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The First State Structures

Like every proper story, Czech history also has a beginning – the arrival of the Czechs. Medieval chroniclers worked on this and ascertained that Praotec Čech (“Ancestor Czech”) led his tribe to Bohemia in 644. He climbed to the top of Říp Mountain and looked around him. Říp is a 455-metre-high hill in the middle of what is now Bohemia. Standing near the confluence of the Elbe (Labe) and the Vltava, it protrudes steeply above the flat surrounding landscape so that it looks as though somebody forgot a huge hat.  The Romanesque rotunda of St. George and St. Adalbert stands at its summit. 

He decided that this land “overflowing with milk and honey” (as he apparently put it) was the place where his tribe was going to settle. So goes the first of the Czech legends.

Nevertheless, it is a historic fact that the Slavic tribes came to Central Europe from the east in the course of the sixth century during the time known as the migration of nations.  They settled in areas which German tribes had previously settled and where Celtic tribes had resided before them.

The first accounts of a Slavic settlement on our territory come from Fredegar’s Chronicle. This provides an account of a battle at Wogastisburg (Vosgate Castle) in 631. In this encounter, Sámo, the leader of the Slavs, and his forces defeated the divisions of the Frankish king Dagobert. Nevertheless Samo’s Empire itself did not last long and succumbed to the forays of the nomadic Avars.

The first genuine state structure on the territory of the Czech Republic was the Great Moravian Empire. This was located on the territory of Bohemia, Silesia, Moravia, Slovakia and the Danube Basin. In the west, it bordered on the powerful East Frankish Kingdom, from where Christianity spread to pagan Moravia. Prince Rostislav in an effort to limit dependence on the Frankish kingdom sent a mission to the Byzantine emperor Michael III and requested that he send some priests. In 863, the brothers Constantine (Cyril) and Methodius, who hailed from Salonika, came to Great Moravia.

 

The Frankish priests viewed the representatives of the Eastern Church as unwelcome and unwanted competition.  As a result, disputes often arose between them. Instead of Latin, which was not comprehensible to people, Constantine and Methodius used Old Church Slavonic as the liturgical language.  By creating an Old Slavonic script, they founded Slavonic literature, which later developed in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and other countries. They strengthened their position when they received the pope’s consent for the use of Old Church Slavonic. Constantine entered a monastery in Rome and took the name of Cyril. He died in 869. Methodius returned to Great Moravia. He was assigned the task of building a new church province to the east of Salzburg. He was also appointed Archbishop of Sirmium and missionary bishop for the Slavs. Later the pope even established a Moravian archbishopric with Methodius at its head.

In 880 an important event in Czech history occurred in Great Moravia. The Bohemian Prince Bořivoj and his wife Ludmila were baptised in the court of Prince Svatopluk. Ludmila and Bořivoj were the grandparents of the legendary Prince Wenceslas.

After Methodius’ death in 885, his pupils were expelled to the Balkans by the Moravian Prince Svatopluk. Every year, we commemorate the arrival of the Slavic missionaries Cyril and Methodius with a state holiday on 5 July. The end of both the state and church administration of Great Moravia came at the beginning of the tenth century as a result of Magyar invasions.