Austria-Hungary, also known as the Dual monarchy or as the k.u.k. monarchy), was a dualistic state (1867 –1918) 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 Austrian Emperors (who also reigned as Kings of Hungary) of the Habsburg dynasty. The federation bore the full name of "The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Stephen" (Die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder und die Länder der heiligen ungarischen Stephanskrone).
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. As a multi-national empire in an era of national awakening, it found its political life dominated by disputes between the eleven principal national groups. Although quarrelling between the groups frequently afflicted the Empire, the fifty years of its existence saw rapid economic growth and modernization, as well as many liberal reforms. The Empire eventually disappeared as a result of the First World War.
The Lands of the Empire
Many texts refer to the non-Hungarian ("Austrian") half part of Austria-Hungary as 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 also counted as "Austrian"). This region (consisting of more than simply Austria) strictly speaking had no collective official name prior to 1915, and hence official sources referred to the "Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council". (The Imperial Council (Reichsrat) functioned as Cisleithania's parliament.) Similarly, the Transleithanian ("Hungarian") half also consisted of more than simply Hungary, and bore the official designation of the "Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of [Saint] Stephen" -- a reference to the canonised first Christian king of Hungary.
The "Kingdoms and Lands" of the Cisleithanian half of the Empire:
The "Lands" of the Transleithanian half of the Empire:
Bosnia-Herzegovina formed a separate part of the Empire, jointly administered by both halves.
Creation of Austria-Hungary — The Compromise of 1867
The Ausgleich ("Compromise") of February 1867 which inaugurated the Empire's dualist structure in place of the former unitary Austrian Empire (1804-1867) originated at a time when Austria had declined in strength and in power -- both in the Italian peninsula (as a result of the war of 1859) and in greater Germany (culminating in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866). Other factors in the constitutional changes included continued Hungarian dissatisfaction with rule from Vienna, and increasing national consciousness on the part of other nationalities of the Austrian Empire. Hungarian dissatisfaction grew partially from Austria's suppression, with Russian support, of the Hungarian liberal revolution of 1848 – 1849. 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 themselves and the traditional Austrian élites.
In particular, Hungarian leaders demanded and received the Emperor's coronation as King of Hungary as a re-affirmation 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 élite) and the exclusion from effective power of the country's large Romanian and Slavic minorities.
Three distinct elements ruled Austria-Hungary:
- the Hungarian government
- the “Austrian” or Cisleithanian government
- a unified administration under the monarch
Hungary and Austria maintained separate parliaments, each with its own prime minister. Linking/co-ordinating the two fell to a government under a monarch, wielding power absolute in theory but limited in practice. The monarch’s common government had responsibility for the army, for the navy, for foreign policy, and for 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 ruled the common government: it comprised the three ministers for the joint responsibilities (joint finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some Archdukes and the monarch. Two delegations of representatives, one each from Austria and from 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 ultimately answered 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 the unified government determined overall military direction, 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 of the Dual Monarchy proved 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) featured repeated disputes over shared external tariff arrangements and over the financial contribution of each government to the common treasury. Under the terms of the Ausgleich, an agreement, renegotiated every ten years, determined these matters. Each build-up to the renewal of the agreement saw political turmoil. 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. Provisional renewals of the common arrangements occurred in October 1907 and in November 1917 on the basis of the status quo.
The ethnic distribution
Czechs (the majority in the Czech lands, i.e.Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia), Poles and Ukrainians (in Galicia), 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.
At the same time, Magyar dominance faced challenges from the local majorities of Romanians in Transylvania and in the eastern Banat, of Slovaks in today's Slovakia, of Croats and Serbs in the crownlands of Croatia and of Dalmatia (today's Croatia), in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the provinces known as the Vojvodina (today's northern Serbia). The Romanians and the Serbs also looked to union with their fellow-nationalists in the newly-founded states of Romania (1859 - 1878) and Serbia, respectively.
Though Hungary's leaders showed on the whole less willingness 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.
Language constituted one of the most contentious issues in Austro-Hungarian politics. All governments faced difficult and divisive hurdles in sorting out the languages of government and of instruction. Minorities wanted to ensure the widest possibility for education in their own language as well as in the "dominant" languages of Hungarian and German. On one notable occasion, that of 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. On another occasion, the Czechs lost the privilege of using their own language in everyday life, including newspapers and in the workplace: Czechs had to use German. This caused general chaos.
The Austro-Hungarian economy changed dramatically during the existence of the Dual Monarchy. 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 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 to the Carpathian lands. As a result of this pattern wide disparities of development existed within the Empire. In general the western areas achieved far more development than the east. By the early 20th century most of the Empire had started to experience rapid economic growth. The GNP per capita grew roughly 1.45% per year from 1870 to 1913. That level of growth compared very favourably to that of 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 economies of other powers, as it had only begun sustained modernization much later. Britain had a GNP per-capita almost three times larger than the Habsburg Empire, while Germany's stood almost twice as high as Austria-Hungary's. Nonetheless, these large discrepancies hide different levels of development within the Empire.
Rail transport expanded rapidly in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its predecessor state, the Habsburg Empire, had built a substantial core of railways 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 became linked to the main network. By 1854 the Empire had almost 2000 kilometres of track, about 60 to 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 of the Crimean War.
From 1854 to 1879 private interests conducted almost all rail construction. What would become Cisleithania gained 7952 track kilometres, and Hungary built 5839 track kilometres. During this time many new areas joined the railway system and the existing rail networks gained connections and interconnections. 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 previously possible: beforehand transportation had dependended on rivers.
After 1879 the Austro-Hungarian government slowly began to re-nationalize the rail network, largely because of the sluggish pace of development during the worldwide depression of the 1870s. The years between 1879 and 1900 saw more than 25,000 km of railways built in Cisleithania and Hungary. Most of this constituted "filling in" of the existing network, although some areas, primarily in the far east, gained rail connections for the first time during this period. The railroad reduced transportation costs throughout the Empire, opening new markets for products from other lands of the Dual Monarchy.
The Imperial (Austrian) and Royal (Hungarian) governments differed also to some extent in their attitude toward the Empire's common foreign policy. Politicians in Budapest particularly feared annexations of territory which would add to the kingdom's non-Hungarian populations. But the Empire's alliance with Germany against Russia from October 1879 (see Dual Alliance, 1879) commanded general acceptance, since Russia seemed the principal external military threat to both parts.
Austro-Hungarian forces occupied the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina from August 1878 under the Treaty of Berlin. 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. The annexation set up an anomalous situation which led some in Vienna to contemplate combining Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia to form a third component of the Empire, uniting its southern Slav regions under the domination of Croats (who might have proved more sympathetic to Vienna than to Budapest).
World War I
Coat of Arms of Austria-Hungary, adopted in 1915
to emphasize the unity of the Empire during World War I
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 Mexican republicans had executed the Emperor's brother), visited the Bosnian capital Sarajevo where Bosnian Serb militants of the nationalist group Young Bosnia assassinated him. See: Assassination in Sarajevo
The Empire had previously lost ethnically Italian areas to Piedmont due to nationalist movements sweeping through Italy, and many Austro-Hungarians felt the threat of losing the southern territories inhabited by Slavs to Serbia as imminent. Serbia had recently gained a significant amount of territory in the Second Balkan War of 1913, causing much distress in government circles in Vienna and Budapest. 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 they expected Serbia would never accept. When Serbia accepted nine of the ten demands but only partially accepted the remaining one, Austria-Hungary declared war.
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 had an alliance with Austria-Hungary. In 1915 it switched to the side of the Entente powers, hoping to gain territory from Austria-Hungary.
Austro-Hungarian troops initially crushed Serbia, defended the routes into Hungary and repulsed Italian advances in Gorizia. The Austro-Hungarian Army suffered very serious casualties throughout the war, especially in 1914. However, they had considerable successes (albeit with German aid and direction) even advancing into enemy territory following German-led victories in Galicia (May 1915) and at Caporetto on the Italian front (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 for nationalists to renounce ties to the old state and to embrace the nationalist ideology of the victorious powers. On top of that, the Empire could no longer provide an incentive for the nationalities to work together. Other groups also lost faith in the Empire. Prosperity had disappeared, disillusioning business interests, socialists became upset by the loss of the liberal policies that had characterised the pre-war Cisleithanian government. Under those conditions radical nationalists found it easy 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 the conglomeration up into various national components in accordance with Woodrow Wilson's 14 points. Note that the allied powers by no means saw the break-up of the empire as a war aim: they seriously entertained the idea only towards 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 under Habsburg rule.
First to formalise the new circumstances, the Czechs proclaimed independence on October 28 1918. Hungary followed suit on 31 October, although Transylvania's majority joined Romania, taking with them a large Hungarian minority. The South Slavs had formed the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on 29 October, soon united (1 December 1918) 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 political alignments. Different treaties affected the area, including the Treaty of Trianon (1920).
Both Austria and Hungary became republics, exiling the Habsburg family in perpetuity. A pro-monarchist revival in Hungary after the communist revolution and the 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 states formed themselves (in part or in full) out of the former Habsburg lands:
In addition, some Austro-Hungarian territory went to Romania and Italy. Liechtenstein, which had formerly looked to Vienna for protection, formed a customs and defence union with Switzerland, and adopted the Swiss currency instead of the Austrian. In April 1919 Vorarlberg, the westernmost province of Austria, voted by a large majority to join Switzerland; however both the Swiss and the Allies ignored the vote.
Historical views of Austria-Hungary have varied throughout the 20th century:
Historians in the early part of the century tended to have emotional and/or personal involvement with the issues surrounding Austria-Hungary. Nationalist historians tended to view the Habsburg polity as despotic and obsolete. Other scholars, usually associated with the old government, became apologists for the traditional leadership and tried to explain their policies.
- Major writers from the early period who remain influential include: Oskar Jászi and Josef Redlich.
Subsequent experience of the region's inter-war "Balkanization", of Nazi occupation, and then of Soviet domination, led to a more sympathetic interpretation of the Empire, based primarily in a large exiled 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 faced inevitable collapse as the 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 supports Sked's view.
- Others, such as Solomon Wank, remain skeptical.
Last updated: 10-15-2005 06:39:49