A History of Austria - Part III

Indoeuropean invasion: New folks arrive

With the Völkerwanderung (migration of nations into Europe), new tribes arrived: The Germanic Western Goths (Visigoths) attacked Italy from the early 5th century onwards repeatedly. In 408 AD, coming from today′s Slovenia, they targeted Noricum. Eastern Goths and Alemanns followed from 472 AD on, but they failed to conquest Noricum, too. Keep in mind that at this time, Rome itself was not the world′s capital as it had been some 300 years earlier - the new centre of power within the Roman Empire was now Constantinople, today′s Istanbul.

Germanic tribes migrated into today's Austria from the 5th century

Rome was weakened and in 476, the Germanic King Odoaker took the city. He was succeeded by Theoderich. Despite of Rome itself having fallen to Germanic kings, the Roman rule persisted in many provinces including Noricum. In the 6th century, Bavarians finally started to settle in Noricum and other parts of today′s Austria. The Western parts of the Alps (today′s Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Southwest Germany and the Austrian province of Vorarlberg) saw the arrival of Alemannic tribes. At the end of the 6th century, the administration of Noricum eventually crumbled and what was left of Roman culture gradually disappeared.

In the East of the province, Slavonic tribes arrived, pushed forward by the Awarians. The remaining Romano-Celtic population did not oppose them, and so they moved along the Southern edge of the Alps until they clashed with the Bavarian tribes in 610 AD.

Bavarian & Slavonic settlement

This divided the province into a Germanic-Bavarian side and a Slavonic side that runs along the (modern) line of Freistadt and Linz in Upper Austria, the Lungau in the South of Salzburg, and Eastern Tyrol. I am always fascinated by the extent you can still sense this cultural and ethnic border even today, 1400 years later: people and towns often have distinct names typical for either Bavarian or Slavonic language.

Salzburg was re-built by the missionary St Rupert in Roman ruins

I am from Salzburg, and here the gap is particularly prominent, with people from the Lungau (a single Mountain range makes an actual difference) often have Slavonic surnames, for example ending on the suffix "-igg", whereas names in my area, the Flachgau, often end on the suffix "-inger", which is typical for Bavarian languages. Another important notion is that both Bavarians and Slavonic tribes were no Christians.

With their arrival and the disintegration of Noricum, the region had to be Christianised again, which was done with the aid of missionaries, of whom many were Irish or Scottish. Two key figures in the re-missionary work were the Saints Rupert and Virgil. They were both active in and around Salzburg. The re-establishment of a central political power, religious order and the foundation of monasteries especially in Salzburg and Lower Austria marks a new period in the Austrian history: Welcome to the Middle Ages!

Pre-Austria in the Early Middle Ages

The early Middle Ages in pre-Austria, considered to last from the around 600 until around 976, were all in all a really boring period. At least that′s how I feel about them. In the Slavonic area that included Southeast Austria, the Kingdom of Karantania formed (compare to the modern province of "Carinthia"). There the Slavonic people mingled with the remaining Celto-Roman people and formed a nation quite viciously determined to stand up against the Awarian and Franconian peoples that threatened their little empire.

The ancient Ruprechtskirche in Vienna still bears its Romanesque core

In the Bavarian region that included the Northern edge of the Alps, the tribal duchy of Bavaria formed, grew steadily mostly towards the South and made its centre of Regensburg a prosperous city. The next centuries were dominated by consolidation, a bit of growth and the occasional struggle among the ethnic superpowers Bavarians, Franconians, Awarians and the Slavonic Karantanians. I always have the impression that the daily life of people in this period was much less sophisticated than it had been centuries earlier under Roman rule.

This is a common perception especially of the early medieval times (the "dark age") and I am not quite sure if it is accurate, but it just feels much less exciting than Antiquity. In the late 8th century, the Franconians gained control over the Bavarian duchy and Karantania and re-arranged the two as provinces in a way to defend their empire against the Awarians under the rule of Charlemagne or Charles the Great (in German "Karl der Große") around 800 AD.

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Further Reading

"Austrian History in less than 1000 words"

"A Jewish History of Austria"

A Complete List of all Austrian Monarchs