Name of Austria

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The German name of Austria, Österreich, derives from the Old High German word Ostarrîchi "eastern realm", recorded in the so-called Ostarrîchi Document of 996, applied to the Margraviate of Austria, a march, or borderland, of the Duchy of Bavaria created in 976. The name is directly comparable in motivation to Austrasia, the term for the "eastern lands" of Francia recorded from about the same time.

The Old High German name parallels the Middle Latin name Marchia Orientalis ("eastern borderland"), alternatively called Marchia austriaca.[1] The shorter Latinized name Austria is first recorded in the 12th century. It has occasionally led to confusion, because, while it renders the Germanic word for "east" it is reminiscent of the native Latin term for "south", auster.

In the 12th century, the Margraviate was elevated to the status of duchy, in 1453 to archduchy and from 1804 claiming imperial status, all the time retaining both the name Österreich and the Latin name Austria.

Ostmark, a translation of Marchia Orientalis into Standard German, was used officially when the country was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.

The contemporary state was created in 1955, with the Austrian State Treaty, and is officially called the Republic of Austria (Republik Österreich).

German name[edit]

Österreich is derived from Old High German Ostarrîchi. The term probably originates as a vernacular translation of the Latin name Marchia orientalis (eastern borderland).[2] The ostar- is related to Old High German ōstan "eastern", but its exact derivation is unclear.[3] Old High German rihhi had the meaning of "realm, domain".

The Marchia orientalis, also called the Bavarian Eastern March (Ostmark[4]) and the March of Austria (Marchiam Austriae), was a prefecture of the Duchy of Bavaria. It was assigned to the Babenberg family in 976. The variant Ostarrîchi is known from a single usage dated 996. Later Medieval documents record the word as either Osterrîche (official) or as Osterlant (folk and poetic usage).[5] The variation Osterrîche is first recorded in 998. Marcha Osterriche appears on a deed granted by Emperor Henry IV and dated 1058.[6]

Austrian historian Friedrich Heer stated in his book Der Kampf um die österreichische Identität (The Struggle Over Austrian Identity), that the name has an older history, originating with the Celtic name of Noricum which Heer takes as No- or Nor- meaning "east" or "eastern",[dubious ] and -rig "realm, dominion",[dubious ] so that both the Latin Marchia orientalis and the German Ostarrîchi would ultimately be renditions of the Celtic name. The origins of modern Austria date back to the ninth century in "Historia Langobardorum", by Paolo Diacono, when the territory of Upper and Lower Austria became increasingly populated. The name "Ostarrichi" is attested for the first time in an official document from 996 to Otto I. Since then this word has developed into Austria. An alternative theory, proposed by the Austrian slavistics professor Otto Kronsteiner, suggests that the term Ostarrîchi is taken from a Slavic toponym 'Ostravica' meaning 'pointed hill', taking its popular meaning of 'Eastern realm' at a much later time.[dubious ][7] This theory was rejected as untenable by Austrian linguist Heinz-Dieter Pohl.[8] Another remoter possibility is that the name comes from the Ostrogoths, who had a kingdom in what is now Austria and northern Italy.

Ostarrîchi document[edit]

The "Ostarrîchi document", with the word ostarrichi marked with a red circle.

The document was issued by Emperor Otto III on November 1, 996 in Bruchsal to Gottschalk von Hagenau, Bishop of Freising. It is today kept in the Bayrisches Hauptstaatsarchiv in Munich.[9]

The historical significance of the document lies in the fact that it is the first time that the name Ostarrîchi, the linguistic ancestor of Österreich, the German name for Austria, is mentioned, even though it applied only to a relatively small territory. The document concerns a donation of the "territory which is known in the vernacular as Ostarrichi" (regione vulgari vocabulo Ostarrichi), specified as the region of Neuhofen an der Ybbs (in loco Niuuanhova dicto). The emperor donated this land to the abbey of Freising as a fief. The lands and some other communities in the vicinity, which the abbey acquired later, were held until 1803, when they were incorporated into Austria.

Latin name[edit]

The name "Austria" is a latinization of German Österreich (that is, the spelling of the name Austria approximates, for the benefit of Latin speakers, the sound of the German name Österreich). This has led to much confusion as German Ost is "east", but Latin auster is "south".

The name is first recorded as Austrie marchionibus (Margrave of Austria) on a deed issued by Conrad III to the Klosterneuburg Monastery in 1147.[10] On the Privilegium Minus of 1156, the name of the country is given as marchiam Austriae (March of Austria) and as Austriae ducatum (Duchy of Austria).[11] In English usage, "Austria" is attested since the early 17th century.[12]

Other languages[edit]

All Germanic languages other than English have a name for Austria corresponding to Österreich: Afrikaans Oostenryk, Danish Østrig, Dutch Oostenrijk, Frisian Eastenryk, Icelandic Austurríki and Swedish Österrike. Finnish Itävalta is also derived from the German name: itä means "east" and valta "state". "Austria" or a phonetic derivative (such as "Ausztria") was adopted in most other languages, including Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Maltese, Russian, Polish, Slovene, Greek, Estonian, Turkish, and Albanian. French is an exception within the Romance group in adapting the German name, Autriche.

The Czech and Slovak languages have a peculiar name for Austria. Czech Rakousko and Slovak Rakúsko neither derived from German Österreich nor from Latin Austria. The Czech name of Rakousko, previously also Rakúsy and later Rakousy, which is still used for the states of Upper and Lower Austria (Horní a Dolní Rakousy), originates in the name of the Austrian castle and town of Raabs an der Thaya near the Czech-Austrian border, formerly also known as Ratgoz or Ratgos.[13] It is worth noting that in his Geography the ancient writer Ptolemy mentions two tribes (of unknown ethnic affiliation) named Racatae and Racatriae which inhabit the areas around the Danube river "up to his bend", roughly corresponding to the region north of Vienna and southwestern Slovakia.[14]

The Arabic name for Austria is an-Nimsā (النمسا). This is a borrowing (via Ottoman Turkish or Persian "نمچه" – "Nemçe"[citation needed]) from the Slavic name for "Germans", němьci, whence Polish Niemcy, Croatian Njemačka, Serbian Nemačka (Немачка), Slovene Nemčija, Czech has Německo, Slovak Nemecko, etc., all meaning "mute".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Online Etymological Dictionary, "Austria"
  2. ^ K. Bosl, History of Bavaria, Darmstadt 1965, 346 note 54 Journal of Bavarian history 18 (1955) 158.
  3. ^ see Ostara for a detailed discussion of this word.
  4. ^ Ostmark is a reconstruction by 19th century scholars and no Medieval example has been found. (Pohl, Heinz-Dieter, "Ostarrîchi 996 – 1996")
  5. ^ "Ostarrîchi" AEIOU Encyclopedia.
    Zöllner, Erich, Geschichte Österreichs: von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart (1990), p. 63.
  6. ^ Gall, Franz, Urkundenbuch zur Geschichte der Babenberger in Österreich (1997), p. 19. On the basis of this example, Mark Osterriche has been suggested as the German form for the March of Austria, as Ostmark is unattested and has been tainted by Nazi use.
  7. ^ [1], Der Standard, 30 November 1996[unreliable source?]
  8. ^ [2], Die Presse
  9. ^ Kaiserselekt 859
  10. ^ Cf. Kastner (2007:239).
  11. ^ Reich, Emil, Select Documents Illustrating Mediaeval and Modern History (2004), pp. 620–621.
  12. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  13. ^ What do crayfish, reeds and Austria have in common?
  14. ^ [3]


  • Kastner, Hugo (2007). Von Aachen bis Zypern: Geographische Namen und ihre Herkunft. Baden-Baden: Humboldt Verlags GmbH. ISBN 978-3-89994-124-1. 

External links[edit]