The longer these regions remained outside the Empire, the more difficult their inclusion within it became.
Bohemia, a natural region easily governed from Prague and inhabited by Slavonic peoples, was included within the Empire, while Poland, farther to the east and less easily reached, was organized only just in time to prevent its inclusion, though claims were indeed made for cen turies to consider Poland as a fief, and the western portion of the first Polish state became almost at once tributary to Germany.
These territories, then, on the one hand were always a menace, greater or less, to the eastern frontier, and on the other allowed of the chance of expansion as a result of their conquest, not by the Empire but by states within the Empire. It is thus no accident that while the earlier centres of Germany lay in the west, the later powers were centred in the east. The eastern menace either prevented disruption or brought about union in the face of a common danger, while the chance of expansion was seized on, and states grew larger by extension eastwards to include lands outside the Empire. In particular, two states, Prussia and Austria, gradually became pre-eminent, based respectively on the northern plain and on the higher land to the south of it. The latter developed first, and from it was made, by Charles V., an attempt which just failed of success in organizing this heart land of peninsular Europe; the former took longer to develop, but, under Prussia, Germany has at last achieved such a unity as had not hitherto been hers, though even now Austria remains outside the political organization.
Austria.—The map shows how there stretches across Europe the great belt of highland formed by the Alps and Carpathians, unbroken except for a short distance at one place, and hence crossed with difficulty except at this one place where the two mountainous areas approach. one another. To this passage, then, there must come by far the greater number of those who wish to pass from one side of the highland to the other, whether in peace or war, and on this small area, Vienna and the surrounding land, routes must converge. Here a
stand could be made against the horse-riders from the south-east, and from here, when these were subdued, expansion was possible. It marked, in the first instance, a convenient and natural limit of the Empire, to which it came to be of extraordinary importance. In the face of common danger, this area and the lands to the north west were more likely to unite, and the ruler of this area was bound to be a man of importance in the Empire. It is thus no wonder that the House of Hapsburg—the House of Austria—held the imperial crown for centuries almost by right. Further, partly by marriage, but still more by conquest, Hungary was added to the dominions ruled by the head of the House of Austria, and gave him additional authority. Because of a marriage he became the heir to the throne of Hungary; because the Turks at last destroyed the Eastern Roman Empire and overran Hungary, the Hapsburgs gradually drove them back, and in regaining the land for Christendom made it effectively their own, so that when Napoleon finally brought the Holy Roman Empire to an end, there remained the state of Austria-Hungary centred in Vienna, a capital from which many different parts might be easily governed.
Of the eastern states of Germany Austria developed first, because the menace from the south-east was more obvious and more insistent than that from any other direction. This was due to two causes : the existence of the Eastern Roman Empire, and all the momentum of civilization in the south-east were of influence in bringing into existence organized communities within the circle of the Carpathians and Balkan highlands ; and further, the land in which these communities lived was still semi-steppe, and lay open to other nomadic hordes from farther east until Russia emerged from her forest and barred their passage. Thus the attack from the south-east was more often renewed and more serious, because better organized, than the attack from any other quarter, and it was natural that a state should arise here to withstand that attack.