The tourists who visit the Czech Republic in droves are here to see the country’s magnificent castles, charming squares, and beautiful architecture. Tourists can be seen everywhere, taking selfies in front of the Czech Republic’s classic sights. This country, however, has a great deal to offer that is not as visible as, say, the Astronomical Clock on Prague’s Old Town Square, or the John Lennon Wall on the other side of the river from the clock. The history of the modern Czech Republic contains many fascinating stories, among which is the Great Moravian Empire.
Surprising though it may seem, this region was once home to a massive empire that, at one time, extended from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. It was established circa 830 by Mojmir I. This leader created the empire from the Principality of Moravia and the Principality of Nitra. The empire’s center was located along the Morava River, which now is part of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. However, the outlying areas included parts of modern day Poland, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Serbia, Croatia, Ukraine, and Slovenia. It was originally a Frankish vassal state, but Mojmir made the unwise move of trying to secede from East Francia in the year 846. Mojmir was deposed immediately, and his nephew Rastislav took over the throne.
Rastislav resented the influence of the Frankish priests in Great Moravia, and he attempted to weaken this influence. He sent word to Michael III of the Byzantine Empire, asking the emperor to send Christian missionaries to the Great Moravian Empire to teach their religion in the Slavic language. Michael consented, and sent two Greek brothers named Cyril and Methodius. These brothers not only brought Christianity to the region, but they introduced a new form of writing that would come to be known as the Cyrillic alphabet. (Fortunately for the many tourists who visit the Czech Republic every year, the Cyrillic alphabet was not adopted in this region.)
The Franks soon viewed this change in influence as a threat to their power in the region, and took military action against Rastislav. King Louis the German and his son, Carloman, both launched successful military operations in the Great Moravian Empire, looting and burning. Unknown to Rastislav, his nephew Svatopluk had changed loyalties and now threw his weight behind the Franks. Rastislav, enraged upon learning that Svatopluk had betrayed him, attempted to kill him, but was taken prisoner instead.
Brought before Louis the German in Regensburg, bound in chains, Rastislav was sentenced to be blinded and imprisoned. He died in prison.
Under the reign of the traitorous Svatopluk, the Great Moravian Empire reached its greatest size, though historians debate as to how large the empire was, and which modern-day countries were a part of it. Although Svatopluk was now the ruler of the area, Carloman arrested him on the orders of Louis the German in the year 871. The Slavs then rose up against the Frankish leaders, and Svatopluk returned to the empire to drive the Franks from it. After several military skirmishes, Svatopluk finally pledged fealty to King Louis the German in May 874.
Upon Svatopluk’s death in 894, his son, Mojmir II, attempted to rule the region, but the empire was crumbling fast. Internal conflicts and an invasion by the Hungarians put an end to the once-powerful Great Moravian Empire.
As a fascinating side note, one building – a small church – is believed to be the only surviving above-ground piece of architecture from the Great Moravian Empire. This little church is located in the Slovakian village of Kopčany. All other buildings from that era are either in ruins, or they are below ground level.