The Life of Svatopluk the Great, Part III

Depiction of Svatopluk on a 2009 Slovakian coin | Image : Wikimedia / Peter Zelizňák

Note: click here and here for the first two chapters in the Svatopluk story


In 885, the year after the Wilhelminer War ended, St. Methodius died. His successor was a man by the name of Gorazd. However, Bishop Witching traveled to Rome as quickly as he could. Upon gaining audience with the new pope, Stephen V, Witching convinced him that Methodius had not respected the previous pope’s order that Mass be said in Latin, as well as Slavonic. Stephen then banned the use of Slavonic in Mass, and, in a letter to Svatopluk, set out some very clear directions for the king to follow in his practice of religion.

Svatopluk, who had always been an adherent of Latin, waited until Witching had returned from Rome. He gathered Gorazd and the other followers of Methodius and ordered them to follow the pope’s instructions. When they refused, some were expelled from Great Moravia, while others were sold into slavery.

With the expulsion or slavery of the disciples of Methodius, Slavonic liturgy was no longer used in Central Europe. Fortunately for these disciples, they were able to continue their work in Bulgaria.

In the year 887, Arnulf was crowned the king of East Francia. Three years later, he and Svatopluk met; Svatopluk gave his former enemy a letter from Pope Stephen V which encouraged Arnulf to invade Italy as a way of providing protection to the Holy See. They also agreed that Svatopluk was now the leader, not only of the Moravians, but of the neighboring Bohemians, as well. The pope had already declared that Svatopluk was a king, and this agreement extended his power and his territory.

In 891, Arnulf sought to renew the peace by sending a group led by Svatopluk’s ally, Margrave Arbo. According to Arbo’s letter to Arnulf, all went well, and that the two countries were on friendly terms. However, Svatopluk’s actions became decidedly unfriendly in short order, and Arnulf made the decision to invade Moravia that same year. He raised an impressive army consisting of soldiers from various countries. Among others, he recruited Hungarian troops, who, according to a later account, were “avid only for murder and plunder”, setting them loose upon a much wider area than they had previously occupied.

The invasion started in July 892, but was unsuccessful. It continued for two years, ending only with Svatopluk’s death in 894. How he died, or where, is unknown.

Svatopluk had held together the empire he worked so hard and so ruthlessly to create, and upon his death, Great Moravia fell apart. The year after his death, 895, saw the Czechs departing from the empire. Arnulf, no doubt still upset over his inability to defeat Svatopluk quickly, encouraged disagreements between Svatopluk’s sons, Mojmir II and Svatopluk II, as to who would gain control over the rapidly-diminishing empire. According to historian Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Svatopluk intended his three sons to have an equal share of the empire, encouraging them on his deathbed to divide it fairly between them. (If the account is at all accurate, it suggests that Svatopluk’s death was not particularly quick; possibly an illness or a wound that became infected.) Soon, there was no empire to inherit. The Hungarians invaded in the 10th century, putting an end to Great Moravia.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon
About Erin Naillon 290 Articles
I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.