A History of Austria - Part IV

A "Mark" that seeds Austria

This didn′t help too much, though, as this buffer got smashed by a new player in the block: The nomadic Hungarians. After the death of Charlemagne, his shiny empire broke into a Western and an Eastern part. Eastern kings like Otto I re-conquested the lost lands of today′s Eastern Austria, which greatly distressed the Hungarians. In turn, they gave up their Nomadic habits and settled in the plains that are Hungary today, where they invented such fancy things as goulash. Sorry for being sarcastic, but I really find this period very unexciting. There′s better to come soon, though.

The Medieval Gate Schweizertor or Swiss Gate by the Inner Hofburg in Vienna

Once the Hungarians had decided to stay in the plains East of modern Austria, the Bavarian duchy (still as part of the Eastfranconian Empire) gained once again more power. In the second half of the 10th century, the original buffer-province East of the river Enns was formed again, this time called "Marchia Orientalis" ("Eastern Mark", a term that the Nazis later re-vived in an attempt to extinguish the German word for Austria). From 976 onwards, the house of the Babenbergs had the honour of ruling over this chunk of wilderness East of all civilisation.

In 996, their little county was called "Ostarrichi" in a document - from which the German name of Austria, "Österreich", developed. This made Austrian politicians believe that Austria deserves to celebrate its 1000th birthday in 1996. You decide whether this is justified or not, at least there was a very cool exhibition organised to present the history of the past millennium.

Austria, eventually: The Babenberg reign (976 to 1246)

The Babenberg counts boosted the development of their county and introduced a determined policy of deforestation, construction and the support of intellectual and cultural (in those days, this meant monastic) life. As a result, the economy boomed, they gained power within the German Empire and their capitals (first Pöchlarn, later Melk in Lower Austria) became flourishing towns. Note that at this time, some areas that are part of Austria today just gained independence, too - for example Salzburg, that became increasingly independent from Bavarian rule until it eventually gained full sovereignty within the German Empire in the late Middle Ages which it maintained until the Napoleonic Wars.

An old court of the Babenberg Dukes was next to this church by Am Hof Square in Vienna

Back to the Babenberg - Austria: Count Leopold III used a struggle for power to gain influence in the German Empire and get married to Agnes von Hohenstaufen, a relative of the Emperor. He also founded the monastery of Klosterneuburg, for which he later turned into a saint, serving as a patron saint for a whole bunch of Austria provinces. Struggles for power and influence persisted in the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation.

When fighting between the Welfs and Staufer dynasties peaked, Bavaria went under Babenberg rule in 1139. But only for a few years, as Emperor Friedrich I tried to settle the struggle and reinstalled the Welfs as the dukes of Bavaria. To compensate the Babenbergs for their loss, he granted them the "Privilegium minus", a manifesto that guaranteed Austria the status of a duchy and autonomy in many issues.

To me, this was a much more crucial turning point in Austria′s history than the naming in 996: From now on, Austria was different from the other powerful principalities, duchies and counties that formed the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. It was not granted the right to vote in the election of the Emperor, but instead received autonomy in other questions. If you want to nail down the birth of Austria anywhere in history (not a smart thing to do, I would say, but if you really, really want to), do it here: 1156 (or in 976, see above). Now we enter interesting times.

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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