Austria-Hungary – dualistic state formed at the turn of 1868 as a result of the transformation of the Austrian Empire on the basis of equality between Austria and Hungary, which became connected by a real union under the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty. The union was based on laws introduced in 1867 by Emperor Franz Joseph I in the form of a binational treaty concluded between the Emperor of Austria and the King of Hungary – in one person; the Austrian part of the monarchy bore the official name of the Kingdoms and Lands; they were represented in the Imperial Council; this part of the empire was colloquially called Cisleithania; the Hungarian part, the so-called Lands of the Crown of Saint Stephen, was called Transleithania. The monarchy was composed of: 1) the lands of the Austrian Empire: Upper Austria and Lower Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Gorizia and Gradisca, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Galicia and Lodomeria, and Bukovina; 2) the lands of the Hungarian Crown: Hungary, Transylvania, Croatia, Slavonia, and Fiume (Rijeka); 3) Bosnia and Herzegovina, occupied since 1878 and annexed in 1908. The state had a total area of 676,615 km2, which made Austro-Hungary the second largest state on the European continent (after Russia); it had 35.9 million inhabitants in 1869 and 52.8 million in 1914; in 1910, the largest ethnic groups were Germans (12 million), Hungarians (10 million), Czechs and Slovaks (8.5 million), Serbs and Croats (5.6 million), and Poles (5 million); the dominant religious denomination was Catholicism of both rites (Latin and Greek) – 77.7% of the population, followed by Protestants – 8.8%. Both parts of the monarchy shared the monarch (Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary), foreign policy, army, finances, currency, and customs area; constitutions, governments, parliaments, and territorial armed forces formed in the later period were all separate. Joint affairs were conducted individually by the delegations of the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments and three common ministries: Foreign Affairs, War, and Finance; the Ministry of Finance only paid for the first two ministries; Hungary covered only 30% of the joint budget.

The duration of the Austro-Hungarian union was initially set for a period of 10 years; the need to renew it gave Hungary the possibility to make demands on the Austrian part, especially as the internal situation in Hungary was more favourable than in Austria (it had a material, cultural, and political advantage over other nationalities in the country). In Austria, the legislative power was exercised by the monarch jointly with the Imperial Council (or with the national parliaments), in Hungary – with the Diet; both parliaments were bicameral; the Imperial Council consisted of the House of Lords (291 members in 1914) and the House of Deputies (516 members in 1914), both elected by national parliaments, and since 1907 by the general population in universal, equal, secret, and direct elections held every six years; the upper house of the Hungarian Diet (the so-called Magnate Table) consisted of 366 members (1914) elected in indirect elections; the lower house (the Representative Table) was composed of 413 deputies (1914) elected for a term of five years in direct elections and 40 deputies elected by the Croatian-Slavonic national parliament. The economic and social development of Austria-Hungary was taking place under difficult conditions; there were major economic inequalities between both parts of the country and between its individual regions; apart from highly industrialised areas, the country comprised economically underdeveloped agricultural regions, for example in 1910, the percentage of people employed in industry in individual regions was as follows: 43.4% in Cieszyn Silesia, 37.7% in Lower Austria, 36.7% in Bohemia, 7.5% in Bukovina, and 6.8% in Galicia. Despite comparable population sizes: 28.6 million inhabitants of Austria and 20.8 million inhabitants of Hungary, Austria’s industrial production value (ca. 1910) was three times higher than that of Hungary.

The economics of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a whole was significantly underdeveloped compared to developed European countries and the USA; it also lagged behind in terms of the production value of individual sectors of economy; the production of all branches of the Austro-Hungarian industry was equal to the value of production of such a small country as Belgium. The economic development of Austria-Hungary was hampered by numerous feudal relics, reinforced by the landowners’ economic policy (large-scale land ownership accounted for 33% of all land in Austria and 45% in Hungary); the ownership structure in agriculture was also deficient (predominance of farms with area under 2 hectares in many parts of the monarchy, particularly in Galicia and Tyrol); the industry was adversely affected by the cartelisation of many of its branches and the dependence on foreign capital, especially German. The internal situation of the monarchy was additionally complicated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s multinational structure, which bred numerous conflicts (e.g. between Czechs and Germans in Bohemia, or Poles and Ukrainians in Galicia); national conflicts often had social background (e.g. a German manufacturer with a Bohemian worker, a Polish landowner with a Ukrainian peasant).

After the expulsion of Austrian forces from Germany and Italy (lost wars in 1859 and 1866), the Balkans became the only available direction for Austro-Hungary’s expansion; this expansion was supported by large capital, interested in the local markets; however, this increased the antagonism between Austria-Hungary and Russia; in accordance with the agreements signed with Russia (1876, 1877), the western part of the Balkan Peninsula was to become an Austro-Hungarian influence zone, whereas the eastern part would be controlled by Russia; however, Russia did not give up its influence in Serbia, while Austria-Hungary continued to pursue a potential route to the port of Thessaloniki and to exercise its influence in Bulgaria. At the same time, the rapprochement between Austria-Hungary and Germany was drawing nearer; thanks to the German support, the 1878 Berlin Congress authorised Austria-Hungary to implement military occupation in the Turkish province of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to introduce its own civilian administration; in 1899, Austria-Hungary concluded a defensive alliance with Germany in the event of Russian aggression; the alliance remained in force until 1918. In 1882, an alliance treaty between Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy was signed in Vienna (the Triple Alliance); in 1883, Romania entered into an alliance with Austro-Hungary, which was later joined by Germany. Under these circumstances, the strife to renew the alliance of the three conservative powers – the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, and Russia – did not give lasting results despite the agreements concluded in 1881 and 1884 (the League of the Three Emperors of 1873–1887); further attempts made by Austria-Hungary to conclude an agreement with Russia (1897 in St. Petersburg, 1903 in Mürzsteg) also proved unsuccessful. In 1908, Austria-Hungary announced the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which significantly severed relations with Serbia and its protector – Russia; despite eventually overcoming the crisis, the international position of the Austro-Hungarian Empire deteriorated; relations with Russia continued to be far from amicable, and hostility intensified on the part of Serbia, which at the end of the 19th century became free from Austrian influence and started to strongly support liberation efforts of southern Slavs living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Austro-Hungarian trade policy unfavourable to Serbia further deepened the conflict; the Balkan Wars of 19121913 strengthened the position of Serbia as a centre of the struggle for independence, which threatened the monarchy’s uniformity. In order to maintain it, the ruling circles of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were forced to launch a general crackdown against Serbia.

The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by a Serbian student on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo (the 1914 Sarajevo Incident) became a direct cause of the outbreak of World War I, with Austria-Hungary acting as Germany’s main ally. The crisis in Austria-Hungary was exacerbated by its failed military efforts in Galicia and Serbia (1914), the Russian offensive in the Carpathians and the need to build a front against Italy (1915), even despite later successes achieved with the help of German troops in Galicia (breaking the front at Gorlice in 1915) and in the Balkans. This led to the intensification of decentralist efforts on the part of Slavic nations and to the growth of internal opposition (the assassination of Prime Minister K. Stürgkh by F. Adler in 1916). After the death of Emperor Franz Josef I (1916), his successor Charles I unsuccessfully tried to thwart Slavic nations in their pursuit of independence. As a result, despite some military achievements (1917) on the Russian front, in the Balkans, and in Italy, the monarchy was factually defeated and eventually signed an armistice on 3 November. In 1918, Austria-Hungary was dissolved (Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye), with independent national states established in the empire’s former area: Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary; a portion of the former Austro-Hungarian territory became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians, and Slovenians (SHS); significant territories were returned to Poland.


  • H. Wereszycki Historia Austrii, 2nd edition, Wrocław–Kraków–Warsaw 1986;
  • C.A. Macartney The Habsburg Empire 1790–1918, Cambridge 1968;
  • A. Wandruszka Das Haus Habsburg. Die Geschichte einer europäischen Dynastie, Wien 1978.

The entry was written on the basis of source materials of the PWN printing house.

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