German Swiss - History and Cultural Relations

The German Swiss trace their ancestry to a Celtic tribe called the Helvetti, who were defeated by Rome in 58 B.C. This is suggested by the Latin name for the Swiss Confederation, "Confoederatio Helvetica." Romanized for centuries, the fall of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. brought Germanic tribes (Allemani and Burgundians) into Switzerland. These tribes were, in turn, conquered by the Franks, with the area of Switzerland becoming part of Charlemagne's eighth-century Holy Roman Empire. Under the vestiges of this polity during the Middle Ages, the Swiss lived under rious duchies until 1291, the founding date of the first Swiss Confederation. Formed by the three German Swiss "forest cantons" of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwaiden, the nucleus of modern Switzerland was born as a defense league against the Hapsburg emperors. From this time until 1515, Swiss militarism enlarged the Swiss Confederation and fostered an export of mercenary soldiers primarily from the poor, mountain cantons. At the Battle of Malignano, Francis I of France forever punctured the bubble of Swiss invincibility with a crushing defeat wherein Swiss fought Swiss. During this period, Bern was ascendant, being the largest and most dominant of the thirteen cantons. During the Reformation, Geneva replaced Bern in international importance, being the home to Calvin and Voltaire. Napoleon occupied Switzerland in 1798, dissolving the old Swiss Confederation to form the Helvetian Republic with six more cantons. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna added Geneva, Valais, and Neuchâtel to a reconstituted neutral Switzerland. Only Jura (established in 1979) is of twentieth-century origin, being formed out of the German Swiss canton of Bern. Switzerland remains politically neutral today and is the home of the International Red Cross. German Swiss Bern is the capital of the modern Swiss Confederation.

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