The history of Austria dates back more than a thousand years, when the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III signed a deed of investment for "Ostarricki" (early German for Austria) to designate the lands of the eastern Ottonian empire. In 976, Leopold von Babenberg was appointed leader of the Ostarricki, and established a dynasty that succeeded for hundreds of years. The Babenberg reign ended in 1246 with the death of Friedrick II. The region was seized upon by the Bohemian King Ottokar, who defied the Roman Empire. However, his rule was short-lived -- Ottokar died on August 26, 1278 at the battle of Marchfeld near Vienna. From that conflict, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf Hapsburg emerged victorious to found perhaps the most famous dynasty in Europe.
The 20 emperors and kings of the Hapsburg line ruled over the Holy Roman Empire until its abolition in 1806, and over Austria itself until 1918. At its peak, the Hapsburg empire stretched from Spain in the west to the Netherlands in the north, Italy in the south and the Balkans in the east. This sparked the Baroque Age of music, art and architecture which engulfed the whole of Europe.
Austria embraced the ornate style with great enthusiasm which is evident to this day. The following century saw the ascension to the throne of one of the world's greatest female rulers. The Empress Maria Theresa, a far-sighted leader, was popular with her subjects, not in the least because she carried out a careful series of reforms in government, education and finance. Her successor, Joseph II, was less effective but it was during his reign that Vienna entered its golden age of music, giving rise to world-renowned artists like Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven.
The 19th century was an age of prosperity for Austria, during which the old city walls of Vienna were pulled down and replaced by the Ringstrasse and its magnificent buildings. However, this era of elegance epitomized by the music of the waltz kings turned out to be an imperial swansong. Towards the end of the 19th century, nationalism became dominant throughout the empire, culminating in the assassination of the heir to the throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo, thereby triggering WWI.
After the war, the fabric of the empire rapidly crumbled. The Emperor abdicated in 1918 and the First Republic was found. The successor states, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary seceded and Austria was reduced to its present size. The years between the wars was difficult - for economic and many other reasons, turbulence ensued and the eventual culmination of these troubled times was the German invasion marking the onset of WWII.
After the war, Austria was occupied by the four allies - Great Britain, US, France and the Soviet Union. The Second Republic was declared in 1945, however, it was not until 1955 that the occupation of the allies ended, making Austria once again an independent nation.