Bavaria (German Bayern), a state in southeastern Germany, is bounded on the north by the states of Thuringia and Saxony, on the northeast by the Czech Republic, on the southeast and south by Austria, and on the west by the states of Baden-Württemberg and Hesse. Munich is the capital and largest city. Other important cities are Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Regensburg. Bavaria is the largest state of Germany. It is drained by the Main River in the northwest and by the Danube River and two of its tributaries, the Inn and Isar rivers, in the southern and central regions. North of the Danube the land is a rolling upland. Along the border with the Czech Republic is the Bavarian Forest, which reaches an elevation of 1457 m (4780 ft). South of the Danube the land is a rising upland cut by numerous river valleys. In the extreme southern part of the state are the Bavarian Alps, the highest mountains in Germany. Area, 70,546 sq km (27,238 sq mi); population (1990 estimate) 11,448,800.
Bavaria was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC and resettled by Germanic tribes in the 5th and 6th centuries. It became a possession of Charlemagne in 787 and was ruled by the Carolingian dynasty until the 10th century. In 1180 it passed to the Bavarian family of Wittelsbach. During the Reformation Bavaria remained staunchly Roman Catholic and was consequently ravaged by Protestant forces during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The fertile soil and strategic position of the region made it a highly prized possession, and it was frequently invaded by foreign armies in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The War of the Bavarian Succession, (1778-79), conflict was caused by the opposing claims that arose to various parts of the kingdom of Bavaria on the death of Maximilian Joseph, elector of Bavaria (1727-77). With his death the electoral house became extinct, and the legal heir to Bavaria became Charles Theodore, head of the elder branch of the house of Wittelsbach. Austria, then ruled jointly by Maria Theresa and her son, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, had an old claim to Lower Bavaria and part of the Upper Palatinate, together constituting about one-third of the electorate. Charles Theodore wished his illegitimate issue accepted as princes of the Holy Roman Empire; to induce Joseph II to do so, he recognized the Austrian territorial claims. In 1778 Austrian troops occupied the territories.
Frederick the Great of Prussia, however, would not accept any move that would strengthen Austria’s power and influence in southern Germany; particularly, he feared that a strong Austria would interfere with his intention of uniting with Prussia the margravates of Ansbach and Bayreuth. Accordingly, he induced the next in line for the Bavarian succession, Duke Charles of Zweibrücken, to protest the elimination from his future kingdom of one-third of its territory; and, likewise at Frederick’s request, the elector of Saxony Frederick Augustus III (later king of Saxony as Frederick Augustus I), who had another claim to part of Bavaria, also protested the partition arranged by Charles Theodore.
Austria refused to withdraw from Bavaria despite these protests, and in July 1778, Frederick the Great and Henry, prince of Saxony, invaded the Habsburg kingdom of Bohemia; the Austrian forces under Joseph II held strong positions along the boundary between Silesia and Austrian lands. The war was of short duration; as neither side wished to risk a battle, it consisted largely of brief skirmishes. It was settled by personal correspondence between Frederick and Maria Theresa and mediation by Russia and France.
Because of the hostile attitude of Russia toward Austria during the negotiations, the latter country made most of the concessions in the Treaty of Teschen (1779) that ended the war. The treaty provided that Austria return to Bavaria all the territory it had acquired in the previous year except a small district on the east side of the Inn River; that Austria agree to the future union of Prussia with Ansbach and Bayreuth; and that the elector of Saxony was to receive a money indemnity in lieu of his claims to Bavarian territory.
Because the opposing forces had concentrated on trying to cut off each other’s supplies, the conflict was humorously called the Kartoffelkrieg (“Potato War”).
During the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), Bavaria was made a kingdom by Napoleon. In the 19th century, Bavaria tended to support Austria against Prussia. After being defeated with Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War (1866), however, Bavaria sided with Prussia and in 1871 joined the new German Empire. After World War I (1914-1918) a Communist-led group belonging to the Independent Socialist party seized power, but troops of the central government assisted by Bavarian volunteers crushed the rebellion. In the 1920s Bavaria was able to retain a large degree of autonomy, which it lost in the 1930s with the rise of Adolf Hitler. Munich became the headquarters of the National Socialist (Nazi) party during the Hitler regime.
After World War II (1939-1945) Bavaria was included in the United States Zone of Occupation. A new constitution was drawn up in 1946, and in 1949 Bavaria became a constituent state of West Germany. In 1990, West and East Germany united and became the Federal Republic of Germany.