Monarchical form of government, in which power and ruling rights are concentrated in the hands of the prince. The nobility became a court aristocracy without any political autonomy, and the Estates were weakened by the establishment of centralized administrative machinery. In the Baroque, an imposing culture of court and ecclesiastical pomp generated a dynamic of self-legitimization. However, absolute rule in its fullest extent was hardly ever realized.


The term ‘Biedermeier’ is applied to the lifestyle and mindset of the ‘pre-March’ era, the period between 1815 and 1848. Since citizens were excluded from any participation in political life under the repressive Metternich system, their cultural life was restricted to the private sphere. This withdrawal – into the family, into circles of friends, into the experience of Nature – was celebrated and has been idealized as a life of quiet thoughtfulness. The revolution of 1848 marked the end of the Biedermeier era.

Cisleithania - Transleithania

After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 the lands of the Austrian half of the Empire (Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, the Austrian Littoral, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Galicia and Lodomeria, Bukovina and Dalmatia) were referred to as the ‘Kingdoms and Lands represented in the Imperial Council’ or Cisleithania for short.
Transleithania referred to the lands of the Hungarian Crown (the historical Kingdom of Hungary together with Croatia and Slavonia and the free city of Fiume).
Literally these unofficial names meant ‘the lands on this side of’ or ‘the lands beyond’ the River Leitha, which marked the historical border between Austria and Hungary.


The central legal document of a state, it describes the fundamental rights and duties of citizens as well as the state’s organization and structure, component parts and institutions. Although not the first, the constitution of the USA from 1787/89 is one of the most influential of the early modern constitutions. The Habsburg Monarchy did not have a codified constitution until the Constitution of 1867, though this was valid only for the Cisleithanian part of the Monarchy.


This denotes a form of government in which the rights and duties of citizens, the government and the monarch are codified in a constitution. The power of the Crown is checked by a Parliament which is at least partly elected. The Habsburg Monarchy did not become a truly constitutional monarchy until the December Constitution of 1867.


A dynasty is a lineage of rulers, sometimes also referred to as a ‘house’, for example, the House of Habsburg or the House of Bourbon. The metaphor of the house relates the ruling family to the realm over which it rules: the monarch is the master of the house, ruling the dynasty as well as the subjects of his realm. The right to rule is inherited within the family. Like the monarchy, the dynasty derives its legitimacy from religion, being appointed by divine right.


The dominant form of society in the Europe of the Middle Ages and the early modern period, feudalism was based on a hierarchical structure in which land was distributed ‘in fief’ (Latin: feudum = fief) by the prince via noble vassals downwards on the social scale to the peasants or serfs (bondsmen). Knightly vassals received their fiefs from the prince in return for their allegiance, i.e. military service; peasants owed their knightly overlords dues and labour. This was accompanied by gradations in personal freedom and rights of sovereignty.


Part of the city’s defensive complex, the glacis was an open area in front of the city walls that was originally intended to ensure free lines of fire. Beyond it lay the suburbs. In 1770 Joseph II had it levelled, trees planted and paths laid out. By the nineteenth century the fortifications had lost their protective and defensive function. Until it was built over during the course of the construction of the Ringstrasse, the glacis was a popular place of recreation for the Viennese citizenry.


This political movement was a product of the Enlightenment era. It was directed against Absolutism and paternalism on the part of State and Church. The proponents of Liberalism advocated a democratic constitutional state, the freedom of science and art, and free economic development. Despite the neo-Absolutist repression that followed the revolution of 1848, liberal ideas also took hold in the Austrian Empire.


Nationalism represents the political sovereignty of a nation as defined in linguistic, ethnic and/or cultural terms together with the unity of the nation’s people and its territory. In the Habsburg Monarchy and in Germany nationalistic aspirations had grown out of the ideas of the French Revolution and the ‘Wars of Liberation’ against Napoleon. The awakening of national sentiments in the peoples of the Monarchy led to resistance against imperial rule, which was increasingly felt to be colonial or foreign in character.


The form of government practised in the Austrian Empire after the suppression of the revolutions of 1848 in Austria and Hungary. A monarchical system without a constitution, it reacted repressively to the liberal and constitutional aspirations of the middle classes and the concerns of the Monarchy’s national groups. This phase was ended by the Hungarian Compromise and the December Constitution of 1867.


The aristocratic societies in the individual lands under Habsburg rule were originally very diverse in their traditions. As a rule, a distinction was made in the nobility of the individual Habsburg Crown Lands between the politically and economically more influential upper nobility and the minor nobility, which was of only local importance.
Of even higher rank were the families who belonged to the Estate of the Empire, who had a seat and a vote in the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire and were directly subordinate to the Emperor.
Within the upper nobility, families who bore the title of prince or duke had the highest rank. They were followed by the counts and then the barons.
Over the course of time, the Habsburg imperial Court evolved its own courtly hierarchy which became binding for the nobility of the individual territories.


The eighteenth century saw the Kingdom of Prussia develop into a bureaucratic and militarized model state. The Habsburgs saw their influence in the Holy Roman Empire waning as Prussia achieved hegemony in the German-speaking countries. This conflict gave birth to a long-lasting enmity between the Catholic Habsburgs in Austria and the Protestant Hohenzollerns in Prussia that lasted until well into the nineteenth century.

The Balkans

From the Ottoman conquest of Hungary in 1526, the Balkan peninsula was fought over by Habsburgs, Turks and Venetians. At the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth century, the Ottomans were gradually driven back, and the Habsburg Empire reached the height of its territorial expansion in 1908 with the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Balkans have always been a politically complex region marked by ethnic and religious diversity.

The Court

The basic functions of the Court consisted in providing the princely family with all they needed in their daily lives and to support the monarch in the execution of the affairs of state. These tasks were accomplished by a strict hierarchy of staff consisting of dignitaries (ceremonial positions), officials and servants, in sum making up the court household.
Another function of the Court was to create a suitably stately environment for the holding of festivities and events of state which unfolded according to the rules of ceremonial. The nobility constituted a kind of ‘public audience’ at these events, forming a society to which access was strictly limited (‘presentability at Court’) and which sought to distance itself from the rest of society through particular forms of conduct and an exclusive lifestyle.

The German Question

The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 raised the question of the future of the German states. Was there to be a new German Empire under Habsburg leadership (the ‘Greater German Solution’), or under Prussian leadership and excluding Austria (the ‘Lesser German Solution’)? In two victorious wars against Austria (1866) and France (1871), Prussia prosecuted the Lesser German Solution, establishing a German Empire under the Hohenzollern dynasty.

The Holy Roman Empire

The Holy Roman Empire denotes the western empire which encompassed large tracts of Central and Western Europe as well as northern Italy, although the borders changed over time. Brought into being in 800, when Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne emperor in Rome, it was intended to represent the re-establishment of the Western Roman Empire of classical antiquity.
Although the title of emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was not hereditary and the emperor was elected to office, the Habsburgs succeeded in retaining the title for the dynasty from the fifteenth century to the end of the empire in 1806 with very few exceptions.


The period between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the revolution of March 1848 is referred to as the ‘Vormärz’ (lit.: pre-March). This epoch was characterized by efforts to re-establish the old political order in Europe and in the European empires. This meant going back beyond the ideas of the French Revolution and restoring systems of Absolutist rule. Created retrospectively, this innocent-sounding label concealed a finely spun net of police surveillance, state spies and censorship.

What could the Viennese buy for their kreuzer and gulden?

Historical prices cannot really be converted into equivalent amounts in present-day currencies. The usual way to compare prices is thus to take a common commodity for which there are records of prices over the centuries. One such item is beef. One pound of beef, that is say about half a kilogram, cost, according to the records of the Bürgerspital (Burghers’ Almshouse) in Vienna, around 0.7 kreuzer in the middle of the fifteenth century. In the middle of the sixteenth century the price was some 2 kreuzer and in the middle of the seventeenth approximately 3 kreuzer. The records of the Marktamt (Market Office) in Vienna give the price in the middle of the eighteenth century as around 5 kreuzer, and as around 30 kreuzer in the middle of the nineteenth century. However, it is extremely difficult to make accurate comparisons for the nineteenth century.
The following table shows the approximate amounts of beef that could be bought on the market for one kreuzer and one gulden respectively from the mid-15th century to the mid-19th century. 60 kreuzer = 1 gulden.