The history of Switzerland is the history of the country from the Roman conquest in 58 before our time. During the migration, the country was populated by Germanic tribes, Burgundians from the west, Alemans from the north and east and langobards from the south. These immigrants see a basis for the spread of French, German and Italian respectively in today’s Switzerland.

  • Countryaah: Check to see the location of Switzerland on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Switzerland.

In the 500s most of the present Switzerland came under France, which in the 800s and later underwent several divisions. In the 13th century, the western part of the country lay under Savoya, the central and eastern parts of the German-Roman Empire. The spearhead of the formation of the present nation of Switzerland lies in the signing of the so-called Bundesbrief in 1291, in which the three forest towns of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden formed the Swiss Confederation to defend their independence from the German-Roman Empire.

Switzerland’s current borders reached Switzerland at the Vienna Congress in 1815, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. After a very brief civil war in 1847/1848, Switzerland then obtained a constitution establishing the federal state system that we know today.

Older history

The oldest traces of people in Switzerland are from settlements in caves and date from the Moustérien period. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Switzerland.

Most of the present Switzerland was laid under the Roman Empire from 58 BCE. onwards, in connection with Caesar’s conquest of Gallia. In the migration period needed Germanic people into, Alemann in northeast and Burgundians in the west. The latter adopted Latin language and culture, and this is the origin of the later division of Switzerland into a German and a French part. In the south-east the old people asserted themselves in the Graubünden.

Medieval

In the 530s, all of Switzerland was incorporated into France, and in splitting it in 843, Eastern Switzerland went to the German-Roman Empire and Western Switzerland to the kingdom of Lothar, then to Upper Burgundy in 888. In 1032, this too came under the German-Roman Empire. Switzerland belonged to this realm until 1499 (nominally until 1648) and was greatly influenced by German culture and Catholic church life at this time.

Countesses and bishops were the real landlords, but in the Alpine lands around the Vierwaldstättersee the old self-governed Germanic peasant communities remained, and from the latter half of the 12th century the cities began to gain importance. The dukes of Zähringen had authority over most of Switzerland, but when their lineage died in 1218, Emperor Frederick 2 withdrew its ruse, and a number of areas became ” nationwide “.

The three forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden also received imperial letters of liberty and demanded national remedies, but shortly afterwards the counties of Habsburg, who were tombs in Aargau, Zurichgau and Thurgau, as well as bailiffs and landlords around the country, began their efforts to submit to the whole Switzerland.

In common opposition to the Habsburgs, the three forest cantonments in 1291 concluded an ” oath federation ” which became the origin of the later state of Switzerland, in 1309 they achieved actual statehood, and after the victory over Duke Leopold of Austria at Morgarten in 1315 the oath union was made eternal.

The name Switzerland is derived from Schwyz, one of the three original cantons. The Swiss peasant invasion repeatedly struck the knights’ armies of the Habsburgs, and during these wars new territories joined the oath union: Lucerne in 1332, Zurich in 1351, Glarus and Zug in 1352, and Bern in 1353; these later together with the three forest cantons constituted the eight “old cantons”.

The peace agreement with the Habsburgs in 1389 made Switzerland a power that the neighboring states had to count on, much more so as the Alliance of Unions embarked on an aggressive foreign policy. Encouraged by Louis 11 of France, it was also with Burgundy. Duke Karl the valiant was beaten several times, and fell in 1477. This strengthened the military reputation of the Swiss peasants, and they became the most sought-after and hired troops of the time.

Especially in the 1400s and 1500s, it became common for them to go into foreign service; they then participated in both the wars in Italy and in the French religious wars. Even later, the French kings used Swiss guards. The Pope’s Swiss Guard is a memory of this time. With Germany there were constant demolitions, and the emperor’s German countrymen were constantly beaten until in 1499 he concluded the peace in Basel. The Union of Oaths was then declared independent of the National Chamber of Deputies and exempt from national taxes.

Reformation and inner contradictions

The main field of the Reformation Monument in Geneva. The sculptures depict from the left: Guillaume Farel, Jean Calvin, Théodore de Bèze and John Knox. The image is taken from the paper lexicon Store Norwegian Lexicon, published 2005-2007.

Its full sovereignty was granted the oath in 1648 by the peace in Westphalia after the Thirty Years’ War. In the meantime, everything in the 14th century had been threatened by the explosion due to the conflict between the cities and the cantons, but this was prevented by the agreement in Stanz in 1481. At the same time, Friborg and Solothurn were admitted to the oath, while Basel and Schaffhausen joined in 1501 and Appenzell in 1513. Then, until 1798, the Union consisted of 13 cantons, but to these came lands and cities which had stood under the protection of the federation, and conquered or purchased territories.

The Reformation in the 16th century led to a profound religious divide, even to civil war, in which the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli was killed. Geneva, which joined Bern and Friborg in 1526 and shortly after joined the oath, became the center of reformed Calvinism. The Catholic Church remained in the forest cantons (peasant districts), but otherwise the Reformation prevailed. Religious unity was strictly enforced in every canton, and during the Counter-Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War this often led to a rift between them.

In the late 16th century, the Catholic cantons formed an alliance with Philip II of Spain. For about 150 years, until the Great Revolutionary Wars, the country had external peace, but there were still strong internal contradictions, both religious, political and social; among other things, the affiliated and subordinate countries demanded political equality.

Constitutional Dispute

A major theme in Swiss history also in the time around 1800 and later was the clashes between centralist tendencies and forces that wanted to mark the independence of the cantons. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars led to great changes.

In 1798 French troops moved into Switzerland. The old, loosely bound oath union was transformed into a centralized ” hellish ” republic according to French pattern, and the cantons reduced to administrative units. A number of stand and feudal rights were abolished, and religious, press, craft and trade freedom was declared. In 1799-1800 French and Russian forces fought against each other in Switzerland, but the French retained dominion in the country.

The controversy continued, and in 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte gave the country a new constitution. Switzerland became a federal state of 19 cantons, but outwardly the country was in fact a French vassal state. However, foreign rule soon became unpopular. After the Allies’ march into Bern and other cities in 1813, the form of government from before 1798 was in principle reintroduced. At the Vienna Congress in 1815, the great powers always guaranteed Switzerland’s neutrality.

According to a new constitution, Switzerland became a loose state union between the cantons. In 1817, the country joined the Holy Alliance. In several cantons, the constitution was changed in a reactionary direction, restrictions were made in the press and asylum law, and the nobility, the old ” patrician ” bourgeois families and the church retained power. In the 1830s the liberal direction became stronger under the impression of the French July revolution. The constitution of the Protestant cantons often became more liberal, and many cantons granted asylum to political refugees. In the Catholic cantons, power passed to the Jesuits and other far- flung clerics.

The constitutional struggle between those who wanted to strengthen the central power and those who wanted to preserve as much independence as possible for the cantons was interwoven with conflicts between the confessional directions. In 1845, seven cantons formed a “special federation” (Sonderbund), and in 1847 came a brief civil war, in which the wealthier and more populous Protestant cantons won an easy victory. The result was the Constitution of 1848, which curtailed the power of the cantons and transformed Switzerland from almost a state federation to a federal state, led by a central government with its seat in Bern.

In the same direction, the constitutional amendment passed in 1874. A referendum was introduced for the entire republic and came to play a significant role in Switzerland’s further political development. The leading political party until 1919 was the radical-democratic party, which had the support of the Protestant middle class and Protestant peasants, especially in the German-speaking districts. The party was anti-clerical, centralist and free trade friendly. It had the advantage of the electoral system and until 1919 always a majority in the Federal Assembly. The party, for its part, had the Liberal Democratic Party, which was conservative in social issues and advocated widespread autonomy for the cantons; the party represented the French-speaking bourgeoisie, above all in Geneva.

The leading opposition party was the Catholic, often also called the Conservative Party, which was clerical and primarily represented the Catholic peasant and forest cantons. The clash between church and state and between the central government and the cantons was at the height of the 1870s, at the same time as the “cultural struggle” in Germany. It gradually became less bitter, and in 1892 a member of the Catholic party was elected a member of the government (Federal Council).

Since then it was custom that the two or three leading parties were represented in the government. Political conditions became stable; the government members often sat for a lifetime.

Industrialization

The emergence of new industries also led to social and political structural changes in Switzerland. Better communications laid the foundations for extensive tourist traffic, and Switzerland gained an industry based on local craft traditions, hydropower and a working population.

Industrialization from the late 1800s led to a rapid growth of the industrial working class. From the 1860s onwards, there had been a number of small, sectarian, socialist movements, but it was not until 1889 that a social democratic party was formed according to the German pattern, but with a stronger anti-militaristic and international character than the German one. It had its strength in cities such as Zurich and Basel, but because of the electoral system had little political significance before 1919.

During World War I, neutral Switzerland was in a difficult position. Economically, the country depended on exports to Germany, while it depended on the entent when it came to supplying raw materials and several important foods such as grain. Politically, the sympathy of the population was divided, the French speakers were entente- friendly, while the German speakers were either German friendly or neutral. At the outbreak of the war, the government received very extensive authorizations from the Federal Assembly, and both the censorship and economic policy attracted strong criticism. Towards the end of the war and in the first post-war years, a radical wave swept over Switzerland.

In November 1918, a major strike broke out. Following a referendum, it was decided to introduce proportional elections to the Federal Council. In the 1919 elections, the radicals lost their dominant position; it was a breakthrough for social democracy and for a new peasant party that was separated from the radicals. A minority in the Social Democratic Party formed in 1921 the Communist Party.

Political conditions in the 1920s were largely stable. The Social Democrats had some progress, the radicals some decline, but they were still the biggest party. In the government, the larger bourgeois parties, but not the social democrats, were represented. A number of reforms were implemented, such as the 8-hour day, old age, widow’s and disability pension, and grain monopoly. But all proposals on women’s suffrage were rejected. Switzerland was hit hard by the economic crisis of the 1930s, which faced a pronounced deflationary policy. Unemployment in the countryside led to political turmoil and some progress both for the communists and for fascist groups.

Foreign policy neutrality

In foreign policy, Switzerland lived up to its traditional line of neutrality. During the 1800s and 1900s, a number of international institutions and organizations gained their headquarters in Switzerland: the International Red Cross as early as 1864, the World Post Association in 1878, the Berne Convention in 1888 and the International Labor Office from 1920. Geneva was elected as the seat of The League of Nations when Switzerland joined in 1920; The League of Nations had to accept Swiss reservations that would allow the country to stay neutral in a future war.

During World War II, Switzerland maintained its neutrality. The supply situation was somewhat easier than during the First World War, and this time the large majority of German speakers also sympathized with the Western powers. However, Switzerland feared attacks from Germany and Italy and had to keep large forces under arms.

In recent years, however, Switzerland’s role during and just after World War II has been highly debated. The Swiss “Bank secrecy” (the banks’ duty of confidentiality), which has also been criticized from abroad for forming a hiding place for money earned illegally, has been criticized for causing bank deposits from Jews killed in German concentration camps was not transferred to heirs after the war. Allegations that Swiss banks “laundered” gold and art that Nazi Germany had stolen from Jews in occupied countries led the US authorities to conduct a comprehensive investigation. The review report presented in 1997 concluded, among other things, that Swiss financial institutions had enabled Germany to translate seized assets into supplies that were important to the German war effort.

After World War II, Switzerland continued its traditional neutrality policy, trying to reconcile it with a commitment to international aid programs. The country therefore joined a number of UN cultural, economic and humanitarian subdivisions and the interpersonal court, but did not join the UN’s main organization until 2002 because it was found to be incompatible with the policy of neutrality.

In the East-West conflict, too, Switzerland tried to stay away from military and political bloc formation. However, Switzerland was a member of the Marshall Plan, from 1961 by the OECD, and from 1963 by the Council of Europe. Switzerland joined EFTA from the start. In 1972, it entered into a special agreement with EF, but then considered full membership as incompatible with neutrality.

Political and economic development in the post-war period

In domestic politics, conditions have been stable, with relatively small shifts in the parties’ relative strengths. In a referendum in 1971, a two-thirds majority voted to give women the right to vote in federal affairs, but women’s suffrage and eligibility for central political positions remained a contentious issue for a long time. In 1984, the country gained the first female government member, and it was not until 1989 and 1990 that the last two cantonments introduced women’s suffrage at local elections. Since 1959, the country has had coalition governments of the four largest parties.

Switzerland’s economy expanded rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, but since then growth has been moderate, in the period 1984-1994 there was hardly any change in GDP, and in the 1990s the country experienced some economic decline and a period of somewhat higher unemployment – a problem that was previously insignificant. However, the country has a trade balance surplus and has a positive balance of payments, especially as a result of the extensive activities in banking, insurance and tourism.

History of Switzerland
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