History of Switzerland

From the beginnings to the present.

Much of the territory covered by present-day Switzerland is mountainous. For this reason, the Alpine passes have played a significant role in the development of the country, as have the powers that sought to control these important communication and trade routes.

The inaccessible mountains with their particular living conditions provided the area with protection and a great deal of freedom because they made it difficult for foreign powers to enforce their control in the longer term. This enabled the population to develop its own traditions and forms of government. This situation also favoured the neutrality that has been in force since 1515 and which has also served the neighboring countries by forming a safety zone between the European states. The state of Switzerland as we know it today only assumed its current form in 1848. Prior to this time there was no real Swiss history as such; rather, it was the history of the various territories that gradually coalesced up until 1848 in order to form modern-day Switzerland.

From the beginnings to the Romans

The oldest traces of human existence are about 150,000 years old, while the oldest flint tools that have been found are about 100,000 years old.

The territory of the present-day Switzerland developed in a similar way to that of the rest of Europe. The first centuries were marked by migration, resulting in the area being inhabited by different peoples. With the rule of the Romans, Christianity spread, and the Church with its bishoprics and monasteries became an important landowner. At the same time, aristocratic families increased their power by conquest, inheritance and marriage policy. For a short time, the Frankish king Charlemagne controlled a significant part of Western Europe. In 962 another sphere of power came into being when the German king Otto I persuaded the Pope to appoint him Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Augusta Raurica
Augusta Raurica

First settlers in Switzerland

The discovery of the pile dwellings was regarded as a sensation – because until then very little was known about the history of Switzerland before the time of the Helvetians and Romans.

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Under Roman influence

Source: http://de.academic.ru/dic.nsf/dewiki/456580'

In 58 BC, the Mittelland-based Helvetians tried to avoid the Germanic incursion from the west and migrate to the south of France. But Caesar sent them back and settled them as a "buffer people".

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Switzerland after the Romans

Source: http://www.steppenreiter.de/hunnen.htm

After the departure of the Romans, the Alemanni gradually colonised Switzerland from the north. Western Switzerland was ruled by the Burgundians, while the Alpine regions were dominated by local Gallo-Roman rulers.

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The rise of Christianity

Initially brought to Switzerland by the Romans, Christianity only really started to spread in the 6th century when the wandering monks from Ireland began establishing monasteries.

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Under German rule

Source: http://www.welterbe-speyer.de/index.php?id=194&L=

Supported by noble families, non-aristocratic landowners, abbots and bishops, the German Emperor Conrad II ruled over large parts of western and central Europe – and united the Swiss territories in 1032.

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Switzerland in the late Middle Ages

1291 is traditionally regarded as being the founding year of the Confederation – this was when three rural valley communities banded together in order to be better prepared for attacks from the outside.

In the 14th and 15 centuries there developed a loose federation with rural and urban members. By the end of the 15th century it was strong enough to affect the balance of power in Europe. Various wars were fought in which the Confederates displayed courage and ingenuity, and they gained a reputation as a formidable opponent in combat. The Confederation was enlarged in various ways with some areas joining voluntarily and as equal members while others were more or less forced. The members of the Confederation mainly administered the affairs of their own regions but representatives of each area also met regularly to discuss issues of common interest.

Rise of the Swiss Confederation

Source: http://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Picswiss_UR-25-09.jpg

The desire for freedom on the part of rebellious miners in their ancestral country prompted the Habsburgs to enforce their claims to power by the force of arms. In the process they suffered heavy losses - while the Confederates grew increasingly confident.

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Dissension and the Burgundian Wars

The relationships between the Confederates and other parts of what is now Switzerland were very diverse. At the instigation of Bern and of the French king, the Confederates went to war against the Burgundian duke, Charles the Bold, who suffered a crushing defeat in three battles.

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Independence and the end of expansion

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_at_Schwaderloh.jpg

Following the success of the Swabian wars the interest of those in central Switzerland now turned towards the south. The Confederates’ dreams of having great power finally came to an end with their crushing defeat at Marignano.

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Reformation and the 17th century

The 16th century in Western Europe was dominated by the Reformation, a movement which divided western Christianity into two camps.

Although the riots and destruction were fought on a religious level, this reflected, above all, the desire for social change and the social tensions that existed primarily between town and country. The 17th century saw three further landmarks in the development of modern-day Switzerland. All came as a result of the 30 Years' War (1618-48). While large parts of Europe were involved in this war, the Confederation remained neutral. An important consequence of the Thirty Years' War was Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire, which was formally recognised by the Treaty of Westphalia.

Two Reformers: Zwingli and Calvin

The 16th century was marked by reformations, counter-reformations and religious wars - and also by renewal within the Catholic Church.

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Conflict and religious wars

The 16th century was marked by reformations, counter-reformations and religious wars - and also by renewal within the Catholic Church.

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Political structure in the 17th century

The rights and freedoms within the Confederation varied greatly depending on the location. There were rural cantons, city cantons, cities dominated by aristocrats, common lordships ruled by bailiffs as well as subject territories.

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Thirty Years’ War and independence

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Hanging_by_Jacques_Callot.jpg

The Confederation was able to keep out of the Thirty Years’ War – had it been involved, it would have led to the collapse of the Confederation due to confessional differences.

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Peasant revolts and religious peace

Source: http://www.villmergerkriege.ch/Historische%20Gem%C3%A4lde/

Whereas a currency devaluation led to a peasant uprising, it was the confessional divide that sparked the Villmergen Wars that led to the restoration of a balanced religious peace and an end to Catholic hegemony.

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18th and 19th century

In 1798, French troops invaded Switzerland and proclaimed a centralised state. Later, the old cantonal system was restored - albeit in a more centralised form.

In 1798, French troops invaded Switzerland and created the centralised Helvetic Republic. For the first time in its history, Switzerland was forced to abandon its neutrality and to provide troops for France. After the Sonderbund War, the foundations for the modern Switzerland were finally laid down with the adoption of the Constitution of 1848. It brought about a more centralised form of government and a single economic area, which put an end to the cantonal rivalries and enabled economic development. Despite this progress, the 19th century was a difficult time for many people in Switzerland. Poverty, hunger and poor job prospects led to a wave of emigration, including to North and South America.

Power structures, economy, society

As in the 16th and 17th centuries, the 18th century also saw sporadic uprisings of the peasantry against the ruling "Excellencies" (Gnädige Herren). In Switzerland also, the people were dissatisfied with the old rulership.

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French Revolution, Helvetic Republic

After the French occupation, the Helvetic Republic experienced at least four coups between 1800 and1802 and ultimately succumbed to the internal chaos.

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Napoleon and Switzerland

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Napoleon_Wagram.jpg

Napoleon came to the conclusion that the centralised government in Switzerland was doomed to failure and prescribed a constitution for Switzerland which was based on the autonomy of the cantons.

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The Restoration and Sonderbund War

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eidg_Generalstab_Sonderbundskrieg.jpg

The way from Confederation to federal state is a history of provocations and power struggles between progressives/liberals and conservatives – often played at a religious level.

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Federal Constitution and the 19th century

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesverfassung_1848_Schweiz.jpg

After the defeat of the Sonderbund War, liberal and radical proponents of a stronger central government saw that the time had come to put their case. Nevertheless, they granted substantial autonomy to the cantons.

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Switzerland in the 20th century

The 20th century was generally marked by a series of striking developments in the political, economic and social arenas.

Domestically there was a shift towards a multi-party system. While at the beginning of the century one party occupied all the positions in the government (Federal Council), there were four parties represented there at the end of the century. Agrarian Switzerland developed into an industrial state with the result that there were more immigrants than emigrants and the standard of living rose significantly. Working conditions and social security steadily improved and there was greater access to a more extensive range of consumer goods. The development of the export sector changed the country’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. Although Switzerland remained politically neutral – it did not actively participate in either of the two World Wars – neutrality remained the subject of intense debate.

World War I

Switzerland was resource-poor but highly industrialised and dependent on tourism. It had to negotiate with the warring parties in order to obtain a minimum supply of raw materials.

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The inter-war years in Switzerland

<a href='http://www.alt-zueri.ch/feldpost/geschichte/5_feldpostdienst_zwischenkriegszeit.htm'>Source</a>

In 1918, one sixth of the population lived below the poverty line. The bitterness and estrangement between the workers and the middle class solidified even further in the following years.

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World War II

The "intellectual defence of the nation" countered the strong nationalism of the Fascists by emphasising the independence of Switzerland and the value of its cultural diversity.

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Switzerland as an affluent society

Source: http://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:R%C3%BCtlirapport.jpg

As a small but early industrialised country, Switzerland established itself on the world markets in the areas of mechanical engineering, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries as well as financial services.

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