Austria 1849-1866 German Unification
Italian Unification

Austro-Prussian War

Also referred to as the Seven Weeks War

Several smaller German states (the Kingdoms of Hannover, Württemberg, Saxony and Bavaria, Baden, Hessen-Kassel, and Nassau) joined Austria in fighting Prussia; Italy and a few smaller German states, among them Oldenburg and Braunschweig, joined Prussia in fighting Austria.

A.) The Diplomatic Pre-History of the War

With Denmark defeated in 1864, one obstacle on Bismarck's course to reunification had been removed. Prussia, already was the dominating force in the Zollverein. However, unification - without Austria, which could not afford to play second fiddle in a Germany united under German leadership - could only be achieved if Austria would resign its honorary presidency in the GERMAN FEDERATION.
This, however, Austria could not just do without losing face.
Already on Ocrober 4th 1865, Emperor Napoleon III. had assured Bismarck French neutrality in the case of a Prusso-Austrian War; Prussia and Italy signed an aoofensive alliance directed against Austria on April 8th 1866.
The bone of contention was the GASTEIN TREATY, signed on August 15th 1765, and regulatong the administration of Holstein. Prussia accused Austria of having broken the treaty; Austria brought the affair up in the German Federation (June 1st); Prussia invaded Holstein June 9th, the German Federation ordered mobilization of the Federation Army against Prussia on June 14th.

B.) The Military Course of Events

Prussian troops marched into Saxony and from there into Bohemia, where the Austrian forces were defeated in the BATTLE OF SADOWA (Königgrätz) on July 3rd. Quickly, negotiations were begun, which lead to the ARMISTICE TREATY OF NIKOLSBURG (July 26th).
Prussian troops in the meantime had occupied Hannover, Hessen-Kassel and Nassau, and defeated a Bavarian force.
On the Italian front the main battles were fought on sea; in the NAVAL BATTLE OF LISSA (July 20th) the Austrian navy defeated the Italian navy.

C.) The Peace of Nikolsburg and the Legacy of the War

Bismarck treated Austria leniently. Holstein, Hannover, Hessen-Kassel, Nassau and the city of Frankfurt were annexed - Holstein having been under Austrian military administration, the next three having been Austria's allies during the war, Frankfurt was neutral). Bismarck demanded of Austria only to cede Venice to Italy and to resign from the German Federation - to make German unification (without Austria) under Prussian leadership possible.
Napoleon III., involved in negotiations leading to the peace settlement, vetoed any extension of Prussia's NORTHERN GERMAN CONFEDERATION to the souh bank of the Main River - thus postponing German unification until after a Franco-German conflict, which was to come in 1870-1871.
Austria for years pursued a policy intending revenge against Prussia - politician FRIEDRICH BEUST was appointed prime minister because of his hostile stand against Prussia; he signed the AUSGLEICH with Hungary in order to broaden his power base and focus on Prussia. Austro-Hungary affiliated with the LATIN MONETARY ZONE. Yet Bismarck's foreign policy in 1879 succeeded in establishing an Austro-German alliance which was not only to last into World War I, but to a considerable part was responsible for it.

D.) Military Factors

The Prussian victory at Sadowa has been credited to (1) Prussian superior weaponry (the NEEDLE GUN which coulf ne reloaded faster), (2) superior Prussian military leadership and (3) the diversion of some Austrian troops to the Italian theatre of operation.
The war marks the end of an era, in which armies searched for a decision in a battle. Equally the naval war in the Adriatic sea was the last of a kind, where RAMMING tactics still was used.
Progress in arms technology and military strategies soon lead to a change in the way wars were fought.

The Austro-Prussian War: Austria's War with Prussia and Italy in 1866. Review of a 1996 book by G. Wawro, in The Historian 1999
Reichseinigungskriege, click : Krieg von 1866, Ursachen (causes), Verlauf (course), Ergebnis (result), in German
Battle of Lissa Bibliography, by Michael Organ
Andreas Kopp, the German War 1866, posted by Histofig
Seven Weeks' War, from Armed Conflict Events Data
DOCUMENTS Painting by Anton Romak : Admiral Tegetthoff at the Naval Battle of Lissa, from Österreichische Galerie Belvedere
Guerra Austro-Prusiana 1866, from Uniformes Militares del Mundo, 1740-1914, in Spanish
Images Battle of Lissa, posted by Michael Organ

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on October 25th 2005

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz