History of Switzerland

Explore the interesting history of Switzerland

The area now known as Switzerland was originally populated by hunter-gatherers. These people quickly populated the area and developed at much the same rate as the rest of the then known world. Around 1500 BC, Celtic tribes began to settle in the area, pushing the Raetians eastwards and the Helvetii westwards. In 58 BC the Helvetii tried to move into Gaul in an effort to evade migrating Germanic tribes but they were defeated by Julius Ceasar's armies and then sent back. Over time, the Helvetti and Raetians became somewhat intermingled with the Celtic tribes. The alpine regions became part of the Roman Empire and became quite romanized during the years that followed.

When the Western Roman Empire fell, Germanic tribes (Burgundians and Alamanni) began to move in forcing the Celto-Roman population to retreat into the mountains. Eventually both Burgandy and Alaman became a part of the Frankish kingdom, Alaman remaining strictly Christian. It wasn't long before the feudal system grew rapidly, mostly under the rule of the Carolingian kings. Monastries and bishoprics were used to maintain rule. Eventually the western part of modern Switzerland was assigned to Lotharingia and the eastern part to Louis the Germans' eastern kingdom.

In the 10th century the Carolingians rule faded. Chaos began to reign. The cantons and cities of Switzerland began to be ravaged, pillaged and destroyed. Eventually in 955 the Swiss territories were reintegrated into one empire after the victory of King Otto I in the Battle of Lechfeld. They were again divided when the dukes of Zähringen were given authority over the western territories during which time the dukes founded many cities. Sometime later under Hohenstaufen rule, the alpine passes in Raetia and that of St Gotthard Pass started to become more important as they put direct access through the passes under the control of the empire. In 1273 Rudolph I of Habsburg, new emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, revoked the status of the Forest Cantons causing them to be governed by reeves. However, in 1291 the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden conspired against the Habsburgs. In the 14th century the Swiss secured their independence.

Not long afterwards, the cantons of Glarus and Zug as well as the city states of Lucerne, Zurich and Berne joined Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, thus forming the "Old federation". This eight state nation remained much the same through the 15th century. The Swiss also eventually managed to gain independence from the Holy Roman Empire Not long afterwards, inter-cantonal wars began over religious differences. However these soon faded and Switzerland was relatively quiet during the Thirty Years War.

In 1648, Switzerland gained legal independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Their peace, however, did not last as they became overrun by the French as they waged battle with Austria. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and permanently recognized Swiss neutrality. The cantons of Valais, Neuchatel and Geneva were added to the country. Switzerland remained neutral during World War I and II. It joined the Council of Europe in 1963 and this has helped it to continue to remain neutral up until present times.


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