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July 28, 1914 – State of War with Serbia Declared

This is a guest post by Jim Martin, senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress.  Jim has written some of our most popular posts over the years including The Articles of Confederation

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Hapsburg presumptive heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in the city of Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Serbian backed secret para-military organization.  This event followed several years of tensions between the governments of Austria-Hungary and Serbia after the former’s annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908.

As a result of the shootings the government of Austria-Hungary communicated a list of demands to the government of Serbia.  The Serbian government agreed to comply wholly, or in part, with most of the ultimatum, but, after obtaining guarantees from the Russian government that it would receive support against Austria-Hungary, it rejected the last demand that would have resulted in a major infringement of its sovereignty.    The government in Vienna broke diplomatic relations and announced a mobilization of the army against Serbia.  On July 28, 1914, after a report of an unverified incident involving Hapsburg and Serbian troops, the government of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

This image is taken from a July 28, 1914, extra edition of the Wiener Zeitung, the official newspaper of the Austrian government, announcing that a state of war exists with Serbia.  It is printed in both German and French.  A similar announcement was published on August 6, 1914, the day that war was declared on Russia.  The Wiener Zeitung is one of the oldest official newspapers published.

Image by Jim Martin

Image by Jim Martin

Princip was tried by Haspburg authorities for his role in the assassinations.  He was convicted of the crimes, but due to his age at the time of their commission he escaped the death penalty and was instead sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.  He died in prison in 1918 of complications from tuberculosis.

World War I was fought on three continents and across the world’s major oceans.  Four empires ended as a result of the war:  the German; Austro-Hungarian; Russian; and Ottoman. Approximately 8.5 million combatants died during the course of World War I.

Selected bibliography:

Williamson, Samuel R., Jr., Austria-Hungary and the origins of the First World War (1991).

Herwig, Holger H., The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918 (1997).

Owings, W.A. Dolph,  Trans. & Ed. Elizabeth Pribic and Nikola Pribic, The Sarajevo Trial (1984).

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