Swabia is rich in history and is a treasury of German architecture. Settled in the 3d cent. by the Germanic Suebi and Alemanni during the great migrations, the region was also known as Alamannia until the 11th cent. (The Alemannic, or Swabian, dialects of the various regions of Swabia [in its largest sense] remain linguistically closely related.) It became one of the five basic or stem duchies of medieval Germany in the 9th cent., when it far exceeded its present boundaries, including also Alsace and Switzerland E of the Reuss River. In 1079 the duchy was bestowed on the house of Hohenstaufen, which in 1138 also obtained the imperial title.
On the extinction (1268) of the dynasty, Swabia broke up into small temporal and ecclesiastic lordships and lost its political identity. The Swiss part became independent in 1291 and the Hapsburg territories in Alsace passed to France in 1648, but Breisgau and the other Hapsburg domains in S Baden remained Austrian until 1803–6, except from 1469 to 1477, when they were ruled by Charles the Bold of Burgundy. The rest of Swabia was held in large part by the counts (later dukes) of Württemberg, by the margraves of Baden-Durlach, by the landgraves of Fürstenberg, by the princes of Hohenzollern, by the bishops of Strasbourg, Konstanz (Constance), and Augsburg, by several powerful abbeys, and by a multitude of petty princes, counts, and knights.
Most of the Swabian municipalities had obtained the status of free imperial cities (i.e., virtually independent republics) by 1300. Among them were Augsburg, Ulm, Schwäbisch Gmünd, Reutlingen, and Ravensburg. Their wealth, due mainly to commerce and industry, made them the most powerful element of the country, and they made their superior power felt by forming a series of leagues, starting in 1331. The Swabian League of 1376–89 successfully opposed Emperor Charles IV but was eventually defeated by the count of Württemberg. The most important Swabian League was that of 1488–1534.
The chief Swabian cities accepted the Reformation in the 16th cent., but the countryside has remained divided between Catholics and Protestants to the present day. With the commercial revolution of the 15th and 16th cent. the Swabian cities temporarily lost most of their importance. (In the 19th cent. some, especially Stuttgart, revived as industrial centers.) When the Holy Roman Empire was organized in circles in the 16th cent., the Swabian Circle, similar in extent to the present region, was created. At the diet of Regensburg of 1801–3, which acted largely under the influence of Napoleon I, many of the small ecclesiastic and feudal holdings were taken over by Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria.