Bavaria is one of Europe's oldest states, founded as a duchy in the 6th century. It maintained its independence until the unification of Germany in 1870. The Kingdom of Bavaria was only dissolved in 1918, along with the German Empire, and Bavaria became a federal state.
With an area of 70,548 km² (27,200 sq mi), it is the largest German state, representing almost 20% of Germany's land area. Bavaria is almost exactly the same size as Ireland and is larger than the ten smallest U.S. states. Bavaria is Germany's second most populous state (after North Rhine-Westphalia) with almost 12.5 million inhabitants, a population halfway between that of the Netherlands and Belgium. Bavaria's GDP per capita is 35% higher than the EU-27 average and is second only to Hesse among non-city states in Germany.
Bavaria has the highest number of beer breweries in Germany. Famous Bavarian beers include Augustiner Helles, Aventinus, Ayinger, Erdinger, Franziskaner, Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu München, Löwenbräu, Oettinger (Germany's best selling beer brand), Paulaner, Schlenkerla, Schneider Weisse, Spaten, St. Erhard, and Weihenstephan (the world's oldest continuously operating brewery).
Famous people from Bavaria include (chronologically): the merchant and banker Jakob Fugger, the painter Albrecht Dürer, the blue jeans maker Levi Strauss, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sisi), the neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, the playwright and theatre director Bertolt Brecht, the Nobel Prize physicist Werner Heisenberg, and the Nobel Peace Prize political scientist and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The region of Bavaria has always been an important one in European history and prehistory. In the 6th millennium BCE, the Neolithic culture spread from Southeast Europe along the Danube River, reaching Bavaria in the form of the Linear Pottery Culture (=> see prehistoric migration maps). In the 3rd millennium BCE the Bronze Age was introduced from the forest-steppe of Northeast Europe through the Corded Ware Culture, probably bringing the first Indo-European speakers to Central Europe. Proto-Italo-Celtic people are thought to have arrived circa 2300 BCE with the advent of the Unetice Culture, roughly centered around Bavaria. The classical Celtic culture of Hallstatt also emerged from what is now Bavaria, and spread to most of Central Europe.
Southern Bavaria was annexed to the Roman Empire in 15 BCE by Tiberius and Drusus, who founded the city of Augsburg (Augusta Vindelicorum) as the capital of the new Roman province of Raetia. Regensburg, Passau, Straubing, Füssen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen were all established in Roman times.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Bavarians (Boiohaemum in Latin) moved into the region, probably from Bohemia (and ancient Celtic land of the Boii). Other tribes, such as the Alamanni, Lombards, Thuringians, Goths, Huns, Avars and Bohemian Slavs blended with the local Romanised population creating a unique melting pot. By 550, Bavaria had fallen under Frankish dominion, with Garibald I of the Agilolfings dynasty as first Duke of Bavaria. Bavaria had become part of a new empire, which would become Germany (=> see History of the Franks).