There are settlement traces on the
Rhine knee from the early
La Tène period (5th century BC). In the 2nd century BC, there was a village of the
Raurici at the site of Basel-Gasfabrik, to the northwest of the Old City, likely identical with the town of Arialbinnum mentioned on the
 The unfortified settlement was abandoned in the 1st century BC in favour of an
Oppidum on the site of
Basel Minster, probably in reaction to the
Roman invasion of Gaul. In
Augusta Raurica was established some 20 km from Basel as the regional administrative centre, and a
castle was built on the site of the oppidum. The city of Basel eventually grew around the castle.
The name of Basel is derived from the Roman-era toponym Basilia, first recorded in the 3rd century. It is presumably derived from the personal name
 The Old French form Basle was adopted into English, and developed into the modern French Bâle. The Icelandic name Buslaraborg goes back to the 12th century
Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan.
Basel was incorporated into
Germania Superior in AD 83. Roman control over the area deteriorated in the 3rd century, and Basel became an outpost of the
Provincia Maxima Sequanorum formed by
Alamanni attempted to cross the Rhine several times in the 4th century, but were repelled. In a great invasion of AD 406, the Alemanni appear to have crossed the Rhine river a final time, conquering and then settling what is today Alsace and a large part of the Swiss Plateau. From this time, Basel has been an Alemannic settlement. The
Duchy of Alemannia fell under
Frankish rule in the 6th century, and by the 7th century, the former bishopric of Augusta Raurica was re-established as the
Bishopric of Basel. Based on the evidence of a third solidus with the inscription Basilia fit, Basel seems to have minted its own coins in the 7th century.
 Under bishop
Haito, the first cathedral was built on the site of the Roman castle, later replaced by a Romanesque structure consecrated in 1019. At the partition of the Carolingian Empire, Basel was first given to
West Francia, but passed to
East Francia with the
of 870. The city was plundered and destroyed by a
Magyar invasion of 917. The rebuilt city became part of
Upper Burgundy, and as such was incorporated into the
Holy Roman Empire in 1032.
Prince-Bishopric of Basel
Since the donation by
Rudolph III of Burgundy of the
Moutier-Grandval Abbey and all its possessions to Bishop Adalbero II in 999 till the
Reformation, Basel was ruled by
Bishop of Basel,
 whose memory is preserved in the
crosier shown on the Basel
coat-of-arms – see above).
In 1019, the construction of the
cathedral of Basel (known locally as the Münster) began under
 In 1225–1226, the Bridge over the Rhine was constructed by Bishop Heinrich von Thun and lesser Basel (Kleinbasel) founded as a bridgehead to protect the bridge. The bridge was largely funded by Basel's Jewish community which had settled there a century earlier.
 For many centuries to come Basel possessed the only permanent bridge over the river "between
Lake Constance and the sea".
The Bishop also allowed the furriers to found a guild in 1226. Eventually about 15 guilds were established in the 13th century. They increased the town's, and hence the bishop's, reputation, influence, and income from the taxes and duties on goods in Basel's expanding market.
In 1347, the plague came to Europe but did not reach Basel until June 1349. The guilds, asserting that the Jews were responsible—several had been tortured and confessed—demanded they be executed, which the Council did in January 1349, except for a few who escaped to Alsace.
 During the
Basel massacre, 600 Jews were murdered. They were shackled inside a wooden barn on an island in the Rhine, which was set afire. The few survivors - young orphans - were forcibly converted to Christianity. The council then forbade Jews in Basel for 200 years, except that their money was helpful in rebuilding after the
Basel earthquake of 1356 which destroyed much of the city along with a
number of castles in the vicinity. The city offered courts to nobles as an alternative to rebuilding their castles, in exchange for the nobles' military protection of the city.
In 1412 (or earlier), the well-known guesthouse Zum Goldenen Sternen was established. Basel became the focal point of western Christendom during the 15th century
Council of Basel (1431–1449), including the 1439 election of
antipope Felix V. In 1459,
Pope Pius II endowed the
University of Basel where such notables as
Paracelsus later taught. At the same time the new craft of
introduced to Basel by apprentices of
The Schwabe publishing house was founded in 1488 by Johannes Petri and is the oldest publishing house still in business.
Johann Froben also operated his printing house in Basel and was notable for publishing works by Erasmus.
 In 1495, Basel was incorporated in the Upper Rhenish
Imperial Circle; the Bishop of Basel was added to the Bench of the Ecclesiastical Princes. In 1500 the construction of the
Basel Münster was finished. In 1521 so was the bishop. The Council, under the supremacy of the guilds, explained that henceforth they would only give allegiance to the Swiss Confederation, to whom the bishop appealed but in vain.
As a member state in the Swiss Confederacy
Map of Basel in 1642, engraved by
, oriented with SW at the top and NE at the bottom.
The city had remained neutral through the
Swabian War of 1499 despite being plundered by soldiers on both sides. The
Treaty of Basel ended the war and granted the Swiss confederates exemptions from the emperor Maximillian's taxes and jurisdictions, separating Switzerland de facto from the Holy Roman Empire.
On 9 June 1501, Basel joined the Swiss Confederation as its
 It was the only canton that had been asked to join, not the other way round. Basel had a strategic location, good relations with Strasbourg and Mulhouse, and control of the corn imports from Alsace, whereas the Swiss lands were becoming overpopulated and had few resources. A provision of the Charter accepting Basel required that in conflicts among the other cantons it was to stay neutral and offer its services for mediation.
In 1503, the new bishop
Christoph von Utenheim refused to give Basel a new constitution whereupon, to show its power, the city began the construction of a new city hall.
In 1529, the city became Protestant under
Oecolampadius and the bishop's seat was moved to Porrentruy. The bishop's crook was however retained as the city's coat of arms. For the centuries to come, a handful of wealthy families collectively referred to as the
"Daig" played a pivotal role in city affairs as they gradually established themselves as a de facto
The first edition of Christianae religionis institutio (
Institutes of the Christian Religion –
John Calvin's great exposition of
Calvinist doctrine) was published at Basel in March 1536.
In 1544, Johann von Brugge, a rich Dutch Protestant refugee, was given citizenship and lived respectfully until his death in 1556 then buried with honors. His body was exhumed and burnt at the stake in 1559 after it was discovered that he was the Anabaptist
De humani corporis fabrica, the first book on human anatomy, was published and printed in Basel by
Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564).
There are indications
Joachim Meyer, author of the influential 16th-century
martial arts text Kunst des Fechten ("The Art of Fencing"), came from Basel. In 1662 the Amerbaschsches Kabinett was established in Basel as the first public museum of art. Its collection became the core of the later Basel Museum of Art.
The Bernoulli family, which included important 17th- and 18th-century mathematicians such as
Johann Bernoulli and
Daniel Bernoulli, were from Basel. The 18th-century mathematician
Leonhard Euler was born in Basel and studied under Johann Bernoulli.
In 1792, the
Republic of Rauracia, a revolutionary
French client republic, was created. It lasted until 1793.
 After three years of political agitation and a short civil war in 1833 the disadvantaged countryside seceded from the Canton of Basel, forming the half canton of
On 3 July 1874, Switzerland's first zoo (the
Zoo Basel) opened its doors in the south of the city towards
In 1897 the first
World Zionist Congress was held in Basel. Altogether the World Zionist Congress took place in Basel for ten times, more than in any other city in the world.
On 16 November 1938, the psychedelic drug
LSD was first synthesized by Swiss chemist
Albert Hofmann at
Sandoz Laboratories in Basel.
Basel as a historical, international meeting place
Basel has often been the site of peace negotiations and other international meetings. The
Treaty of Basel (1499) ended the
Swabian War. Two years later Basel joined the
Swiss Confederation. The
Peace of Basel in 1795 between the French Republic and Prussia and Spain ended the
First Coalition against France during the
French Revolutionary Wars. In more recent times, the
World Zionist Organization held its first congress in Basel from August 29 through August 31, 1897. Because of the
Balkan Wars, the
Second International held an extraordinary congress at Basel in 1912. In 1989, the
Basel Convention was opened for signature with the aim of preventing the export of
hazardous waste from wealthy to
developing nations for disposal.