12.2 Rise of Austria, Prussia, and Russia

During the Reformation, the many German-speaking states within the Holy Roman Empire were plunged into religious wars. Some princes remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. Others accepted the teachings of Protestant reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin. By the early 1600s, war raged across much of the Holy Roman Empire.

Illustration of lines of armored soldiers carrying standards following cavalry through a town as villagers look on.

At the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, forces led by the Holy Roman emperor destroyed the Bohemian army.


  • Outline the causes and results of the Thirty Years' War.
  • Understand how Austria and Prussia emerged as great powers.
  • Explain the steps Peter the Great took to modernize Russia.
  • Describe how Russia grew under Peter the Great and Catherine the Great.
  • Describe how European nations tried to maintain a balance of power.

Key Terms

  • elector
  • mercenary
  • depopulation
  • Peace of Westphalia
  • Maria Theresa
  • War of the Austrian Succession
  • Prussia
  • Frederick William I
  • Frederick II
  • Peter the Great
  • westernization
  • boyar
  • autocratic
  • warm-water port
  • St. Petersburg
  • Catherine the Great
  • partition

The Thirty Years' War

A Fragmented “Empire”

By early modern times, as the French philosopher Voltaire later observed, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Instead, by the seventeenth century it had become a patchwork of several hundred small, separate states.

In theory, these states were ruled by the Holy Roman emperor, who was chosen by seven leading German princes called electors. In practice, the emperor had little power over the many rival princes. This power vacuum contributed to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War.

Religion further divided the German states. The north had become largely Protestant, while the south remained Catholic.

Conflict Erupts

The Thirty Years' War was actually a series of wars. It began in Bohemia, the present-day Czech Republic. Ferdinand, the Catholic Hapsburg king of Bohemia, sought to suppress Protestants and to assert royal power over nobles.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments