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Early history

The hills of the Rhine valley were already inhabited by farmers and cattle breeders in the early Stone Age (ca. 3000-1800 B.C.). Based on evidence found both in the north and south of Liechtenstein, four cultures are mentioned as being important in this period: the Rössen culture (4200-3800 BC), the Lutzengütle culture (ca. 3800-3600 BC), the Pfyn culture (ca. 3600-2900 BC) and the Horgen culture (ca. 2900-1800 BC).

Also from the Bronze Age (ca. 1800-800 B.C.) and the Iron Age (ca. 800 B.C. - 15 A.D.) several remains are known. The Iron Age can be divided into the Hallstatt Period (ca. 800-400 B.C.) and the Latène Period (ca. 400 B.C.-15 A.D.). During the Latène Period, the Celts spread throughout Europe and thus also into present-day Liechtenstein territory. Place names like Schaan, Eschen and Bendern originate from this period. Little is known about the original origins of the Rhine Valley inhabitants.

In 15 BC Liechtenstein was incorporated into the Roman province of Rhaetia. The Rhaetians became loyal to the Roman Empire and were soon used as auxiliary troops against the invading Germanic tribes. In 212, the Rhaetians were granted Roman citizenship. The province of Rhetia was initially administered from Augsburg, but under Emperor Diocletius it was divided into Raetia prima and Raetia secunda and from then on was administered from Chur. The trade and military road through the Rhine valley was important for the Romans as it led from Rome to the north.

Even during the Roman period, Christianity was introduced in this region. However, the real conversion of the population came from other countries, according to tradition including St. Lucius, later the patron saint of Liechtenstein.

Middle Ages

In the middle of the 5th century, the Romans withdrew from the area and were succeeded by the northern Alemanni who colonised the area between 476 and 493 and lived in peace with the Rhetians. Around 493, Retia was incorporated by Theoderik, king of the Ostrogoths, but he left all forms of government untouched. After Theoderik's death, the area came under the rule of the Franks in 536 and became part of the ecclesiastical state of Churretia, with Chur as its capital.

At the beginning of the 9th century, Charlemagne was the sole ruler of the Frankish Empire and under his rule, the administration of his territory was centralised and Rhetia became a duchy, ruled by descendants of Charlemagne. After the Treaty of Verdun in 843, Rhetia came under the rule of Louis the German, who ruled over the East Frankish kingdom. Rhaetia was divided into two counties, Upper Rhaetia and Lower Rhaetia, which in turn were divided into two districts. In 911, the last Carolingian ruler, Louis the Child, died and Rhaetia and Swabia were merged into an Alemannic duchy and this was to last until 1208.

At that time, today's Liechtenstein belonged to the noble family of the Counts of Bregenz, who ruled over Lower-Retia and who were related to Charlemagne's descendants by marriage. These counts were very powerful in Central Europe, possessed a lot of money and had large estates, among others around Lake Constance. In the twelfth century the family died out and in 1142 Rudolf, son of Elisabeth of Bregenz, inherited all the properties. The descendants of this Rudolf allied themselves with the counts of Montfort and Werdenberg, but their estates were repeatedly divided up due to numerous estate divisions. As a result of these divisions, in 1342 the county of Vaduz emerged as an independent political entity and Count Hartmann I took up residence in Castle Vaduz, which from then on became the residence of the ruling family.

In 1363, Tyrol came into the possession of the Habsburgs and they had their eye on today's Liechtenstein. The knights and towns in this area entered into alliances to prevent this. King Wenzel II was also asked to declare the estates of Vaduz and Schellenberg as independent territories. This would guarantee their protection from the Habsburgs. In 1396 Wenzel granted the county immediacy. This meant that they could still govern and administer justice independently, but also that they were directly accountable to the Emperor and the empire and did not fall under the jurisdiction of a local ruler, as was customary in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The immediacy only lapsed in 1806 when the Empire was dissolved.

15th century

From 1416 to 1507, the Barons of Brandis from the Bernese Oberland were the new rulers of the area, and in 1434 they also gained possession of northern Liechtenstein. Since then, the old county of Vaduz (now: Oberland) and the old manor of Schellenberg (now: Unterland) have been united. From 1401-1408, the Appenzell War raged in which Schellenberg farmers destroyed the castles of Old and New Schellenberg. In 1408, Appenzell suffered a defeat.

In the middle of the 15th century, from 1436 to 1450, the Old Zürich War took place during which many Liechtensteinians were killed, and in 1445 Balzers was plundered and burned down.

At the end of this century, in 1499, the Swiss destroyed Vaduz Castle. This was the end of the Brandis family and a new link with Austria after the war. The Brandisers were succeeded by the Counts of Sulz, who bought the estates of Vaduz and Schellenberg. Under their rule, the ties to the Austrian emperors and the Habsburg House were further strengthened. The Roman Catholic Sulzers ensured that Liechtenstein remained Catholic even in the time of the Reformation.

Sixteenth century and seventeenth century

From southern Germany, a peasant uprising broke out in 1525 and also reached Vaduz and Schellenberg. However, the Counts appealed to the Austrians for help and the uprising ended in failure. The rest of this century became a period of relative peace and prosperity. The last Count, Karl Ludwig, held important positions in the Austrian army and did not really have time to interfere with Liechtenstein. Finally, in 1613, he sold all his possessions to his son-in-law, Kaspar of Hohenems.

In the 17th century Liechtenstein had a hard time, among others because of the plague and the Swedes who reached Liechtenstein in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War. The population could only prevent the destruction of their country by paying a very high ransom. Dramatic for Liechtenstein were also the witch hunts, which raged in Europe at that time and claimed the lives of 300 men and women. As a result of these wretched conditions, a judge from Vaduz and a mayor from Schellenberg decided to complain to Emperor Leopold I in Vienna. The Emperor had the case investigated by an imperial commissioner, Prince Rupert von Kempten, who removed the Count from office. However, the situation was untenable and he was forced to sell Schellenberg (115,000 guilders) in 1699 and Vaduz (290,000 guilders) in 1712 to Prince Johann Adam Andreas of Liechtenstein (the Rich).

Principality of Liechtenstein

The princes of Liechtenstein were held in great esteem by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and this led to both territories being elevated to the new Principality of Liechtenstein on 23 January 1719 and becoming the 343rd state of the Holy Roman Empire.

Around this time, the age of absolutism began in Europe and this meant a decline in civil rights for the citizens of Liechtenstein. Throughout the 18th century, the Liechtenstein princes tried to extend their absolute power, which of course met with great resistance from the population. In addition, the princes always stayed in Austria and had little idea of what the situation in Liechtenstein really was. They were kept informed by dukes, who often gave the princes very one-sided reports. It was not until the reign of Menzinger, from 1788, that the population got better. Compulsory education was introduced in 1805 and serfdom disappeared in 1808. The first Liechtenstein monarchs never visited the principality; it was only in 1938 that Prince Franz Josef II chose Liechtenstein as his permanent residence.

Even the French Revolution did not pass Liechtenstein by unnoticed. European princes fought several so-called "coalition wars" against the French, which ended in 1815 with the famous Battle of Waterloo. During the Second Coalition War (1799-1802), France occupied the left bank of the Rhine and Liechtenstein made a fifteen-man, two-man "army" available to the Austrians, who had occupied Liechtenstein since 1794. On 6 March 1799, the French crossed the Rhine and Liechtenstein's territory became a battlefield. At Feldkirch, more than 4,000 people died and the French eventually won from the Austrians.

Nineteenth century

On 9 February 1801, the Lunéville Peace ended the war for Liechtenstein. Another important event for Liechtenstein was that the borders between Switzerland and Liechtenstein were clearly defined for the first time. Later it would appear that these were the last acts of war that took place in Liechtenstein's territory.

The third coalition war was won by Napoleon in 1805 and the Peace of Pressburg ended badly for the Allies. On behalf of Austria, the peace was signed by Prince John I of Liechtenstein. The most important consequence was that the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation ceased to exist and was replaced by Napoleon with the so-called Rhine Union, an association of sixteen states, which were guaranteed their political independence through their participation. However, the strange fact occurred that Prince John I of Liechtenstein was not even given the opportunity to sign the treaty. Napoleon decided to incorporate Liechtenstein into the Rhine Union on 12 July 1806, thus granting the country sovereignty, and John became sovereign. One problem was his status as an Austrian general. Napoleon had stipulated in the treaty that anyone in foreign state service had to surrender his principality to one of his sons. As a result, John's three-year-old son was formally elevated to the throne, but his father continued to rule as regent to his son. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Johannes took over the throne again from his son.

In 1813, Liechtenstein had already joined the small alliance of Austria, Prussia and Russia against the French. The great advantage for Liechtenstein was that it was thereby also recognised as sovereign by these three great European powers, and this was again confirmed after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. During the Congress, the German Confederation was founded, which was in fact a military alliance to better resist attacks on the federal states. Liechtenstein was also a member of the Confederation and was represented in the Bundestag, the highest organ of the Confederation, through a special construction intended for the small states. The small states were gathered in a so-called curia and had only one vote. Liechtenstein sat together with Waldeck, Schaumburg, Lippe, Reuss and Hohenzollern in the 16th Curia. However, Liechtenstein's voice was not heard once. In the European revolution year 1848 the call for more democracy and elected parliaments was heard again, but in 1852 all innovations were reversed and the princes again became the absolute rulers. The German Confederation was plagued by great rivalry between the great states of Austria and Prussia. Prussia forced a breakthrough by simply annexing the Duchy of Holstein in 1866. Austria then called together the parliament of the German Confederation and demanded a condemnation and the sending of a Confederation army to Prussia. Prussia responded by leaving the union and a war broke out between Prussia and Austria. The war was won by Prussia and Austria was forced to accept the dissolution of the German Confederation at the Peace of Prague. Liechtenstein had always remained a member of the German Confederation but was not included in the newly founded German Empire in 1871.

20th century up to and including the Second World War

The time before World War I was characterised by modest economic growth, but it was hard work. Many women worked in the textile industry and most men worked in agriculture. Others went to e.g. Switzerland and France in the summer as builders. However, agriculture was still the main source of income and the population did not have it easy. It was remarkable that the people of Liechtenstein deposited a multiple of the state budget at the national savings bank. At the same time, the first coins and stamps were issued after the Postal Convention with Austria came into force in 1912.

After the First World War, the Allies did not see Liechtenstein as an independent state but as a kind of province of Austria. When Liechtenstein applied for membership of the League of Nations (now the United Nations) in 1920, only Switzerland was in favour. Meanwhile Liechtenstein had a very difficult time as a result of the war. There was famine, rapid inflation meant that a large part of the national savings was lost and the entire industry was at a standstill due to a lack of raw materials. Prince John II stepped into the breach for his people and donated around one and a half million Swiss francs, almost 31/2 times the entire state budget at the time.

On 2 August 1919, the parliament voted in favour of the Customs Treaty with Austria, which dated back to 1852, and the focus shifted to Switzerland. On 30 August, the Austrian-Liechtenstein border was closed and on 7 November, the Austrian Landesverweser Baron von Imhof was removed from office and the Landtag elected a provisional government consisting only of Liechtensteinians. Immediately afterwards, negotiations were held with Switzerland and it was agreed that Switzerland would represent Liechtenstein diplomatically abroad for the time being. On 1 January 1924, a customs treaty between Switzerland and Liechtenstein entered into force. This meant that Swiss customs officials guarded the Liechtenstein-Austria border. Since the Postal Convention with Austria in 1911, a national consciousness gradually developed among the Liechtenstein population. In 1918, the first direct elections were held, but only among the male population. At that important moment, political parties were also needed and the government was taken into its own hands under the motto "Liechtenstein den Liechtensteinern". On 5 October, a new constitution came into being, which included the right of initiative and referendum. It also stipulated that the prime minister had to be a Liechtenstein by birth and that all courts had to be located in Liechtenstein. In 1924, the Swiss franc was chosen as the official currency of the principality, a fact that was not recognised by Switzerland until 1980. In 1927 Liechtenstein was struck by a natural disaster. In the autumn of that year, the Rhine overflowed its banks and flooded more than half of the Rhine valley, especially in the Unterland.

In the 1930s, Liechtenstein was hit hard by the global economic crisis. Unemployment rose to alarming levels and was exacerbated by returning construction workers from Switzerland, who had been made redundant there. Politically, Liechtenstein fell into crisis after the arrival of German troops in Austria. The two political parties quickly formed a coalition in order to better protect the endangered independence. Liechtenstein wanted to remain neutral during the Second World War and indeed managed to keep the violence of war outside its borders. Things only got exciting in the night of 24 to 25 March 1939, when about fifty National Socialists went to the government building in Vaduz with the intention to overthrow the government. However, the Liechtenstein government had already been informed by the Swiss secret service and arrested the Nazi leaders.

At the end of the Second World War, many thousands of prisoners of war and forced labourers moved to the borders of free Liechtenstein. For this purpose, the Liechtenstein Red Cross was founded on 30 April 1945 by Prince Gina of Liechtenstein to help these people. In May 1945, fleeing SS troops threatened to cross the border and the risk of looting was very high. The government decided to put barbed wire along the entire border in order to reduce this danger. Several hundred anti-Communist Russian soldiers also fled to Liechtenstein. They were admitted and a request for extradition to the Soviet Union was brutally ignored by the Liechtenstein government. Most Russians emigrated to Argentina in the course of time.

After the Second World War

After the Second World War, everything revolved around industrialisation and a great economic boom. Furthermore, Liechtenstein developed into an important financial centre. Since the war, however, Liechtenstein has been heavily dependent on the many thousands of foreign workers who work in the country (today: around 11,000). The national consciousness has also developed further and the ties with neighbouring Switzerland have been strengthened. Liechtenstein also ratified many international treaties and joined many international organisations:

1950 International Court of Justice
1975 Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE)
1978 Council of Europe
1990 United Nations
1991 European Free Trade Association
1995 European Economic Area
1995 World Trade Organisation (WTO)

In 1989, Prince Hans Adam II ascended the throne, beginning a new period in Liechtenstein's history. He questions the monarchy, but without losing his current rights. Should that happen, he has already announced that he will leave for abroad. He is not interested in a purely representative function.

In 1995, Liechtenstein became a member of the EEA, the European Economic Area. This had major consequences, as it forced Liechtenstein to introduce all relevant European legislation and to adopt a more independent course of action vis-à-vis Switzerland. Matters such as public transport, postal services and telecommunications were liberalised.

Economically, Liechtenstein profited greatly from global economic growth in the 1990s. Liechtenstein is now focusing on creating a financial services centre with banks, insurance companies and telecommunications services. However, Liechtenstein is limited by its small area and the small number of employees who cannot cope with the expected capacity. The small size means that employees from outside Liechtenstein cannot be hired without restriction. Other problems that also affect, or will affect, Liechtenstein are European integration, environmental problems and limits to economic growth. Furthermore, there is a chance that Liechtenstein will be dictated in domestic and foreign policy by the large countries and international organisations.

The constituency's parliament is the "Landtag". Since 1990 this chamber consists of one chamber with 25 members. Elections were held on 13 March 2005. Otmar Hasler is the prime minister of a coalition of the progressive People's Party and the Patriotic Union. In January 2009, new elections were held and the Patriotic Union won an absolute majority. Klaus Tschuetscher becomes Prime Minister in March 2009. Adrian Hasler succeeded him in 2013. In June 2017, the political situation remains unchanged. Since 25 March 2021 Daniel Risch has been Prime Minister..


Economische Voorlichtingsdienst

Encarta Encyclopedie

Winter, R. de / Basisinformatie Liechtenstein
Liechtensteinse Vriendenkring

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info