The Austro-Hungarian Empire

The Austro-Hungarian Empire

This hook explores the role of Austria– Hungary in the First World War and how the subsequent peace treaties signed by Austria and Hungary impacted the region.


“Map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914”

“Map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914”, URL: map-austro-hungarian-empire-1914, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Aug-2014. The map shows the empire’s boundaries and major cities as they were in August 1914.


The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, set off the chain of events that led to the First World War. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, a union between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire, encompassed many diverse ethnic groups, languages, and religions. The empire’s annexing of the Turkish provinces Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 led to increasing tensions in the area and was the major catalyst in the assassination of the archduke. 

After the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up into separate parts. With the Allied Powers, Austria signed the Treaty of St Germain and Hungary signed the Treaty of Trianon. As part of these treaties, Austria–Hungary lost almost 75 percent of its former land, which was then divided between Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Italy. 

Hungary suffered under the conditions imposed by the Treaty of Trianon, which in Hungary is referred to as the “Trianon trauma”. Many ethnic Hungarians found themselves outside the borders of Hungary. The new borders created a landlocked state, which meant that shipping became more expensive for Hungary. Transport by rail also became more expensive because there were tolls to pay when crossing the new borders. Most of the agricultural areas and primary industries that had provided the bulk of Hungary’s income ended up outside the new borders. The Hungarian government kept its flags lowered until 1938 to demonstrate its objection to the treaty’s conditions. 

Austria and Hungary were purposely left economically and militarily weak to prevent them being a threat in the future. Some people believe that this led to Hungary aligning itself with Germany in the Second World War. 

Possible discussion questions 

How did New Zealanders view the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time of the First World War? 

What was Austria–Hungary’s part in the events leading up to the First World War? What might have happened if Austria–Hungary had not annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina? 

Why might the treaties of St Germain and Trianon have been considered harsh? Do you think they were reasonable or unreasonable? Why? 

How might the conditions imposed by the treaties of St Germain and Trianon have contributed to the Second World War? 

How might the creation of Yugoslavia have contributed to the Balkan wars in the 1990s? 

What can we learn from these treaties for future peace agreements?

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