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Published on May 3, 2011
Austria was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty from 1278/1282 to 1918. Therefore, historical Austria is also known as the Habsburg Empire or the Habsburg Monarchy. The Habsburgs made Austria a great power in 1477, when they inherited much of what is now the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Soon afterwards they inherited many more lands by their marriage policies. During the 16th century, the Habsburgs ruled over large parts of Europe. Charles V reigned over perhaps a quarter of the European population (not to speak of his enormous American colonial empire). The centuries afterwards Austria remained a great power until World War I, when the nationalistic thoughts in Europe finally divided the old empire into many small states.
It's important to put in mind that Austria has always been a "part" of Germany until the 19th century. Indeed, the German Empire didn't exist until 1871, but the Germans (Austrians included) more or less realized they shared a similar language and culture, and the medieval Holy Roman Empire actually was for the most part a German state until it fell apart in the fatal 13th century. Since 1452, the Habsburgs were (with one short exception) the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, which was by now virtually a very loose confederation of states. However, the position of the Holy Roman Emperor gave the Habsburgs privileges and some sort of loyalty from the German princes, although some monarchs—most notably the Prussian kings—openly contested Habsburg primacy. The Austrians were finally abandoned outside the German Empire in 1871.
Music: Johann Strauss II - An der schönen blauen Donau (English title: The Blue Danube), composed in 1866.