The Austro-Hungarian Empire, also known as Austria-Hungary, Dual Monarchy or k.u.k. Monarchy or Dual State, was a dual-monarchic union state in Central Europe from 1867 to 1918, dissolved at the end of World War I. The dual monarchy was the successor to the Austrian Empire (1804-1867) on the same territory, originating in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 between the ruling Habsburg dynasty and the Hungarians. As a multi-national empire and great power in an era of national awakening, it found its political life dominated by disputes among the eleven principal national groups. Its economic and social life was marked by a rapid economic growth through the age of industrialization and social modernization through many liberal and democratic reforms.
The Habsburg dynasty ruled as Emperors of Austria over the western and northern half of the country and as Kings of Hungary over the Kingdom of Hungary which enjoyed some degree of self-government and representation in joint affairs (principally foreign relations and defence).
The federation bore the full name internationally of "The Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Crown of St. Stephen". The capital of the state was Vienna. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was geographically the second largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire, and the third most populous (after both Russia and the German Empire). Today, the territory it covered has a population of about 73 million.
Creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of February 1867 which inaugurated the Empire's dualist structure in place of the former unitary Austrian Empire (1804-67) originated at a time when Austria had declined in strength and in power of both in the Italian Peninsula (as a result of the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859) and in greater Germany (culminating in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866). Other factors in the constitutional changes included continued Hungarian dissatisfaction with rule from Vienna and increasing national consciousness on the part of other nationalities of the Austrian Empire. Hungarian dissatisfaction grew partially from Austria's suppression, with Russian support, of the Hungarian liberal revolution of 1848-49. However, dissatisfaction with Austrian rule had grown for many years within Hungary, and had many other causes.
In an effort to shore up support for the monarchy, Emperor Franz Joseph began negotiations for a compromise with the Hungarian nobility to ensure their support. In particular, Magyar leaders demanded and received the Emperor's coronation as King of Hungary, and the establishment of a separate parliament at Budapest with the powers to enact laws for the lands of the Hungarian crown (the lands of St. Stephen), which would preserve the political dominance of the Hungarian nobility.
Three distinct elements ruled The Austro-Hungarian Empire:
1. the Hungarian government
2. the "Austrian" or Cisleithanian government
3. a unified administration under the monarch
Hungary and Austria maintained separate parliaments, each with its own prime minister. Linking/co-ordinating the two fell to a government under a monarch, wielding power absolute in theory but limited in practice. The monarch’s common government had responsibility for the army, for the navy, for foreign policy, and for the customs union.
Within Cisleithania and Hungary certain regions, such as Galicia and Croatia enjoyed special status with their own unique governmental structures.
A common Ministerial Council ruled the common government: it comprised the three ministers for the joint responsibilities (joint finance, military, and foreign policy), the two prime ministers, some Archdukes and the monarch. Two delegations of representatives, one each from the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments, met separately and voted on the expenditures of the Common Ministerial Council, giving the two governments influence in the common administration. However, the ministers ultimately answered only to the monarch, and he had the final decision on matters of foreign and military policy.
Overlapping responsibilities between the joint ministries and the ministries of the two halves caused friction and inefficiencies. The armed forces suffered particularly from overlap. Although the unified government determined overall military direction, the Austrian and Hungarian governments each remained in charge of "the quota of recruits, legislation concerning compulsory military service, transfer and provision of the armed forces, and regulation of the civic, non-military affairs of members of the armed forces". Needless to say, each government could have a strong influence over common governmental responsibilities. Each half of the Dual Monarchy proved quite prepared to disrupt common operations to advance its own interests.
Relations over the half-century after 1867 between the two halves of the Empire (in fact the Cisleithan part contained about 57% of the combined realm's population and a rather larger share of its economic resources) featured repeated disputes over shared external tariff arrangements and over the financial contribution of each government to the common treasury. Under the terms of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, an agreement, renegotiated every ten years, determined these matters. Each build-up to the renewal of the agreement saw political turmoil. The disputes between the halves of the empire culminated in the mid-1900s in a prolonged constitutional crisis triggered by disagreement over the language of command in Hungarian army units, and deepened by the advent to power in Budapest (April 1906) of a Hungarian nationalist coalition. Provisional renewals of the common arrangements occurred in October 1907 and in November 1917 on the basis of the status quo.
The Austro-Hungarian economy changed dramatically during the existence of the Dual Monarchy. Technological change accelerated industrialization and urbanization. The capitalist way of production spread throughout the Empire during its fifty-year existence replacing medieval institutions. Economic growth centred around Vienna, the Austrian lands (areas of modern Austria), the Alpine lands, and the Bohemian lands. In the later years of the nineteenth century rapid economic growth spread to the central Hungarian plain and to the Carpathian lands. As a result of this pattern wide disparities of development existed within the Empire. In general the western areas became more developed than the east. By the early 20th century most of the Empire had started to experience rapid economic growth. The GNP per capita grew roughly 1.45% per year from 1870 to 1913. That level of growth compared very favourably to that of other European nations such as Britain (1.00%), France (1.06%), and Germany (1.51%). However, the Empire's economy as a whole still lagged considerably behind the economies of other powers, as it had only begun sustained modernization much later. Britain had a GNP per-capita almost three times larger than the Habsburg Empire, while Germany's stood almost twice as high as the Austro-Hungarian Empire's. Nonetheless, these large discrepancies hide different levels of development within the Empire.
Rail transport expanded rapidly in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its predecessor state, the Habsburg Empire, had built a substantial core of railways in the west originating from Vienna by 1841. At that point the government realized the military possibilities of rail and began to invest heavily in their construction. Pozsony (Bratislava), Budapest, Prague, Krakow, Graz, Laibach (Ljubljana), and Venice became linked to the main network. By 1854 the Empire had almost 2000 kilometres of track, about 60 to 70% of it in state hands. At that point the government began to sell off large portions of track to private investors to recoup some of its investments and because of the financial strains of the 1848 Revolution and of the Crimean War.
From 1854 to 1879 private interests conducted almost all rail construction. What would become Cisleithania gained 7,952 track kilometres, and Hungary built 5,839 track kilometres. During this time many new areas joined the railway system and the existing rail networks gained connections and interconnections. This period marked the beginning of widespread rail transportation in Austria-Hungary, and also the integration of transportation systems in the area. Railways allowed the Empire to integrate its economy far more than previously possible, when transportation depended on rivers.
After 1879 the Austro-Hungarian government slowly began to re-nationalize the rail network, largely because of the sluggish pace of development during the worldwide depression of the 1870s. The years between 1879 and 1900 saw more than 25,000 km of railways built in Cisleithania and Hungary. Most of this constituted "filling in" of the existing network, although some areas, primarily in the far east, gained rail connections for the first time during this period. The railroad reduced transportation costs throughout the Empire, opening new markets for products from other lands of the Dual Monarchy.
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, in creating a semi-independent Hungary, entailed the rise of an assertive Magyar identity within the Empire. The Slav minorities found themselves at the mercy of Magyar nationalism, far less liberal in many ways than the policy previously followed by Vienna. After the agreement of 1867 the Imperial foreign minister was obliged to take account of the views on the minister-president of Hungary; besides Germanisation the Hungarians were most concerned about the threat of Pan Slavism. Here Russia was perceived as the immediate threat, with Serbia as its "Trojan Horse" in the Balkans. No individual represented this view more clearly than Count Gyula Androssy Jr., first minister-president of Hungary and then himself the Imperial foreign minister.
Set against this general background it is also important to remember that, by the late 1860s, Austrian ambitions in both Italy and Germany had been choked off by the rise of new national powers. Only the Balkans were left as a field for potential expansion. The whole Empire was thus drawn into a new style of diplomatic brinkmanship, first conceived of by Androssy, centering on the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a predominantly Slav area still under the control of the Ottoman Empire. It was a dangerous game to play in a dangerous place. A road was thus mapped out, with a terminus at Sarajevo in the year 1914.
The Great War
The deaths of Franz Joseph's brother, Maximilian (1867), and only son, Rudolf, made the Emperor's nephew, Franz Ferdinand, heir to the crown. On June 28, 1914, he visited the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, where Bosnian Serb militants of the nationalist group Mlada Bosna, supplied by the Serbian militant group Black Hand, ambushed Franz Ferdinand's convoy and assassinated him.
The Empire's military spending had not even doubled since the 1878 Congress of Berlin, while German spending had risen fivefold, and British, Russian and French threefold. The Empire had previously lost ethnically Italian areas to Piedmont due to nationalist movements sweeping through Italy, and many Austro-Hungarians felt the threat of losing the southern territories inhabited by Slavs to Serbia as imminent. Serbia had recently gained a significant amount of territory in the Second Balkan War of 1913, causing much distress in government circles in Vienna and Budapest. Some members of the government, such as Conrad von Hotzendorf had wanted to confront the resurgent Serbian nation for some years. The leadership of Austria-Hungary, especially Count Leopold von Berchtold, backed by its ally Germany, decided to confront Serbia militarily before it could incite a revolt: using the assassination as an excuse, they presented a list of ten demands called the July Ultimatum expecting Serbia would never accept. When Serbia accepted nine of the ten demands but only partially accepted the remaining one, Austria-Hungary declared war.
These events brought the Empire into conflict with Serbia and over the course of July and August 1914, caused the start of World War I, as Russia mobilized in support of Serbia, setting off a series of counter-mobilizations. Italy initially remained neutral, although it had an alliance with Austria-Hungary. In 1915 it switched to the side of the Entente powers, hoping to gain territory from Austria-Hungary.
General Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf was the Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff during the war. Under his command, Austro-Hungarian troops were involved in much of the fighting in the Great War.
At the start of the war, the army was divided in two, the smaller part attacked Serbia while the larger part fought against the massive Russian army. The 1914 invasion of Serbia was a disaster. By the end of the year the Austrian army had taken no territory and had lost 227,000 men (out of a total force of 450,000 men); see Serbian Campaign (World War I).
On the Eastern front, things started out equally badly. The Austrian army was defeated at the Battle of Lemberg and the mighty fort city of Przemysl was besieged (it would fall in March 1915).
In May 1915, Italy joined the Allies and attacked Austria-Hungary. The bloody but indecisive fighting on the Italian front would last for the next three and a half years. It was only this front that the Austrians proved effective in war, managing to hold back the numerically superior Italian armies in the Alps.
In the summer, the Austrian army, working under a unified command with the Germans, participated in the successful Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive.
Later in 1915, the Austrian army, in conjunction with the German and Bulgarian armies, conquered Serbia.
In 1916, the Russians focused their attacks on the Austrian-Hungarian army in the Brusilov Offensive, recognising the numerical inferiority of the Austro-Hungarian Army. The Austrian armies took massive losses (losing about 1 million men) and never recovered. The huge losses of men and material inflicted on the Russians during the offensive contributed greatly to the causes of their communist revolution of 1917. The Austro-Hungarian war effort became more and more subordinate to the direction of German planners, as it did with the standard soldiers. The Austrians saw the German army positively, but by 1916 the general belief in Germany was that they were "shackled to a corpse." Supply shortages, low morale, and the high casualty rate seriously affected the operational abilities of the army, as well as the fact the army was of multiple ethnicity, all with different race, language and customs.
The last two successes for the Austrians: the Conquest of Romania and the Caporetto Offensive, were German-assisted operations. Due to the fact that the empire had become more and more dependent on German assistance, the majority of its people, not of Hungarian or Austrian ethnicity, became aware of the empire's destabilisation.