Austrian Empire

gigatos | May 24, 2022


The Austrian Empire (in Hungarian Osztrák Birodalom) was established in 1804 as a hereditary monarchy over the Habsburg dominions, following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the formation of the first French Empire by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The first emperor of Austria was Francis I of Habsburg-Lorraine, who at the time also bore the title Emperor Elect of the Romans, which was abandoned in 1806 following the breakup of the Holy Roman Empire. To retain the imperial title he proclaimed himself emperor of Austria in his hereditary domains.

After some attempts at constitutional reform, there was an equalization of status with the Hungarian part of the kingdom (Ausgleich) in 1867, and thus the Empire of Austria has been known since that time as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1740 she became Archduchess of Austria Maria Theresa of Habsburg (the first and only woman to inherit the title) along with the title Queen of Hungary and Bohemia. After the War of Austrian Succession, unable to accede to the office of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire because of the Salic Law, she had her husband crowned in 1745 and upon his death in 1765, her son Joseph II of Habsburg-Lorraine, who, only upon his mother”s death in 1780, thus became Archduke of Austria and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.


The Austrian Empire originated in 1804, when the Napoleonic Wars had led to the final collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, which would dissolve two years later (1806). The then Emperor Francis II did not intend to be stripped of the prestigious title of emperor (even if entirely formal, since it did not allow him any authority over the princes of the Holy Roman Empire after the Thirty Years” War), nor did he want to be outdone by his French rival. He thus decided to self-proclaim himself Emperor of Austria (until then his titles-other than Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire-were Archduke of Austria and King of Hungary). The newly proclaimed Empire united precisely the dynastic territories of the House of Austria.The dynastic territories consisted of imperial states of the Holy Roman German Empire and states not belonging to it. They were organized into autonomous entities with their own administrations.

The states of the Empire belonging to the allodial possessions of the House of Austria were part of the Austrian Province and consisted of the following

Anterior Austria (Vorderösterreich) (1376-1786) divided into the various districts (Oberämter)

States outside the empire:

The Napoleonic Wars

Like the rest of Europe, the Austrian Empire was deeply shaken by the French Revolution and the ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte. Fear of the repercussions that French revolutionary ideology might have on its subjects made Austria an implacable enemy of Napoleonic France. Emperor Francis I led the first anti-French coalition against Napoleon”s France, and suffered the two serious defeats of Ulm and Austerlitz.On this occasion the Austrian Empire ceded Venetia to France. Advised by Prince Metternich, already serving since 1801, Francis I again declared war on France; Napoleon, together with his army, reached the gates of Vienna, and forced the Austrians to sign the humiliating Peace of Schönbrunn, by which they ceded, the Tyrol, Galicia, the Illyrian provinces, and the cities of Trieste and Rijeka.

After the severe defeat he suffered, Prime Minister Metternich decided to change tactics and wanted to seek an ally in Napoleon, waiting for the moment of revenge. To seal the pact, Francis II officially renounced the title of Holy Roman Emperor and gave Napoleon Marie Louise of Habsburg-Lorraine in marriage. Following the disastrous defeats of the French at Leipzig (1813) and Waterloo (1815), the Congress of Vienna was established (the territorial changes and agreements that distinguished the Napoleonic era caused many changes in the geography of the Austrian Empire, but these were mostly transitory in nature).

The Restoration

In October 1814, the congress opened in Vienna, bringing together all the heads of state of Europe. The congress envisioned the restoration of the old European regimes and a return to the political-territorial situation prior to the Napoleonic Wars and the Revolution, according to the principles of “balance” and “legitimacy.” Austria, regained possession of all territories in Italy, Poland and the Balkans, and formed the Holy Alliance with Russia and Prussia, whose task was mutual defense in the event of pro-French revolts or national independence.

Francis II of Austria, deeply influenced by Prime Minister Metternich, continued his centralizing and traditionalist policies, reducing the state to a suffocating despotism; this set the stage for the revolutionary uprisings of 1848. After the death of Francis I, the epileptic son Ferdinand I of Austria took the imperial throne, who, unable to rule as he was, allowed himself to be influenced more than his father by Prince Metternich, on whom the people poured their discontent. During the Restoration in Austria there was the Biedermeier period, or a period of peace that would last until 1848. During this period throughout the Empire dissent grew because of new nationalistic, liberal and democratic sentiments; many members of the upper echelons of Hungarian society began to demand greater autonomy, the Italians freedom from the Austrian yoke, and almost all other ethnic groups claimed their own independence, or as in the case of Bohemia greater autonomy from Vienna.

1848 was a year of general revolt for the Austrian Empire. In Vienna, the capital, where the population had always supported Habsburg policy, students and many teachers started a revolt against the authority and continued centralization of power in the hands of the emperor, demanding a democratic constitution and the ouster of Metternich from the imperial chancellery. The army immediately intervened, while the royals were secretly transferred to Innsbruck. Initially the demands were all granted, including that Metternich be dismissed (who resigned, saying “if it is for the good of Austria I will be happy about it”). Equality of all subjects before the law was also granted.

Thereafter, despite initial promises and concessions made by the emperor to the Vienna rioters, the old imperial policy of absolutism and suppression of the revolutionary aspirations of the citizenry was resumed.

General Windisch-Graetz was called in to liberate Vienna, which was still in the hands of the insurgents, and he was flanked by 40,000 soldiers from the Croatian Jelacic: in a short time these surrounded the capital and captured it. In Italy meanwhile, Field Marshal Radetzky fought Italian insurgents flanked by the Piedmontese: these were defeated and Austrian troops were able to resettle throughout the Lombardy-Venetia Kingdom.

While in Austria the aim was to reduce the power of the emperor, in the predominantly Slavic areas, such as Bohemia and Carniola, the aim was to curb the continued Germanization of the territory and population. As in Vienna, independence uprisings led by Bohemian youth broke out in Prague, but these were stifled in blood.

In Hungary, however, there was a genuine declaration of independence by Kossuth. Several Hungarian state organs and an army were immediately created: with this declaration Hungary had entered into war with Austria. The latter, with Russian support, succeeded in encircling the Hungarians: the Austrian imperial army advanced from Bohemia and Croatia toward Budapest, while the Russian army moved from Transylvania.

Under the new prime minister Schwarzenberg, after a few months, in 1849 imperial troops managed to get the better of the Hungarian army, which, encircled from both east and west, had to sign the surrender in August 1849. The repression culminated in the hangings that took place in Arad in late September.

The Crimean War and the end of the Holy Alliance

In 1853 Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire in order to expand its domains as far as the Bosporus and the Slavic regions of the Balkans; France and Britain, which saw the safety of Turkey threatened (the dismemberment of which would create a huge vacuum in the European political scene), opened hostilities with Russia, which counted on the help of Austria. Franz Joseph, however, not wanting to boost Russian expansion and antagonize the West, remained neutral toward all the states involved in the conflict, but mobilized his army and massed it in Galicia, Bukovina and Transylvania: consequently, in order to discourage a possible Austrian intervention, Tsar Nicholas I was forced to deploy many troops, so as to weaken the open front against France, Turkey and Britain. The Russian Empire”s defeat was not long in coming, and the surrender to the allies took place in 1856; the tsar was deeply embittered by the behavior of the Austrian ally, which not only did not help Russia but also sided, albeit not formally, with the Western powers: this signaled the end of the Holy Alliance and the beginning of the inevitable fall of reactionism.

The “Compromise”

In 1848 Ferdinand I abdicated in favor of Franz Joseph, who had fought alongside General Radetzky. The new emperor, in an attempt to centralize the state, created an efficient bureaucracy and a well-organized army that could control the vast borders of the empire.The problem that had arisen in Italy did not end, however, with General Radetzky”s victories against the Piedmontese, as the Milanese and the Venetians aimed at union with the Kingdom of Sardinia and the creation of a unitary Italian state. Thus after continuous provocations by the Piedmontese, Franz Joseph waged war in 1859 against Piedmont, which, protected by Napoleon III, received help from French troops who landed at the port of Genoa. The Austrian generals, unsure of how to proceed, stayed on the defensive, suffering severe defeats at Magenta and Solferino following which the imperial army retreated back to the Quadrilateral, ceding Lombardy to the Piedmontese while retaining Venetia.

As a result of Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck”s expansionist policy, Prussia-guarantor of the union of Germany into a single nation-state-struggled with the Austrian Empire, which simultaneously had to face a number of German kingdoms and the Kingdom of Italy itself (strategically allied with Prussia). The war was fought on two separate fronts: the Italian front constituted the Third War of Independence, where the Austrians defeated the Italians at Custoza and Lissa, and yet this victory was nullified by the disastrous defeat on the Austro-Prussian front, which ended with the final victory of the Prussians at the Battle of Sadowa. As a result of this defeat, which entailed heavy territorial losses, and subsequent pressure from the Hungarian nobility and the Magyar people, Emperor Franz Joseph signed the Compromise that replaced the Austrian Empire with a dual monarchy, namely Austria-Hungary, formed by the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary.

The Great War and the end of the Empire

In 1867 Franz Joseph signed the Ausgleich, that is, a compromise that divided the Habsburg Empire into the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, which politically and militarily were united, but in terms of internal politics and administration were two separate entities.This made peace between the two dominant nationalities in the Austrian Empire, namely the Austrians and the Magyars, who now found themselves sharing command of the same state. As a result of the compromise, the imperial expansionist policy shifted from Germany to the Balkans, where it found itself in conflict of interest with Russia, which like Austria was expanding in the region to the detriment of the Ottoman Empire.The political situation that had arisen in Europe at the end of the 19th century forced the Austrian Empire, for reasons of convenience, to sign the Triple Alliance alongside its historical enemies Germany and Italy.

In 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, World War I erupted, triggering a complex mechanism of alliances among European states, which saw the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany) on one side, the Western Powers (France, the United Kingdom and Italy) and Russia on the other: Italy had actually been an ally of Austria for about thirty years but sided with the opposite front. The Austrians, a weak link in the alliance with the Germans, alternated defeats with some sterile successes over the Allied powers, but what should have been a blitzkrieg turned into a wearisome trench warfare that ended up progressively weakening the already ailing Austrian army; despite this, Austria-Hungary, thanks to direct German intervention on the Italian front, would later defeat the Italians at Caporetto, causing them to retreat as far as the Piave River.

The armies of the two great Central Powers succeeded for four years in defending their borders from counteroffensives by France, Russia, Italy and Great Britain, which had orchestrated a massive naval blockade against Austria and Germany; this set off tensions in both countries, which, particularly in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, turned into full-fledged revolts; in fact, the many nationalities included in the empire decided to take their independence by force. With the outbreak in the last year of the war of such revolts and the defeat of Vittorio Veneto, Austria found itself unable to continue the war and signed the armistice in 1918, which, however, did nothing to solve the country”s internal problems.By 1916 Franz Joseph had died, and he was succeeded by Charles I, who lost the war (1918), following the general revolt of the nationalities of the Empire, and was condemned to exile on the island of Madeira, and the Habsburg dominions were permanently divided into independent states.

The famous motto A.E.I.O.U. gives an idea of the extent to which the rulers of the House of Habsburg aspired to ever-increasing power that could unite all of Europe under their dynasty.

Translatable as: It is up to Austria to rule over the whole world.

In German the interpretation circulated:

But it was widespread in Europe to parody that motto, rendered as “Austria Erit In Orbe Ultima” (Austria will be last among nations).

The Austrian Empire, was divided into various administrative bodies called diets, these could meet in council in the capital to discuss problems and issues.Each diet elected its own representatives who had the task of explaining and discussing events before the central government in Vienna.The diets mostly served as intermediaries between the various ethnic groups in the Empire and the dominant German majority. At the head of the state was the Emperor, who from 1867 also assumed the title of King of Hungary.His decisions had to comply with the rules of the constitution, which could in turn be discussed and changed.

At the beginning of its establishment, the Metternich-led Empire took on a conservative and reactionary aspect, but after the defeats suffered in the Italian wars of independence and the Austro-Prussian War, Emperor Franz Joseph was “forced” by circumstances to implement liberal reforms with a democratic air, granting his subjects a constitution and a parliament, which did not, however, have influence over the sovereign as was the case in Britain or other Western countries.

Hungary unlike the other regions of the Austrian Empire, was divided into counties, an institution that the kingdom maintained even under Habsburg rule, as the decentralization of power in the centuries before 1800 allowed for this; but this was not only a matter of the “feudal backwardness” of the empire, but was a clever political move that Ferdinand II made in his time, for by maintaining the structure of the Magyar state he was able to gain the support of the aristocracy, in which all the power of the Hungarian kingdom was concentrated. However, it was precisely through the maintenance of this institution that the emperor himself helped to keep alive the consciousness of a Magyar nation, which came to fruition in the uprisings of 1848.

Foreign Policy

The policy of the Austrian Empire, especially from 1804 to 1866, aimed at a gradual assertion of the Habsburg state in Germany and Italy, and a steady centralization of power in the hands of the Emperor. The Napoleonic wars made the Austrian Empire one of the “pillar” states of Europe, this allowed it to play a leading role in European politics, in fact Austria tried until its defeat against Prussia in 1866, to expand its rule throughout Germany, but Prussian Chancellor Bismarck excluded the Austrian Empire from the German political scene, first with the customs union and then with the establishment of the North Germanic Confederation.

The Habsburgs were no longer able to reassert their power in Germany, as they had to deal with the numerous nationalistic rebellions that had spread throughout the empire, which weakened the entire Austrian imperial policy, which had to abandon permanently the idea of a Habsburg-led Germany and pushed the empire to a gradual southward expansion at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Austria urged the Slavic nationalities of the Balkans, who were subjugated to the Turks, to revolt, seeking to infiltrate the Balkan political scene in their turn, but this found numerous snags as another power aspired to dominate the region, the Russian Empire. The Empire”s main rivals were Prussia and Russia; with the former (which in 1866, had defeated the Austrians at Sadowa) it entered into a defensive alliance along with Italy, while with the latter (both members of the Holy Alliance) it was in constant conflict of interest for dominance over the Balkans.The Empire of Austria, continued to exist until 1918, but from 1867 it ruled the Habsburg dominions along with Hungary

In Italy, Austria tried to impose itself as early as the 15th century, when it had its first clashes with Venice, and with the states of northern Italy.After the Napoleonic Wars, the Austrian Empire regained all the power it had previously lost to Napoleon; it controlled: Lombardy, Venetia, Emilia, Tuscany, and Trentino; it was unchallenged hegemony in northern Italy, but this hegemony began to decline as early as 1848, when Lombardy-Venetia revolted against the Habsburgs. These revolts were urged on by Piedmont, which aspired to reunite Italy under the House of Savoy, and by a new vigorous nationalist sentiment that was sweeping across Europe.Piedmont and Austria finally came to clash in the mid-19th century, in the Italian Wars of Independence, which, with the defeat of the Empire, marked the abandonment of the expansionist policy in Italy by the Habsburgs.Austria and Italy, however, soon recomposed the frictions that had come about, both joining the Triple Alliance.

The Holy Alliance was the pillar on which the foreign and domestic policy of the Habsburg Empire from 1815 to 1853 rested, which aimed to stifle with a reactionary (especially counter-revolutionary) policy future revolutionary or at least national-liberal uprisings that would arise from the Congress of Vienna onward. This effectively applied its authority against the 1848 uprisings in Europe and against Kossuth”s Hungary; the alliance, however, was broken as a result of the partisan neutrality achieved by the Austrian Empire in the Crimean War, where it lacked support for Tsar Nicholas I”s Russia.

Multiethnic empire

The Austrian Empire, along with the Russian Empire, was perhaps the most ethnically diverse of all the continental empires that existed.It was precisely this ethnic problem (“Austria”s Achilles” heel”), which led to the defeat of the powerful Habsburg Monarchy during World War I.The Austrian Empire, divided since 1867 into an Austrian and a Hungarian part, turned out to consist of twelve national entities, often in conflict with each other. In the Austrian part the Germans were the largest nationality; in Bohemia and Moravia the Czechs were in the majority; there were provinces with Polish and Ukrainian populations (Galicia, Lodomeria, and Bukovina) and, in the southern regions, Slovenian, Italian (in Trentino, Istria, and Trieste), Serbian, and Croatian.

In the Hungarian part (Kingdom of Hungary), Magyars were the largest ethnic group, although without reaching the majority of the population. The Kingdom of Hungary also included two Slavic regions, Slovakia and Croatia, and Transylvania, inhabited mostly by Romanians but with strong German and Magyar minorities. Finally, there were substantial Jewish communities in the Empire. The problem of nationalities from the end of the nineteenth century became even more serious because of the Habsburg policy of expansion into the Balkans at the expense of the Ottoman Empire.In 1878 Austria occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in 1908 proceeded to annex it.

The main conflicts and disagreements were among the Empire”s Slavic populations, namely Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, and Poles. The Slavs demanded from the Emperor the same importance and influence as the German and Magyar factor in the state.Anti-Hapsburg uprisings were formed with the appearance on the European political scene, of an independent Slavic state, Serbia, which by defeating the Ottoman Empire had gained full sovereignty.The Serbs, encouraged the other pan-Slavic peoples of the Habsburg Empire to revolt, and form a large independent Slavic state. This went as planned, with most of the South Slavs distancing themselves from Vienna, while the North Slavs, namely the Bohemians, remained loyal to the Emperor until the end.Following these events, Austria tried in every way to counter the growing Slavic nationalism, especially in Bosnia. The climax was reached in Sarajevo, when a Serbian student shot the heir to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.Furious at what had happened, the Austrian government imposed an Ultimatum on Serbia: an immediate end to anti-Habsburg movements; the Serbs refused, so Austria-Hungary, waged war on Serbia, and the immense domino of alliances created in Europe was activated, leading to World War I.

The Magyars and Bohemians were the second predominant nationalities in the Austrian Empire.The Magyars considered themselves independent of Austria, bound to her only by common sovereignty; they saw Austria more as an economic partner than a superior entity; in fact, the Magyar nobles always wanted to retain their ancient rights and their constitution.Following the formation of the Austrian Empire in 1804, Hungary was incorporated into a larger Habsburg state, with Austria at its head. Jealous of preserving their national identity, the Magyars revolted several times against the Empire; these revolts reached a climax in 1848, when the creation of an independent Magyar state was achieved, albeit briefly, thanks to Lajos Kossuth.The tenacious Hungarian national pride that never faded even after the suppression of 1848 forced the Emperor to sign a Compromise in 1867, by which the Habsburg Empire was divided into the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary.

Bohemia had been since the Renaissance a Habsburg possession, whose independence was taken away as a result of the Thirty Years” War.Since then the Bohemians have always fought faithfully alongside the Habsburgs, who, however, gave a status quo to Hungary, neglecting Bohemia, which felt equal to its Magyar neighbor and deeply offended by Austrian rule. The aversion to this situation was evident when in 1848 the Bohemian-imperial army, took the field, fighting to victory against the Magyar insurgents.The loyalty shown by the Bohemians to the Emperor, was perhaps due to the continued Germanization of Bohemia, which began in the distant Middle Ages.

The culture of the Austrian Empire varies according to the populations that comprise it, the major ones Germanized in such a way as to create one great Central European culture.The Empire was a meeting point for painters, men of letters, generals, thinkers and great architects, thanks to its position as a bridge between the Western and Eastern (Orthodox and Muslim) worlds. Throughout the Modern Age, the greatest minds of Europe met in Vienna, which helped develop the culture of the entire country, making it the Rome of the Danube.Here the great Enlightenmentists met in the salons of the Habsburgs, while listening to the brilliant notes of great musicians such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.The best artists and architects of Europe gathered at the Emperor”s court, who made the Habsburg capital always stay at the forefront of the arts.

Austria and Bohemia were the two most culturally developed countries of the Habsburg Empire, and thanks to their great artistic heritage and wonderful cities (Vienna and Prague), they contributed to the birth of a new and avant-garde Central European culture. They were the birthplaces of great artists, men of letters and thinkers, who influenced not only the culture of the Empire, but became famous throughout the world.This “Central European culture” is expressed mainly in architecture, in fact by the end of the 19th century Austrian and Bohemian architecture had many similar features. There was in Austria the birth of secessionist architecture, which originated in Vienna and would influence Austrian culture until the first half of the 20th century.In Hungary and the Slavic countries this cultural avant-garde was less; although influenced by neighboring Austria, Hungary retained medieval cultures and traditions, which seemed to be ingrained throughout the country, except in the capital Budapest, which by the mid-19th century was on the level of Prague and Vienna.In fact, many Hungarian artists and literati moved to Vienna, where they were able to meet and compare themselves with many other artists.

The Viennese secession

The introduction of these new concepts into 19th-century culture marked the sudden collapse of the academic values and teachings that had guided artistic production throughout the century. Academicism had represented the splendors of the aristocracy, especially in Central Europe where the monarchical tradition was strongest.

Industrial development in Germany and Austria fostered the emergence of a social system based on the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie that would soon replace the old, worn-out aristocracy. The liberal bourgeoisie adhering to socialist ideas attracted the sympathies of the lower classes; it was the first sign of the end of the central empires.

Vienna in the late 19th century is the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the mid-century uprisings quelled by Franz Joseph and the takeoff of the industrial economy, a period of relative political calm is experienced. The city is preparing to become a metropolis, the center of an empire made up of diverse peoples, so willing to accept all styles, including regional ones. Vienna must be adapted to serve the needs of the new bourgeoisie. The walls of the old city are torn down, and the urban radius is expanded. The expansion area is called the Ring (Ring). The buildings, dwellings and businesses of the new bourgeoisie, which overlook the Ring are eclectic in style, have modern and innovative steel and concrete structures, but are covered with decorative apparatuses in neo-Gothic, neoclassical, Renaissance, and so on, with citations of individual episodes of the art of the past. Theaters, museums, and public facilities are also built on the Ring to meet the needs of bourgeois socialites.

In this climate of social and economic renewal, a group of artists in 1881 began meeting regularly in a café to expound new ideas about art, industrial production, and aesthetics. In 1896 forty artists led by painter Gustav Klimt declared a split from the Künstlerhaus, the powerful official association of Viennese artists, which did not recognize the new group. In May 1897 Klimt along with 17 other members declare secession from the Künstlerhaus. Joseph Hoffman joined the secession in 1898 and Otto Wagner in 1899. In turn, another group also broke away from the Künstlerhaus without achieving outcomes to be considered by historical critics.With the establishment of the Secession, Viennese artists succeeded in shaking the foundations of academicism and gained popularity with the new bourgeoisie, who were to be the main patrons.

The main merit of the Secessionist movement is not that it was a forerunner of the modern movement, but that it fought the falsehood of the eclectic style. It is logical that Secession as well as Jugendstil, Art Nouveau, Modernism and Art Nouveau, could not become the new style of the twentieth century either because of the rapidity of the phenomenon or because of its deep ties with the capitalist bourgeoisie.

The Secession”s greatest period of achievement lasted about six years, then the harsh criticism coming from many quarters naturally exhausted the movement.In the six years of the Secessionist group”s activity a positive balance remains, the construction of the Secession building, twenty exhibitions, the publication of Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), are the tangible results, but beyond this there is the awareness of having become the leader of the floral style in Europe. The inspirer of the secession is Gustav Klimt painter and decorator, a true reformer of the applied arts in Austria; besides him the leading figures are Olbrich, Wagner, Hoffman.

Morphology and hydrography

The Austrian Empire was mainly developed in Central Europe and the Balkans, bordered by Germany and Russia to the north, the Ottoman Empire to the south (following the Balkan Wars, it would border Serbia to the south) and Italy, Germany and Switzerland to the west and Romania to the east; the furthest provinces of the Empire were Vorarlberg to the west and Transylvania to the east. The Empire included several mountain ranges:the Eastern Alps,the Dinaric Alps, the Transylvanian Alps, the Carpathians, and the Sudetenland, whose main peaks were: the Großglockner (3797m), the Tatras (2655m), the Moldoveanu (2543m), and the Durmitor (2522m).

The largest plains were in Hungary (Hungarian Plain) and Italy (Venetian Plain and Po Valley).The main lakes were Lake Balaton and Lake Constance; the only outlet to the sea that the Habsburg state possessed was the Adriatic Sea. The Empire was traversed by numerous waterways, the main ones of which were the Danube with its tributaries, and the long rivers that flowed down from Bohemia to the North Sea.The main river courses in the Empire were:

Cities and demographics

The Austrian Empire based its strength on its large cities and the many people who populated them, of various ethnic groups and with different customs and habits.The largest city in the Empire was Vienna, which in 1848 exceeded 1.5 million inhabitants, followed by Prague, Milan, Trieste, Budapest and Krakow, in which the largest number of the Habsburg state”s inhabitants was concentrated, also a good part of the population resided in the countryside. The capital, Vienna, was at that time one of the most populous cities in Europe, where important commercial and political business was conducted between the various states, it served as a crossroads for the East and in particular for Constantinople, from which many exotic and very high quality products were imported.

The major cities of the Austrian Empire were:

Composition of the Empire of Austria

The army of the Austrian Empire was one of the most numerous and powerful in Europe.It fought numerous battles against the French during the Napoleonic wars where it was defeated several times, and against Italians and Prussians in the first and second Italian wars of independence.In 1800, the Austrian army stationed 92. 000 soldiers in Germany, 92,000 in Italy, 8,000 in Dalmatia, and possessed a reserve of about 15,000, often militia or volunteers.Along the entire southeastern border line with the Ottoman Empire, a few thousand border guards were stationed, whose task was to guard and defend the Empire”s frontier.

A territorial militia, Landwehr, was also established; it had the task of defending Austrian territory; it was the main unit of the army in the second half of the 19th century.Beginning in 1848 following the uprisings of that same year, a city guard was created; it was a unit outside the imperial army and had the task of defending the city from the abusive authority of the emperor.The elite of the army was the Austrian Imperial Guard, which constituted the K.u.k. (an abbreviation used during the Dual Monarchy to refer to public buildings).As a whole, the Austrian army theoretically numbered (1859 guideline figures) 800,000 men in wartime and 420,000 in peacetime of whom 320,000 infantrymen, 50,000 cavalrymen, 30,000 artillerymen and 20,000 service personnel. The various departments of the army were sometimes referred to by the name of the commander, sometimes by a traditional name, and in other cases by the traditional name of the owner or honorary commander. Almost all were marked with a number.

As with other armies, sutlers and washerwomen, in drill and war, followed their battalions with their own wagons and in some cases even wore a uniform.Discipline in the army was very harsh but clearly explained to the soldiers and, according to regulations, in the mother tongue. The doctrine of employment was tested and applied by continuous and prolonged drills after careful study; the regulations of the smaller departments, from battalion inclusive downward, were very detailed and printed in the various languages.

The armament was excellent; individual armament, until 1855 when the Lombard and Venetian factories were closed to eliminate competition, was of predominantly Italian construction. Perhaps artillery pieces (cannons and howitzers) were inferior to those of Piedmont and France but enjoyed greater celerity of firing.Overall, the imperial-king army was a firm instrument, serious, prepared, mobile, disciplined, cared for by all, obedient to regulations but capable of autonomous initiatives at all levels, very sensitive to the morale factor and responsive according to the ability of superior officers. The multiethnic composition of the empire then, while terribly complicating the administrative aspect, provided the army with a whole range of excellent special troops, such as the Tyrolean Jager, Croatian Grenzer, Hussars and Hungarian Grenadiers, amounting moreover to significant numbers in the overall force.

The structure of the Austrian army

Supreme command was concentrated in the person of the emperor. The Minister of War at the camp also assumed the actual command of the army. At the emperor”s disposal were:

The supreme command was likened to a modern ministry of war. The general staff comprised 4 marshals, 265 generals, 125 aides-de-camp, the General Staff Corps (126 officers in peacetime and 180 in wartime), and the Corps of Topographical Engineers.The army (Law for the Army dated Sept. 27, 1850) was ordered into 4 armies (the 2nd for Italy) each comprising 3-4 Army Corps, each on 2-4 Divisions. Each division was divided into 2-3 brigades. A brigade normally included an artillery battery and 2 regiments, each subdivided into several battalions in turn consisting of 6 companies. Each division usually had a cavalry regiment and each brigade also had a hunter battalion.

Units of the Austrian army in 1805:

The army grew considerably larger after the abolition of Napoleonic rule. Just look at its significantly changed values in 1859, when the imperial army had 619,000:

Units of the Austrian army in 1859:

In addition to another 79,000 units as follows:

Military ranks

Officers in the Austrian army came minimally from the academy and largely from the wards, the so-called cadets (from Latin caput, then French cadet = chief).NCOs were drawn from the oldest and most capable soldiers and could be sent to attend special courses in order to be promoted to officer.The conscription of troop personnel varied according to need; compulsory conscription was in force, but there were many exemptions.

Military ranks of the Austrian army in 1807:

The Catholic Church in the Austrian Empire had little political relevance, and relations between the Habsburgs and the pontiffs gradually deteriorated, partly as a result of the liberal reforms carried out by the predecessors of the Austrian emperors such as Joseph II. In practice since the 18th century, the Habsburg state no longer recognized any political privileges of the Catholic Church.This was necessary, since the Habsburg Empire was a mosaic of ethnic groups, practicing different religions.The anticlerical reforms were also aimed at a more tolerant policy toward minorities, reducing privileges and discrimination.The Austrian Empire and the Catholic Church never made peace, since the times and the new secular ideals of the 19th century did not allow it. However, the Austrian situation reflected a widespread phenomenon throughout Europe.In Austrian lands the Catholic Church counted on the following dioceses:

The economy of the Austrian Empire was based on the trade that flowed along the Danube, the flourishing agriculture of the Hungarian plains and the Po Valley and the Danube Valley, and the large industries that were mostly located in the large cities. Agriculture was still the prevailing activity throughout the Empire, and it was the backbone on which the supply of the army depended.The largest agricultural areas of the Habsburg state were located in the Danube Valley and the vast Hungarian plain.In the mountains and hills, animal husbandry and pastoralism were practiced, on which the locals lived mainly.

The main industries were concentrated in the suburbs of large cities such as: Vienna, Graz, Budapest, Linz, Trieste, Prague, and Krakow.Austrian and Austro-Hungarian industry experienced its greatest development during the Arms Race of the early twentieth century.The Austrian Empire”s main economic partners were Germany, with which it entered into the Triple Alliance, and the Kingdom of Hungary, with which it signed the Compromise in 1867. The Empire also engaged in trade with neighboring countries, such as Italy and the Ottoman Empire, although with the latter it always had a bad political relationship.In exchange for profitable trade, the Austrian Empire offered excellent engineers and architects, who put a lot of effort into the construction of major architectural works abroad.

The Danube

The Danube was and still is one of Austria”s most important economic assets; the Austrian Empire controlled almost all of it, which made possible a prosperous river trade.From the Danube trade was carried out with the German principalities, Switzerland and the Balkan states, which were then heavily influenced by the Empire.Although on a smaller scale, there was a flourishing trade flowing along the main arteries of the Danube.


The Gulden or guilder was the currency of the Austrian Empire between 1754 and 1892. The name Gulden was printed on Austrian banknotes in German, while coins were minted using the term Florin. The name Forint was used on coins and banknotes in Hungarian.With the introduction of the Konventionstaler in 1754, the forint was defined as a half Konventionstaler and therefore equivalent to 1

The Congress of Vienna

The Congress provided the pretext for a series of grandiose festivities by which the aristocracy and rulers sought to renew the regretted splendors of the 18th century, and which attracted to Vienna a hybrid crowd of princes, aristocrats, beggars, spies, and pickpockets. All flocked to the most musical of European capitals .The conscientious, conservative, and rather good-natured Emperor of Austria, Francis I, was a host of extraordinary generosity, even if it meant serious consequences for the Austrian treasury. The festivities committee organized for the countless guests a rich program of balls, sledding and skating competitions, hunting parties, gala shows, horse contests and concerts, and sumptuous banquets.While so much energy was wasted in the fulfillment of worldly duties, the Congress created a reputation for frivolity and irresponsibility.

In the battle of Solferino and San Martino

The bluish fog between the two fronts thinned a little…Then between the second lieutenant and the ranks of soldiers, the Emperor appeared with two officers from the general staff.He made to bring to his eyes a pair of field binoculars that one of the escorts handed him. Trotta knew what this meant: even assuming that the enemy was falling back, his rear guard still had their faces to the Austrians, and whoever raised a pair of binoculars would be recognized as a target worth hitting.And this was the young Emperor. Trotta felt his heart in his throat.Fear for the imaginable, immense catastrophe that would nihilate himself, the regiment, the army, the state, the whole world, pierced his body with burning shivers…With his hands he grasped the Monarch”s shoulders so that he would bend over. The sub-lieutenant”s grasp was all too vigorous.The Emperor fell to the ground suddenly and the escorts rushed to his aid.At that instant a bullet pierced the sub-lieutenant”s left shoulder, that bullet, precisely, which was meant for the Emperor”s heart.


  1. Impero austriaco
  2. Austrian Empire
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