History of Switzerland

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Template:History of Switzerland

Since 1848, the Swiss Confederation has been a federal state of relatively autonomous cantons, some of which have a history of confederacy that goes back more than 700 years, arguably putting them among the world's oldest surviving republics. For the time before 1291, this article summarizes events taking place on the territory of modern Switzerland. From 1291, it focuses mainly on the fates of the Confederacy, at first consisting of only three cantons in what is now central Switzerland, and gradually expanding until it encompassed the present-day area of Switzerland in 1815.


Early History

Main article: Early history of Switzerland.

Archeological evidence suggests that hunter-gatherers settled in the lowlands north of the Alps already in the late Paleolithic. In the Neolithic period, the area was relatively densely populated. Remains of bronze age pile dwellings have been found in the shallow areas of many lakes. Around 1500 BC, celtic tribes settled in the area. The Raetians lived in the eastern regions, while the west was occupied by the Helvetii.

In 58 BC, the Helvetii tried to evade migratory pressure from Germanic tribes by moving into Gaul, but were defeated at Bibracte by Julius Caesar's armies and then sent back. The alpine region became integrated into the Roman empire and was extensively romanized in the course of the following centuries . The center of Roman administration was at Aventicum (Avenches). In 259, Alamanni tribes overran the Limes, putting the settlements on Swiss territory on the frontier of the Roman Empire.

The first christian bishoprics were founded in the 4th century. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, germanic tribes moved in. Burgundians settled in the west; while in the north, Alamanni settlers slowly made the earlier Celto-Roman population retreat into the mountains. Burgundy became a part of the kingdom of the Franks in 534; two years later, the dukedom of the Alamans followed suit. In the Alaman part, only isolated Christian communities continued to exist and Irish monks re-introduced Christian faith in the early 7th century.

Under the Carolingian kings, the feudal system proliferated, and monasteries and bishoprics were important bases for maintaining the rule. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 assigned the western part of what is today Switzerland to Lotharingia, the eastern part to the eastern kingdom of Louis the German that would become the Holy Roman Empire.

In the 10th century, the rule of the Carolingians waned: Saracenes ravaged the Valais, and Magyars destroyed Basel in 917 and St. Gallen in 926. Only after the victory of king Otto I over the Magyars in 955 in the Battle of Lechfeld, the Swiss territories were reintegrated into the empire.

In the 12th century, the dukes of Zähringen were given authority over part of the Burgundy territories, covering the western part of modern Switzerland. They founded many cities, including Fribourg in 1157, and Berne in 1191. The Zähringer dynasty ended with the death of Berchtold V in 1218, and their cities subsequently thus became reichsfrei, while the dukes of Kyburg competed with the house of Habsburg over control of the rural regions of the former Zähringer territory.

Under the Hohenstaufen rule, the alpine passes in Raetia and the St. Gotthard pass gained importance. Especially the latter became an important direct route through the mountains. Uri (in 1231) and Schwyz (in 1240) were accorded the Reichsfreiheit to place access to the important pass under direct control of the empire. Most of the territory of Unterwalden belonged to monasteries which had become reichsfrei even earlier.

The rise of the Habsburg dynasty gained momentum when the Kyburg dynasty died out and they could bring much of the territory south of the Rhine under their control. Rudolph I of Habsburg, who became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1273 effectively revoked the status of Reichsfreiheit granted to the "Forest Cantons" Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, which thus lost their independent status and now were governed by reeves.

Old Confederacy (12911523)

Main article: Old Swiss Confederacy.

In 1291, the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden conspired against the Habsburgs. Their union is recorded in the Federal Charter, a document probably written after the fact, in the 14th century. At the battles of Morgarten in 1315 and Sempach 1386, the Swiss defeated the Habsburg army and secured a de facto independence.

By 1353, the three original cantons had been joined by the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the city states of Lucerne, Zürich and Berne, forming the "Old Federation" of eight states that persisted during much of the 15th century, although Zürich was expelled from the confederation during the 1440s due to a conflict over the territory of Toggenburg (the Old Zürich War), and led to a significant increase of power and wealth of the federation, in particular due to the victories over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries.

The traditional listing order of the cantons of Switzerland reflects this state, listing the eight "Old Cantons" first, with the city states preceding the founding cantons, followed by cantons that joined the federation after 1481, in historical order.

The Swiss victory in a war against the Swabian League in 1499 amounted to de facto independence from the Holy Roman Empire. In 1506, pope Julius II engaged the Swiss Guard that continues to serve the Vatican to the present day. The expansion of the federation, and the reputation of invincibility acquired during the earlier wars, suffered a first setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano.

Reformation (15231648)

Main article: Reformation in Switzerland.

Huldrych Zwingli was elected priest of the Great Minster church in Zürich in 1518. Zwingli's Reformation of 1523 was supported by the magistrate and population of Zürich and led to significant changes in civil life and state matters in Zürich. The reformation was spread from Zürich to five other cantons of Switzerland, while the remaining five sternly held onto the Roman Catholic faith, leading to inter-cantonal wars (Kappeler Kriege) in 1529 and 1531, where Zwingli died on the battlefield.

During the Thirty Years' War, Switzerland was a relative "oasis of peace and prosperity" (Grimmelshausen) in war-torn Europe, mostly because all major powers in Europe were depending on Swiss mercenaries, and would not let Switzerland fall in the hands of one of their rivals. Politically, they all tried to take influence, by way of mercenary commanders such as Jörg Jenatsch or Johann Rudolf Wettstein. The Drei Bünde of Grisons, at that point not yet a member of the Confederacy, were involved in the war from 1620, which led to their loss of the Valtellina in 1623.

Ancien Régime (16481798)

Main article: Ancien Régime of Switzerland.

At the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Switzerland attained legal independence from the Holy Roman Empire. The Valtellina became a dependency of the Drei Bünde again after the Treaty and remained so until the founding of the Cisalpine Republic by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797.

In 1653, peasants of territories subject to Lucerne, Berne, Solothurn and Basel revolted because of currency devaluation (Bauernkrieg). The rebels laid siege to Lucerne and Berne, but a compromise was reached before the outbreak of violence. The social and confessional tensions remained, however, and erupted again in the Battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712.

Napoleonic Era (17981848)

Main article: Switzerland in the Napoleonic era

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the revolutionary armies boiled eastward, enveloping Switzerland in their battles against Austria. In 1798 Switzerland was completely overrun by the French and became the Helvetic Republic. The Helvetic Republic encountered severe economic and political problems. In 1798 the country became a battlefield of the Revolutionary Wars.

In 1803 Napoleon's Act of Mediation partially restored the sovereignty of the cantons, and the former tributary and allied territories of Aargau, Thurgau, Grisons, St.Gallen, Vaud and Ticino became cantons with equal rights.

The Congress of Vienna of 1815 fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality. At this time, the territory of Switzerland was increased for the last time, by the new cantons of Valais, Neuchatel and Geneva.

Switzerland as a Federal State (18481914)

Main article Switzerland as a federal state

In 1847, a civil war broke out between the Catholic and the Protestant cantons (Sonderbundskrieg). Its immediate cause was a 'special treaty' (Sonderbund) of the Catholic cantons. It lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties. Apart from small riots, this was the latest armed conflict on Swiss territory.

As a consequence of the civil war, Switzerland adopted a federal constitution in 1848, amending it extensively in 1874 and establishing federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters, leaving all other matters to the cantonal governments. From then, and over much of the 20th century, continuous political, economic, and social improvement has characterized Swiss history.

World Wars (19141945)

Main article Switzerland during the World Wars.

During both World War I and World War II, Switzerland managed to keep a stance of armed neutrality, and was not involved militarily. It was, however, precisely because of its neutral status, of considerable interest to all parties involved, as the scene for diplomacy, espionage, commerce, and as safe haven for refugees. The 1917 Dada movement of Zurich was essentially a cultural reaction to the war, initiated by exiles. Lenin was also exiled in Zurich, from where he travelled directly to Petrograd to lead the Russian Revolution. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations.

Switzerland reacted to Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland by a mobilization of some 430,000 troops. The Swiss army was put under the command of general Henri Guisan (in the Swiss army, the rank of general is only assigned to the supreme commander during times of crisis). On May 11, 1940, the day following Hitler's attack on Belgium, the general mobilization of the full army was decided, for the first time including some 15,000 women. Switzerland observed a restrictive immigration policy during the war, but nevertheless some 26,000 Jews other refugees were granted asylum. Nazi Germany drew up plans to invade Switzerland, most notably 'Operation Tannenbaum', but the invasions were never carried out.

The commercial involvement of some Swiss banks with the Nazi regime, particularly the gold trade of the Swiss National Bank was the object of public attention between 1995 and 2000. The Bergier commission estimated that roughly half of the $890 million (U.S.) transactions in gold of the German Reichsbank was effectuated with the involvement of Swiss banks. Switzerland was accused of violation of neutrality, and prolongation of the war, because of these transactions, with particular vigour by U.S. Senator Al D'Amato and attorney Edward Fagan. Stuart Eizenstat officially investigated the charges for the U.S. administration. Dealings in gold with Nazi Germany was seen as particularly immoral because much of the gold in question had been looted from Jews killed in the Holocaust. Switzerland had already paid reparations to the Allies in 1952, and the Swiss banks settled for the payment of additional reparations of $1.25 billon (U.S.) to a special Holocaust Fund in 1999.

After 1945

Main articles Modern history of Switzerland, Politics of Switzerland.

After the war, Swiss authorities considered the construction of a Swiss nuclear bomb. Leading nuclear physicists at the Federal Institute of Technology such as Paul Scherrer made this a realistic possibility, and in 1958 the population clearly voted in favour of the bomb. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was seen as a valid alternative, however, and the bomb was never built.

From 1959, the Federal Council, appointed by the parliament, is composed of members of the four major parties, the Protestant Free Democrats, the Catholic Christian Democrats, the left-wing Social Democrats and the right-wing People's Party, essentially creating a system without a sizeable parliamentary opposition (see concordance system), reflecting the powerful position of an opposition in a Direct Democracy.

In 1963, Switzerland joined the Council of Europe. Women were granted the right to vote only in 1971. In 1979, parts of the canton of Berne attained independence, forming the new canton of Jura.

Switzerland's role in many United Nations and international organizations, helped to mitigate the country's concern for neutrality. In 2002, Switzerland was officially ratified as a member of the United Nations — the only country joining after agreement by a popular vote.

Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, but has been (together with Liechtenstein) surrounded by EU territory since the joining of Austria in 1995.de:Geschichte der Schweiz es:Historia de Suiza fr:Histoire de la Suisse lt:Šveicarijos istorija nl:Geschiedenis van Zwitserland zh:瑞士历史


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