Die Appenzeller AR/AI. Foto/Photo: Wikipedia.

The History of the Appenzeller Cantons

The hilly and mountainous landscape of the two Appenzell cantons is as beautiful as their origins are typically Swiss and unique.

The area of these cantons covers 420 km2. The northern part of Canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden (AR) consists of hills and almost borders Lake Constance. In the southern region, canton Appenzell Innerrhoden (AI), the mountains of the Prealps dominate, with the highest peak, the Säntis (2 502 metres).

Appenzell Ausserrhoden consists of the regions of Hinterland, Mittelland (with the capital Herisau) and Vorderland. Appenzell Innerrhoden comprises the Inneres Land region. Appenzell is the capital of the canton.

Rhode (plural Rhoden) means the medieval administrative units (first mentioned in documents in the 14th century). These are the six ”äusseren Rhoden” (Urnäsch, Herisau, obere und untere Rhode Hundwil, Teufen und Trogen) and the six ‘inneren Rhoden’ (Schwende, Rüte, Lehn, Schlatt, Gonten, Rinkenbach/Wies).

This geographical division is the basis and naming of the split in 1597. Another change was transitioning from arable farming to animal husbandry, which is still the primary agricultural industry.

During this period, the äusseren Rhoden had around 10 000 inhabitants, and the inneren Rhoden had about 4 000. Today, these numbers are 55,000 and 16,000, respectively.

The Reformation

Appenzell joined the Confederation of Swiss cantons in 1513, and nothing pointed to separating into two cantons. In 1597, however, a separation occurred: Canton Appenzell split into the cantons Appenzell Innerrhoden and Appenzell Ausserrhoden.

Appenzell Ausserrhoden had been Protestant since the Reformation (around 1530), while Appenzell Innerrhoden remained Catholic.

The citizens of Appenzell Ausserrhoden voted for the split on 2 June 1597, and the citizens of Appenzell Innerrhoden followed on 15 June 1597. The Tagssatzung of the Eidgenossenschaft was the Institution under whose leadership the separation was legally settled on 8 September 1597 by the Tagsatzung of the Confederation.

The Eidgenossenschaft was a confederation of sovereign Protestant and Catholic cantons. They discussed issues at the Tagsatzung on equal terms with the same rights. An exceptional situation in Europe torn apart by religious and civil wars.

The period until 1513

Raetic tribes inhabited Appenzell until the Roman occupation around 15-13 BC. After the departure of the Romans in 410, the Romansh culture developed.

From the seventh and eighth centuries, more and more Alemanni inhabited the area, and Alemannic became the spoken language. The famous abbey of St. Gallen also played an essential role as a significant landowner in the region. The Carolingian rulers and their German successors from the Holy Roman Empire appointed the abbots.

The abbey was an imperial monastery. The abbot was a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. This status was similar to the Reichsumittelbarkeit of several Swiss cities and the Orte Schwyz, Uri, Glarus and Unterwalden.

In Appenzell, too, this status led to increasing independence, supported by the neighbouring Orte. When the abbey of St Gallen tried to get more influence in Appenzell in the early 15th century, seven of the eight cantons of the Eidgenossenschaft (Schwyz, Glarus, Uri, Unterwalden, Lucerne, Zug, Zurich) supported Appenzell. Bern did not join these cantons.

The conflict between St Gall Abbey and Appenzell, despite arbitration by the Eidgenossenschaft, led to the so-called Appenzeller Wars (Appenzeller Kriege). It was a war between Habsburg and the abbey on one side and the Eidgenossen on the other.

The peace of 1429 meant Appenzell’s independence under the Eidgenossenschaft’s protection and as an ally or zugewandter Ort, with the status of ‘ewige Eidgenosse‘.

Appenzell subsequently participated in wars of the Eidgenossenschaft against Habsburg in the Alter Zürichkrieg (1436), the conquest of the Rheintal (1444), the conquest of Thurgau (1460), the Waldshuterkrieg (1468), the Burgundian Wars (1474-1477) and finally the Schwabenkrieg (1499).


In 1513, Appenzell became a member of the Confederation as the thirteenth canton. From then on, the canton followed the history of the Eidgenossenschaft, including the status of two half-cantons with only one vote per canton (instead of two) in the Ständerat (Constitution of 1848). Incidentally, the formal position of ‘half-canton’ was removed in the revised Constitution of 2000. A canton is a canton even if it has only one vote in the Senate.

The Landsgemeinde was the administrative construct from the Middle Ages onwards in Appenzell Innerrhoden to the present day.


These cantons’ wisdom, statesmanship and good governance found their culmination and symbolism in 1597.

The Eidgenossenschaft was also torn by religious strife and (civil) wars, even until 1847, but without the neighbouring countries’ brutality, intensity, scale and intolerance.

It was a matter of luck and chance on the one hand, but also of the direct democracy, compromise and consensus model so characteristic of today’s Confederation.

Thanks to its political concept, the Confederation of 13 sovereign Protestant and Catholic cantons emerged relatively unscathed from the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Even the Sonderbundskrieg of 1847, partly inspired by religion and political antagonism, had reconciliation and compromise as its starting point and outcome. Catholic Appenzell Innerrhoden was neutral in this conflict because the citizens had decided to remain neutral.

Both Appenzeller (and the Eidgenossenschaft) still deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.

Source: A. Weishaupt u.a., ‘Appenzell (Canton)’, in Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz, Appenzell, https://hls-dhs-dss.ch/de/articles/007389/2019-10-25).