Alsace is a rich farming area along an incomparable line of communication, the Rhine river. The climate is not extreme in any way and the fertile plain is lined with forests rich in game. Therefore it is natural that Alsace has always been attractive to nomads and farmers, settlers and noblemen.
Alsace found itself in the midst of action already in Roman times. At that time, the region was on the border between the Roman Empire and the Germanic areas, called Prima Germania. .
Close to Year 0, Emperor Augustus decided to build a city on an ancient Celtic settlement. Is was named Argentoratum, later Strateburghi. Today we know it as Strasbourg, interpreted as "the town were the roads cross". The town had a strategic position Germania superior and was the place were the roads and rivers met.
As usual, the roman legions needed wine. Soon enough, it was discovered that the sun-drenched hillsides could give great wines. Already in the 3rd century, the forests were cleared and large scale wine growing was initiated.
The Alemanni was a germanic people that entered history in the 3rd, century. At that time they lived in Franconia.
In 357 A.D., the fought the Romans at Argentoratum. The invaders lost Kulianos Apostat, and their king Chonodomarius was imprisoned. But already ten years later, the Alemanni crossed the Rhine on the ice in such largest numbers that Argentoratum fell. The Roman Empire, beginning to dissolve, could not recapture the town. In the beginning of the 5th century, the Alemanni were well established in Alsace and a large part of what we know as Switzerland.
At the end of the 5th century, the Alemanni had lost their power and disappeared into the darkness of history. However, the language of the Alemanni still exists as the High-German local language, Alemannic, of Alsace. This old form of "German" is very similar to the some ancient Swiss dialects.
Alsace was invaded by the Francs in 496 A.D. Under the Merovingian superiority, the population was gradually Christianized.
As a consequence of treaty of Versaille of 843 A.D., the empire created by Charles the Great was split into three parts. The western part eventually became France, while the eastern part was the basis for the German-Roman empire. The central part included what we now now as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxenbourg, Nordrhein-Westphalen, Alsace and Lorraine.
During this period, the church grew in strength. Several monasteries were founded, among the one in Turckheim 742 A.D. and in Andlau in 880 A.D. As usual, winegrowing expanded and improved close to the monasteries.
The region became part of Eastern Francia in 921 A.D..
The middle ages
There still many signs of the activities during the Middle ages. Castle ruins provide evidence of an unstable period. Some can still be seen, such as the ones overlooking Husseren-les-Chateaux. During the 13th and the 14th centuries, Colmar was fortified and the wine trade was intense. A major part of the wine was shipped to the Netherlands. The volume shipped from Colmar alone was 100 000 hl, which is an impressive 40% of total amount produced today.
The 30 years war took place between 1618 and 1648 when it came to and ind in the Westfalian treaty. For Alsace, the war was a disaster.
As usual, the basic theme of the war was that France wanted to reduce the influence of the house of Habsburg in the east. In this process, Sweden played an important, but not very flattering role.
Under the command of the king Gustavus II Adolphus and general Tilly among others, the Swedish army moved back and forth across central Europe, fighting the hostile Habsburg armies here and there. France payed, and soldiers were recruited from all over Europe.
In the early 1630s, the army stayed in Alsace for a few years, resulting in a decline in population by 75%. In his paper "Reasons for the renaissance of Alsace wines ", Jean Hugel give the following data: Between 1610 and 1636 the population of Riquewihr dropped from 2 245 to 74, while the number of inhabitants in Bergheim went from 2 600 to 20.
After the war, Alsace was recolonised by Swiss immigrants. Family names such as Kuentz, Hugel, Schueller, Humbrecht and Ginglinger provide evidence of this.
The war of 1870-1871 became a giant failure for France. At this time Napoleon III was Emperor of France. He struggled with lack of confidence and domestic stability. At the same time, various German states had started to create strong alliances under influences of Bismarck. Napoleon III tried to counteract this process of unification.
Suddenly, the German prince Leopold of Hohenzollern was offered the throne of Spain. Hence, France faced a scenario of being surrounded by German power. France contacted King Wilhelm of Prussia and requested that the prince should not accept the throne. Bismarck ruthlessly used the situation give the impression that the French ambassador and King Wilhelm I had insulted each other.
The French people reacted to this insult and France declares war on Prussia. The North German Confederation and the south German states made common cause against a France with a numerically superior army. However, the French military leadership was badly coordinated and the troops moved in an uncoordinated way, loosing one battle after another.
After a year, Paris was seized, Napoleon III had been captured, the Republic had been reinstalled in France, Alsace and Lorraine had been lost and Germany had been united. Things could not have turned out any worse for France.
Alsace was now governed from Berlin, but gained some autonomy in 1911. At this time in France, the church and the state were fully separated. Previously, the Concordat system dating from 1801 had given the catholic church the resources and responsibility to guarantee Protestants, Calvinists and Jews the right to practice their religion. Since the Concordat was dissolved when Alsace was German, it is still in place in Alsace.
During the German period, the vineyards deteriorated. The average yield dropped to 10 hl/ha.
When World War I war started, Alsace was in German hands. The French line of defence followed the Voges. The original German war plan (the Shieffen plan) was to attack Alsace with 10% of the forces. As the French concentrated their forces to Alsace, the rest of the Army should take a nice walk around the theatre of war, via Belgium directly to Paris.
In the mountains around Thann, the troups made their trenches, created a local Hell. 30 000 young soldiers died, 12 000 out of which rest at the mausoleum of Hartmannswillerkopf. The trenches are still intact, and in some spots only 20 meters separate the two sides.
Alsace was given back to France as a part of the Versailles treaty of 1919. For a few days however, November 11-21 1918, Alsace was a part of the free but short-lived Républic d´Alsace-Lorraine.