Austria has occupied a dominant position in the shaping of modern German history. After the glorious period known as the Renaissance, the forces of religious conflict, political transformation, and modernization shook the German states. Political authority was fragmented in the German states, which lacked strong central governments, and autonomous local powers prevented the Empire from using its resources and organizing itself like the other new European states.
In the 16th century, Austria was repeatedly attacked by the Turks and the Protestant Reformation shattered the unity that Western Christendom had experienced for over a thousand years. The novel ideas of religious thinkers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin,, transformed traditional views of God, human beings and society. Austria became the Catholic center of the Counter-Reformation forcing many Protestants from Salzburg to flee Catholic Austria and migrated to the other German states. As religious upheavals intensified, revolutionary thought erupted on many other levels of society.
In the 17th century, the German states entered into an era dominated by warfare, revolt and upheaval. The Thirty Years' War involved Germans in some of the most horrific battles that had ever been fought on the European Continent. The Scientific Revolution changed the way Germans looked at nature and the way they thought about physical things. In the 18th century, which was an age of demographic growth, economic development, and enlightenment, Austria and Prussia emerged as great and rival powers, with absolute monarchs who were each determined to be the chief military and political power on the continent. In the early 18th century, the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire was created. After the Spanish and Austrian lines of the Hapsburg dynasty died out in 1700 and 1740, respectively, Maria Theresa, who was the first ruler of the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, became the only woman to be Empress on a German throne.
After the French Revolution, Napoleon created a France that was powerful enough to challenge the Holy Roman Empire and the other European states combined. Austria reached the peak of its prestige following the Congress Of Vienna, but the regime became more conservative and bureaucratic in an attempt to control its vast array of nationalities and cultures. Vienna's hold on its widespread possessions eventually loosened, particularly in the Balkan regions. At this time, the various German states began to move toward the creation of a modern and unified German nation. After the Revolutions of 1848, Germany expanded territorially, developed its economy, and emerged as a great world power. German Unification was proclaimed in 1871, and industrialization and urbanization created large German cities that were largely populated by the newly created working class. After the First World War, which caused a tremendous loss of lives and property, Austria became a republic. The empire was broken up by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and its Sudeten Germans were incorporated into the new nation of Czechoslovakia.