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History of Switzerland
 
 
 

Early History

The earliest known cultural tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures. The La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450 BC, possibly under some influence from the Greek and Etruscan civilisations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. In 15 BC, Tiberius I, who was destined to be the second Roman emperor, and his brother, Drusus, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii – the namesakes of the later Confoederatio Helvetica – first became part of Rome's Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province, while the eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia.

The Middle Ages

In the Early Middle Ages, from the fourth century AD, the western extent of modern-day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the fifth century AD and the valleys of the Alps in the eighth century AD, forming Alemannia. Modern-day Switzerland was therefore then divided between the kingdoms of Alemannia and Burgundy. The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the sixth century, following Clovis I's victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.

By 561 AD the Merovingian king Guntram, Clovis I's grandson, had inherited the Frankish kingdom of Burgundy, which extended east nearly to the Rhine. East of this, the Alemanni were ruled under a nominal dukedom within Frankia, as the Franks filled the vacuum caused by the declining western reach of Roman Byzantium. By this time Frankia was beginning to form the tripartite character that would characterise the rest of its history. The territories were subdivided into Neustria in the west (referred to simply as Frankia at the time; the name Neustria did not appear in writing until some 80 years later), Austrasia in the northeast and Burgundy.

Throughout the rest of the sixth and early seventh centuries AD the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony, with the Franks largely occupied with infighting about issues of succession amongst the Frankish sub-kingdoms (whose kings were close blood relatives). In 632 AD, following the death of Chlothar II, the entire Frankish realm was briefly united under Dagobert, who is described as the last Merovingian king able to exercise real power. Under Dagobert, the Austrasians agitated for self-governance as a means of countering the influence of the Neustrians, who dominated the royal court. Dagobert was forced by the strong Austrasian aristocracy to appoint his infant son, Sigebert III, as sub-king of Austrasia in 633 AD. The weakness of the realm became clear, and this led to consideration of the risks and benefits of rebellion by those subject to the Franks. After Sigebert III suffered a military defeat at the hands of Radulf, King of Thuringia, in 640 AD, the Alemanni also revolted against Frankish rule. The ensuing period of Alemanni independence lasted more or less continuously until the middle of the eighth century AD.

Mayors of the Palace had been appointed by the Frankish kings as court officials since the early seventh century AD to act as mediators between the king and the people. However, following Dagobert's death in 639 AD, with infants on the throne in both Neustria (Clovis II – a babe in arms in 639 AD) and Austrasia (Sigebert III – about four years old in 639 AD), these court appointees assumed greater power, eventually to such an extent that they ended the rule of the Merovingian monarchs and took over the Frankish throne themselves. The first step was taken by the Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, Grimoald I, who persuaded the childless Sigebert III to adopt his own son, Childebert, as heir to the throne.


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