To say it is forgotten is somewhat misleading for Great Moravia is remembered and celebrated with great pride by the Czech and Slovak people. But it is forgotten by conventional Western history books.
Today, many of us who have European ancestry are taking it upon ourselves to discover the hidden histories of our ancestral heritage. Thus we begin this exploration of a medieval kingdom with immense importance to the people of Central Europe
Between the sixth and ninth centuries, a nomadic warrior tribe from the Eurasian Steppes had moved into the region, dominating the local people. These were the Avars and they were to rule the region virtually unchallenged. That is until Charlemagne entered the picture.
Like much of the history from the lands that the Romans referred to as “barbarians,” the history of Central Europe before Christianization is blurry. Records from the pre-Christian societies either were not kept or were lost. Thus written history often begins with missionary efforts to these lands, and the rest we have to fill in using archaeology. And so it is with Great Moravia.
The principality of Moravia first appears in written history in Royal Frankish Annals of 822 when representatives of the Moravians are recorded paying tribute to Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne.
Mojmir I is mentioned in several documents from the mid to late ninth century. We know that his power grew as he strengthened and expanded his territory. There is some debate about the existence of two neighboring principalities, Moravia (roughly in the Czech region) and Nitra (in the neighboring Slovak region).
Pribina is mentioned as being the ruler of Nitra. It is unclear whether Pribina governed Nitra as a lieutenant under Mojmir, or if he ruled Nitra as an autonomous state in his own right.
A text called “Conversio Bagoariorum et Carantanorum” (The Conversion of the Bavarians and the Carantanians) written in 870 makes mention that Mojmir expelled Pribina across the Danube River. Sources are not clear whether Pribina, as an underling of Mojmir, was attempting to rebel or whether this event represents Mojmir of Moravia conquering Pribina’s kingdom of Nitra.
In any case, the two regions were merged into one state under Mojmir’s rule by the mid-ninth century.
This period of foundation, development and growth for Moravia was also a period of religious change.
There are a few early mentions of the religious conversion of the Moravians.
A Christian church in Mikulčice (Czech Republic) dated to the early ninth century has led some historians to believe Mojmir was converted before the year 825 A.D.
And a mass baptism of the Moravian people in 831 was recorded in a document called “History of the Bishops of Passau.”
As Mojmir’s power grew, Moravia became a threat to the Franks to the West. Mojmir I had no son so a relative, possibly a nephew named Rastislav, would be his successor. The early years of Rastislav are unknown, but it has been speculated that he was given as a hostage in his youth to Louis II the German, ruler of the East Frankish kingdom and grandson of Charlemagne.
The trading of hostages was common at the time. The hostage would be fostered by whomever he was held by. The benefit of the situation for the hostage-taker was twofold. First, the country the hostage belongs to will be apt to behave itself if someone dear to the ruler could be harmed in the event of a revolt.
The Franks then placed Rastislav on the throne to rule Great Moravia in the year 846 A.D.
It appears that the King of East Francia, Louis the German, had planned to use Rastislav as a puppet ruler and vassal.
Louis would be sorely mistaken, as Rastislav would prove to have a mind of his own and steer the future of Great Moravia in a new direction.
Biblography (click title to view books):
Moravia Magna: The Great Moravian Empire – It’s Art and Times by Jan Dekan
East Central and Eastern Europe in the Early Middle Ages by Florin Curta
Franks, Moravians, and Magyars: The Struggle for the Middle Danube, 788-907 by Charles R. Bowlus