Gregory Brown
513 Agnes Arnold Hall
Department of Philosophy
University of Houston
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German Bayern,

Largest Land (state) of Germany. It comprises the entire southeast portion of Germany. Bavaria is bounded on the west by the Länder of Baden-Württemberg and Hessen, on the north by the Länder of Thuringia and Saxony, on the east by the Czech Republic, and on the south and southeast by Austria. Munich (München) is the capital.

History. (Historical Map, 1329-1799)

The earliest known inhabitants in the area of present-day Bavaria were the Celts. In the last decade BC they were pressed between Teutonic tribes in the north and the Romans in the south. The Romans soon conquered the region; they divided the southern part into Raetia and Noricum and built fortifications along the northern boundary to keep out the Teutons. Flourishing Roman colonies arose in the south at Augsburg, Kempten, Regensburg, and Passau.

The Romans were overcome in the 5th century by repeated Germanic attacks. The lands were eventually settled by Germanic tribes from the east and north who mixed with the remaining Celts and Romans. The tribe that gave the territory its name was the Baiovarii (Bavarians), who settled in the south between AD 488 and 520. From about 555 to 788 the Bavarians were ruled by Frankish dukes of the Agilolfing family. In the 7th and 8th centuries Bavaria was Christianized by Irish and Scottish monks (St. Boniface, St. Korbinian, St. Emmeram, and St. Rupert). The last duke of the Agilolfing family, Tassilo III, was deposed in 788 by Charlemagne (742-814), who incorporated Bavaria into the Carolingian empire.

After the partitioning of the Carolingian empire in 817, the duchy of Bavaria was given to Louis the Pious and then to his son Louis the German, king of the East Franks. Bavaria became a part of the Holy Roman Empire in the 10th century, though it retained its own dukes. During this period Bavaria was constantly ravaged and all but depopulated by the Hungarians. At the Battle of Pressburg (Bratislava) on July 4, 907, the Hungarians inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Bavarians but by 909 had been driven back out of the territory. In 1180 the Holy Roman emperor Friedrich I. Barbarossa (1123-1190) gave Bavaria to the count palatine Otto of Wittelsbach. This marked the start of the Wittelsbach dynasty, which was to rule Bavaria until 1918.

When Otto was invested with Bavaria, the duchy was bounded by the Bohemian Forest, the Inn, the Alps, and the Lech; and the power of the duke was practically confined to his extensive private domains around Wittelsbach, Kelheim, and Straubing. Otto was succeeded in 1183 by his son Louis I, who took a leading part in German affairs and was the real founder of the Bavarian principality. He recklessly used every means to extend his power. He increased his dominion, especially toward the east and north, by astute policy, by inheritance, by purchase, by feudal acquisitions, and by force; he founded cities (Landshut, Straubing, Landau, and Iser) and also won the Palatinate of the Rhine (1214). His son Otto II increased the area of his lands mainly by purchases. The efforts of these and succeeding dukes to consolidate their power over the duchy were fairly successful; but their efforts were soon vitiated by partitions among different members of the family—partitions that for 250 years made the political history of Bavaria little more than a chronicle of territorial divisions, family feuds, and petty squabblings. By the late 14th century the family's various branches had divided Bavaria into three separate duchies. The main result of the threefold division was the temporary eclipse of Bavaria. Neighbouring states encroached upon its borders, and the nobles ignored the authority of the dukes, who for many years were mainly occupied with internal strife. This condition of affairs, however, was not wholly harmful. The government of the country and the control of the finances passed mainly into the hands of an assembly called the Landtag, or Landschaft, which had existed since the beginning of the 14th century. The towns, assuming a certain independence, became strong and wealthy as trade increased, and the citizens of Munich were often formidable antagonists to the dukes. Thus, a period of disorder saw the growth of representative institutions and a strong civic spirit. The country was also enriched by a many-sided intellectual and artistic life in the individual, newly risen courts and by very able administrations.

A consolidation began when Duke Albert IV the Wise of Bavaria-Munich (reigned 1467–1508) established in 1506 the principle of primogeniture in Bavaria. Albert also made Munich the capital of his duchy. Albert's son William IV (reigned 1508–50) was finally able to reunify Bavaria into one duchy in 1545. William IV opposed the Protestant Reformation as a threat to his authority, but he did not allow his Roman Catholicism to interfere with political considerations. He was usually to be found in opposition to the Austrian Habsburgs and allied himself with the Protestant princes of the Schmalkaldic League. In 1546, however, Bavarian policy changed abruptly to an alliance with the Habsburgs, following the introduction of the Reformation in the Palatinate. Under William IV's successor, Albert V (1550–79), Bavaria became a strictly Roman Catholic territory. Duke Maximilian I. (1573-1651) fought on the side of the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and by his leadership increased Bavaria's prestige, gaining territorial accessions and attaining for himself the title of elector. Throughout the 18th century Bavaria was ravaged by the wars of the Spanish Succession and the Austrian Succession. In 1777 the Bavarian succession passed to the elector Charles Theodore of the Palatinate. Bavaria and the Palatinate were reunited. In the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–79), Frederick II the Great of Prussia successfully prevented Austria from incorporating a large part of Bavaria to which it had laid claim.

In the 1790s Bavaria was a member of the first and second anti-French coalitions, and for its pains it was successively occupied by Revolutionary France (1796), by Austria (1799), and then again by France (1800). In the following year Bavaria became an ally of France and was thus able to expand its territories at the expense of Austria, acquiring by the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 approximately the boundaries it now has. The treaty also elevated the Bavarian duchy to the status of a kingdom, and its ruler, the elector Maximilian IV Joseph, became King Maximilian I. Externally the freedom of Bavaria continued to be restricted by the power of Napoleon—from July 1806 onward technically in his capacity as protector of the Confederation of the Rhine, which the new kingdom joined. Internally, however, full sovereignty provided the basis for the creation of a modern state. Traditional privileges were swept away, often ruthlessly, by the central bureaucracy. The reforms were anticlerical in spirit, and many monasteries were secularized. French pressure, moreover, helped to bring about equality before the law, universal liability to taxation, abolition of serfdom, liberty of conscience, and some individual constitutional safeguards proclaimed in the constitution of May 1, 1808.

In 1813, shortly before the Battle of Leibzig, Bavaria rejected Napoleon and in 1815 joined the Germanic Confederation against him. This timely switch of allegiance enabled Bavaria to emerge from the Congress of Vienna (1814–15) with much of its territorial and political gains intact, making it the third largest German state after Austria and Prussia.

Maximilian's subsequent reign saw the proclamation of a new constitution, on May 26, 1818. The parliament was to consist of two houses, with the lower house elected on a very narrow franchise. Religious equality and the rights of Protestants were guaranteed. The parliament was hardly opened before the doctrinaire radicalism of some of its members so alarmed the king that he considered taking repressive measures, but the parliament gradually moderated its tone, and Maximilian ruled until his death as a model constitutional monarch.

Under the reign of Maximilian's son, Louis I (reigned 1825–48), municipal autonomy and other reforms were undertaken. But Louis' infatuation with an Irish adventuress, Lola Montez, eventually made his position untenable and forced him to abdicate in 1848. In 1850 Louis' son and successor, Maximilian II (reigned 1848–64), brought Bavaria into an alliance with Saxony, Hanover, and Wurttemberg in accordance with the aim of establishing the medium-sized states in Germany—of which Bavaria was the largest—as a third force to counter the preponderance of Austria and Prussia. Bavaria subsequently tended to support Austria against Prussia. Maximilian's successor, Louis II (reigned 1864–86), refused the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck's proposal to incorporate Bavaria into a German domain under Prussian leadership, and Bavaria sided with Austria in the Prussian-Austrian War of 1866. But the quick victory of the Prussians and the moderation of their policies toward Bavaria led that kingdom to join Prussia in the Franco-German War of 1870 and afterward to share in the establishment of a German Empire under William I, king of Prussia.

Under the German constitution of 1871, Bavaria received a larger measure of independence than any of the other constituent states of the German Empire. Bavaria retained an autonomous diplomatic service, military administration, postal and telegraph service, and railways. Meanwhile, Louis II had begun showing signs of mental instability, and his extravagant building projects (notably the castle at Neuschwanstein) had drained the Bavarian treasury. In 1886 Louis II was declared insane, and the throne then passed to his brother Otto, who was also insane. Otto's uncle Luitpold became regent that same year, and, when Luitpold died in 1912, his son Louis III became king.

At the end of World War I an Independent Socialist, Kurt Eisner, deposed the Wittelsbach dynasty on the night of Nov. 7–8, 1918, and proclaimed Bavaria a republic. King Louis III fled, thus ending the rule of one of the oldest European dynasties. Eisner was assassinated in February 1919, and, in the subsequent chaos, revolutionary councils carried out a “Red Terror? and formed a short-lived soviet republic that ended in May 1919 when German army units and citizens' defense corps recaptured Munich and instituted a similarly ruthless “White Terror? against the communists. Under a new Bavarian constitution passed in August 1919, Bavaria became a parliamentary state in the Weimar Republic of postwar Germany. The Bavarian political scene remained unsettled, however, and in 1920 and 1921 there were unsuccessful right-wing coups. Adolf Hitler's National Socialist movement got its start in Munich, and in 1923 Hitler and General Erich Ludendorff attempted their unsuccessful putsch in that city. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Bavaria, which had become the most conservative of all the German states, became a bastion of Nazism. The first Nazi concentration camp was built in March 1933 at Dachau, near Munich; and the fanatical Nürnberg Rallies, held annually from 1933 to 1938, gained worldwide notoriety.

After World War II Bavaria became part of the American occupation zone. The Palatinate was detached and joined to the new Rheinland-Pfalz state. Under the Basic Law (constitution) of West Germany of 1948, Bavaria became a Land of the Federal Republic. The Christian Social Union—the Bavarian counterpart of the national Christian Democrats and the successor of the old Bavarian People's Party—eventually became the leading party in Bavaria.

The land.

Bavaria is a country of high plateaus and medium-sized mountains. In the northwest are the wooded sandstone hills of the Spessart; in the north are basalt knolls and high plateaus. The northwest is drained by the Main River, which flows into the Rhine. To the southeast, the topography varies from the stratified land formations of Swabia-Franconia to shell limestone and red marl, the hill country of the Franconian-Rednitz Basin, and the limestone mountains of the Franconian Jura along the Danube, which divides Bavaria north and south. On the eastern edge of Bavaria, adjoining the Czech Republic, is the Bohemian Forest and in the north the Franconian Forest. South of the Danube is a plateau upon which lies the capital, Munich, and beyond it the Bavarian Alps. Bavaria's share of the Alps consists of wooded heights of several thousand feet, behind which rise steep ridges and high plateaus (in the west, the Allgäuer Alps; in the east, the Alps of Berchtesgaden). They reach their highest peak in the 9,718-foot (2,962-metre) Zugspitze in Germany's Wetterstein Range. Bavaria has a continental climate that is harsh for middle Europe, although there are some exceptions, such as the Lower Main valley.

Copyright © 1994-2002 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.


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