History of Switzerland

History of Switzerland

Today, Switzerland is largely known as the only neutral nation in the planet. But how did this nation, long besieged by its conquering neighbors, manage to maintain its political neutrality and fierce sense of identity despite its being completely surrounded by countries with differing political ideologies? A look at the history of Switzerland may have some answers.

Pre-Roman to Roman Times

The history of Switzerland started even way before the rise of the Roman Empire. The original inhabitants of Switzerland were called the Helvetii and the Rhaetians, occupying the western and eastern points of the territory, respectively.

It was only in the 1sty century B.C. that the Romans, led by Julius Caesar came. After conquering the region, they renamed it Helvetia, which became thoroughly Romanized in the succeeding centuries. However, with the Germanic invasions of the Western Roman Empire in the 4th century A.D., the map of the history of Switzerland was drastically changed when Roman-controlled Helvetia was conquered by the Burgundians and the Alamanni.

Middle Ages

Roughly a century later, in 5th century A.D., the Franks conquered the Alamanni. Later in the early 6th century, they also conquered the Burgundians. Thus, the history of Switzerland came under the charge of the Franks, who introduced Christianity to its people.

In the 9th century, control of much of Europe was lost from the Frankish Carolingian. Consequently, much of Switzerland became a part of one of the great feudal states of the German Kingdom, the duchy of Alemannia. The rest was absorbed by the kingdom of Transjurane Burgundy, which in 1033, was acquired by Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II. At this point of the history of Switzerland, the country was no more than a collection of petty states, ruled by either dukes or counts, and sometimes bishops and abbots.

Struggle for Independence

The turn of the 13th century proved to be a significant turning point in the history of Switzerland for it was in 1276 that the Swiss’ traditional liberties were clearly threatened. The Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf I of the Habsburg dynasty wanted to acquire the territory that is now Switzerland. To resist this aggression, the three cantons, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, combined their defenses. This proved to be the foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy, which was later on enlarged when other cantons likewise followed suit.

The Reformation

The history of Switzerland experienced another significant moment in 1518 when the Protestant Reformation came into being. Among the leaders of this movement are the country pastor Huldreich Zwingli and the French theologian John Calvin.

The Thirty Years’ War of 1618 to 1648 followed, but Switzerland preserved its neutrality. Even so, it was able to achieve formal recognition as a nation and as a completely independent state.

Unification to the Present

The French Revolution in the 1790s reached Switzerland and 1798, revolutionaries supported by the French occupied the whole territory. Napoleon Bonaparte, the future emperor of France, unified the country under the name Helvetic Republic. Later in 1803, Napoleon withdrew his troops. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna passed a new constitution, recognizing the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland. This in effect marked the long tradition and history of Switzerland as a politically neutral state.