Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The Dual Monarchy: two states in a single empire

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise in 1867 transformed the Habsburg Monarchy into an alliance of two sovereign states. Austria-Hungary was a dual system in which each half of the empire had its own constitution, government and parliament. The citizens on each half were also treated as foreigners in the other half.

The Habsburg Monarchy had a total area of 676,615 km². The Austrian half of the empire was 300,004 km² in size and the Hungarian half 325,411 km². Bosnia and Herzegovina, which belonged to neither, had an area of 51,200 km².

The Reichsrat (Imperial Council) in Vienna met in the parliament building on the Ringstrasse, while the Hungarian Reichstag (Diet) in Budapest had an imposing building on the banks of the Danube. Domestic policies issues were dealt with autonomously by the two governments, in some cases with quite different approaches. Authorities and state entities responsible for the administration of the Austrian half of the empire were called ‘k.-k.’, standing for ‘kaiserlich-königlich’ (imperial-royal) and covering Franz Joseph’s various titles as ruler, including Emperor of Austria and King of Bohemia, Galicia and Dalmatia. The Hungarian authorities were called ‘königlich-ungarisch’ (royal Hungarian).

The two partner states were quite different. The Austrian half of the empire, often referred to by the unwieldy name ‘Cisleithania’ (territory on this side of the Leitha, the historical border river separating Lower Austria and Hungary), consisted of seventeen historical crown lands. Attempts to centralize these different lands failed on account of their heterogeneity. The 1867 constitution also defined the Cisleithanian half of the Habsburg Monarchy as a multinational state, which granted the individual nationalities numerous rights. The heterogeneity is also reflected in the absence of a single unified name for the western half of the empire. A makeshift solution was arrived at by referring to it as ‘kingdoms and lands represented in the Imperial Council’. In the vernacular it was called ‘Austria’, although this name was not officially adopted in the constitution until 1915, when the government was attempting to prevent centrifugal forces from splitting up the state by emphasizing the Austrianness and patriotic unity of a state at war.

The internal structure of the Hungarian half of the Empire, also known as ‘Transleithania’, was somewhat clearer. Among the ‘lands of the Hungarian crown’, the Kingdom of Hungary was indisputably the dominant element, together with the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia, which had been united with Hungary since the Middle Ages, in which the Croats enjoyed a certain autonomy, and the administratively independent free city of Rijeka (Croatian) / Fiume (Italian), a port on the upper Adriatic.

In Hungary the Magyars were the dominant nation, although, as in the Austrian half of the empire, Hungary was a multi-ethnic structure in which the Magyars were only in a small majority (1910: 54.5 per cent) compared with the other language groups. In spite of this fact, the non‑Magyar ethnic groups had the status of minorities. Many of these ethnic groups, whose social and economic development was hindered considerably by the constitution, were just starting to establish themselves as nations and had only weak political representation. The uncompromising Magyarization policy of the national feudal Hungarian elite increasingly alienated the other nationalities from the aims of the Hungarian state.

Translation: Nick Somers


Stourzh, Gerald: Die dualistische Reichsstruktur, Österreichbegriff und Österreichbewusstsein 1867–1918, in: Stourzh, Gerald: Der Umfang österreichischer Geschichte. Ausgewählte Studien 1990–2010 (=Studien zu Politik und Verwaltung 99), Wien u. a. 2011, 105–124

Rumpler, Helmut: Eine Chance für Mitteleuropa. Bürgerliche Emanzipation und Staatsverfall in der Habsburgermonarchie [Österreichische Geschichte 1804–1914, hrsg. von Herwig Wolfram], Wien 2005

Wandruszka, Adam (Hrsg.): Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918, Band VII: Verfassung und Parlamentarismus. Teil 1: Verfassungsrecht, Verfassungswirklichkeit und zentrale Repräsentativkörperschaften, Wien 2000

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    The Habsburg empire

    Austria-Hungary had an extremely diverse state structure. At the start of the First World War it was a major power in decline. Social and political problems and the dominant nationality conflicts shook the empire to its foundations. At the same time, the Monarchy represented an enormous cultural region in which the Habsburg empire flourished in spite of the political stagnation.

Persons, Objects & Events


  • Development

    The Dual Monarchy – Cisleithania and Transleithania

    The Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy was created through the Compromise of 1867. The Habsburg Monarchy now had two capitals, Vienna and Budapest. The two halves of the empire were united by their common army and foreign policy. The strongest linking factor was the monarch, who personified the unity of the empire.