The Principality of Liechtenstein (Fürstentum Liechtenstein in German) is a doubly landlocked German-speaking microstate in Central Europe, situated in the Upper Rhine valley of the European Alps and is bordered to the east by Austria and to the south and west by Switzerland. The entire western border of Liechtenstein is formed by the Rhine. Measured south to north the country is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) long. New surveys using more accurate measurements of the country’s borders in 2006 have set its area at 61.776 square miles (160 square kilometers) — the fourth-smallest in Europe — with borders of 48.4 miles (77.9 km). Thus, it was discovered in 2006 that Liechtenstein’s borders are 1.2 miles (1.9 km) longer than previously thought. It has an estimated population of 37,000. Its highest point, the Grauspitz, is 8,527 feet (2,599 meters). Despite its Alpine location, prevailing southerly winds make the climate of Liechtenstein comparatively mild. In winter, the mountain slopes are well suited to winter sports. The principality is a constitutional monarchy headed by the Prince of Liechtenstein. Its capital is Vaduz and its largest municipality is Schaan.
Liechtenstein is one of only two doubly landlocked countries in the world — being a landlocked country wholly surrounded by other landlocked countries (the other is Uzbekistan). Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest independent nation in the world by land area. The principality of Liechtenstein is divided into 11 communes called Gemeinden (singular Gemeinde). The Gemeinden mostly consist only of a single town or village. Five of them (Eschen, Gamprin, Mauren, Ruggell, and Schellenberg) fall within the electoral district Unterland (the lower county), and the remainder (Balzers, Planken, Schaan, Triesen, Triesenberg, and Vaduz) within Oberland (the upper county).
Economically, Liechtenstein has one of the highest gross domestic products per person in the world when adjusted for purchasing power parity, and the highest when not adjusted by purchasing power parity. The unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the world at 1.5%. Liechtenstein has been known in the past as a billionaire tax haven; however, it is no longer on any blacklists of uncooperative tax haven countries.
Many cultivated fields and small farms are found both in the south (Oberland, upper land) and north (Unterland, lower land). The country has a strong financial sector centered in Vaduz. Liechtenstein is a member of the United Nations, European Free Trade Association, the Council of Europe, and the European Space Agency. While not being a member of the European Union, the country participates in both the Schengen Area and European Economic Area. It also has a customs union and a monetary union with Switzerland.
The oldest traces of human existence in Liechtenstein date back to the Middle Paleolithic era. Neolithic farming settlements were initially founded in the valleys around 5300 BCE. The Hallstatt and La Tène cultures flourished during the late Iron Age, from around 450 BCE — possibly under some influence of both the Greek and Etruscan civilizations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Alpine region were the Helvetii.
In 58 BCE, at the Battle of Bibracte, Julius Caesar defeated the Alpine tribes, therefore bringing the region under close control of the Roman Empire. By 15 BCE, Tiberius — destined to be the second Roman emperor — with his brother, Drusus, conquered the entirety of the Alpine area. Liechtenstein was then integrated into the Roman province of Raetia. The area was maintained by the Roman military, who also maintained large legionary camps at Brigantium (Austria), near Lake Constance, and at Magia (Swiss). A Roman road ran through the territory was also created and maintained by these groups. In 259-260, Brigantium was destroyed by the Alemanni, a Germanic people who settled in the area in around 450 CE.
In the Early Middle Ages, the Alemanni settled the eastern Swiss plateau by the 5th century and the valleys of the Alps by the end of the 8th century, with Liechtenstein located at the eastern edge of Alemannia. In the 6th century, the entire region became part of the Frankish Empire following Clovis I’s victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504.
The area that later became Liechtenstein remained under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties), until the empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843 AD, following the death of Charlemagne. The territory of present-day Liechtenstein was under the possession of East Francia. It would later be reunified with Middle Francia under the Holy Roman Empire, around 1000 CE. Until about 1100, the predominant language of the area was Romansch, but thereafter German began to gain ground in the territory. In 1300, an Alemannic population — the Walsers, who originated in Valais — entered the region and settled. The mountain village of Triesenberg still preserves features of Walser dialect into the present century.
By 1200, dominions across the Alpine plateau were controlled by the Houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg, and Kyburg. Other regions were accorded the Imperial immediacy that granted the empire direct control over the mountain passes. When the Kyburg dynasty fell in 1264, the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) extended their territory to the eastern Alpine plateau that included the territory of Liechtenstein. This region was enfeoffed to the Counts of Hohenems until the creation of the Liechtenstein dynasty in 1699.
In 1396 Vaduz (the southern region of Liechtenstein) was raised to the status of “imperial immediacy” and as such made subject to the Holy Roman Emperor alone.
The family, from which the principality takes its name, originally came from Liechtenstein Castle in Lower Austria which they had possessed from at least 1140 until the 13th century (and again from 1807 onwards). The Liechtensteins acquired land, predominantly in Moravia, Lower Austria, Silesia, and Styria. As these territories were all held in feudal tenure from more senior feudal lords, particularly various branches of the Habsburgs, the Liechtenstein dynasty was unable to meet a primary requirement to qualify for a seat in the Imperial diet (parliament), the Reichstag. Even though several Liechtenstein princes served several Habsburg rulers as close advisers, without any territory held directly from the Imperial throne, they held little power in the Holy Roman Empire.
For this reason, the family sought to acquire lands that would be classed as unmittelbar (immediate) or held without any intermediate feudal tenure, directly from the Holy Roman Emperor. During the early 17th century Karl I of Liechtenstein was made a Fürst (prince) by the Holy Roman Emperor Matthias after siding with him in a political battle. Hans-Adam I was allowed to purchase the minuscule Herrschaft (“Lordship”) of Schellenberg and county of Vaduz (in 1699 and 1712 respectively) from the Hohenems. Tiny Schellenberg and Vaduz had exactly the political status required: no feudal lord other than their comital sovereign and the suzerain Emperor.
On January 23, 1718, after the lands had been purchased, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that Vaduz and Schellenberg were united and elevated the newly formed territory to the dignity of Fürstentum (principality) with the name Liechtenstein in honor of “[his] true servant, Anton Florian of Liechtenstein”. It was on this date that Liechtenstein became a sovereign member state of the Holy Roman Empire. It is a testament to the pure political expediency of the purchase that the Princes of Liechtenstein never visited their new principality for almost 100 years.
By the early 19th century, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the Holy Roman Empire came under the effective control of France, following the crushing defeat at Austerlitz by Napoleon in 1805. Emperor Francis II abdicated, ending more than 960 years of feudal government. Napoleon reorganized much of the Empire into the Confederation of the Rhine. This political restructuring had broad consequences for Liechtenstein: the historical imperial, legal, and political institutions had been dissolved. The state ceased to owe an obligation to any feudal lord beyond its borders.
Modern publications generally attribute Liechtenstein’s sovereignty to these events. Its prince ceased to owe an obligation to any suzerain. From July 25, 1806, when the Confederation of the Rhine was founded, the Prince of Liechtenstein was a member, in fact, a vassal, of its hegemon, styled protector, the French Emperor Napoleon I, until the dissolution of the confederation on October 19, 1813.
Soon afterward, Liechtenstein joined the German Confederation from June 20, 1815 until August 24, 1866, which was presided over by the Emperor of Austria.
In 1818, Prince Johann I granted the territory a limited constitution. In that same year Prince Aloys became the first member of the House of Liechtenstein to set foot in the principality that bore their name. The next visit would not occur until 1842.
Also in 1818, the first post office was established in Balzers. From then on, the Austrian post delivered all postal consignments. In 1845, another post office opened in the capital Vaduz. In 1852 after the introduction of Austrian postage stamps, Liechtenstein’s government closed a contract with Austria which regulated the execution of the postal system by Austria. This contract was renewed in 1876. Regarding the postal delivery Liechtenstein was equal to Austria. The postage within the country and to Austria was the same as within Austria. Austrian postage stamps were used.
Additional post offices were established in Nendeln (1864), Schaan (1872), and Triesen (1890). During the time of the Austrian postal administration there were never more than five post offices in operation. On March 1, 1912, Nendeln’s post office was moved to Eschen.
In 1911, major points of the contract were amended by a new agreement, which came into force on January 1, 1912. The postal administration was still managed by Austria, but all existing postal institutions were then called K. k. österreichisches u. fürstlich liechtensteinsches Post- u. Telegraphenamt, which effected only some official seals then showing together the two coat of arms. Stamps for use at Liechtenstein’s post offices were issued on February 1, 1912 (Scott #1-3), but the Austrian stamps were still valid in Liechtenstein until January 31, 1921. The Austrian postal administration had to pay a general sum of 10,000 kronen per year for the assignment of the service. On October 1, 1916, that sum was increased to 14,000 kronen.
Until the end of World War I, the ruling princes continued to derive much of their wealth from estates in the Habsburg territories and spent much of their time at their two palaces in Vienna. The economic devastation caused by this war forced the country to conclude a customs and monetary union with its other neighbor, Switzerland.
At the time of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was argued that Liechtenstein, as a fief of the Holy Roman Empire, was no longer bound to the emerging independent state of Austria, since the latter did not consider itself as the legal successor to the empire. This is partly contradicted by the Liechtenstein perception that the dethroned Austro-Hungarian Emperor still maintained an abstract heritage of the Holy Roman Empire.
On February 18, 1920, the postal contract was cancelled by a new agreement. Austria’s postal service stopped at the end of February 1920. For a short time, Liechtenstein managed its own postal administration. Its first stamps were overprints and surcharges on the earlier Austrian-administered stamps (Scott #11-16) released in 1920 followed by definitives (Scott #18-46). commemoratives (Scott #47-49) and postage dues (Scott #J1-12) later that year. After concluding a contract with Switzerland, the Swiss postal administration has managed Liechtenstein’s postal system since February 1, 1921.
In 1929, 75-year-old Prince Franz I succeeded to the throne. Franz had just married Elisabeth von Gutmann, a wealthy woman from Vienna whose father was a Jewish businessman from Moravia. Although Liechtenstein had no official Nazi party, a Nazi sympathy movement arose within its National Union party. Local Liechtenstein Nazis identified Elisabeth as their Jewish “problem”.
In March 1938, just after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Prince Franz named as regent his 31-year-old first cousin twice removed and heir-presumptive, Prince Franz Joseph. Franz died in July that year, and Franz Joseph succeeded to the throne. Franz Joseph II first moved to Liechtenstein in 1938, a few days after Austria’s annexation.
During World War II, Liechtenstein remained officially neutral, looking to neighboring Switzerland for assistance and guidance, while family treasures from dynastic lands and possessions in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia were taken to Liechtenstein for safekeeping. At the close of the conflict, Czechoslovakia and Poland, acting to seize what they considered to be German possessions, expropriated the entirety of the Liechtenstein dynasty’s properties in those three regions. The expropriations (subject to modern legal dispute at the International Court of Justice) included over 618 square miles (1,600 km²) of agricultural and forest land (most notably the UNESCO-listed Lednice–Valtice Cultural Landscape), and several family castles and palaces.
In 2005, it was revealed that Jewish laborers from the Strasshof concentration camp, provided by the SS, had worked on estates in Austria owned by Liechtenstein’s Princely House.
Citizens of Liechtenstein were forbidden to enter Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. More recently the diplomatic conflict revolving around the controversial post-war Beneš decrees resulted in Liechtenstein not sharing international relations with the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Diplomatic relations were established between Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic on July 13, 2009, and with Slovakia on December 9, 2009.
Scott #45 is a 7½-krone slate stamp, engraved and perforated 12½, issued in 1920 by the short-lived Liechtenstein National Administration of the Post Office. It portrays Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein, a.k.a. Johann II der Gute or Johann II the Good. Born Johann Maria Franz Placidus on October 5, 1840, he was the Prince of Liechtenstein between 1858 and 1929. His reign of 70 years and 90 days is the second-longest in European royal history after that of Louis XIV of France who, however, was crowned at age 5.
Johann II was the elder son of Aloys II, Prince of Liechtenstein and Countess Franziska Kinsky of Wchinitz and Tettau. He ascended to the throne shortly after his 18th birthday, and as such his reign is the longest precisely documented tenure of any monarch since antiquity in which a regent was never employed.
In 1862, Johann II issued Liechtenstein’s first constitution. Later, after Liechtenstein left the German confederation in 1866 and after World War I, Johann II granted a new constitution in 1921. It granted considerable political rights to common Liechtensteiners, the latter making the principality a constitutional monarchy. This constitution survives today but with revisions, most notably in 2003. Not long after Liechtenstein left the German Confederation, the army of Liechtenstein was abolished as it was regarded as an unnecessary expense.
Johann II somewhat cooled relations with Liechtenstein’s traditional ally, Austria-Hungary and its successor states, to forge closer relations with Switzerland, particularly after World War I. Liechtenstein was neutral during World War I, but the war broke Liechtenstein’s alliance with Austria-Hungary and led it to go into a customs union with Switzerland. Late in Johann’s reign, in 1924, the Swiss franc became Liechtenstein’s official currency.
Johann II added much to the Liechtenstein Princely Collections. Although considered a prominent patron of the arts and sciences during his long reign, Johann II was also considered to be rather unsociable and did not participate in social events. He never married or had any children, like several other members of his family.
Between 1905–1920, Schloss Vaduz was renovated and expanded. Prince Johann II did not live in the castle or even Liechtenstein, though his successors would eventually move there in 1938. Upon his death on February 11, 1929, Johann II was succeeded by his brother Franz I.