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820-906 - Great Moravian Empire

The lands situated to the east of the Elbe and of the junction of the Enns and the Danube were occupied in the ninth century by Sclavonic tribes, and formed the Great Moravian Empire, where Christianity was preached by the Eastern apostles, Cyril and Methodius. In the center of Europe to the east of German territories, there grew up in Moravia a political organization of West Slav tribes who later formed the Bohemian-Moravian state. Among these tribes were the Slovaks, both those living in Moravia and those settled under the Carpathians.

The further development of the Slav settlement, its extension, and its political organisation are hidden by a gap in tradition, extending over more than a century and a half. The international development of the country progressed considerably, from the Bohemian legend as related by Kosmas in the beginning of the twelfth century, which tells of Krok, Libusha, and of Pfemysl, the farmer of Staditz, who was called from the ploughshare to the throne, and became the ancestor of the first royal house of Bohemia.

It is probable that political and social life in Moravia developed much more quickly and strongly during the same period; for before Bohemia emerges from the obscurity of legend into the clear light of history, there rises on Moravian soil, quietly and without any legendary history, a self-contained principality known as the Moravian kingdom of the Moimirids, after the founder of the dynasty, Moimir (Mojmir).

In 820 AD the "Great Moravia Empire" was created by Prince (king) MOJMR. During the military period of Charles the Great it is unknown, and only appears in its full power during the peaceful reign of Louis the Pious. While Moimir did homage to the German emperor and offered presents, he extended his power eastwards, driving out of his country the neighboring Slav prince who had settled in Neitra. The Frankish counts in the East Mark and in Pannonia had every opportunity of watching the growth of the neighbouring Moravian kingdom, and the fact that the Slav prince took refuge with them upon his expulsion, and received their support, tends to show that Moimir's aspirations met with no approval upon this side. However, serious opposition to the powers rising on the frontier of the empire formed no part of the policy of Louis the Pious.

After the treaty of Verdun (843) Louis the German took over, with his districts in the East, the task of securing the supremacy of the empire formerly founded by the emperor Charles over the neighbouring Slavs: it was inevitable that a struggle between the two States should break out, as indeed the Franks had already expected on their side. Even the fragmentary descriptions which have come down to us give an idea of the fury and extent of this struggle, in which the weaker side, the Moimirid principality, always reappears upon the scene, heroically maintaining its position in spite of repeated defeat. Moimir himself escaped into his fortified castles from the first attack which the German king delivered in the year 846. His rule, however, was brought to an end by a domestic conspiracy led by his own nephew Eastiz (Eastislav).

The second Moimirid then received the inheritance of his uncle from the hands of the Franks, to govern the land likewise under their supremacy. The struggle, however, soon broke out anew, because Eastislav followed in his predecessor's footsteps, and strove to secure complete independence of the Frankish kingdom. German armies repeatedly marched upon Moravia in the years 855, 864, 806, and 869. However, no decisive battle took place. At one time by pretended submission, and at another by flight into his impregnable castles, Eastislav forced the Franks either to make peace or to retire from the inhospitable country. Once again domestic treachery placed the Moravian prince in the power of Louis (870). The defeater of Eastislav, his nephew Svatopluk (Zwentibold), secured the supremacy over the whole of Moravia under the protectorate of France, while his uncle was punished by blinding and confinement in a French monastery.

The political struggle for the foundation of a powerful Slav empire was accompanied, from the outset, by a serious attempt to break the ecclesiastical ties which united these countries with Germany. German, Italian, and Greek priests were working simultaneously in the country, and the obviously disastrous consequences to the land afforded the prince Eastislav a plausible excuse for appearing before the Roman Pope Nicholas I with a request that he should decide what priests should henceforward be permitted to preach and teach in Moravia. The Pope, however, is said to have declined to consider the question, or perhaps to have decided it against the wishes of the Moravian prince, who in 863 asked for fresh teachers from the Greek emperor Michael III, to preach the true faith to the Moravian nation in their own language. The mission was entrusted to the brothers Constantine (Kyrillos, Cyrillus) and Methodius of Thessalonica (p. 77). Their spiritual work in Moravia began in the year 864; as, however, they possessed no high ecclesiastical rauk, they confined themselves at first to the education of the children.

As they desired to fulfil the object of their mission, the introduction of divine service in the Slavonic language, both into the Moravian and also into the neighbouring Slav kingdom of the Pannonian prince Kozel, the brothers, accompanied by the most capable of their scholars, betook themselves to Eoine in 8G7, in order to secure the Pope's permission for the use of the Slavonic liturgy. Pope Hadrian II is said to have fulfilled the wish of the Moravians in 868. Feeling, however, a presentiment of approaching death, Constantine resolved not to return to Moravia; he entered the monastery at Eome, took the name Cyril as a monk, and died shortly afterwards, on February 14, 869. The continuation of his apostolic work was left to his brother Methodius, who had been consecrated bishop in Eome. Hardly, however, had he returned to Moravia with the intention of resuming the struggle against the German clergy, so successfully begun, when the revolution took place, which cost Eastislav his throne and freedom, and transferred Moravia practically into a Frankish mark. Methodius then succumbed to his opponents; for two years and a half, during the first years of the reign of Svatopluk in Moravia, he remained a prisoner in a German monastery.

Friendly as were the relations existing between the new Moravian prince and the neighbouring German Empire, and in particular with Karlmann the count of the East Mark, they continued but a short time. So soon as Karlmann had. reason to suspect the fidelity of Svatopluk, he seized his person and his property, and retained him at his court in honourable confinement, with the idea that his removal would make it easier to establish Frankish supremacy in Moravia. However, the oppressed Moravian population began a desperate attempt to secure their freedom. Karlmann thought that he could intrust the task of crushing this movement to no more suitable person than Svatopluk, so entirely had the Slav won the confidence of the German. Hardly, however, did Svatopluk find himself among his own people than he gave rein to his long-repressed fury, and with one blow destroyed not only the army which had been sent to his support, but also all semblance of Frankish dominion in Moravia. In the two following years (872 and 873) Karlmann was unable to break down the resistance of Svatopluk. Not until the year 874 have we direct evidence of the conclusion of a peace at Forchheim, under which Svatopluk promised fidelity, obedience, and the usual annual tribute. Peace for eight years followed this act of submission.

During the period of this national rising the Moravians also remembered Methodius in his imprisonment abroad; their representations at Eome eventually induced Pope John VIII to order the Bavarian bishops to liberate the Moravian apostle. Methodius immediately proceeded (about the outset of the year 873) to Kozel, in the Panuonian principality, and shortly afterwards to Moravia, where he was received with marks of high respect on the part of the prince and people. Svatopluk, however, failed to appreciate the help which might have been given to his political plans by a firm establishment of the Slavonic church in the country During the dogmatic quarrels between Methodius and the Bavarian clergy he maintained a position of neutrality; he went so far as to express the wish that Methodius should prove his orthodoxy in Rome before the Pope. The latter was thus for the second time obliged to journey thither, and in the year 880 returned to his diocese under full papal protection, and with further recognition of the dignity of his position. Even now, however, it was impossible for him to gain a complete victory over his opponents in Moravia; the Bavarian clergy maintained their position in the country, and threw obstacles in his way. It was not until the last years of his life (he died on April 6, 885) that his position in Moravia became more peaceful.

Within this period (882-884) occurred many violent political struggles between Svatopluk and the neighbouring Frankish districts. The Moravian prince then appeared as the protector of one portion of two families who were struggling to secure the position of count in the Traungau and in the East Mark, while Arnulf {Arnolf), the son of Karlmann, who governed the marks of Karantania and Pannonia, supported the opposition party. The war began in 882. In 883 Svatopluk was raging in Pannonia " like a wolf," and in the following year hostilities were renewed. The feud was only repressed upon the interference of the emperor Charles III in the East Mark in August, 884. In 885 peace was concluded between Svatopluk and Arnulf, which resulted in a mutual understanding so complete that, when Arnulf became candidate for the crown of Germany in Frankfort in the year 887, Svatopluk zealously supported him.

Under such circumstances the work of Cyril and Methodius could not flourish in Moravia, the more so as the death of the latter had thrown the entire responsihility upon the feeble shoulders of a disciple. In the very year of the death of Methodius, the year of Svatopluk's reconciliation with the Franks, a general persecution of the disciples of Methodius began in Moravia; only a few received permission from Svatopluk to leave the country. The Slav priests then took refuge in the south Slavonic countries, where their liturgy found a field unexpectedly productive.

Thus politically as well as ecclesiastically Moravia remained in peaceful dependence upon the Prankish empire until the year 890. At that time divergent conceptions concerning the relation of the Moravian princes to the German king brought forth new points of difference, which were only to be solved by further fighting. In the first campaign in 892, and more especially in the following year, the Moravians held the field; but in the year 895, when the power of the Slav kingdom for resistance was to be tested for the third time, Svatopluk died a sudden but natural death. With him disappeared irrevocably the whole splendour of the Moravian kingdom. In 872 AD BORIVOJ I of the Premyslid family becomes the first ever Prince and ruler of Czechs; and in 895 AD during his rule the Czechs seceded from the Great Moravian Empire.

The violent struggle between the brothers, who were the heirs of Svatopluk, accelerated the downfall, and the strength of the country was further weakened by the secession of both Bohemian and Silesian districts, over which the military power of Svatopluk had extended his dominion. Under these circumstances it was impossible for the country to resist for any length of time the fearful attacks of the Magyars, who advanced with barbaric ferocity. In the year 906 Moravia succumbed to this enemy, whom she had hardly had time to observe, much less to fear, after concluding in the year 901 a peace with her great enemy the Franks, which in no way limited her constitutional independence. The Moimirids had eyes only for the limitations which hindered their national development upon the West, and failed to see the dangers which threatened their unprotected eastern frontier; this neglect brought about the downfall of their carefully constructed empire.

The Great Moravian realm of the Mojmir dynasty enjoyed favorable conditions of development and would have grown into a powerful state, if it had not been for the invasion of migratory Magyar hordes which at the end of the ninth century penetrated into the plains between the Danube and the Tisza, captured Pannonia and about the year 906 destroyed the Great Moravian empire. After the battle of Pressburg, in 907, in which this empire was overthrown by the Magyars, the Slovaks gradually fell under the yoke of the conquerors.

Between the pressure of the Teutonic population eastward-the first beginning of the Drang nack Osten - and the westward invasion of the Magyars, this Moravian Empire went to pieces. Like two thunderstorms, the Magyar and the Teuton met. The great battle fought near Augsburg in 955 convinced the Magyar that he had found an antagonist before whom even his own fierce chivalry and consummate obstinacy must pause. The rival races then became fixed along the lines where, upon the whole, they are still to be found to-day, and sundered the Sclavonic peoples, who had been united in the Moravian Empire, into two divisions, separated by the solid wall formed by the German population of Austria, Styria and Carniola, by the Magyar population of Hungary, and by the Wallach or Rouman population, which at an uncertain period of history occupied the countries between the Maros and the Black Sea-the territories now known as Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia - and constituted a further bar to the union of all the Sclaves in one great geographical area.

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