christianity from the ‘scourge of the heathen Infidel’.

Hapsburg Family Tree

Marie Therese holding a scroll called the Pragmatic Sanction that gave her the right to rule
Marie Therese holding a scroll called the Pragmatic Sanction that gave her the right to rule

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – Marie Therese

Under Empress Marie Therese (the Margaret Thatcher of her day ) Austria became a modern State. Only 23 yrs old when she came to power, her right to the throne was initially contested leading to the War of Austrian Succession (1740 - 1748). Despite foreign losses, over the next 40 years Marie Therese’s internal reforms were impressive. She reduced aristocratic privileges, overhauled the judicial and education systems, and financed breakthrough medical research. (No mean feat in a male dominated Eurocracy but she dominated her ministers and generals by force of will.) All the more impressive given that she produced 16 children (including Marie Antoinette) while running one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe. However, also during her reign, Austria was under constant pressure from Frederick the Great of Prussia and defeated (along with Allies France & Russia) in the Seven Years’ War (1756 - 63) by the Prussian/British forces.

During her reign, from 1740 - 1780, such was Vienna’s popularity that the population increased from 88,000 to 175,000.

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – Napoleon

The Habsburg’s rule was interrupted, as was most of Europe, when Napoleon’s ‘Grand Army’ took Vienna in 1804/5, after crushing the Austrian Army at Austerlitz, and as elsewhere, Napoleonic favours affected the balance of aristocratic family’s privileges.  The ‘Code Napoleon’ law reforms were adopted and a new ‘middle’ class of merchants took shape.

Following Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in 1813, a new era began under Chancellor Metternich : the Beidermeier era, reflecting a shift in the balance of power ushering in the Industrial age.  Vienna became a bourgeois, police state.

Emperor Franz Josef heralded the Golden age of Austria and Vienna
Emperor Franz Josef heralded the Golden age of Austria and Vienna
Statue of Mozart in Vienna
Statue of Mozart in Vienna
Statue of Strauss in Vienna
Statue of Strauss in Vienna

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – Golden Age

Austria’s ‘Golden Age’ came on the back of this modernising period.

Following the Revolution of 1848 when he served under Gen Radetsky, at only 18 years old Franz Joseph of the Habsburg dynasty ascended to power. In an incredible 68-year reign he brought the enlightenment of the Renaissance to Vienna, despite being an absolutist despot in government. Following defeat in the Seven Week’s War with Prussia - which established Prussia as the predominant German power - FJ increasingly relied on the reputation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, symbolised by the famous two-headed eagle.

[The Austro-Hungarian Empire is a generic term which refers to the spiritual idea of a rough collective of Eastern Germanic States providing a bulwark for the defence of the German nation and Christendom. It would be incorrect to call it simply Austria as over the centuries it referred to territories in Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania & Yugoslavia, accumulated by the dynasties of Babenburg & Habsburg around the nucleus of the “Ostmark” established in 976 AD. But the title itself is only of recent attribution, and represents only one phase of this venerable but singularly unstable organism.]

Through extensive patronage of the Arts, FJ succeeded in his dream to make Vienna the cultural capital of Europe. Composers, previously regarded as little more than talented urchins were encouraged to base themselves in Vienna and receive financial rewards for private performances in the new Opera House. The tranquil gardens of the city were offered as inspirational havens for like-minded artists to share and nurture their talents. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Wagner, and both Richard and Johaan Strauss shared the coffee houses and shady glades of the most bohemian city in Europe, as Vienna’s population swelled to 2 million and became, after London, Paris, and Berlin, the 4th largest city in Europe.

Franz Joseph did for Vienna and music, what the Medici’s had done for Florence and fine Art.

Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination triggered World War I
Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand whose assassination triggered World War I
Hitler here with Mussolini. Hitler was a young struggling artist that grew up in Vienna. This is before he went totally bonkers and wanted to kill everyone
Hitler here with Mussolini. Hitler was a young struggling artist that grew up in Vienna. This is before he went totally bonkers and wanted to kill everyone
Kurt Waldheim resigned as Chanellor of Austria in 1986 amid rumors of nazi war crimes
Kurt Waldheim resigned as Chanellor of Austria in 1986 amid rumors of nazi war crimes

The Complete History Of Vienna Capital Of Austria – 20th Century Turbulence


Franz Joseph’s successor, the Archduke Ferdinand, had little time to enjoy his predecessor’s legacy.  He was assassinated by a Serbian extremist in 1914 on a trip to Sarajevo examining the administration of the territory. Princip had planned the assassination long before, only the Archduke had failed to show  On seeing Ferdinand and his wife in a coffee shop, he took his chance and shot them both.

The assassination triggered demands for retribution, which in turn lead to Serbian sympathisers threatening retaliation against any heavy-handedness by Austria.  This in turn merely incensed the already offended Austrian dynasty, and the spiralling, tit-for-tat calling-in of favours, and family- or marriage-related alliances, lead to the outbreak of hostilities.

The result was World War 1.  And it’s legacy: the breakdown of the established Alliance-based balance of power in Europe.

Austria’s pro-Germanic alliance meant she ended the Great War on the losing side.

The consequence of the peace treaty for Vienna was the annexation of it’s territories from 435,000 sq miles to a mere 52,000 sq miles, and a reduction in population from 52 to only 6 million.

The consequence for the Nation was the formation of the Republic of Austria, and a drastic reduction in political and military influence in central Europe as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled.

High unemployment and inflation saw Austria overshadowed by the growth and industrial potential of her neighbour Germany, and Austrian politics became reduced to verbal opposition to the growth of Hitler’s Nazi Party in the 1930’s.

When Austrian Chancellor Dolfuss, an outspoken critic of Hitler, was assassinated in 1934 the writing was on the wall.  Out-gunned and overwhelmed the Austrians had little option but to sign the “Anschluss” (union) with Germany demanded by the Fuhrer.  And thus tied to the Nazi movement, Allied bombing of Vienna began in earnest in 1943.

World War 2 decimated Austria :- 20% of the buildings in Vienna were levelled ; 270,000 people were left homeless ; 12,000 Jews were deported from Vienna alone ; and with an estimated 600,000 lives lost, the city suffered the highest recorded death rate in Europe.

It is an often forgotten fact that post-war Vienna, like Berlin, was split into quadrants by the victorious Allies, and for 10 years occupied by military police from all four Powers.  Food shortages, unemployment, public accesses denied, and a 60-hour working week left the country traumatised and alienated.  Not until 1955 did the nation regain it’s sovereignty and declare itself a neutral State.

Neutrality has suited Austria, neutrality saw Austria become a meeting place for meetings of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, thus increasing her importance in Euro politics.

Ironically, in 1986, Kurt Waldheim was elected Chancellor of the AustrianRepublic.  Following accusations of being the perpetrator of Nazi war crimes during the War, he did not stand for re-election, and resigned his position.

My name is Robee Kann, for four years I was a tour guide throughout Europe. I loved my job and I would love to hear from you. You are most welcome to message me to say hello or request a hub about a European subject. Please look at my other hubs and leave a comment for me.

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      correction 5 years ago

      You may want to clarify the statement above that suggests Franz Josef invited Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart to Vienna to perform. They were all dead before he was even born and never "shared" anything with the other composers you mention (some of whom were born in Vienna anyway) .

      You write: " Composers, previously regarded as little more than talented urchins were encouraged to base themselves in Vienna and receive financial rewards for private performances in the new Opera House. The tranquil gardens of the city were offered as inspirational havens for like-minded artists to share and nurture their talents. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Wagner, and both Richard and Johaan Strauss shared the coffee houses and shady glades of the most bohemian city in Europe......"

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      Robee Kann 6 years ago

      Thanks for the kind feedback Justsilvie I appreciate it

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      Justsilvie 6 years ago

      Well done Hub. Enjoyed reading it.

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      Robee Kann 6 years ago

      Thanks mydeco for reading my History of Vienna page

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      mydeco 6 years ago from NY

      great family tree

      very short but informative article