On this day in 1499, Switzerland became an independent state. Since then it has gained a reputation for beautiful mountains, accurate watches, and yelling, “I’m not part of this!” during any conflict. And it all started because one lousy emperor tried to swipe a little territory.

It’s gonna get messy

The players involved in this drama were the Holy Roman Empire and the Old Swiss Confederacy. You would know the region we’re talking about as modern Switzerland, Italy, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Back then, it was a hodge-podge of little states, all with their own alliances. Many belonged to the Holy Roman Empire.


The Holy Roman Emperor was Maximilian I, a Habsburg from the Austrian branch of the family (i.e., the only branch we care about for the purposes of this article).

Baby, now we got bad blood

Even though the Swiss belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, it didn’t stop them from chucking any laws they didn’t like out the window. The Old Swiss Confederacy had grown out of states freeing themselves from the aristocracy. The Habsburgs were THE aristocracy and in charge of the Holy Roman Empire.

Unsplash / Dave Ruck

When Emperor Maximilian I tried to seize territory from the League of Three, the League called their Swiss allies. Maximilian had already brought his alliance of aristocratic friends, the Swabian League, to the party.

My army is better than your army

The Swiss didn’t just have the best watches and knives, they had the best army. The Habsburg and Swabian armies got trounced again and again. Eventually, outside factors and objections from his Swabian allies forced Maximilian to the negotiation table.

Pixabay / Skeeze

The Treaty of Basel ended the conflict between the Swabian League and the Old Swiss Confederacy. While it technically set things back to status quo for the region, the treaty strengthened the Confederacy. From that day forward, the Old Swiss Confederacy acted as an independent state, giving the finger to Habsburg ambitions.