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Encyclopedia > Austro Hungarian Empire

Austria-Hungary, also known as the Dual monarchy (or: the k.u.k. monarchy), was a dualistic state (18671918) in which the Kingdom of Hungary enjoyed self-government and representation in joint affairs (principally foreign relations and defence) with the western and northern lands of the Austrian Empire under the Emperors (who were also Kings of Hungary) of the Habsburg dynasty. The full name of the federation was "The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Stephen's Crown" (Die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder und die Länder der heiligen ungarischen Stephanskrone).

Austria-Hungary had been established by a compromise between the Hungarian nobility and the Habsburg monarchy in an attempt to maintain the old Austrian Empire. It was a multi-national Empire, and its political life was dominated by disputes between the eleven principal national groups, in an era of national awakening. Although the Empire was frequently upset by quarrelling between the groups, the fifty years of its existence saw rapid economic growth and modernization, as well as many liberal reforms. The Empire was eventually destroyed as a result of the First World War.

Die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder
und die Länder der heiligen ungarischen Stephanskrone
Austria_Hungary in 1914
Official languages German, Hungarian
Established church Roman Catholic
Capital Vienna
Largest City Vienna,
pop. 1,675,000 (1907)
Head of state Emperor of Austria,
King of Hungary,
King of Bohemia, etc.
Area 680,887 km² (1907)
Population 48,592,000 (1907)
Currency Rhine guilder;
Krone (from 1892)
National anthem Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser
Existed 1867-1918


The Lands of the Empire

The non-Hungarian ("Austrian") half part of Austria-Hungary is often called Cisleithania because most of its territory lay west (or to "this" side, from an Austrian perspective) of the Leitha river, although Galicia to the north-east was also a part. This region (consisting of more than simply Austria) strictly speaking had no collective name, and hence was referred to as the "Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council;". The Imperial Council (Reichsrat) was Cisleithania's parliament. Similarly, the Transleithanian ("Hungarian") half also consisted of more than simply Hungary, and was referred to as the "Lands of the Holy Hungarian Stephen's Crown," a reference to the sainted first Christian king of Hungary.

The "Kingdoms and Lands" of the Cisleithanian half of the Empire were the Kingdoms of Bohemia, of Dalmatia, and of Galicia and Lodomeria, the Archduchy of Austria (as Upper Austria and Lower Austria), the Duchies of Bukowina, of Carinthia, of Carniola, of Salzburg, of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia, and of Styria, the Margraviate of Moravia, the Princely County of Tyrol (including the Land of Vorarlberg), and the Coastal Land (including the Princely County of Gorizia and Gradisca, the State of Trieste, and the Margraviate of Istria). The "Lands" of the Transleithanian half of the Empire were the Kingdoms of Hungary, and of Croatia and Slavonia, and the State of Rijeka. Bosnia_Herzegovina formed a separate part of the Empire jointly administered by both halves.

Creation of Austria_Hungary — The Compromise of 1867

Map of Austria-Hungary

The Ausgleich ("Compromise") of February 1867 which inaugurated the Empire's dualist structure in place of the former unitary Austrian Empire (1804-1867) was a result of the latter's declining strength and loss of power in Italy (war of 1859) and Germany (Austro-Prussian War, 1866) as well as continued Hungarian dissatisfaction with rule from Vienna, and increasing national consciousness on the part of other nationalities. Hungarian dissatisfaction grew partially from Austria's suppression, with Russian support, of the Hungarian liberal revolution of 18481849. However, dissatisfaction with Austrian rule had grown for many years within Hungary, and had many causes.

In an effort to shore up support for the monarchy Emperor Franz Joseph began negotiations for a compromise with the Magyar nobility to ensure their support. Some members of the government, such as Austrian prime minister Count Belcredi, advised the Emperor to make a more comprehensive constitutional deal with all of the nationalities that would have created a federal structure. Belcredi worried that an accommodation with the Magyar interests would alienate the other nationalities. However, Franz Joseph was unable to ignore the power of the Magyar nobility, and they would not accept anything less than dualism between them and the traditional Austrian elites.

In particular, Hungarian leaders demanded and received the Emperor's coronation as King of Hungary as a reaffirmation of Hungary's historic privileges, and the establishment of a separate parliament at Budapest with the powers to enact laws for the historic lands of the Hungarian crown (the lands of St Stephen), though on a basis which would preserve the political dominance of ethnic Hungarians (more specifically of the country's large nobility and educated elite) and the exclusion from effective power of the country's large Romanian and Slavic minorities.

Governmental Structure

Three distinct elements ruled Austria-Hungary, including: the Hungarian government, the “Austrian” or Cisleithanian government, and a unified administration under the monarch. Hungary and Austria maintained separate parliaments, each with its own prime minister. Those two were linked by a government under a monarch wielding, in theory, absolute power, although in practice the power of the monarch was limited. The monarch’s common government was responsible for the army, navy, foreign policy, and the customs union.

Within Cisleithania and Hungary certain regions, such as Galicia and Croatia enjoyed special status with their own unique governmental structures.

A Common Ministerial Council, composed of three ministers for the joint responsibilities (joint finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some Archdukes and the monarch, ruled the common government. Two delegations of representatives, one each from Austria and Hungary, met separately and voted on the expenditures of the Common Ministerial Council, giving the two governments influence in the common administration. However, the ministers were ultimately responsible only to the monarch, and he had the final decision on matters of foreign and military policy.

Overlapping responsibilities between the joint ministries and the ministries of the two halves caused friction and inefficiencies. The armed forces suffered particularly from overlap. Although military direction was determined by the unified government, the Austrian and Hungarian governments each remained in charge of "the quota of recruits, legislation concerning compulsory military service, transfer and provision of the armed forces, and regulation of the civic, non-military affairs of members of the armed forces". Needless to say, each government could have a strong influence over common governmental responsibilities. Each half was quite prepared to disrupt common operations to advance its own interests.

Relations over the half-century after 1867 between the two halves of the Empire (in fact the Cisleithan part contained about 57% of the combined realm's population and a rather larger share of its economic resources) were punctuated by repeated disputes over shared external tariff arrangements and the financial contribution of each government to the common treasury. Under the terms of the Ausgleich, these matters were determined by an agreement which was to be renegotiated every ten years, which created political turmoil each time the agreement was up for renewal. The disputes between the halves of the empire culminated in the mid-1900s in a prolonged constitutional crisis triggered by disagreement over the language of command in Hungarian army units, and deepened by the advent to power in Budapest (April 1906) of a Hungarian nationalist coalition. The common arrangements were renewed provisionally (October 1907, November 1917) on an "as is" basis.

Ethnic relations

The dominant ethnic group in each half of the Empire constituted a minority in the area which it controlled: Germans numbered only some 36% of Cisleithania's population, and Magyars slightly under a half of Hungary's.

Czechs (the majority in the Czech lands, i.e.Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia), Poles and Ukrainians (in Slovenes (in Carniola, Carinthia and southern Styria, mostly today's Slovenia) and Croats, Italians and Slovenes in Istria each sought a greater say in Cisleithan affairs.

The ethnic distribution of Austria-Hungary
German 24%
Hungarian 20%
Czech 13%
Polish 10%
Ruthenian 8%
Romanian 6%
Croat 5%
Slovak 4%
Serb 4%
Slovene 3%
Italian 3%

At the same time, Magyar dominance was contested by the majorities of Romanians in Transylvania and eastern Banat, Slovaks in today's Slovakia, Croats and Serbs in crownlands Croatia and Dalmatia (today's Bosnia and Herzegovina and provinces known as Vojvodina (today's northern Romania and Serbia, respectively.

Though Hungary's leaders were on the whole less willing than their German Austrian counterparts to share power with their subject minorities, they granted a large measure of autonomy to the kingdom of Croatia in 1868, parallelling to some extent their own accommodation within the Empire the previous year.

One of the most contentious issues in Austro-Hungarian politics was language. The language of government and instruction were always difficult and divisive hurdles for any government to sort out. Minorities wanted to ensure the widest possibility for education in their own language as well as in the "dominant" languages of Hungarian and German. One notable example was the so-called "ordinance of April 5, 1897." The Austrian Prime Minister Kasimir Felix Graf von Badeni gave Czech equal standing with German in the internal government of Bohemia, leading to a crisis because of nationalist German agitation throughout the Empire. In the end Badeni was dismissed.


The Austro-Hungarian economy was in rapid flux during its existence. Technological change accelerated industrialization and urbanization. The capitalist mode of production spread throughout the Empire during its fifty year existence. The old institutions of feudalism continued to disappear. Economic growth was centred around Vienna, the Austrian lands (areas of modern Austria), the Alpine lands, and the Bohemian lands. In the later years of the nineteenth century rapid economic growth spread to the central Hungarian plain and the Carpathian lands. As a result of this pattern wide disparities of development existed within the Empire. In general the western areas were far more developed than the east. By the early 20th century most of the Empire was experiencing rapid economic growth. The GNP per capita grew roughly 1.45% per year from 1870-1913. That level of growth compared very favourably to other European nations such as Britain (1.00%), France (1.06%), and Germany (1.51%). (Source: Good, David. The Economic Rise of the Habsburg Empire). However, the Empire's economy as a whole still lagged considerably behind the others as it had only begun sustained modernization much later. Britain's GNP/capita was almost three times as large as the Habsburg Empire's, while Germany's was almost twice as high. Nonetheless, this larger discrepancy hides the different levels of development within the Empire.

Railroads expanded rapidly in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In its predecessor state, the Habsburg Empire a substantial core of railways had been built in the west originating from Vienna by 1841. At that point the government realized the military possibilities of rail and began to invest heavily in their construction. Bratislava, Budapest, Prague, Kraków, Graz, Laibach (Ljubljana), and Venice were added to the main network. By 1854 there were almost 2000 kilometres of track in the Empire, about 60_70% of it in state hands. At that point the government began to sell off large portions of track to private investors to recoup some of its investments and because of the financial strains of the 1848 Revolution and Crimean War.

From 18541879 almost all rail construction was conducted by private interests. 7952 kilometres were added in what would become Cisleithania, and 5839 km were built in Hungary. During this time many new areas were connected and the existing rail networks were filled in and connected. This period marked the beginning of widespread rail transportation in Austria-Hungary, and also the integration of transportation systems in the area. To a large extent railways allowed the Empire to integrate its economy far more than had previously been possible when transportation had been dependent of rivers.

After 1879 the government began to slowly renationalize the rail network, largely because of the sluggish pace of development during the worldwide depression of the 1870s. Between 1879 and 1900 more than 25,000 km was built in Cisleithania and Hungary. Most of this constituted "filling in" of the existing network, although some areas, primarily in the far east were connected for the first time during this period. The railroad reduced transportation costs throughout the Empire opening new markets for products from around the Empire.

Foreign policy

The Imperial (Austrian) and Royal (Hungarian) governments differed also to some extent in their attitude toward the Empire's common foreign policy, leaders in Budapest fearing particularly annexations of territory which would add to the kingdom's non-Hungarian populations, though the Empire's alliance with Germany against Russia from October 1879 (see Dual Alliance, 1879) commanded general acceptance, the latter power being seen as the principal external military threat to both parts.

The territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces since August 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin was annexed in October 1908 as a common holding under the control of the finance ministry rather than being attached to either government, an anomalous situation which led some in Vienna to contemplate its combination with Croatia in a third component of the Empire combining its southern Slav regions under the domination of Croat leaders who might be more sympathetic to Vienna than Budapest.

World War I

Coat of Arms of Austria_Hungary, adopted in 1915 to emphasize the unity of the Empire during WWI.

On June 28, 1914, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, heir to his childless uncle the Emperor Franz Josef (Franz Josef's only son had died under still_mysterious circumstances, and the Emperor's brother had been executed), visited the Bosnian capital Sarajevo where he was assassinated by Bosnian Serb militants of the nationalist group Young Bosnia. See: Assassination in Sarajevo

The Empire had previously lost ethnically Italian areas to Piedmont due to nationalist movements sweeping through Italy, and the threat of losing the southern territories inhabited by Slavs to Serbia was felt by many Austro-Hungarians to be imminent. Serbia had recently gained a significant amount of territory in the Second Balkan War of 1913, causing much distress in government circles. Some members of the government, such as Conrad von Hötzendorf had wanted to confront the resurgent Serbian nation for some years. The leadership of Austria-Hungary, backed by its ally Germany, decided to confront Serbia militarily before it could incite a revolt: using the assassination as an excuse, they presented a list of ten demands (http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/austrianultimatum.htm) they expected Serbia would never accept and declared war when just one of them was partially turned down, despite Serbia's acceptance of all the others.

These events brought the Empire into conflict with Serbia and over the course of July and August 1914, caused the start of World War I, as Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, setting off a series of counter mobilizations.

Italy initially remained neutral although it was theoretically allied with Austria-Hungary. In 1915 it switched to the side of the Entente powers, hoping to gain territory in Austria-Hungary.

Austro-Hungarian troops initially defended the routes into Hungary and repulsed Italian advances in Gorizia. The army suffered very serious casualties throughout the war, especially in 1914. However, they were relatively successful (albeit with German aid and direction) even advancing into enemy territory following German-led victories in Galicia (May 1915) and at Caporetto (October 1917). Throughout the war, the Austro-Hungarian war effort had become more and more subordinate to the direction of German planners. Supply shortages, low morale, and the high casualty rate began to seriously affect the operational abilities of the army by the last years of the war.

Dissolution of the Empire

In the summer of 1918 the tide of war turned decisively against the Central Powers. Although the leadership of the national minorities in the Empire had remained loyal to the Habsburgs throughout the war, worsening fortunes forced them to reconsider their options. As it became apparent that the Allies would win it became politically expedient to renounce ties to the old state and embrace the nationalist ideology of the victorious powers. On top of that, the Empire was no longer able to provide an incentive for the nationalities to work together. Other groups also lost faith in the Empire. Prosperity had disappeared, disillusioning business interests, socialists were upset by the loss of the liberal policies that had characterised the pre_war Cisleithanian government. Under those conditions it was easy for radical nationalists to rally support to their cause, and a rash of declarations of independence followed in September–October 1918. The war officially concluded for Austria_Hungary when it entered an armistice with the Allies on November 3, 1918.

The end of the war marked the end of Austria-Hungary. It became politically expedient for the allied victors to break up the empire into various national components in accordance with Woodrow Wilson's 14 points. It is important to note that the break up of the empire was by no means a war aim of the allied powers, and that the idea was only seriously entertained toward the end of the war. Contrary to expectations at the time, the break up of the empire did not alleviate national problems in the area, and made the area more politically unstable than it had been under Habsburg rule.

The Czechs first proclaimed independence on October 28. Hungary followed shortly thereafter, although Transylvania's majority joined Romania, taking with them a large Hungarian minority. The south Slavs formed the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, soon united with Serbia and Montenegro as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

After the war the victors reorganized the borders in the area, radically changing the political alignments in the area. Different treaties affected the area including the Treaty of Trianon.

Both Austria and Hungary became republics, exiling the Habsburg family in perpetuity. A pro-monarchist revival in Hungary after the communist revolution and Romanian intervention of 1919 led to the country's formal reversion to a kingdom (March 1920), but with the throne vacant. Attempts by the last Emperor, Charles I, to regain power in Budapest (March, October 1921) ended in his deportation to Madeira, where he died the following year. In the absence of a king, Hungary fell under the control of a regency, headed by the naval hero Miklós Horthy.

The following new countries were created (in part or in full out) of the former Habsburg lands:

In addition, some Austro-Hungarian territory was given to Romania and Italy.


Historical views of Austria-Hungary have varied throughout the 20th century:

Historians in the early part of the century tended to be emotionally and personally involved with the issues surrounding Austria-Hungary; nationalist historians tended view the Habsburg polity as despotic and obsolete. Other scholars, usually associated with the old government, were apologists for the traditional leadership and tried to explain their policies.

  • A couple of major writers from the early period who remain influential are: Oskar Jászi and Josef Redlich.

Subsequent experience of the region's inter-war "Balkanization", Nazi occupation, and then Soviet domination, led to a more sympathetic interpretation of the Empire based primarily in a large exile community in the United States. Meanwhile, Marxist historians still tended to judge the Empire in a negative way.

  • Major scholars of this period include: C. A Macartney, Robert A. Kann and Arthur J. May.

One controversy among historians remains whether the Empire's collapse was the inevitable result of a decades-long decline or whether it would have survived in some form in the absence of military defeat in World War I.

  • Alan Sked has advanced the view that, "to speak of decline and fall with regard to the Monarchy is simply misleading: it fell because it lost a major war." (The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire 1815–1918)
  • David F. Good is another proponent of this view.
  • Others such as Soloman Wank remain skeptical.

See also

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Austro-Hungarian Empire (3197 words)
Austria-Hungary originated in 1867 in a compromise between the Hungarian nobility and the Habsburg monarchy in an attempt to maintain the old Austrian Empire of 1804.
The disputes between the halves of the empire culminated in the mid-1900s in a prolonged constitutional crisis -- triggered by disagreement over the language of command in Hungarian army units, and deepened by the advent to power in Budapest (April 1906) of a Hungarian nationalist coalition.
The Empire annexed this territory in October 1908 as a common holding under the control of the finance ministry rather than attaching it to either territorial government.
Austro-Hungarian Empire (1676 words)
Note the missing yellow fimbration of the Hungarian coat of arms as well as the more rounded form of the shields, all according to the image in the decree.
Diem (1995) wrote about the white pearls in the crown of the war ensign: ""The originally 30 pearls of the war flag, however, became in the course of the decades 18 which were supposed to symbolize the Crown Lands."
As to its colours unchanged naval ensign the ancient Hungarian red-and-white coat of arms is to be shown next to the coat of arms of the "Austrian House".
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