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Great Moravia

This article is part of the
Czech history series.
Samo's realm
Great Moravia
Czech lands: 880s-1198
Czech lands: 1198-1526
Czech lands: 1526-1648
Czech lands: 1648-1867
Czech lands: 1867-1918
Czech lands: 1918-1992

Great Moravia (Latin Moravia Magna) was a Slav state existing on the territory of present-day Moravia and Slovakia between 833 and the early 10th century. The first use of the designation "Great Moravia" stems from Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos in his work De Administrando Imperio (around 950 A.D.). "Moravia" did not refer (only) to present-day Moravia, but to the country on both sides of the Morava river, and/or to a country whose (currently unknown) capital was called Morava. "Great" refers to Moravia plus the annexed territories.



A kind of predecessor of Great Moravia was the Empire of King Samo around 623658 in Moravia, Slovakia, Lower Austria (probably also Bohemia, Sorbia at the Elbe, and temporarily in Carinthia), which at first probably had not been a true state, but only a tribal union .

The development between 659 and late 8th century is largely unclear.

In the late 8th century, the Moravian basin and western Slovakia, situated at the Frankish border, began to flourish. In 791 or 795, the Slavs above the Danube overthrow the Avar yoke (see Samo) in conenction with a war between the Franks (Charlemagne) and the Avars. Centralisation of power and progress in creation of state structures by the Slavs of this region followed.

As a result, two important states (principalities) emerged in this territory: the Moravian principality originally in present-day southeastern Moravia and westernmost Slovakia (led by Prince Mojmír I , probable center: Mikulčice ) and the Nitrian Principality (Principality of Nitra) originally in present-day western, central and northern eastern Slovakia (led by prince Pribina , center: Nitra).

What the historians and Porfyrogenet designate as "Great" Moravia arose in 833 from Mojmír's conquest of the Nitrian Principality. The empire came under the rule of the Princes Mojmír I (833846), Rastislav (846–870), Svatopluk (871894) and Mojmír II (894–?), who built a great empire. Rastislav asked the Byzantine Emperor to send people who could interpret the teaching of Christ in the Slavic vernacular. Two of the interpreters, Cyril and Methodius, laid the foundation of the Slavonic script, and thus of Slavonic literature (see e.g. Glagolitic alphabet).

The territory of Great Moravia was as follows:

  • 833 – 896/?907: today's Slovakia + Moravia + Lower Austria (territory north of the Danube)+ Hungary (territory north to Budapest and Theiss River, except for western Hungary)
  • 874–?: plus a strip of about 100km of present-day Poland above Slovak border (Vistula Basin, Krakow)
  • 880–? : plus a strip of about 100km of present-day Poland above Czech border (Silesia)
  • 880–896: plus remaining present-day Hungary east of the Danube
  • 880/883/884 – 894: plus the remaining present-day Hungary (up to Vienna)
  • 888/890 – 895: plus Bohemia
  • 890–897: plus Lusatia

After Svatopluk's death in 894, his 2 sons fall out with each other, thus weakening the empire. Invading Magyars (Hungarians), coming from Asia, destroyed the empire around 907 (However, there are historic references to Great Moravia from later years (e.g. 924/5, 942)).

Great Moravia was a state of the predecessors of present-day Moravians and Slovaks. The western part of the core (present-day Moravia) was annexed by Bohemia in 955 (very disputed), in 999 it was taken over by Poland under Boleslaus I of Poland and in 1019 it finally became part of Bohemia. Its population was incorporated in the 19th century. As for the eastern part of the core (present-day Slovakia) its southern parts were conquered by the Hungarians definitively in the 920s (western Slovakia maybe sharing the fate of Moravia from 955 to 999), in 1000 or 1001 all of Slovakia was taken over by Poland under Boleslaus I, and in 1030 the southern half of Slovakia was again taken over by Hungary (the remainder of Slovakia was taken over by the Hungarians from the end of the 11th century till the 14th century). The population of this territory developed into present-day Slovaks in the 10th century.

The inhabitants of the core of the state were designated "Sloviene", which is an old Slavic word meaning "Slavs", which was also used by (future) Slovenians and Slavonians at that time, or "Moravian peoples" by Slavic texts, and as "Sclavi" (i.e. Slavs), "Winidi" (i.e. Slavs), "Moravian Slavs" or "Moravians" by Latin texts. The present-day terms "Slovaks" / "Slovakia" (in Slovak: Slováci / Slovensko) and "Slovenes" / "Slovenia" (in Slovene: Slovenci / Slovenija) arose later from the above "Slovieni".

As for the history of Bohemia — annexed by Great Moravia for five to seven years (from888/890 to 895) — the important year being 895, when the Bohemians broke away from the empire and became Frankish vassals (vassals of Arnulf of Carinthia) and gradually an independent Bohemia, ruled by descendants of Premysl, began to emerge.

Important dates

828 - The first historically known Prince of the Nitrian principality Pribina gave his consent to consecration of Christian church on his property in Nitra(va) by archbishop Adalram of Salzburg.

833 - The Slavic prince Mojmír I consolidated present-day Moravia and the Nitrian principality into one state which the historians call Great Moravia. Pribina was expelled from his possession and escaped to the Franks. The Frankish king Louis the German awarded him the Balaton principality.

863 or 864 - Upon invitation by Prince Rastislav, two Byzantine brothers and missionaries Constantine (Saint Cyril) and Methodius came to Great Moravia. Rastislav's idea was to use the mission to obtain more political freedom and independence from the powerful Frankish Empire. Constantine the Philosopher developed the first Slavic alphabet and translated the Gospel into the Old Church Slavonic language, thus starting the history of Slavic (and Slovak) literatures.

871 – Svatopluk defended the sovereignty and independence of Great Moravia against the efforts of Franks to subjugate it and became the new ruler of Great Moravia. Previously, he had been the Prince of the Nitrian principality. Up to his death in 894 the Pope of Rome addressed him as "dilectus filius" in his correspondence, a title he hitherto reserved to Frankish and Byzantine Emperors. 890 Svatopluk annexed Bohemia and parts of Germany to his empire. Svatopluks rule was the top period of power of the Great Moravian Empire, when not only Moravia and Slovakia but also present-day northern Hungary, Lower Austria, Bohemia, Silesia, Lusatia and southern Poland belonged to the empire.

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, a part of the province, and Old Church Slavonic was recognized as the fourth liturgical language, besides Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

896 - After the death of King Svatopluk in 894, his sons Mojmír II and Svatopluk II started to quarrel for domination of the Empire. The old Magyar (Hungarian) nomadic tribes that invaded the Danubian Basin took advantage of this situation. Both Mojmír II and Svatopluk II probably died in battles with old Magyars between 904 and 907.

907 - In three battles near Bratislava, the old Magyars routed Bavarian armies. For several reasons, historians put this year as the date of breakup of the Great Moravian Empire.

after 907 - The fate of the Moravian principality as well as of that of northern parts of former Great Moravia in the 10th century is unclear. The southernmost part of the Nitrian principality was conquered by the Hungarian chieftain Lehel (Lél) around 925 and in 955 it fell under domination of the old Magyar dynasty of (see)Arpads.

Towns and Castles

The probable capital of Great Moravia was called Moravia (location unknown). As of 843, 30 out of the 41 castles (civitates) of Great Moravia were on the territory of present-day Slovakia. The only castles which are mentioned by written texts are Nitra, Devin (today in Bratislava), Bratislava, Uzhhorod (Ukraine) and Staré Město.


The first known Slavic school (the Great Moravian Academy probably in Devín, 863) and the first known Christian church of the Western and Eastern Slavs (in Nitra, 828) were in Great Moravia. The whole Slavonic mission of Cyril and Methodius and its yields (first Slavic script, first Slavic translation of the Bilble, first Slavic literature, first Slavic law code, first Slavic archbishopric after centuries and so on) have to be attributed to Great Moravia.The Byzantine double-cross brought by Cyril and Methodius has remained the symbol of Slovakia till today.

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45