Great Moravia

Great Moravia
833[Note 1] – 902
Capital Veligrad[1]
Language(s) Slavic[Note 2]
Religion Slavic religion, Christianity, Pagan
Government Monarchy
 - 833-846 Mojmír I (first)
Historical era Early Middle Ages
 - Established 833
 - Disestablished 902
Today part of  Slovakia (all)
 Czech Republic (all)
 Hungary (all)
 Poland (part)
 Germany (part)
 Ukraine (part)
 Romania (part)
 Serbia (part)
 Croatia (part)
 Slovenia (part)
Start date source:[2]
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Great Moravia was a Slavic state that existed in Central Europe and lasted for nearly seventy years in the 9th century [3] whose creators were the ancestors of the Czechs and Slovaks.[4][5] It was a vassal state of the Germanic Frankish kingdom and paid an annual tribute to it.[6] There is some controversy as to the actual location of its core territory. According to the greater weight of scholars, its core area lay on both sides of the Morava river, the territory of today's western Slovakia and in Moravia and Bohemia (today's Czech Republic),[7] but the entity may have also extended[when?] into what are today parts of Hungary, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine and Germany.[8][9][10][page needed][11][page needed] Alternative theories state that, the core territory of Great Moravia was situated south of the River Danube, in Slavonia (today's Croatia), or in the southern parts of the Carpathian Basin.[12] [13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20] According to Slovak historian Richard Marsina, Great Moravia was inhabited by the ancestors of modern Moravians and Slovaks, though other historians state that the indigenous Slavs of Great Moravia have died out[21] or they have been assimilated by Hungarians (in the territory of Kingdom of Hungary).[21] There is no continuity in politics, culture, or written language between this early Slavic polity and the modern Slovak nation.[22] However, many Slovaks see the basis of the Slovak nation in the cultural heritage of Great Moravia and this is referred to in the modern Slovak constitution.[23] Great Moravia played a significant role in the development of Slovak nationalism.[24]

Great Moravia was founded when, in 833, Mojmír I unified two neighboring states by force,[25] referred to in modern historiography as the "Principality of Nitra" and the "Principality of Moravia".[6][8][26] Cultural development resulted from the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius, who came during the reign of Prince Rastislav in 863. The empire reached its greatest territorial extent under Svatopluk I (871–894), although the borders of his dominions are still under debate. He also received a letter from Pope John VIII who styled him "king" Svatopluk.

Weakened by internal struggle[27] and frequent wars with the Carolingian Empire, Great Moravia was ultimately overrun by the Hungarians, who invaded the Carpathian Basin around 896. Its remnants were divided between Poland, Hungary, Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire. Although some contemporary sources mention that Great Moravia vanished and the Moravian castles were abandoned for a century, archaeological research and toponyms suggest that there was continuity in the Slavic population in the valleys of the rivers of the Inner Western Carpathians.[28][29] Most castles and towns survived the destruction of the state,[8][30] but the identification of some castles is still debated and some scholars[which?] even claim that Great Moravia disappeared without trace.[31]

Great Moravia left behind a lasting legacy in Central and Eastern Europe. The Glagolitic script and its successor Cyrillic were disseminated to other Slavic countries, charting a new path in their cultural development. The administrative system of Great Moravia influenced the development of the administration of medieval Hungary. Great Moravia also became a favorite issue in the Czech and Slovak romantic nationalism of the 19th century.[6]



The designation "Great Moravia" ("Μεγάλη Μοραβία") originally stems from the work De Administrando Imperio written by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos around 950 (and actually, his work is the only primary source that uses the adjective "Great" when referring to the polity).[32][33][34] Although the name Great Moravia is used by the modern historiography to refer to a medieval polity in the northern part of the Carpathian Basin, the Emperor himself referred to a different country, located south of or in the southern part of the Carpathian Basin or he mismatched the location.[citation needed]

The original title was: Moravenses terra Moravia. Word "Great Moravia" used by modern authors not only refers to present-day Moravia, but to a country situated on both sides of the Morava river whose capital was also plausibly called Morava.[35] Alternatively, "Moravia" could also refer to country whose capital was Morava. It is not always clear whether an early medieval written source names a country or a town called Morava. The adjective "Great" nowadays denotes Moravia plus the annexed territories. Some authors[who?] interpret the original meaning as "distant", because Byzantine texts used to distinguish between two countries of the same name using the attribute "little" for the territory closer to the Byzantine Empire (such as the Morava rivers in Serbia) and "great" for the more distant territory (such as the Morava river between Moravia and Slovakia).[30]

The adjective "Μεγάλη" may also mean "old" in Byzantine texts[12][20][36][37] and some scholars argue[who?] Old Moravia is the correct name.

The names of Great Moravia in other languages are Veľká Morava in Slovak, Velká Morava in Czech, Großmähren in German, Великоморавия in Bulgarian, Velika Moravska (Велика Моравска) in Serbian, and morva fejedelemség[32] in Hungarian. In English, the forms Moravia[11] Greater Moravia and Moravia Magna are also used.

The use of the term (Great) Slovak Empire instead of Great Moravia is promoted by some Slovak authors[who?] who attempt to define it as an early Slovak state.[38] The use of this term would contradict the theory that the distinct Slavic nations had not yet emerged by the 9th century and the culture and language of various Slavic tribes in central Europe were indistinguishable from each other.[39]



Principality of Moravia under Mojmir I's reign

The formation of Great Moravia resulted from the political and social development that is documented by archaeological findings, but scarcely described by contemporary chroniclers.[40] The first state of the Slavs living on the Middle Danube was Samo's Realm, a tribal confederation existing between 623 and 658.[41] It encompassed the territories of Moravia, Slovakia, Lower Austria, Carantania, Sorbia at the Elbe, and probably also Bohemia, which lies between Sorbia and other parts of the realm. Although this tribal confederation plausibly did not survive its founder, it created favorable conditions for the formation of the local Slavic aristocracy.[citation needed]

Graves dated to the period after King Samo's death show that the Avars returned to some of their lost territories and they even could expand their area of settlement not only over the western parts of the present-day Slovakia but also over the Vienna Basin. Archaeological evidence from this period identifies the emergence of the so-called "griffin and tendril" archaeological culture in the 670s, initially interpreted to represent a new migration of steppe nomads, (possibly Onogurs)),[37] but now an in vivo development is favoured.[by whom?][citation needed] However, archaeological findings from the same period (such as an exquisite noble tomb in Blatnica) also indicate formation of a Slavic upper class on the territory that later became the nucleus of Great Moravia.[8]

In the late 8th century, the Morava river basin and present-day western Slovakia, inhabited by the Slavs and situated at the Frankish border, flourished economically.[citation needed] Construction of numerous river valley settlements as well as hill forts indicates that political integration was driven by regional strongmen protected by their armed retinues. The Blatnica-Mikulčice horizon, a rich archaeological culture partially inspired by the contemporaneous Carolingian and Avar art, arose from this economic and political development.[8][11] In the 790s, the Slavs who had settled on the middle Danube overthrew the Avar yoke in connection with Charlemagne's campaigns against the Avars.[citation needed] Further centralization of power and progress in creation of state structures of the Slavs living in this region followed. As a result, two major states emerged: the Moravian Principality originally situated in present-day southeastern Moravia and westernmost Slovakia (with the probable center in Mikulčice)[10] and the Principality of Nitra, located in present-day western and central Slovakia (with the center in Nitra).[8][21][26]

Moravian legates were sent to Frankish emperors in 811 and 815.[11] In 822, the Royal Frankish Annals record that the Marvani paid homage to the Frankish Emperor at the Diet in Frankfurt:[42]

At this assembly, he /the king/ gave audience also to the delegates sent with presents to him by all the Eastern Slavonic people, namely, by the Obotrites, Sorbs, Veleti, Bohemians, Moravians and Prædecents and the Avars settled in Pannonia.
Annales regni Francorum[43][44]

The first Moravian ruler known by name, Mojmír I, was baptized in 831 by Reginhar, bishop of Passau.[9]

There is not much information in the contemporary primary sources (only two remarks in a Western documents) about the polity referred to as the "Principality of Nitra" by later historians.[45] Nevertheless, during the first decades of the 9th century, the Slavic people living in the north-western parts of the Carpathian Basin were under the rule of a prince Pribina whose seat was in Nitra.[37] In 828, Prince Pribina, although probably still a pagan himself, built the first Christian church for his wife and German inhabitants within the borders of his principality in his possession called Nitrava.[46][47]

In 833, Mojmír I expelled Pribina[48] from Nitra and the two principalities became united under the same ruler.[8][21] Excavations revealed that at least three Nitrian castles (Pobedim, Čingov, and Ostrá skala) were destroyed around the time of the conquest (i.e., around the time when Pribina was expelled from his possession).[8] But Pribina escaped to the Franks and their king Louis the German granted him parts of Pannonia around the Zala River, referred usually in modern works as the Balaton Principality.[49]

After unification

Rastislav as an Orthodox Saint (modern depiction)
the Industriae tuae

What modern historians designate as "Great" Moravia arose around 830 when Mojmír unified the Slavic tribes settled north of the Danube and extended the Moravian supremacy over them.[45] When Mojmír I endeavoured to secede from the supremacy of the king of East Francia in 846, King Louis the German deposed him and assisted Mojmír's nephew, Rastislav (846–870) in acquiring the throne.[32][50] Although he was originally chosen by the Frankish king, the new monarch pursued an independent policy. After stopping a Frankish attack in 855, he also sought to weaken influence of Frankish priests preaching in his realm. Rastislav asked the Byzantine Emperor Michael III to send teachers who would interpret Christianity in the Slavic vernacular. By establishing relations with Constantinople, Rastislav wanted to weaken influence of Frankish preachers, who served the interests of the Frankish Emperor.[51] He also desired to counter an anti-Moravian alliance recently concluded between the Franks and Bulgarians.[51] Upon Rastislav's request, two brothers, Byzantine officials and missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius came in 863. Cyril developed the first Slavic alphabet and translated the Gospel into the Old Church Slavonic language. Texts translated or written by Cyril and Methodius are considered to be the oldest literature in the Slavic languages. Rastislav was also preoccupied with the security and administration of his state. Numerous fortified castles built throughout the country are dated to his reign and some of them (e.g., Dowina, sometimes identified with Devín Castle)[26][40] are also mentioned in connection with Rastislav by Frankish chronicles.[52][53] Moravia was militarily and economically powerful enough to be treated as an equal to the East Franksh Realm,[54] and Ratislav was able to intervene in the power struggles in Frankia. Rastislav supported Carloman in his rebellion against his father, Louis the German, and was thus given the Balaton Principality in Lower Pannonia after its ruler, Pribina was killed by Carloman. The Magyar tribes invaded the Carpathian Basin for the first time during his reign, in 861, and afterwards, the Magyars were occasionally hired by several rulers of the territory in order to intervene in their wars against the opposite party.[55]

During Rastislav's reign, the Principality of Nitra was given to his nephew Svatopluk as an appanage.[26] The rebellious prince allied himself with the Franks and overthrew his uncle in 870. The beginning of Svatopluk I’s reign was turbulent as his former Frankish allies refused to leave the western part of his empire. The young prince was even taken captive by the Franks and the country rallied around Slavomír who led an uprising against the invaders in 871. Svatopluk was finally released and took over the command of the insurgents, driving the Franks from Great Moravia. In the subsequent years, he successfully defended the independence of his realm from Eastern Francia and subjected many neighboring lands. Similarly to his predecessor, Svatopluk I (871–894) assumed the title of the king (rex). During his reign, the Great Moravian Empire reached its greatest territorial extent, when not only present-day Moravia and Slovakia but also present-day northern and central Hungary, Lower Austria, Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia, southern Poland and northern Serbia belonged to the empire, but the exact borders of his domains are still disputed by modern authors.[8][56] Svatopluk also withstood attacks of Magyar tribes[6] and the Bulgarian Empire, although sometimes it was he who hired the Magyars when waging war against East Francia.[57]

In 880, Pope John VIII issued the bull Industriae Tuae, by which he set up an independent ecclesiastical province in Great Moravia with Archbishop Methodius as its head. He also named the German cleric Wiching the Bishop of Nitra, and Old Church Slavonic was recognized as the fourth liturgical language, along with Latin, Greek and Hebrew.[citation needed]

Decline and fall

After the death of King Svatopluk in 894, his sons Mojmír II (894-906?) and Svatopluk II succeeded him as the King of Great Moravia and the Prince of Nitra respectively.[26] However, they started to quarrel for domination of the whole empire. Weakened by an internal conflict as well as by constant warfare with Eastern Francia, Great Moravia lost most of its peripheral territories. The death of Svatopluk and subsequent internal strife allowed Bohemia to shake off the Moravian yoke.[11]

In the meantime, the Magyar tribes, having suffered a defeat from the similarly nomadic Pechenegs, left their territories east of the Carpathian Mountains, invaded the Carpathian Basin and started to occupy the territory gradually around 896.[58] Their armies advance may have been promoted by continuous wars among the countries of the region whose rulers still hired them occasionally to intervene in their struggles.[59] From 895 to 902, the whole area of the present-day Slovakia became part of the Principality of Hungary.[60][61] The Bavarians and the Moravians accused each other of having formed alliances, even by "taking oath upon dogs and wolves", with the Magyars.[62][63] The bishop Liutprand of Cremona relates that in 900, the Magyars

gathering a very great army, demand for themselves the people of the Moravians that King Arnulf has subjugated through their valour; (...)
—Liutprand of Cremona[64]

We do not know what happened with Both Mojmír II and Svatopluk II because their names are not mentioned in written sources after 906. In three battles (July 4–5 and August 9, 907) near Pressburg or Blatnograd, the Magyars routed Bavarian armies. Historians traditionally put this year as the date of the breakup of the Great Moravian Empire, however after 902, the territory of present day Slovakia have already been under Hungarian control. The archaeological evidence for the destruction and abandonment (lasting for a century or so in many cases) of the Moravian strongholds at this time is eloquent.[11] The first (oldest) legend of Saint Naum also relates that the Magyars occupied the Moravian land

and devastated it. Those /of the Moravians/ not captured by the Magyars, ran to the Bulgars. And their depopulated land remained in the hand of the Magyars.
—The first legend of Saint Naum[64]

Although the source cited above and other sources mention that Great Moravia disappeared without trace and its inhabitants left for the Bulgars, Croats and Magyars following the latters' victories, but archaeological researches and toponyms suggest the continuity of Slavic population in the valleys of the rivers of the Inner Western Carpathians.[28][29] Toponyms may prove that the semi-nomadic Magyars occupied the Western Pannonian Plain in present-day Slovakia, while the hills were inhabited by a mixed (Slav and Hungarian) population and people living in the valleys of the mountains spoke Slavic language.[65]

Moreover, there are sporadic references to Great Moravia from later years: in 924/925, both Folkuin in his Gesta abb. Lobiensium and Ruotger in Archiepiscopi Coloniensis Vita Brunonis[66] mention Great Moravia.[35] From 925 until 931, there are several references to certain counts Mojmír and Svatopluk in official documents from Salzburg, though the origin of the two nobles is not clear. There are some information of Olgo of Morava from Rurikid ruling Maravia in 940-949 with some assistance from neighboring Poland, possibly from Siemomysł.[67] In 942, Magyar warriors captured in Al Andalus said that Moravia is the northern neighbor of their people. The fate of the northern and western parts of former Great Moravia in the 10th century is thus largely unclear.

The western part of the Great Moravian core territory (present-day Moravia) became the Frankish March of Moravia. Originally a buffer against Magyar attacks, the march became obsolete after the Battle of Lechfeld (955). After the battle, it was given to the Bohemian duke Boleslav I. In 999 it was taken over by Poland under Boleslav I of Poland and returned to Bohemia in 1019.

As for the eastern part of the Great Moravian core territory (present-day Slovakia) fell under domination of the Hungarian Árpád dynasty. The northwest borders of the Principality of Hungary became a mostly uninhabited or sparsely inhabited land. This was the Hungarian gyepűelve and it can be considered as marches. It was lasted an effective until the mid-13th century.[68] The rest remained under the rule of the local Slavic aristocracy[69] and was gradually[21] integrated into the Kingdom of Hungary in a process finished in the 14th century.[68][70] However, according to other historians, after the Hungarian conquest from 895, The gradation (integration of slavic aristocracy) was negligible.[71] In 1000 or 1001, all of present-day Slovakia was taken over by Poland under Boleslav I and much of this territory became part of the Kingdom of Hungary by 1031.[6][68] Since the 10th century, the population of Slovakia has been evolving into the present-day Slovaks.[21]


Territory of Great Moravia in 9th century. Eastern Francia in blue, Bulgaria in orange, Great Moravia under Rastislav (870) in green. The green line marks the borders of Great Moravia under Svatopluk I (894)[72]
Great Moravia

There is a difficulty in establishing an adequate definition and identification of the inhabitants in the territory of Great Moravia.[73] The historical record is anything but precise on this question.[73] The structure of the state itself does not provide better answers as it is likely that it was a loose structure of federated principalities.[73]

The Moravian state underwent considerable expansion, especially in the 870s, under Svatopluk I.[11] In the 870s or 880s, the Moravians made a bid to extend their power northwards across the Carpathians to the broad fertile lands in Silesia and Lesser Poland.[11] There is little clear archaeological or written evidence, however, of a permanent extension of Moravian centralization of power in Lesser Poland or to the west in Silesia, or (as has been claimed by some historians[who?]) into Pannonia.[11] Indeed modern historiography has tended to question the former claims of huge neighboring territories permanently annexed by the Moravian state.[11] Thus, it is under debate whether the "Balaton Principality" (administered probably by counts appointed by the King of East Francia during this period) or parts of the Carpathian Basin east of the rivers Danube and Tisza (Tisa) ("the territories of the Avars") were ever controlled by King Svatopluk.[56] German historians Golberg and Reuter both suggests that Moravia did, in fact, control lower Pannonia (modern Hungarian Transdanubia), perhaps on two occasions: 858-863 (when Carloman gave it to Ratislav for his support against Louis the German, and again in 885-892 when Svatopoluk clashed with Arnulf.[74][75]

As for the history of Bohemia—annexed by Great Moravia for eleven years (from 883 to 894),[9] the crucial year is 895, when the Bohemians broke away from the empire and became vassals of Arnulf of Carinthia. Independent Bohemia, ruled by the dynasty of Přemyslids, began to gradually emerge.

Alternative theories

An alternative theory, proposed by Imre Boba independently of the similar theories of earlier authors (e.g., Daniele Farlatti, Gelasius Dobner working in the 18th century) in the 1970s, suggests that the core territory of the empire was situated south of the Danube river in Pannonia/Slavonia.[76] The theory is based on Boba's reading of primary written sources (e.g., De administrando imperio, the Bavarian Geographer and Annales Fuldenses), which in his opinion were ignored[77] by other (Czech and Slovak) historians for various reasons, including nationalism.[78] Moreover, he also utilized the results of archaeological researches and his knowledge of Slavic studies. A short summary of his statements and their criticism follows:

  • Boba claimed that some primary sources (e.g., De administrando imperio, the Bavarian Geographer) clearly locate the territory of Great Moravia south of the Danube and other primary sources do not contradict them. His opponents pointed out that some sources (i.e., the Annales Fuldenses) cited by Boba were written by foreigners "at a considerable distance from the events narrated" and their understanding of geography is not very precise.[79] It is also true that some of the primary sources (such as Life of Methodius and Life of St. Clement of Ohrid, referred also by Boba) seem to contradict Boba's theory.[79] For example, the escape of the Slavonic priests to Bulgaria, as described in the primary sources, indicates that Great Moravia was not located south of the Danube.[79]
  • Boba also emphasized that Saint Methodius was made Archbishop of Syrmium, a town south of the Danube. The opposite view states that the see in Syrmium was only symbolic, because Syrmium had formerly been the see of an archdiocese in the past,[79] but Boba and his followers indicated that Method's consecration for a symbolic see would have violated canon law in the 9th century.[76] Boba's opponents also pointed out that the church claimed by Boba to be the resting place of Methodius in Syrmium turned out to be founded two hundred years after Methodius' death and no medieval settlement existed in Syrmium before AD 1000.[79]
  • In addition, Boba argued that the continuity of the Slavonic liturgy and the uninterrupted use of Glagolitic alphabet in the Catholic Church can be proven south of the Danube, while such tradition did not exist uninterruptedly north of the Danube. In reality, the Slavonic liturgy survived in some places north of the Danube until 1097.[9] Boba claimed that this tradition came to the Monastery of Sázava from Vyshhorod in the Kievan Rus'.
  • Great Moravia was often mentioned as Sclavonia in the primary sources and this denomination may have survived the fall of the empire in the name of Slavonia (a territory south of the Danube) until the 20th century. But Boba's opponents pointed out that the same Latin name Sclavonia also referred to Slovakia and those northern parts of Hungary that were inhabited by Slavs.[21] On the other hand, the Latin denomination Sclavonia for the territories of present-day Slovakia was documented only in 1512.[80]
  • Another of Boba's claims was that archaeological findings attributed to the Moravians north of the Danube should be reclassified because they show clear nomadic characteristics (i.e., men and their horses buried together). But these characteristics are known only from some of the earliest graveyards, from the regions influenced by the nomad Avars.[8][81] There is also a "sharp contrast in the archaeological record" between the politically and economically developed regions of Moravia and Slovakia (the location of Boba's opponents) on the one hand, and the sparsely populated Slavonia (Boba's location) on the other hand.[79]

In 1983, the Japanese Senga Toru, based on the primary sources, argued that Great Moravia was located around the territory where the Drava joins the Danube, i.e., south of and in the southern parts of the Carpathian Basin on both sides of the Danube.[18] He also stated that another polity named Moravia (without the adjective "Great") existed in the 9th century in the territory of present-day Moravia and in the western regions of present-day Slovakia, and the two polities were unified by Svatopluk I.[18]

In the 1990s, the Hungarian historian, the late Gyula Kristó also mentioned that some sources allow to suppose that Great Moravia was located around the Great Morava River, south of the Danube.[37] Later, he stated that some primary sources refer to the existence of two Moravian polities ("Great Moravia" and "Moravia") lying on the territories where Senga Toru located them.[28]

Great and Little Moravia- According to Peter Püspöki Nagy (1986) Source:

Peter Püspöki Nagy, a Slovak historian who proposed in his study, initially published in 1978[16] and later in 1982,[17][82] existence of two Moravias based on the sources of De administrando imperio(DAI) and Bavarian Geographer. The latter source distinguishes between Marharii, identified by Nagy as neighbors of Bohemians, and Marehanii, who bordered on the Bulgars farther to the southeast. Land of Marehanii he calls "Great Moravia" as it was described in DAI, with an east-west extension from the southern Morava River to the Drina, including not only Belgrade and Sirmium, but also parts of the Great Danubian Plain. Thus heartland of the "Great Moravia" is identical with the central Danubian watergate. The land of Marharii, which is identical to the modern Moravia, he calls "Little Moravia" and accepts it was eventually conquered by Zwentibald, who, like his uncle Rastislav, resided in the southern realm.

Martin Eggers represents German speaking scholars, who proposed a plausible "two regna" thesis,[15] which were accordingly to him situated far to the southeast of modern Moravia. Like Boba, Eggers insists that Zwentibald's principality crystallized south of the Sava in modern Bosnia. On the other hand he disagrees that Sirmium was his principal residence. Eggers believes that the centre of Rastislav's realm was located in the Great Danubian Basin in urbs Morisena (modern Csanad, Maroswar) based on the source Vita maior S.Gerhardi. Utilizing archeological evidence as well as impressive array of written sources, Eggers posits that, following the defeat of the Avars, Carolingian rulers shored up preexisting bulwarks in Great Danubian Basin to protect the central Danubian basin against eastern intruders. These ramparts, 550 km in length, formed an arc east of the Danube and Tisza starting northeast of Budapest running eastward, bending sharply southward near Nyiregyhaza finally reaching Danube just opposite to the confluence with southern Morava river. Based on the archeological evidence he believes that Moravians from the south were settled in the enclosing area behind the ramparts by Franks.

Charles R. Bowlus is American historian who reconstructed military infrastructure of southeastern marchers of the Carolingian Empire based on recent research concerning the nature of Frankish warfare and logistical system that support it and careful study of the evidence derived from itineraries, land grants and prosopography in 1995.[13][14] The research resulted in conclusion that relatively large body of reliable evidence in Frankish charters and deeds demonstrated that members of leading marcher kindreds can be documented in Carantania and thus Carantania became center of gravity of the system of marcher lordships on the east of Bavaria.


The inhabitants of Great Moravia were designated Slovene, which is an old Slavic word meaning the "Slavs".[citation needed] The same name was used by the ancestors of Slovaks, Slovenes and Slavonians at that time and the present-day native names of these nations (for example Slovensko, the Slovak name of Slovakia) are still derived from the root Slovene.[21] People of Great Moravia were sometimes referred to as "Moravian peoples" by Slavic texts, and "Sclavi" (i.e. the Slavs), "Winidi" (another name for the Slavs), "Moravian Slavs" or "Moravians" by Latin texts.

As in all medieval states, life in Great Moravia was difficult compared to the modern standards: 40 percent of men and 60 percent of women died before reaching the age of 40.[11] However, Great Moravian cemeteries also document rich nutrition and advanced health care. Inhabitants of Great Moravia even had better teeth than people today: a third of the examined skeletons had no caries or lost teeth.[11]

Muslim geographers, when describing the inhabitants of Great Moravia, mentioned that

They are a numerous people and their dress resembles that of the Arabs, consisting of turban and shirt and overcoat. They have cultivated lands and seeds and vineyards (...).
They state that their number is greater than that of the Rum and that they are a separate nation. The greater part of their trade is with Arabia.

Government and society

Great Moravia was ruled by a hereditary monarch from the House of Mojmír.[84] He was aided by a council of noblemen. The heir of the dynasty resided in Nitra, ruling the Principality of Nitra as an appanage.[21][26] He enjoyed a great deal of autonomy, as documented by the Papal correspondence that addressed Rastislav and his heir Svatopluk in the same way. Some parts of the Great Moravian territory were ruled by vassal princes, such as Borivoj I of Bohemia. The realm was further divided into counties, headed by župans.[84] The number of counties is estimated to have been 11 at the beginning of the 9th century and 30 in the second half of the 9th century.[84] This system also influenced the later Hungarian administrative division, often with the same castles serving as the seats of a county both under the Great Moravian and under the later Hungarian rule.[8][30] However, historians have not reached a consensus yet, for example, whether administrative units in the Kingdom of Hungary (e.g., the vármegye) followed foreign (Bulgarian, Moravian or German) patterns or the administrative system was an internal innovation.[85] The process of feudalization in Great Moravia was obviously not a general phenomenon but it cannot be denied especially during its highest flourishment during the reign of King Svatopluk.[verification needed][86] Most of the population was formed by freemen, who were obliged to pay an annual tax.[84] Slavery and feudal dependency are also recorded.[84][87] Although no relevant historical source has been retained which would prove the existence of the so called hereditary aristocracy from the period of Great Moravia, written sources suggest the existence of duke's retinues and aristocracy, the members of which were the most important dignitaries and administrators (representatives) of the castle organization.[verification needed][86]


Very little is known about the Great Moravian way of warfare. Earlier Byzantine sources mention the javelin as the favorite weapon of Slavic warriors.[88] Great Moravia also probably employed spear and axe armed infantry, including the powerful royal bodyguard called druzhina.[84] The druzhina was a princely retinue composed of professional warriors, who were responsible for collecting tribute and punishing wrongdoers.[11] In general, Slavs used cavalry rarely, which made them particularly vulnerable to the Magyar horse archers. Despite a relative scarcity of horses among the Slavs, a contemporary Arab traveler reported that Svatopluk I had plenty of riding horses.[81] The Great Moravian heavy cavalry emulated the contemporary Frankish predecessors of knights, with the expensive equipment that only the highest social strata could afford.[81] Facing larger and better equipped Frankish armies, Slavs often preferred ambushes, skirmishes, and raids to regular battles.[88] An important element of Great Moravian defense was to hide behind strong fortifications, which were difficult to besiege with the then prevailing forms of military organization. For example, a Frankish chronicler wrote with awe about "Rastislav's indescribable fortress" that stopped a Frankish invasion.[89] The army was led by the king or, in case of his absence, by a commander-in-chief called voivode.[84]



Ruins of a Great Moravian castle in Ducové

Great Moravia had an exceptionally developed system of fortresses and fortified towns.[89] The Geographus Bavarus (the "Bavarian Geographer"), when listing the neighbouring territories, mentioned

Beheimare, where 15 civitates are situated. The Marharii have 11 civitates. The territories of the Vulgari are extensive and populated by many people and they have 5 civitates; they do not need civitates, because they number so many people. There are people, called Merehanos, having 30 civitates.
—Description of Cities and Lands North of the Danube[90]

The above sentences of the mediæval author are sometimes interpreted that 30 out of the 41 Great Moravian castles (civitates) were situated on the territory of present-day Slovakia and the remaining 11 in Moravia.[91] These numbers are also corroborated by archaeological evidence. The only castles which are mentioned by name in written texts are Nitrawa (828; identified with Nitra), Dowina (864; sometimes identified with Devín Castle) and Brezalauspurc (907; usually identified with Bratislava Castle).[46][92][93][94] Some sources claim that Uzhhorod in Ukraine (903) was also a fortress of the empire. Many other castles were identified by excavations.

Although location of the Great Moravian capital has not been safely identified, the fortified town of Mikulčice with its palace and 12 churches is the most widely accepted candidate.[10][95] However, it is fair to note that early medieval kings spent a significant part of their lives campaigning and traveling around their realms due to the lack of reliable administrative capacities. It is thus very likely that they also resided from time to time in other important royal estates.[68] For instance, Devín Castle is sometimes identified with a "fortress of Prince Rastislav" mentioned in the Annales Fuldenses.[26][40]

Church in Kopčany, Slovakia - the only remaining Great Moravian building

Mikulčice was fortified in the 7th century and it later developed into a large (2 km²) agglomeration composed of various villages and forts, spread over several river islands.[10][89] The area enclosed by the fortifications was only slightly smaller than the area of the contemporary Frankish Emperor's capital of Regensburg.[89] The population, estimated at 2,000, lived off trade and crafts.[68] Mikulčice was also a foremost religious center, with the first stone churches built around 800.[95] The largest among them was a three-nave basilica with the inside dimensions 35 m by 9 m and a separate baptistery.[10][40] The only church safely identified as Great Moravian and at the same time still remaining above ground is situated in nearby Kopčany.[96]

Nitra, the second center of the Empire, was ruled autonomously by the heir of the dynasty as an appanage.[21][26] Nitra consisted of five large fortified settlements and twenty specialized craftsmen's villages, making it a real metropolis of its times. Crafts included production of luxury goods, such as jewelry and glass. The agglomeration was surrounded by a number of smaller forts and religious buildings (e.g. in Dražovce and Zobor).

Bratislava Castle had a stone two-story palace and a spacious three-nave basilica, built in the mid-9th century.[8] Excavations of the cemetery situated by the basilica brought findings of the Great Moravian jewelry, similar in style and quality to that from Mikulčice.[8] The castle's name was first recorded in 907, during the fall of Great Moravia, as Brezalauspurc.[37] This name literally means "Braslav's Castle" and Braslav of Pannonia was a count appointed by King Arnulf of East Francia.[37]

The sturdy Devín Castle, in vicinity of Bratislava, guarded Great Moravia against frequent attacks from the West.[8] Although some authors claim that it was built only later as a stronghold of the Kings of Hungary,[97][98] excavations have unearthed an older Slavic fortified settlement founded in the 8th century.[8] During the Great Moravian period, Devín Castle was a seat of a local lord, whose retainers were buried around a stone Christian church.[8] These two castles were reinforced by smaller fortifications in Devínska Nová Ves, Svätý Jur, and elsewhere.

Most Great Moravian castles were rather large hill forts, fortified by wooden palisades, stone walls and in some cases, moats. The typical Great Moravian ramparts combined an outer drystone wall with an internal timber structure filled with earth.[11] The fortifications usually formed several contiguous enclosures, with the elite buildings concentrated in the center and crafts in the outer enclosures.[11] Most buildings were made of timber, but ecclesiastical and residential parts were made of stone. Sometimes, earlier, prehistoric (Devín Castle) or Roman (Bratislava Castle) fortifications were integrated. At least some churches (e.g. in Bratislava, Devín Castle, and Nitra) were decorated by frescoes, plausibly painted by Italian masters since the chemical composition of colors was the same as in northern Italy.[8] In Nitra and Mikulčice, several castles and settlements formed a huge fortified urban agglomeration. Many castles served as regional administrative centers, ruled by a local nobleman.[8] For example, Ducové was the center of the Váh river valley and Zemplín Castle controlled the Zemplín region. Their form was probably inspired by Carolingian estates called curtis.[8] The largest castles were usually protected by a chain of smaller forts. Smaller forts (e.g. Beckov Castle) were also built to protect trade routes and to provide shelter for peasants in case of a military attack.

Only few examples of Great Moravian architecture are fully preserved or reconstructed. The only still standing building is the church in Kopčany, though several other early medieval churches (for example in Kostoľany pod Tribečom, Michalovce, and Nitra) may be Great Moravian too.[8] Two open air museums, in Modrá near Uherské Hradiště and in Ducové, are devoted to the Great Moravian architecture.


Stone foundations of a church in Valy u Mikulčic, Czech Republic

Due to the lack of written documents, very little is known about the original Slavic religion and mythology. Several cult places used prior the Christianization are known from Moravia (Mikulčice and Pohansko). However, we do not know what these objects, such as a ring ditch with a fire, a horse sacrifice, or human limbs ritually buried in a cemetery, meant for Great Moravians.[9] A cult object in Mikulčice was used until the evangelization of the Moravian elite in the mid-9th century and idols in Pohansko were raised on the site of a demolished church during the pagan backlash in the 10th century.[9] The period of the Great Moravian ascent in European history is associated more with the spread of Christianity.

Saints Cyril and Methodius in Rome

The territory of Great Moravia was originally evangelized by missionaries coming from the Frankish Empire or Byzantine enclaves in Italy and Dalmatia since the early 8th century and sporadically earlier.[40][99] The first Christian church of the Western and Eastern Slavs known to the written sources was built in 828 by Pribina in Nitra. The church, consecrated by Bishop Adalram of Salzburg, was built in a style similar to contemporaneous Bavarian churches, while architecture of two Moravian churches from the early 9th century (in Mikulčice and Modrá) indicates influence of Irish missionaries.[95][100] Despite the formal endorsement by the elites, the Great Moravian Christianity was described as containing many pagan elements as late as in 852.[11] Grave goods, such as food, could be found even in church graveyards.[40] The Church organization in Great Moravia was supervised by the Bavarian clergy until the arrival of the Byzantine missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius in 863.[citation needed]

Foundation of the first Slavic bishopric (870), archbishopric (880), and monastery was the politically relevant outcome of the Byzantine mission initially devised by Prince Rastislav to strengthen his early feudal state. It is not known where the Great Moravian archbishop resided (a papal document mentions him as the archbishop of Morava, Morava being the name of a town), but there are several references to bishops of Nitra. Big three-nave basilicas unearthed in Mikulčice, Staré Město, Bratislava, and Nitra were the most important ecclesiastical centers of the country, but their very construction may have predated the Byzantine mission.[8] Nitra and Uherské Hradiště are also sites where monastic buildings have been excavated. A church built at Devín Castle is clearly inspired by Byzantine churches in Macedonia (from where Cyril and Methodius came) and rotundas, particularly popular among Great Moravian nobles, also have their direct predecessors in the Balkans.[8]


An example of the Glagolitic script created by Saint Cyril for the mission in Great Moravia (Baščanska ploča from Croatia). The inscribed stone slab records Croatian king Zvonimir's donation of a piece of land to a Benedictine abbey in the time of abbot Drzhiha.[101]

But yields of the mission of Cyril and Methodius extended beyond the religious and political sphere. The Old Church Slavonic became the fourth liturgical language of the Christian world. However, after Methodius's death (885) all his followers were expelled from Great Moravia and the use of the Slavic liturgy in Great Moravia was an episode in its history which lasted only about 22 years.[102] Its late form still remains the liturgical language of the Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Macedonian and Serbian Orthodox Church. Cyril also invented the Glagolitic alphabet, suitable for Slavic languages. He translated the Gospel and the first translation of the Bible into a Slavic language was later completed by his brother Methodius.

Methodius wrote the first Slavic legal code, combining the local customary law with the advanced Byzantine law. Similarly, the Great Moravian criminal law code was not merely a translation from Latin, but it also punished a number of offenses originally tolerated by the pre-Christian Slavic moral standards yet prohibited by Christianity (mostly related to sexual life).[citation needed] The canon law was simply adopted from the Byzantine sources.

There are not many literary works that can be unambiguously identified as originally written in Great Moravia. One of them is Proglas, a cultivated poem in which Cyril defends the Slavic liturgy. Vita Cyrilli (attributed to Clement of Ohrid) and Vita Methodii (written probably by Methodius' successor Gorazd) are biographies with precious information about Great Moravia under Rastislav and Svatopluk I.

The brothers also founded an academy, initially led by Methodius, which produced hundreds of Slavic clerics. A well-educated class was essential for administration of all early-feudal states and Great Moravia was no exception. Vita Methodii mentions bishop of Nitra as Svatopluk I’s chancellor and even Prince Koceľ of the Balaton Principality was said to master the Glagolitic script.[99] Location of the Great Moravian academy has not been identified, but the possible sites include Mikulčice (where some styli have been found in an ecclesiastical building), Devín Castle (with a building identified as a probable school), and Nitra (with its Episcopal basilica and monastery). When Methodius’ disciples were expelled from Great Moravia in 885, they disseminated their knowledge (including the Glagolitic script) to other Slavic countries, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, and Bohemia.[51][page needed] They created the Cyrillic alphabet, which became the standard alphabet in the Slavic Orthodox countries, including Russia. The Great Moravian cultural heritage survived in Bulgarian seminaries, paving the way for evangelization of Eastern Europe.[citation needed]

Arts and crafts

A silver cross from Mikulčice combines Iro-Scottish and Middle Eastern influences.

In the first half of the 9th century, Great Moravian craftsmen were inspired by contemporary Carolingian art.[40] In the second half of the 9th century, Great Moravian jewelry was influenced by Byzantine, Eastern Mediterranean, and Adriatic styles.[40] But, in the words of Czech archaeologist Josef Poulík, "these new forms and techniques were not copied passively, but were transformed in the local idiom, establishing in this way the roots of the distinctive Great Moravian jewellery style."[40] The typical Great Moravian jewelry included silver and golden earrings decorated by fine granular filigree, as well as silver and gilded bronze buttons covered by foliate ornaments.[10]

The most important industry in Great Moravia was iron metallurgy.[40] An example of highly developed tool production are asymmetrical plowshares.[40]


Destruction of the Great Moravian Empire was rather gradual[citation needed]. Since excavations of Great Moravian castles show continuity of their settlement and architectural style after the alleged disintegration of the Empire, local political structures must have remained untouched by the disaster[citation needed]. Another reason is that the originally nomad old Magyars lacked siege engines to conquer Great Moravian fortifications, although this did not hinder them from conquering strong fortresses, documented by primary written sources (e.g., Blatnograd, Bratislava Castle).[103] Nevertheless, the core of Great Moravia was finally integrated into the newly established states of Duchy of Bohemia (later kingdom) and the Kingdom of Hungary.

Great Moravian centers (e.g., Bratislava (Pozsony, Pressburg), Nitra (Nyitra), Tekov (Bars), and Zemplín (Zemplén)) also retained their functions afterwards, although the identification of Bratislava (Pozsony,Pressburg ), Tekov (Bars) and Zemplín (Zemplén) as Great Moravian castles is not generally accepted.[104] Since the same castles became the seats of early Hungarian administrative units (counties), historians posit that the administrative division of Great Moravia was just adopted by new rulers.[8][30] On the other hand, several sources suggest that the Hungarian rulers followed the contemporary German or Bulgar patents when they established the new administrative system in their kingdom, or they introduced a new system.[85]

Social differentiation in Great Moravia reached the state of early feudalism, creating the social basis for development of later medieval states in the region.[105] The question what happened to Great Moravian noble families after 907 is still under debate. On the one hand, recent research indicates that a significant part of the local aristocracy remained more or less undisturbed by the fall of Great Moravia and their descendants became nobles in the newly formed Kingdom of Hungary.[69][81][84] The most prominent example are the powerful families of Hunt and Pázmán.[69] On the other hand, both Anonymous and Simon of Kéza, two chroniclers of the early history of Hungary, recorded that the prominent noble families of the kingdom descended either from leaders of the Magyar tribes or from immigrants, and they did not connect any of them to Great Moravia. For example, the ancestors of the clan Hunt-Pázmán (Hont-Pázmány), whose Great Moravian origin has been advanced by modern scholars,[69] were mentioned by Simon of Kéza to have arrived from the Duchy of Swabia to the kingdom in the late 10th century.[106][107][108]

Many Slavic words related to politics, law, and agriculture were taken into the Hungarian language.[8][30] Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a certain word was borrowed from which Slavic language; e.g., the Hungarian word for county ("megye") was borrowed from a South Slavic language, but it may have taken either from the Slovene or from the Serbo-Croatian.[109]

The territories mentioned as "Tercia pars regni" (literally "one-third part of the Kingdom of Hungary") in the medieval sources are referred to as the "Duchy" in Hungarian scholarly works and as the "Principality of Nitra" in Slovak academic sources. These territories were ruled autonomously by members of the Árpád dynasty residing in Bihar (today Biharea in Romania) or in Nitra - a practice reminiscent of the Great Moravian appanage system, but also similar to that of some other dynasties in the Early Middle Ages (e.g., the Ruriks in the Kievan Rus').[110][111] The existence of an autonomous political unit centered around Nitra is often considered by Slovak scholars an example of political continuity from the Great Moravian period.[112]

There are also documents indicating that the Church organization survived the invasion of the pagan Magyars at least to some degree.[84] For example, continuity of the formal Church organization is confirmed by an uninterrupted list of Moravian bishops from the 14th century.[35]

Neither the demographic change was dramatic. As far as the graves can tell, there had been no influx of the Magyars into the core of former Great Moravia before 955[citation needed]. Afterwards, Magyar settlers appear in some regions of Southern Slovakia, but graves indicate a kind of cultural symbiosis (resulting in the common Belobrdo culture), not domination.[8] Due to cultural changes, archaeologists are not able to identify the ethnicity of graves after the half of the 11th century.[8] This is also why integration of central, eastern, and northern territories of present-day Slovakia into the Hungarian Kingdom is difficult to be documented by archeology, and written sources have to be used.[citation needed][citation needed]

The Byzantine double-cross thought to have been brought by Cyril and Methodius is part of the symbol of Slovakia until today and the Constitution of Slovakia refers to Great Moravia in its preamble. Interest about that period rose as a result of the national revival in the 19th century. Great Moravian history has been regarded as a cultural root of several Slavic nations in Central Europe (especially the Slovaks, as it was the only significant Slavic state Slovakia had ever been a part of) and it was employed in vain attempts to create a single Czechoslovak identity in the 20th century.[6]


  1. ^ Great Moravia was founded in 833, when Mojmír I unified two neighbouring states; the "Principality of Nitra" and the "Principality of Moravia"
  2. ^ Old Church Slavonic and Latin were used for liturgical purposes at some point.


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Primary sources

Primary documents can be found in the following volumes:

  • Havlík, Lubomír E. (1966–1977). Magnae Moraviae Fontes Historici I.-V., Brno: Masarykova univerzita.
  • Marsina, Richard (1971). Codex diplomaticus et epistolaris Slovaciae I., Bratislava: Veda.
  • Ratkoš, Peter (1964). Pramene k dejinám Veľkej Moravy, Bratislava: Vydavateľstvo Slovenskej akadémie vied.

Secondary sources

  • Dekan, Jan (1981). Moravia Magna: The Great Moravian Empire, Its Art and Time, Minneapolis: Control Data Arts. ISBN 0-89893-084-7
  • Havlík, Lubomír E. (1992). Kronika o Velké Moravě, Brno: Iota.
  • Kučera, Matúš (1974). Slovensko po páde Veľkej Moravy, Bratislava: Veda.
  • Lukačka, Ján (2002). Formovanie vyššej šľachty na západnom Slovensku, Bratislava: Mistrál.
  • Poulík, Josef (1975). Mikulčice: Sídlo a pevnost knížat velkomoravských, Praha.
  • Štefanovičová, Tatiana (1989). Osudy starých Slovanov, Bratislava: Osveta.
  • Wieczorek, Alfried and Hans-Martin Hinz (Hrsg.) (2000). Europas Mitte um 1000, Stuttgart. ISBN 3-8062-1545-6 or ISBN 3-8062-1544-8

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