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History of Switzerland: Introduction / Sitemap A Short History of Switzerland History of Switzerland: Detailed Timeline  Early Swiss History
Prehistory: Lake-dwellings in Switzerland Swiss History: Celtic Helvetians Switzerland during the Age of Romans, Aventicum Aventicum, Swiss Capital in the Age of Romans Switzerland during the Middle Ages  Old Swiss History
The Old Swiss Confederacy (1291-1515) William Tell (Switzerland's National Hero) The Swiss Reformation (Calvin, Zwingli)  A Modern Constitution
Swiss Revolution and Helvetic Republic (1798) Switzerland's Federal Constitution (1848) History of Switzerland's Flag Switzerland's Political System The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote  Industrialisation
Industrialisation in Switzerland Johanna Spyri: Heidi, the girl from the alps - A bestseller about times of change  World War II
World War II: General Timeline Switzerland's Role in World War II Spiritual Defense against Nazism Switzerland's Economic Dependence and Rationing Jewish Refugees Looted Assets Switzerland's Neutrality Switzerland's National Public Radio Station Beromünster  Country & People
Basic information about Switzerland - country profile Switzerland's Population and Languages Important Swiss monuments: pictures and meaning  Links
Links: History Swiss Museums Links: Switzerland

Switzerland's History

Switzerland is a small country situated in the heart of Central Europe and shares a lot of it's history and of it's culture (four national languages spoken in different regions) with it's neighbours Germany, France, Italy and Austria.

When does the history of Switzerland begin? The answer depends on the interpretation of the term Switzerland:

  • Archeology shows that Stone Age hunters have been living in Switzerland already before the last Ice Age (approximately 350'000 B.C.).
  • Switzerland's official latin name "Confoederatio Helvetica" goes back to a Celtic tribe called the Helvetians.
  • The majority of Switzerland's "native" population settled during the Germanic Migration of Nations that set an end to the Roman Empire in Western Europe at about 400 A.D.
  • The Old Swiss Confederacy was founded in the first days of August, 1291 (hence Switzerland's national holiday is celebrated on August, 1st).
  • Switzerland was officially accepted as an independent nation by its neighbours in the 1648 European peace treaty.
  • The Swiss Revolution and the Helvetic Republic have set an end to the rule of a small number of privileged cities, valleys and families over the majority of the country.
  • Today's borders and Switzerland's Neutrality were defined at the Vienna Congress of 1815 ending the wars of Napoleon.
  • Switzerland's modern Federal Constitution dates back to 1848 (with total revisions in 1874 and 1999).

There might be good reasons for any of these choices because Switzerland has been changing a lot during the centuries of its history and there is not really too much common ground between the Helvetians or the medieval Old Swiss Confederacy and the modern Swiss Civil Society.

Nevertheless this website starts with the first inhabitants we have any accounts of, but it does focus on Switzerland's change into a modern democratic society and on Switzerland's Role in World War II.

Chronology / Overview

600000 - 30000 B.C.Ice Age Human Evolution in Africa. Central Europe more or less covered by glaciers, some warmer intermediate periods allow human activities, however.
30000 - 1800 B.C.Stone Age Hunters using weapons and tools made from stones in Europe.
1800 - 800 B.C.Bronze Age Weapons and tools made from bronze.
800 - 58 B.C. Iron Age

Weapons and tools made from iron. Celtic tribes all over Western Europe. The Helvetians, a celtic tribe, give their name to the Swiss territory: hence HELVETIA on Swiss coins and stamps, ch = Confoederatio Helvetica on cars and internet domains.
58 B.C. - 400 A.D.Roman Period Helvetians stopped by roman commander C. Julius Cesar when trying to move towards Southern France. Switzerland occupied by roman troops, beginning of written history in this region.
400 - 1500Middle Ages Germanic tribes set an end to the Roman Empire and build new states and empires in Europe. Feudal system. Monasteries keep up roman and greek heritage (reading and writing) and develop new agricultural methods.
1291 - 1515Old Swiss Confederacy Three valleys in Central Switzerland unite against the counts of Habsburg and fight for autonomy. Cities join the confederacy. They conquer territories in northern and southern Switzerland.
1523 - 1536Reformation Swiss Reformers Zwingli and Calvin even more radical than Luther in Germany. Calvin's doctrine has influenced denominations in many other countries.
1536 - 1798Ancien Regime Switzerland is a loose confederacy of 13 cities and small valley communities dominating the rest of the country. A few families control state affairs. Several rebellions put down by military force: repressed aspects of history in a country so proud of it's tradition of democracy.
1798 - 1802Helvetic Republic Revolution in Switzerland. Farmers in occupied territories become free citizens. Centralistic parliamentary republic according to French model. Occupation by French troops and some battles of Napoleon vs. Austria and Russia in Switzerland.
1803 - 1815Mediation Civil war brings Helvetic Republic to an end. French emperor Napoleon enforces a constitution negociated under his "mediation"
1815 - 1830Restauration Confederacy reestablished, however with 22 cantons [member states]. Liberals in minority position.
1830 - 1848Regeneration Second French Revolution (1830) also boosts liberals in Switzerland. Some federal states with liberal governments and new constitutions. The conservative catholic governments of some cantons [federal states] set up a secret Special Alliance ["Sonderbund"] against the liberal governments of other cantons. This leads to a short civil war ["Sonderbundskrieg"] (1847).
1848Federal State New Federal Constitution combining elements of the U.S. constitution (Federal State with central and cantonal [state] governments and parliaments) and of French revolutionary tradition. The Principles of this constitution are still valid today.
1800 - 1900Industrialisation Switzerland is one of the first industrialized countries in Europe.
1914 - 1918World War I. Armed neutrality works when surrounded by warfaring nations.
1918 - 1933Economic Crisis Twenties are not so "roaring" in Europe. Inner conflicts, general strike in 1918, 1929 world economic crisis hit this industrialized country severely.
1933 - 1939Spiritual Defense Hitler in Germany is soon seen as a danger to Switzerland's independence. Thousands of German refugees (jews, intellectuals) accepted. Socialists and trade unions seek cooperation with liberal employers against fascist threat.
1939 - 1945World War II. Neutral Switzerland surrounded by fascist troops (Germany, Austria, Italy) or collaborating regimes (Vichy-France). Some trade with Hitler was inevitable for sheer survival (and the survival of more than 150,000 refugees). Other, not inevitable aspects were: (Too) rigid refugee politics (25,000 sent back), uncritical collaboration in case of looted assets and accepting stolen gold.
Since 1945Prosperity Recent history is characterized by political stability, economic progress, increased social security and a new openness and tolerance.

History of Switzerland: Sitemap

Swiss History in Brief: Summary
Swiss History: Detailed Timeline

  Early Swiss History   The Formation of Modern Switzerland
  Old Swiss History   Recent Swiss History
  Local History and Monuments
  Switzerland's Coat of Arms
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