An independent political life was born between the Jura and the Alps only towards the end of the early Middle Ages, although the prehistoric, Celtic, Roman and early Middle Ages already present important seeds of development. Numerous places, where traces have been found since the Paleolithic age (about 6000 BC), prove a colonization that slowly increases its density. Especially noteworthy are the lakeside cities, which in 1853-54 were discovered – and were the first – on Swiss soil by the Zurich scholar Ferdinand Keller. Already then the Alpine passes served as intermediaries for traffic with the southern peoples (Gran San Bernardo, Simplon, Grisons passes, etc.) and there is no shortage of archaeological discoveries, evidence of vast Mediterranean influences (see above: Prehistory).
On the other hand, it is uncertain what the ethnic origin of the residents of Swiss soil was, both for the Neolithic age (up to about the year 2500 BC), and for the Bronze Age (up to the year 800 BC). C.), for the most remote Iron Age (up to the year 400 BC) and even for most of the subsequent more recent Iron Age, the so-called La Tène period (up to 58 BC). The date of immigration of the Celts is unknown to us. The factors – often assumed – Illyrian, Ligurian, Etruscan of this colonization are also completely uncertain, although, according to the opinion of prehistoric scholars, it seems that the Grisons since 400 BC. C. belonged to the Illyrian civilization.
We begin to see more clearly only after the appearance of the Romans (58 BC). The Elvezî, then defeated by Julius Caesar near Bibracte (near Autun), they had probably come only a few decades earlier in the region of the Alps. It is certain that this Celtic lineage was then retreating before the Germans, who had already crossed the Rhine into Alsace. Caesar forced the Helvetians, with that victory, to settle again in those places, between the Jura and the Alps, which they had cleared shortly before. With this, today’s Swiss territory not only fell under the political dominion of Caesar and his successors, but became in the middle of the following millennium (until about 455 AD) a land of Latin colonization (such as Gaul, Rezia, Vindelicia, Noricum, Pannonia, Moesia), without however reaching the high degree of civilization of the other central provinces of the empire. But the people of the Helvetia, once so warlike, that after 113 BC. C. he had also participated in the expedition of the Cimbri and the Teutons against Provence and Italy, he became a loyal subject of the empire. Colonies of Roman veterans – Iulia Equestris (Nyon), Augusta Raurica (Augst) – strengthened the ever closer union with the winners. From a frontier province these lands became, after the subjugation of the agri decumates (between the upper Rhine and the Main), for almost two centuries an internal province of the empire. A more refined cultural life developed in a special way in today’s western Switzerland. The most important city in the country, Aventicum, with its nearly 50,000 residents, with its 6 km long city walls, and the amphitheater, was perhaps twenty times larger than today’s Avenches. If the colonies of the Aare and Rhine valleys (Vindonissa and Augusta Raurica) had a more military imprint, but there was no shortage of vast buildings, theaters and temples there either.
This state of security, during which all the possibilities of a civil existence flourished, ended around 260 AD. C., when the agri decumates, between the Black Forest and the Main, had to be cleared due to the obstinate advance of the Germans. Likely Aventicum it was destroyed then. During the second half of the century. III, however, managed the emperors to drive out the intruders, that is, to save at least the border of the Rhine. possible. However, thanks to carefully executed and rigorously guarded fortifications, a permanent occupation of the country by the Germans only occurred towards the middle of the century. V d. C. The rapidly spreading barbarism could not be stopped even by Christianity that penetrated from the Rhone valley: new invasions continually followed, which did not even end with the victory of Julian the Apostate over the Alamanni near Strasbourg (357 AD..).
A certain attenuation of the contrasts, however, was brought about by the Christianization of the country, since at least some of the Germanic lineages, which attacked the empire, professed the new religion. The residents of Burgundy who subdued large parts of Gaul, around 455 AD. C., and settled in Vaud, in the Valais, later in Friborg, in Neuchâtel in the Bernese Jura, they were Christians of the Aryan confession. The state of their king Gundobaldo (about 500 AD) reveals a first attempt at the union of Roman civilization with new Germanic creations: with this, due to the small number of conquerors, their rapid Romanization began. As a result of this, today’s western Switzerland is part of Latin Europe. The winners left the state or administrative institutions almost unchanged.
The influence of the Church also facilitated the effects of a certain ecclesiastical-literary culture, since in these regions there were monasteries of great authority (Saint-Maurice), and very ancient diocesan subdivisions (Valais, Geneva, Lausanne).