Geneva was an ancient settlement of the Celtic Allobroges and was later included in Roman Gaul. An episcopal see under the Roman Empire, Geneva passed successively to the Burgundians (5th cent.), the Franks (6th cent.), Transjurane Burgundy (9th–11th cent.), and the Holy Roman Empire. The bishops of Geneva gradually absorbed the powers of the feudal counts of Geneva and in 1124 became rulers of the city. The rising merchant class soon grew antagonistic to episcopal authority.

In 1285, the citizens of Geneva placed themselves under the protection of the counts (later dukes) of Savoy, and by 1387 they had won extensive rights of self-rule. However, by gradually transforming the bishops into their tools, the dukes nearly succeeded in mastering the city by the beginning of the 16th cent. Incensed, the citizens allied themselves with two Swiss cantons—Fribourg and Bern—expelled the bishop (1533), and accepted (1535) the Reformation preached by Guillaume Farel.

The arrival (1536) of John Calvin thrust upon Geneva a role of European importance as the focal point of the Reformation. With its population swelled by Protestant refugees, notably Huguenots, Geneva became a cosmopolitan intellectual center. During the 18th cent., when the stern theocracy of Calvin had mellowed into patrician rule, the city's intellectual life reached its zenith. Voltaire settled there; J. J. Rousseau, H. B. de Saussure, Jacques Necker, Albert Gallatin, and P. E. Dumont were among the famous sons of Geneva in the 18th cent.

The city, annexed to France from 1798 to 1813, joined Switzerland as a canton in 1815—the last canton to join the Confederation. It is the headquarters of many public and private international organizations. In 1864, Geneva was made the seat of the International Red Cross; it was also the seat of the League of Nations (1920–46). Geneva is headquarters for the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, and other international bodies. In 1945 it became the European headquarters of the United Nations. Geneva has been the scene of the Geneva Conferences and other high-level international meetings.

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