Military Review

From fragmentation to empire. The formation of Germany and the Battle of Königgraz

From fragmentation to empire. The formation of Germany and the Battle of Königgraz

Fighting Austrian and Prussian infantry

Somewhere far away, in the vastness of the New World, the Civil War raged: Atlanta fell exhausted by a multi-month siege, and General Sherman’s blue uniforms were already preparing for their famous march to the sea. And in the Old World the imperial Vienna, full of refined aristocratic grace, was in joyful anticipation. The expected success ended the war with Denmark together with Prussia. October 30 1864 was finally signed a peace treaty in the capital of Austria-Hungary, according to which Dannebrog, a red cloth with a white Scandinavian cross, will be lowered into the territory of the duchies of Schleswig, Lauenburg and Holstein. Prussia took another decisive step from a large regional kingdom to an empire. Austria-Hungary fidgeted, unwittingly, in the seat of a regional empire. Both states stared at each other, filled with suspicion and threat. But the gaze of Prussia cast metal on Alfred Krupp's products, and Bismarck's mind burned with burning coals in it.

From the Holy Roman Empire to the German Union

For a long time, the center of Europe was a huge cloth, decorated with patterns from the intricate borders of many German kingdoms, princedoms, duchies, margravities and bishops. Some, such as Prussia, Bavaria or Württemberg, were large stains of this pattern, others were small and tiny dots. The latter were often so minor entities that, as Hoffmann would say, they could be dropped from their pockets during the short boardwalk to the neighboring country.

Intricate история small lands flowed slowly: it raged with distemper and war, then quietly flowed through peaceful periods. The Holy Roman Empire was founded by the Frankish King Otto I the Great in 962 as the successor of both the Roman Empire and the state of Charlemagne. It included the territory of modern Germany, the Czech Republic, northern Italy, the Netherlands. In various periods of the existence of this formation, separate parts of France visited it. The brainchild of King Otto was not a monolithic state, but was a decentralized federation with a complex system of feudal hierarchy. There were periods when the Holy Roman Empire included several hundred state formations of various sizes and ranks. At the head of this structure was the emperor, but his power was not inherited, the office itself was elected. The power of the monarch was not absolute, but was regulated by a complex system of relations with the highest aristocracy. From the 12th century, the collegium of electors, that is, imperial princes, had the right to elect and assert an emperor. From the end of the 15th century, this function was assumed by the imperial Reichstag, in which the most influential classes were represented: the clergy, princes, and nobility of imperial and free cities. The imperial cities submitted directly to the emperor and paid him taxes. The free ones were supposed to provide military and financial assistance to the “center” only in the event of war.

Being a peculiar relic of the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Empire existed until 1806, until the rapid and large-scale metamorphosis generated by the will of the former junior lieutenant of artillery, and now the emperor of all French Napoleon I. The French army marched along European roads, sweeping away its path not only remnants of the late Middle Ages, but also the failed fruits of the century of enlightened absolutism. Napoleon was a man of rapid and active - this also applies to the formation of new states. The mere fact of the presence of a bulky and decrepit Holy Roman Empire under the actual patronage of Austria, the eternal rival of France, did not suit him. Therefore, it was he who put the end to the existence of this association of “independent states”. Under pressure from France 12 July 1806, the 16 of the German principalities declared their official withdrawal from the Holy Roman Empire and the formation of the Rhine Union. In order to speed up the thinking activity, the frightened princes were warned that if they did not sign the relevant document on the withdrawal and immediate entry into the new alliance, their territories would be occupied by French troops. In late July, the Austrian envoy in Paris received an ultimatum from Napoleon: Franz II should abdicate the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Otherwise, France declared war on Austria. It should be recalled that the year was 1806 in the yard - in Vienna they still remembered too well the horror of Austerlitz and the subsequent humiliating Presburg world. Franz II, who assumed the title of Austrian emperor in opposition to upstart Napoleon, did not intend to misbehave and do stupidities in 1804, and therefore the Holy Roman Empire that existed 6 of the year 1806 of August 844 was disbanded.

The Rhine Union was, in fact, an intergovernmental entity dependent on France, whose military resources were used to replenish and strengthen the French military machine. Napoleon, perhaps unwittingly, simplified to some extent the future unification of Germany. A colossal vinaigrette from more than 350 of various states could drive a cartographer, but not an emperor, into an acute attack of despondency. He reshaped Europe with the ease of a gambler throwing off the played cards from the table. Of the free city 51 in Germany, he left only four: Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck and Frankfurt. The rest were transferred to various German states. The numerous possessions of the small principalities, the church and the former imperial aristocracy were abolished, merged and merged.

The Rhine Union reached its greatest size in 1808. By this time, 23 German states joined it. Napoleon encouraged his allies and vassals for good service: for example, Bavaria and Württemberg became kingdoms, a number of duchies received the status of "Great". In the 1813 year, after the defeat in the Battle of the Nations near Leipzig, the Rhine Union disintegrated. From the defeated France, the former allies flew off like dried leaves in the November wind.

The Napoleonic wars died down, and at the Vienna Congress summing up in June 1815, the creation of the so-called German Union was proclaimed. At the time of its formation, it included 36 states. Among the major participants, the Austrian Empire, the kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Württemberg and Hanover, smaller principalities and four free city-republics are worth noting. It was implicitly emphasized that this structure, having the form of a confederation, is a direct descendant of the late Holy Roman Empire. Part of the Austrian (Hungary, Dalmatia, etc.) and Prussian lands (Poznan and East Prussia) were not part of the Union jurisdiction. The governing body of the German Union, where representatives of all its participants met, was the Allied Assembly, which was located in Frankfurt am Main. The chairmanship in this body remained for Austria, as the largest participant in the population and territory. Formally, all members of the confederation had the same rights, but in fact the first violins in this German concert belonged to Austria and Prussia, which had gained in strength and influence.

It was under the influence of Prussia in 1834 that the German Customs Union was issued, abolishing duties and facilitating trade between German states. Its creation has caused sharp discontent of Austria, which considers itself the hegemon in Germany. Gradually, the Prussian-Austrian contradictions for their dominant role in the still fragmented German lands were exacerbated, until finally they led to the 1866 war of the year.

In the cramped German cuisine

The Austro-Prussian contradictions were not at all the fruit of co-existence in a rather loose German union. Their roots go back to the era of Frederick II, which inflicted many painful blows on the Habsburgs, and from which the rise of Prussia itself began. Napoleon made an invaluable contribution to the cause of weakening Austria, but she was repeatedly beaten and humiliated by the efforts of the Russian army, British gold and the phenomenal dexterity of the Austrian foreign minister Metternich. Conservative in its essence, the Congress of Vienna attempted to return to Europe in the pre-revolutionary times of powdered wigs and absolutist monarchies. The boundaries were in most cases restored, but it was impossible to restore the era that had sunk into oblivion. The changed world did not care for the short-sightedness and self-confidence of those who tried to glue the old broken pot.

Absolutism with feudal features already distinctly smelled of mothballs and did not meet the requirements of the time. It was possible to conserve everything and persist in pretending that everything is in order. But such canned goods had the ability to explode sooner or later. In 1848-49 Europe shook uprisings and revolutions. In some places they took a very sharp turn: Austria was on the verge of collapse due to the events in Hungary, which grew into a full-scale war. Taking advantage of the revolutionary situation and tired of being too tight control from Vienna, the Hungarians decided on a full-scale performance. Without the help of the Russian contingent under the command of Field Marshal Paskevich, it is likely that the Austrian Empire would cease to exist, but the situation was kept under control.

The coals of the Hungarian uprising did not have time to cool down, as the young emperor Franz Joseph I, inspired by his mother, the archduchess Sophia, began to formulate the concept of a new geopolitical project, the purpose of which was to restore the Holy Roman Empire in an updated form. The new state was supposed to include Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the northern Balkans and Prussian Poland. In fact, the whole of central Europe would be concentrated in the hands of the Habsburgs. Prussia would be the military core of this powerful structure with a population of more than 60 million people, the Austrians modestly left the role of captain behind them. However, such ambitious, and in fact already somewhat fantastic for the mid-XIX century, plans were not destined to be realized. On their way a powerful obstacle was got by a man who possessed remarkable political and intellectual abilities - Bismarck.

It was this man, invested with power and authority, clearly understood that two such large-scale players like Austria and Prussia would be very crowded in a densely populated German house - he began to systematically prepare his country for the war with the Hapsburgs. Bismarck, the past path from the landowner and deputy of the Prussian Landtag in the 40-s. prior to the minister-president (the actual head of government in 1862), he did not suffer from excessive pacifism and gentle judgment. “The great questions of history are not solved by speeches, not by a decision of the majority — that was the mistake of 1848 of the year — but by blood and iron! However, for all his far from ostentatious militancy, Bismarck did not commit frivolous actions and thought carefully and deliberately about his political steps.

Iron for blood

Otto von Bismarck in 1863

Prussia was preparing not only politically for the resolution of contradictions with her opponents. The army continued to be the main tool in resolving controversial issues. In 1860, a new military reform was carried out in Prussia, which significantly strengthens the military component of the country. The number of annually recruits recruited increased from 43 to 60 thousand people. From 2 to 4 years, the service life in the reserve increased. The passage of active service in the army was extended from 5 to 7 years (3 years in the army and 4 - in reserve). Military reform increased the size of the army and, accordingly, the cost of it. This caused a significant increase in opposition sentiment, primarily among the liberal bourgeoisie, dissatisfied with the “extra” financial costs. Bismarck had to apply all his influence and energy to overcome the resistance of the dissenters. Landtag was buzzing like an overturned hive, but the necessary funds for reforming the army were obtained.

Organizationally, the entire state was divided into territorial districts, headed by corps commanders. Each building was quartered and, accordingly, was completed in its district. The corps district was divided, in turn, into divisional and brigade districts. By the beginning of the 60's. XIX century Prussian army had eight army and one guards corps. The latter was recruited from the territory of the entire country - the best recruits. The peacetime corps consisted of two infantry divisions, 1 cavalry, 1 artillery brigades and three separate battalions. Each division consisted of two infantry brigades, and a brigade of two regiments. In 1848, the Prussian infantry received the needle-gun of the Johann von Draise system, which was perfect for those times. It was charged with a unitary paper cartridge from the breech and provided the rate of fire of 5 – 6 shots per minute. By the beginning of the Austro-Prussian War, almost the entire Prussian army was armed with such a small weapons. The old muzzle-loading rifles were found only at the Landwehr.

Danish dilemma

Far from everything was smooth in the too complicated German affairs on the path of consolidation of a divided country for centuries. At the end of 1840's The situation with the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, which were part of the Danish kingdom, worsened. The German-speaking population of these dukedoms was unhappy with Copenhagen’s assimilation policy. In the end, Schleswig and Holstein rebelled and asked for help from the German Union, primarily from Prussia. When opportunities for compromise were exhausted due to the obstinacy of the Danes, the Danish-Prussian war began, which lasted from 1848 to 1850 year. The fighting was conducted with varying success, but the intervention of England, who feared the gain of Prussia, and Russia, which had sent its squadron to Danish waters, led to the end of the war with a very uncertain result. Denmark remained within its borders. A favorable opportunity for the rejection of two controversial dukedoms arose in 1864, when a government crisis began in Denmark after the death of childless Frederick VII. This time Prussia and Austria came out jointly against obstinate Denmark and after a brief warfare forced Copenhagen to give up rights to Schleswig and Holstein. The first duchy was received by Prussia under its administration, the second by Austria. But the influence of Prussia in the German Union after that increased significantly.

The further policy of Bismarck to strengthen the role of his kingdom certainly faced the ambitions of Austria. In Vienna, it was believed that no unification of Germany could take place without the will and permission of the Hapsburgs. The plan to create a new Holy Roman Empire acquired more and more distinct features. Prussia had to either enter this project, or remain weak and dependent state. These contradictions could not be resolved through negotiations or secret agreements. It remained to rely on the role of force. Austria stood in the way of the unification of Germany, and this obstacle had to be removed.

Bismarck maneuvers

Bismarck was able to make not only tough and belligerent speeches, but also to conduct successful negotiations. First of all, he turned to the eternal detractor of the Austrians - Italy. At that time, the most delicious region for which the Italians claimed - Venice - was part of the Hapsburg Empire. On the Apennine Peninsula, it was well understood that her return without help would be very difficult. And Prussia in the face of Bismarck offered help. King Victor Emmanuel II for a long time tried to enlist the support of Napoleon III in a military conflict with Austria, but the French emperor maneuvered, nodding sympathetically, but did not promise anything concrete. Bismarck's position was straight, like a bayonet: the right to Venice in exchange for a war against Austria. An alliance was concluded between Prussia and Italy, which had a pronounced anti-Austrian tone. The loyalty of another major political player in Europe, France, a German politician provided a treaty of neutrality. The French also did not feel great sympathy for the Austrians.

Passions ran high. The situation with the dukes of Schleswig and Holstein only contributed to the escalation of the crisis. Bismarck reproached Austria for provoking anti-Prussian agitation in Holstein and 8 on April 1866, on the day of the alliance with Italy, at the Union Sejm, directly accusing Vienna of not complying with the agreements, proposed to exclude Austria from the German Union. In addition, a proposal was made to create a new formation, called the North German Union, with significant restrictions of small states, a common parliament and the army. Bismarck’s proposal was rejected by the Seym - and not only because the rights of small participants in the new project would be significantly reduced. The sons of many delegates, ironically, served in the Austrian army and the place and promotion of young officers were very clearly dependent on the behavior of their parents.

Bismarck went on a rate hike. 7 June Prussian troops without bloodshed began to force the Austrians out of Holstein. 10 June a new Union project was sent to all German states. Angered by this, Austria 11 Jun recalled its ambassador from Berlin. 14 June 1866 in Frankfurt am Main, at the Allied Diet of Vienna, strongly condemned Berlin for the agreement with Italy and for other “arbitrariness”. It was announced the mobilization of the four Allied German corps. In response to these actions, Bismarck declared the German alliance null and void, and mobilization an act of the outbreak of war. Military conflict has become inevitable. The correct placement of accents Bismarck managed to put Austria and its allies aggressor, hindering the restoration of Germany.


Helmut von Moltke the Elder

Prussia, unlike its opponents, was ready for war. Clear mobilization timelines for readiness for the troops were established, and the management of the railways received a previously developed mobilization plan. The plan of war prepared by the famous Helmut Moltke suggested achieving a quick victory and avoiding a protracted conflict. The Prussian army was to quickly overcome the pockets of resistance in the north, to enter Austria in three columns and defeat it in a decisive battle.

By the start of the hostilities, 17 June 1866, the field army of Prussia numbered 335 thousand. In total, about 600 thousand people were mobilized into the Prussian army throughout the war. On the side of Prussia, several small states and free cities fought, totaling a contingent of 30 from thousands of people with 40 guns. Allied Prussia Italy had at its disposal an army of 270 thousand people with 380 guns. A rather large Italian fleet was also preparing for combat operations.

The Austrian army had about 360 thousand people under the gun at the beginning of the war. 140 more thousand were in the ranks of its allies in the German Union, among which militarily stood out Hanover, Bavaria and Saxony. The Achilles heel of the Austrian army was a multinational component. The troops were staffed by representatives of different nations: Germans, Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks, Balkan Slavs, Transylvanian Romanians and Italians from Trieste. Not all of them treated each other with “fraternal love,” especially as regards the Hungarians. The goal of the war, pathetically expressed by Franz Joseph as "saving the integrity of the entire Germanic fatherland," was, to put it mildly, alien to a significant number of soldiers of the Habsburg monarchy. On the side of Prussia, the Hungarian Legion, consisting of immigrants and participants in the 1848 – 1849 uprising, fought.

The Prussians acted swiftly - they managed to preempt the enemy in the mobilization and deployment of troops. 16 June began the occupation of the allied Austria of Hanover (it was necessary to protect themselves in the north). 17 June Austria officially declared war on Germany. At the same time, three Prussian armies: 2-I (Crown Prince Frederick William), 1-I (Prince Frederick Karl) and 3-I (General Karl von Bittenfeld) - began a simultaneous movement south through Silesia and Saxony. Helmut Moltke’s plan envisaged a quick offensive on a broad front in order to impose on the enemy a battle on his own terms. The commanders were given maximum initiative with an emphasis on offensive action. The Saxon army did not offer serious resistance and chose to retreat to Bohemia to join up with the Austrians. By 29 June, the resistance of Hanover was broken, and his army capitulated.

20 June, fulfilling the Allied duty, Italy entered the war. Already on June 24, the so-called second battle of Custoze took place - the first one took place on July 1848, however, with a similar result. The 80-thousandth Austrian army of Archduke Albert inflicted a serious defeat on the Italian army under the command of King Victor Emmanuel II. From the complete defeat of the Italians saved the absence of persecution by the Austrians. On this, in fact, ground operations on the Italian front ended.

Königratz - Sadova

Ludwig von Benedek, Commander of the Austrian Army

However, the main events did not take place here, but in the south-east of Germany, where the Prussian and Austrian armies finally collided. The commander of the Northern Austrian Army, Ludwig von Benedek, after receiving a series of painful blows, tried to muster the available forces into a fist north of Königrätz. The army was exhausted by the previous battles with the advancing enemy and suffered significant losses. Understanding the real state of affairs, Benedek telegraphed to Vienna an insistent request to think about making peace. Seeing that the Austrians were retreating to Moravia, and being an apologist for the theory of “strategic Cannes”, Moltke ordered the 3 st Elbe army as part of three infantry divisions to march south and then strike at the flank and rear of Benedek. The main blow to the east was delivered by the most powerful 1 army (4 corps consisting of 8 divisions), and the 2 army was to close the encirclement ring, hitting the Austrians in the right flank.

Benedek occupied advantageous positions: in two lines on the heights north-west of Königgrätz with the front to the 1 of the Prussian army and the village of Sadova. Before the start of the battle, the two Austrian corps turned to the north to neutralize a possible attack of the enemy's 2 army. Thus, the positions of the Austrian and Saxon army in its ranks formed an obtuse angle, directed by the point at Sadova. Central to this position was the village of Lipa.

The Prussians had a total of 220 thousand people and 924 guns, von Benedek could oppose them 186 thousand Austrians and 30 thousand Saxons with 700 guns.

July 3 began the most ambitious and decisive battle of this war. Formally, Prussian troops were commanded by an elderly king, Wilhelm I, but in fact all control was closed to Moltke. In the morning, as planned, the Prussian 1-I army launched an attack, attacking in the pouring rain. However, the 2 Army (4 infantry and 2 Guards divisions) did not receive orders from Moltke for a flank attack because of a malfunction of the telegraph and continued to be in the camp. The Elbe army, which hastily marched south, stretched its front, and its battle formations mixed in Sadov with the right-flank units of the 1 Army. The hustle began - the troops lost time and trampled on the spot. The Austrians immediately took advantage of this, firing intensive artillery fire at the crowded Prussians, supplemented by a massive bayonet attack. Not all that is clearly done in parades, it turns out to make in battle just as flawless. Even the Prussians.

Scheme of the Battle of Koniggrac - Sadow

Seeing the passivity of the enemy's 2 Army, von Benedek turned both corps, exposed in this direction, to 90 degrees, straightening the front and strengthening his line. At the site was left only a small barrier. There was a crisis situation - by the 11 hours, the advancing 1 army was forced to stop and start putting reserves into battle. The rate of its onset has decreased to a minimum. Dense masses of the Prussians attacking the Austrian positions near the village of Lipa, suffered heavy losses from the effects of enemy fire. The civil war in the United States, which showed all the viciousness of the offensive by a dense infantry order under attack by the enemy, remained little noticed and unappreciated in Europe.

At von Benedek in reserve there were more than 20 thousand of fresh cavalry, and who knows on whose side the scales of military happiness would have fallen, put her Austrian commander into action. However, for some reason, Benedek did not decide on this order. The chance was missed. While the Prussian infantry was bleeding under the enemy's fire, Moltke, seeing a hitch in the actions of the 2 Army, sent a messenger with an urgent dispatch. The order for an immediate attack, which reached the crown prince Friedrich Wilhelm at a gallop speed of 25 kilometers, was immediately executed. At the beginning of the third hour, the weak equestrian screen, left instead of the two corps, was swept away, and the 2-I army attacked the Austrians with all their might, going to their rear. From this point on, the outcome of the battle was no longer in doubt. The attempt to quickly assembled Austrian troops to neutralize the breakthrough to success did not lead. Prussian artillery was launched at a direct lead and, widely using grenades and a canister, began to fire at the positions of Benedek.

Caught between the hammer and the anvil, the Austrian army began to lose its integrity and collapse. The village of Lipa was taken around the 5 clock, and under the cover of artillery, Benedek began to retreat to Königgrac. He never used his strong cavalry. In this battle, the Prussians lost about 9,5 thousand people killed and wounded. The losses of their opponent were much more significant: 18 thousand. Killed and wounded, 24 thousand. Captives and almost 200 guns. Despite the successful result, the planned Moltke "Cannes" did not work.


Prussian medal for victory at Koniggrac

The outcome of the war was already a foregone conclusion, despite the fact that the 20 July 1866, the Austrian fleet inflicted a decisive defeat on the island of Lissa. In Vienna, worried - the Empress with her family and family jewels left for Hungary, and Franz Joseph began an urgent search for mediation support from France in the conclusion of peace. On July 18, at night, from the capital of the once mighty monarchy, it was already possible to observe the lights of advanced Prussian posts. The Austrians requested peace, and 23 August 1866 was signed in Prague. The German Union was abolished, the German states were now united in the North German Union, headed by Prussia. Bismarck’s plan was finally implemented. Austria rejected the scolding of Schleswig and Holstein, gave Venice to Italy and paid indemnities in the amount of 20 to millions of thalers.

The internal shock caused by the defeat in the war was so great that in 1867 there was a union with Hungary, and Austria received the sophisticated status of a “dual monarchy”. She only had to sigh and nostalgic about past greatness. The ancient banners of the Habsburgs were in the dense shadow of the Prussian eagle. Only by inertia, Austria-Hungary hardly retained membership in the club of great powers, gradually passing under the influence of the increasingly strong Prussia. But Bismarck’s own homeland itself had to face off with its main opponent on the European continent - the French Second Empire. Ahead was Metz, the Sedan and the radiance of the Versailles Hall, where Prussia and its allies became the German Empire.
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  1. parusnik
    parusnik 4 July 2016 08: 01
    From India, to Europe ... from the seas to sinful land ... The defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was swift ... the Austrians did not even notice ... We must pay tribute to Bismarck, from a defeated enemy, made a reliable ally ... Thank you, Denis ..
    1. vlad_vlad
      vlad_vlad 5 July 2016 10: 57
      It is unfortunate that such articles have become rare on this site.
      Unfortunately, most of the site is now occupied by political hysteria with saliva and insults.

      Author, write more, make it different!
  2. venaya
    venaya 4 July 2016 08: 03
    not everything went smoothly in too complicated German affairs on the path of consolidation through centuries of a divided country

    It is interesting to learn from the author: what was the name of the country that was divided centuries ago?
    It is not advisable to regard the "Holy Roman Empire" as a country, for an empire is an empire, that is, the union of different countries under a single government. There was also a country on this territory called "Rus Varyag Yar", an integral part of ancient Porusia (not to be confused with Prussia). Perhaps the author has in mind even so the restoration of the "Holy Roman Empire" but under a new name - "German Empire".
  3. Plombirator
    4 July 2016 09: 32
    Quote: venaya
    It is interesting to learn from the author: what was the name of the country that was divided centuries ago?

    You are right, dear colleague, and the word "disunited" is more appropriate for the German people than "divided". Thanks for the comment.
  4. V.ic
    V.ic 4 July 2016 10: 40
    Read VS Pikul's "The Battle of the Iron Chancellors" ... By the way, from some old textbook I recalled the phrase of Karl Marx's best friend that in politics "the creation of a party is more important than the Battle of Sadovaya", well, here is the freedom of the translator = Engels for sure the name "Königgrätz" sounded.
  5. Monster_Fat
    Monster_Fat 4 July 2016 18: 10
    There is an excellent European TV series called "1864". Very interesting with an excellent battle scene of the battle of Königgraz. I advise you to look.
  6. Mountain shooter
    Mountain shooter 4 July 2016 21: 02
    Germany was united with iron and blood. Miraculously, they did not "grab" and Austria. Very civilized! I remember an old anecdote about a boy who spies on his parents in the bedroom: "And these people forbid me to pick my nose!"
    And this cannibalistic geyropiya, which started two world wars, dictates to Russia how to live?