Canton Vaud

The present-day Canton de Vaud area has been inhabited since the end of the last Ice Age (10 000).

The Helvetians

The region became known for mentioning the Celtic tribe Helvetians by Julius Caesar in De Bello Gallico. This tribe also inhabited Vaud in the period 450-58 BC. Tombs have been found in Saint-Sulpice, Vevey and Vidy.

Caesar mentioned this tribe in connection with their invasion of Gallia. He defeated them in 58 BC at Bibracte, near Autun. Around 44 BC, the Romans founded the city of Nyon (Colonia Julia Equestris). Around 25 BC, Rome conquered the territory of the Celtic tribes, the Nantuates and the Véragres in present-day Chablais and Valais.

Roman era

Aventicum (Avenches), a Celtic oppidum, becomes the capital of the Helvetic tribes. In 71 AD, Aventicum becomes the Colonia Pia Flavia Constans Emerita Helvetiorum Foederata under Emperor Vespasian (39-81) in the Provincia Belgica. From 89, this area fell under the Provincia Germania Superior.

Romanisation was rapid, first for the cities’ elite, then for the rest of the population. It is known as Gallo-Roman, Roman, with Celtic features.

Vaud, during this period, was an important trade route with the Rhone, Lake Geneva (lac Léman) and the connection between the Great St Bernhard Pass and the Jouge Pass, between Italy and northern Europe.

The Kingdom of Burgundy

Around 400, the Romans left the area. The Germanic tribe of Burgundians moved into the area. They founded the first Kingdom of Burgundy (443-534). However, this Germanic tribe adopted the Gallo-Roman language, the precursor of French.

The Franks

Around 534, the Franks occupied the area, the pagus waldensis, the land of the forests. The bishops also make their appearance at this time. The bishop was based first in Avenches, then in Lausanne.

The Romainmôtier monastery dates from the fifth century. The Baulmes monastery was founded in the seventh century (this monastery has disappeared). Monasteries and churches also sprang up in Payerne, Lavaux, Vevey, La Tour-de-Peilz, Saint Prez, Vernand/Cheseaux and St Saphorin.

The Second Kingdom of Burgundy

After the Carolingian Empire (751-888), the area fell under the Second Kingdom of Burgundy (888-1032). Payerne is the city of coronations.

The Holy Roman Empire

From 1032, the area is part of the Holy Roman Empire. The area was disputed in the 12th century by the counts of Savoy and Geneva, the bishop of Lausanne and the duke of Zähringen. The abbeys play an important political and military role, with Lausanne and Romainmôtier in the lead.


From 1207 to 1536, the counts and dukes of Savoy dominated this region. The carrés Savoyards and Chillon castle date from this time. The Burgundian Wars (1474-1477) were the first major battle between Savoy and the Confederation led by Bern and Fribourg.

Savoy allied with the Duke of Burgundy Charles the Bold (1435-1477), who lost the war and his life. Savoy has to cede some towns (Orbe, Aigle, Ollon, Bex, Ormonts, Echallens, Montagny-sur-Yverdon, Grandson and Morat) to Bern and Fribourg. Bilingualism and later the Catholic and Protestant patchwork of cantons (after 1536) originated here.


The confederacy violently conquered the whole of Vaud from Savoy in 1536. Leurs Excellences of Bern governed this area by bailiffs. A direct consequence is the Reformation in Vaud, although some communes remained Catholic. The bailiffs’ residences were in Aigle and Payerne.

The area was divided into sixteen Bailliages (Bonmont, Nyon, Aubonne, Morges, Yverdon, Romainmôtier, Lausanne, Orbe-Echallens, Moudon, Oron, Vevey, Aigle, Gessenay, Payerne, Avenches, Grandson).

French era

Napoleon invaded Vaud in late 1797, and on 24 January 1798, Vaud declared itself independent, la Républiek Lémanique. The era of Bern is over.

Napoleon had other plans, however, and on 28 January 1798, he founded the Helvetic Republic, a unitary state without sovereign cantons.

Canton of Vaud

On 19 February 1803, the Mediation Act established the new Confederation of 19 cantons, including Vaud.


In December 1813, this Confederation was again dissolved following the entry of allied Austrian troops. In the new Confederation of 1815, established in the Federal Treaty (Bundesvertrag, le Pacte fédéral), Vaud is one of the twenty-two cantons.

Vaud then broadly followed the political developments of the Confederation. The political innovations of 1830-1845 (la Régénération), including universal suffrage for men over 23, elections of municipal (conseil communal, later the municipalité) and cantonal government (Grand Conseil) and the first referendum (droit d’initiative).

In 1903, Vaud was an industrialised region with several multinational companies (e.g. Nestlé in Vevey) and a wine-growing region (Lavaux). At this time, the canton had about 300 000 inhabitants; by 2021, this number will have risen to about 800 000.

Several (mundane ) cities gained international fame and inhabitants (Montreux, Morges, Nyon, Lausanne, Vevey), railways connected all important places between 1850 and 1890, and tourism, and with it, Grand-Hotels, increased sharply.

One of the country’s oldest golf clubs (founded in 1900) is based in Aigle but is named Golfclub Montreux because the players had their hotel or residence there.


In the new Confederation (1803-1813), the new canton decided on the current green and white flag with the words “Liberté et Patrie”. The miners’ banner in the municipality of Bex inspired the words and the colour white. Green was the colour of the French revolutionaries in 1789; they were considered the liberators in 1798.

Apart from religious texts in certain countries, Vaud is the only sovereign republic with words on its banner.

(Source: L. Hubler, Histoire du Pays de Vaud, Lausanne 1991).