Switzerland Early History

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Switzerland Early History

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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 civilizations. 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.

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 stretched east nearly as far as 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.

Meanwhile in the Neustrian palace, the Mayors of the Palace, Erchinoald and his successor Ebroin, were likewise increasing their hold on power behind Clovis II and his successor Chlothar III. Ebroin reunited the Frankish kingdom by defeating and removing Childebert (and Grimoald) from Austrasia in 661 AD.

Chlothar III's younger brother, Childeric II, was then installed as king of the Austrasians, and together they ruled the empire. When Chlothar III died in 673 AD, Childeric II became king of the entire realm, ruling from Austrasia, until he was assassinated two years later by members of the Neustrian elite. After his death, Theuderic III, son of Clovis II, ascended to the throne, ruling from Neustria. He and his Mayor of the Palace, Berthar, declared war on Austrasia, which was ruled by Dagobert II, son of Sigebert III, and Pepin of Herstal (Pepin II), the Arnulfing Mayor of Austrasia. Theuderic and Berthar were defeated by Pepin at the Battle of Tertry in 687 AD, after which Pepin was appointed the sole mayor of all Frankia, nominating himself as duke and prince of all the Franks. Pepin was the product of the marriage of two very powerful houses—that of the Pippinids and that of the Arnulfings. His success at Tertry was to mark the end of Merovingian power.

Pepin again tasted military success in his campaign to bring the Frisians, of Europe's north coast, back under Frankish control. Between 709 AD and 712 AD he fought a similar campaign against the Alemanni, including those within the borders of present-day Switzerland, and succeeded in reimposing Frankish rule, for the first time since the Alemannic revolt of 640 AD. However Frankish control of this and other outlying areas was again lost when a Frankish civil war of succession followed Pepin's death in 714 AD.

The war was a continuation of the ageless Neustrian–Austrasian rivalry. Pepin's illegitimate son, Charles Martel (who was the son of Pepin's mistress Alpaida), had been proclaimed mayor of Austrasia by the Austrasian nobility in defiance of Pepin's widow, Plectrude, who preferred that her 8-year-old grandson, Theudoald, be appointed. Neustria invaded Austrasia under Chilperic II, who had been appointed by the Neustrians without the agreement of the rest of the Frankish peoples. The turning point of the war came at the Battle of Ambleve, when Charles Martel, using brilliant and unconventional tactics, defeated combined Neustrian and Frisian forces under Chilperic II and Mayor Ragenfrid. Charles struck when the Neustrians were marching home after triumphing at Cologne over Plectrude and the child Theudoald.

By 717 AD, Charles had confirmed his supremacy, with victory over the Neustrians at the Battle of Vincy, thereby marking the beginning of Carolingian rule over the Frankish empire.

After 718 AD, Charles, who was a brilliant commander, embarked upon a series of wars to strengthen Frankish dominion over Western Europe. This included bringing the Alemanni back under Frankish hegemony, and even, in the 720s AD, forcing some Alemannic elements to participate in his wars against their eastern neighbours, the Bavarians.

Alemannia, however, remained restless, with Duke Lantfrid in the late 720s AD expressing independence by issuing revisions of the laws of the Alemans. Charles invaded again in 730 AD and subjugated the Alemanni by force.

Charles is perhaps best known for stopping the Arab advance into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, in a military stand that arguably halted Islamic expansionism into the European homeland.

When Charles died in 741 AD, the dominion over Frankia was divided between his two sons from his first marriage, namely Pepin the Short and Carloman. Carloman was given Austrasia, Alemannia and Thuringia, while Pepin took control of Neustria, Provence and Burgundy (including present-day western Switzerland).

By 743 AD, Carloman was vowing to impose a greater degree of control over Alemannia. This resulted ultimately in the arrest, trial and execution of several thousand Alemannic noblemen at the blood court at Cannstatt in 746 AD.

Carloman retired to a monastery in 747 AD, leaving Pepin to assume the Frankish crown (after a vote of nobles) in 751 AD. Pepin further strengthened his position by forming an alliance, in 754 AD, with Pope Stephen II, who then came all the way to Paris to anoint him king in a ceremony at St Denis's Basilica. In return Pepin subdued the Lombards and donated the Exarchate of Ravenna as well as captured territory around Rome to the church. This was a turning point in the history of the Roman Catholic Church and Western Europe, as it foreshadowed later events under Charlemagne that led to formation of the Holy Roman Empire. It is claimed that Pope Stephen II tabled the forged Donation of Constantine during his negotiations with Pepin. The Donation is a falsified imperial order purported to have been issued by Constantine to give to Pope Sylvester I and all his successors dominion over not only the Western Roman Empire but also all of Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace and Rome.

Upon Pepin's death in 768 AD, the Frankish empire was passed to his sons Charles and Carloman I. Carloman withdrew to a monastery and died shortly afterwards, leaving Charles, later known as the legendary Charlemagne, the sole ruler of the Franks. Charles expanded Frankish sovereignty to include the Saxons, Bavarians, and the Lombards in northern Italy, and he expanded the empire into today's Austria and parts of Croatia. He offered the papacy the promise of enduring Frankish protection, and he patronized monastic centers of learning.

Charles therefore emerged as the leader of Western Christendom. By 1200 AD, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg and Kyburg. When the Kyburg dynasty fell in 1264 AD, the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (emperor in 1273) extended its territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.

Source: Wikipedia Encyclopedia

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