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Canton of Basel

Canton of Basel
Kanton Basel
Canton of the Old Swiss Confederacy, of the Helvetic Republic and of Restoration Switzerland
Bishopric of Basel
1501–1833 Basel-Country

Coat of arms of Basel, Canton

Coat of arms

Location of Basel, Canton
The canton of Basel, shown within the northern part of the Helvetic Republic, as at 1802; the canton of Fricktal (adjacent) joined the Aargau later that year.
Capital Basel
 •  Prince-Bishopric est. 999
 •  Seceded from Empire
    to join Switzerland
1501 1501
 •  Peace of Westphalia
    recognises Swiss
    cantons' independence
May 15, 1648
 •  Rauracian Republic 1792–93
 •  Helvetic Republic 1798–1802
 •  Bad Bubendorf meeting October 18, 1830
 •  Partitioned in twain August 26, 1833 1833

Basel was a canton of Switzerland that was in existence between 1501 and 1833, when it was split into the two present-day 'half-cantons' of Basel-City and Basel-Country.


  • Background 1
  • Establishment 2
  • Unrest and insurrection 3
  • Partition 4
  • Reuniting the half-cantons 5
  • References 6


The town of Basel was called "Basilia" in Latin, this from the Greek Βασιλεία, Basileía, "royal" (fem.). The name is documented from the year 374 . From 999 until the Protestant Reformation, Basel was ruled by prince-bishops (see Bishop of Basel, whose memory is preserved in the crosier shown on the Basel coat of arms, as above). In 1019, the construction of the cathedral of Basel (known locally as the Münster) began under Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor. In 1225–26, the bridge over the Rhine was constructed by Bishop Heinrich von Thun and lesser Basel (Kleinbasel) founded as a bridgehead to protect the bridge.

Basel became the focal point of western Christendom during the 15th century Council of Basel (1431–49), including the 1439 election of antipope Felix V. In 1459, Pope Pius II endowed the University of Basel where such notables as Erasmus of Rotterdam, Paracelsus and Hans Holbein the Younger taught. At the same time the new craft of printing was introduced to Basel by apprentices of Gutenberg; the Schwabe publishing house was founded 1488 by Johannes Petri and is the oldest publishing house still in business. Johann Froben also operated his printing house in Basel and was notable for publishing works by Erasmus.

The Prince-Bishopric of Basel in the 16th century

By the 16th century, the Prince-Bishopric of Basel comprised:

The Prince-Bishopric also held the following territories, which were lost before 1527:


In 1495, Basel was incorporated in the Upper Rhenish Imperial Circle, the bishop sitting on the Bench of the Ecclesiastical Princes. As a direct consequence of the Swabian War, resolved by the 1499 Treaty of Basel, Basel and the Imperial City of Schaffhausen de facto separated from the Holy Roman Empire and joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501, as the confederacy's 11th and 12th states, with Appenzell following suit 12 years later to complete the Dreizehn Orte that made up Switzerland until the French Revolutionary Wars. The bishop continued to reside in Basel until the reformation of Oecolampadius in 1527; the bishop's crook was however retained as the city's coat of arms.

Intended as a defence of Huguenots then persecuted in France, Calvin's Institutes, authored in Basel, was a 1536 exposition of Protestant Christian doctrine which later became known as Calvinism.

The 1648 Peace of Westphalia finally brought about Imperial recognition of the independence of the Swiss cantons, removing the de jure (but not de facto) overlordship of the Holy Roman Empire rejected by the then–Prince-Bishopric nearly 150 years earlier.

In 1792, the Rauracian Republic, a revolutionary French client republic, was created, lasting for a few months into the following year before being partitioned between a restored canton of Basel, later within the Helvetic Republic, and the First French Republic.

Unrest and insurrection

Until 1830, Basel was a unified canton, with citizens from both the city and the municipalities of the countryside sitting in the Kantonsparlament. The cantonal parliament was dominated by members from the city, though its population was less than that of the combined countryside. This had not previously been a source of grievance, but in 1830 the Baselbieter, or citizens from the countryside, grew increasingly distrustful of the city. At a meeting in Bad Bubendorf on 18 October 1830, 25 Baselbieter wrote to the "esteemed gentlemen and noblemen in Basel", demanding equal rights between city and countryside and a representation in parliament in proportion to their numbers.

When the city rejected this demand, resentment from the landscape grew still larger to the extent that the city feared an attack. In Liestal a few men of the countryside formed a new provincial government protected by an army of 3,000. The government was however short-lived as on 16 January 1831 a force from Basel occupied Liestal, driving out the new government. A number of villages, such as Gelterkinden, Reigoldswil, Anwil and Bubendorf remained loyal to Basel, though coming under threat from the rebels. The unrest in the countryside persisted into 1832 and both sides committed injustices upon the other.

On 3 August 1833 over 1200 troops of the city armed with 14 cannons marched on Liestal, but at the Battle of Hülftenschanz, which took place between Pratteln and Frenkendorf, the city's troops were forced back to Basel by the superior numbers of the rebels. Their route back to the city was ambushed and the city forces took heavy losses.


After this conflict, the highest Swiss authority, the Tagsatzung, was petitioned on 17 August 1833 to separate the canton of Basel; nine days later, the partition was effected. From the country municipalities it allocated only Riehen, Bettingen and Kleinhüningen — which would otherwise have been an exclave of Basel-Country between Basel-City and the Grand Duchy of Baden — to the new canton of Basel-City. The remaining municipalities formed the new canton of Basel-Country.

Reuniting the half-cantons

A cantonal coat of arms combining the coats of arms of the two half cantons, was in use from 1833 to 1999 when the "full canton" needed representation, e.g. in the Standesscheiben shown in the glass dome of the Federal Palace of Switzerland. The same combined coat of arms would be used for the suggested re-united canton.

Several attempts have been made to reunite Basel-City and Basel-Country, the last one in 1969, when the citizens of Basel-Country defeated the motion in a referendum. The two cantons have since concluded a number of co-operation agreements, such as joint financing and governance of the University of Basel.


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