Bauern (peasants/farmers), traditional term designating self-employed persons in agriculture and their dependants. Bauern have existed since the New Stone Age as a distinct social group characterised by regular field cropping, animal husbandry and a sedentary lifestyle. The Danubian Culture (approx. 3,500-2,400 B.C.) and subsequent cultures were mainly peasant cultures. From this time on, the natural landscape was gradually cultivated. Viticulture was introduced to Austria by the Romans. The author of the "Vita Severini" stressed that in the Roman province of Noricum it was common, in the 5th century, for the land to be cultivated by free cultivators, and not by slaves or coloni, which is a typical sign of a peasant culture. After a long series of migrations, invasions, and settlement by Germanic peoples, the dominating type of peasant in Bavarian tribal society was the so-called Krieger-Bauer (literally warrior-peasant), free peasants cultivating their own land and bearing arms. They performed advanced animal husbandry, and their farmsteads usually consisted of several buildings. Later on, the free cultivators (so-called Freie) and the freedmen (freed servi or mancipia) living on their own land ("Huben") fell into different degrees of servitude with ecclesiastical or secular landlords at the dawn of the medieval feudal system. The economic focus shifted from animal husbandry to grain growing (three-field rotation system). Peasants had to pay rent in the form of labour, goods or money. The latter was the latest type of payment, but it was not everywhere the dominant form. Rents in grain or wine to the ecclesiastical (tithe) or the civil landlord were the most common forms of payment. Bondage was eased in the 13th century, and tenure became central for the peasantry. The least advantageous form of tenure was the Freistift, where the tenant might be ejected by the landlord at any time, the most advantageous ones were the Erbrecht (literally, right to inherit) and the Kaufrecht (literally, right to purchase), where the farmstead could be inherited. Despite feudal bondage, the peasantry achieved a certain degree of self-organisation or even autonomy within their parish or village community. Land cultivation by peasants spread quickly in the 13th and 14th centuries due to the settlement and clearance of new areas. In the late Middle Ages (14th and 15th centuries), agriculture underwent a crisis. The price of grain declined, and vast areas were partially or wholly devastated. During the crisis, the position of the peasantry stabilised and the feudal burdens were eased because there were not enough vassals. It is also likely that housing was improved at that time and farmhouses were enlarged, and the settlement that remained after the crisis grew. The crisis caused a shrinking or at least a stagnation of the peasant population, but it also strengthened its position. This new self-assurance on the part of the peasants was countered by increasing claims (since approx. 1490) on the part of the landlords and the nascent state, which led to sometimes armed conflicts between peasants and landlords. The suppression of the Peasants´ Revolts ) was followed by increasing claims by both the state (taxes) and the landlords (frequently in the form of socage). Under Maria Theresia, the position of peasants began to stabilise. Following uprisings against socage, this type of service was for the first time limited, and all properties held by landlords (Dominicalland) and properties held by peasants (Rustikalland) were registered in the Maria-Theresian Cadaster. This limited the practice of withdrawing property from peasants (Bauernlegen) and even rendered it impossible in 1775. State properties, estates of landholder's managers (Meierhof) and common grazing grounds (Allmenden) were frequently parcelled out. By the late 18th century, serfdom had virtually died out and was definitively abolished by Joseph II in 1781. Under his tax and land regulation (Steuer- und Urbarial-Regulierung) of 1785, land tax, feudal rent and socage were newly fixed. The landlords' opposition to these reforms was successful. What was achieved, however, was the transformation of rent in labour into rent in money and the voluntary commutation of feudal burdens ("Abolition"). The so-called agricultural revolution (which in Austria started around 1770, introduction of zero-grazing, root cropping and sowing of clover on fallow land) caused an increased demand for agricultural labourers and growing numbers of servants. Farmhouses had to be enlarged again, and the social position of the peasant housefather was temporarily strengthened, which was an important condition for the political mobilisation of peasants in the time of conservatism that followed. The income of the farmers increased considerably around 1800, partly due to the wartime economic upswing. A bad crisis from approximately 1815 to 1835 was followed by another stabilisation phase, but the traditional opportunities to earn part-time incomes (e.g. through textile production or in transport) diminished in the course of the Industrial Revolution. The farmers became exclusively agricultural producers. The Revolution of 1848 brought about the abolition of all burdens pressing upon vassals ( Emancipation of Peasants ), and farmers became citizens with equal rights. Before 1848, there had been 2.6 million vassals and 54,000 manorial estates. Now farmers could sell land, if it was their property, they could let it, devise it and use it to secure debts. Farmhouses at that time acquired the appearance which was later designated "old" or "traditional". Many were changed or re-built, and storeys were added. Following the Easement Act of 1853, traditional rights of use of manorial forests or pastureland, mostly enjoyed by farmers, were regulated or commuted for payment, which meant financial ruin for many of the "forest-farmers". In game law, too, former landlords were given privileges which farmers did not enjoy. In 1868 liberalism gave farmers the freedom to contract debts, and many of them ended up with excessive debts after reckless borrowing, for instance to pay off heirs. Over-indebtedness rose sharply from the 1880s, and many farming estates fell victim to forced sales. Farmers founded self-help institutions in the form of co-operatives, which were intended to guarantee small and medium-sized agricultural producers fair producers' prices; the Raiffeisenkassen secured credits for indebted farmers. Other measures were taken, if only on a small scale, in the initial phase: Agricultural training schools for further education were founded, plots of land were consolidated, and soil drainage and agricultural management was improved. Farmers and landowners began to organise themselves politically. Landwirtschaftsgesellschaften (agricultural societies) were dominated by the powerful landowners. The first was formed in Vienna in 1807 and based on similar institutions in the 18th century. The small farmers were represented from roughly 1870 by various agricultural and political associations. Out of the struggle against liberalism, the archetypical picture of the "Bauer" emerged: the conservative and often nationalistic farmer who was loyal to his homeland (Heimat), resisted change and remained on his land (Scholle), and formed the basis of a folk culture that was as unchanging as the Bauer himself ( Folklore Studies ). The first (anti-liberal) farmers' assembly for the province of Lower Austria (Bauerntag) took place in 1896 in Vienna, and was soon followed by the foundation of new farmers' associations (Austrian Bauernbund, in 1904 in the province of Tirol, in 1906 the province of Lower Austria. In 1897, the first general Austrian farmers' assembly (Bauerntag) took place. After World War I, the first Chambers of Agriculture were established under public law as interest groups with compulsory membership.
The percentage of farmers in the overall population has been decreasing steadily since the Industrial Revolution. It was approx. 45 % around 1900, approx. 30 % in 1934 and about 6.6 % in 1997. Traditionally, the farming population had a high degree of self-sufficiency, also in non-agricultural products such as clothes and tools, but today farmers depend almost exclusively on the market. At present, farmers are suffering from the late 20th century agricultural crisis and from a price gap between industrial and agricultural products, the price of which has been steadily declining since World War II. This has been met by swift structural changes that started in the 1960s: Farmers dispensed with the traditional hired-labour structure, farms closed down, part-time farming (to a greater of lesser extent) increased, farm estates were enlarged through concentration, more profitable branches of production and market niches were opened (such as organic farming. All these developments led to far-reaching changes within the farming population, and the proportion of farmers in the population is expected to decline further in the future. This trend is likely to further intensify in view of the market-oriented agricultural policy of the European Union, of which Austria has been a member since 1995.
Literature#E. Bruckmueller, Landw. Organisationen und ges. Modernisierung, 1977; idem, Sozialgeschichte Oe, 1985; idem (ed.), Raiffeisen in Oesterreich, 1998.