Switzerland is a landlocked, mountainous country in central Europe, with France to the north and west, Germany to the northeast, Austria to the east, and Italy to the south. Switzerland also shared borders the small nation state of Liechtenstein.
Helvetic Celts inhabited the area of present-day Switzerland when Julius Caesar conquered the region, annexing it to the Roman Empire. After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west.
In 800, the country became part of Charlemagne's empire. In 1291 leaders of the three Swiss cantons, or regions, signed an agreement declaring their freedom and promising mutual aid against any foreign ruler. The confederation was the beginning of modern Switzerland. Over the next few centuries Switzerland became a military power, expanding its territories until 1515 when it was defeated by France.
Soon after, Switzerland adopted a policy of permanent neutrality. The country was again conquered by France during the French Revolution. After Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna guaranteed Switzerland’s neutrality, a guarantee that has never been broken.
A constitution of 1848, subsequently modified in 1874, replaced the confederation, establishing federal responsibility for defense, trade, and legal matters, as well as introducing direct democracy by popular referendum, which has no parallel in any other country.
Switzerland's sovereignty and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers, and the country was not involved in either of the two World Wars.
Although it lies close to the geographical center of Europe, and most of its trade is with its European neighbors, Switzerland is not an European Union member, and it joined the United Nations only in September 2002.
Though lacking natural resources, Switzerland is a wealthy country with one of the world's highest standards of living, with its prosperity founded on skilled labor and technological expertise in manufacturing and on earnings from tourism and banking.