The Turbulent Life of Svatopluk the Great, King of Moravia

The legend of Svatopluk's three wands as depicted at Prostějov Castle | Image: Wikimedia / Michal Maňas
The Great Moravian Empire, while it lasted, had some interesting figures associated with it – Saints Cyril and Methodius, King Louis the German, and, perhaps most famous of all, Svatopluk I (also known as “Svatopluk the Lion”).Svatopluk (born circa AD 840) was the nephew of Rastislav, the ruler of Great Moravia. Svatopluk governed one of the principalities of Moravia by 869. He and his uncle issued a joint invitation to the missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius to spread Slavic (rather than Latin) Christianity throughout the region. In 869, Carloman, the son of King Louis the German, led a raid that invaded Svatopluk’s territory. Carloman’s brother, Charles the Bald, led a simultaneous raid on Rastislav’s territories. The crafty Svatopluk met secretly with Carloman, entering into a plot with him.Rastislav learned of Svatopluk’s treachery, and invited him to a banquet. He planned to have his nephew murdered, but Svatopluk learned of the plan in time. He set a trap of his own, and it was successful. Rastislav was captured and sent to Bavaria, while Carloman helped himself to Rastislav’s former territories. Svatopluk was allowed to continue governing his own principality as a reward.Carloman’s troops even captured St. Methodius, and, in 871, imprisoned Svatopluk himself, on the grounds of disloyalty. The Moravians, under the impression that Svatopluk had died, appointed another ruler, Slavomir. After a time, Carloman decided that Svatopluk was truly loyal, and had him released. To cement Svatopluk’s devotion to the family, he was made godfather to Carloman’s grandson, who was named Zwentibold (a Moravian name).The attempted strengthening of Svatopluk’s loyalty failed miserably. Svatopluk agreed to lead Carloman’s Bavarian troops against the usurper, Slavomir, only to betray the troops and engage in clandestine negotiations with the Moravian rebels. Carloman’s plan was to capture a fortress, which Svatopluk did. Once safely inside, however, he gathered together a large army of Moravians and promptly attacked the Bavarian troops outside the fortress. Among those killed were Engelschalk and William, whom Carloman had appointed to govern the principalities once ruled by Rastislav. Svatopluk was now the leader of the whole of the Great Moravian Empire.This caused no small concern to King Louis the German, who, in 872, sent out armies to advance upon Moravia from various directions. The first army fled after coming into contact with the Moravian troops. The second army returned to East Francia in greatly reduced numbers, the majority having been killed by the Moravians. The third army, under the command of Carloman, routed Svatopluk’s army; the men took refuge in a well-defended fortress. Not to be deterred, Svatopluk quickly raised more troops and attacked Bavarian soldiers guarding ships on the Danube.In May of the year 873, the pope (John VIII) became involved in the conflict. Aware that Methodius had been captured and not yet released, he demanded that Carloman free him. He also managed to intercede in the conflict between Svatopluk and Louis the German, making a peace treaty. It was rather one-sided; in exchange for tributes from Svatopluk, Louis agreed not to invade Moravia. Methodius, who had been freed, was allowed to continue his activities in Great Moravia.To be continued…
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.