Type of Government
The monarchy of Great Moravia ruled over other contiguous principalities, most notably Nitra, which were granted great autonomy in their internal affairs. A central European empire that lasted for only seventy-six years during the Middle Ages, Great Moravia provided a historical precedent for the idea of a Slovak homeland, which did not exist independently again until one thousand years later with the formation of an independent Slovakia in 1993.
In 830 the first of Great Moravia’s kings, Mojmír (ninth century), united Slovak territories north of the Danube River with others in present-day Slovakia and Moravia and established the empire of Great Moravia. He sought to live in peace with the neighboring Germans and allowed the missionary work of the German priests in his empire to continue. The borders of Great Moravia expanded as Mojmír’s successors sent expeditions into neighboring countries, defeated their armies, and annexed territory.
Two Slavic principalities formed the original empire of Great Moravia: Moravia, which encompassed territories in western Slovakia and the present region of Moravia in the Czech Republic, and the principality of Nitra, which covered western and central Slovakia. The royal court of Great Moravia maintained its capital in the fortressed city of Devin, near the modern city of Bratislava. Another important principality was Pannonia, which was situated on the southern bank of the Danube River in present-day Hungary. Each of these principalities was ruled by a prince, who was lord and military leader of the principality’s inhabitants. The relative autonomy of these principalities contributed to the political fragility of Great Moravia as a united empire.
Great Moravia’s local governments consisted of župi (districts) and stolice (counties), which were sometimes divided along natural boundaries or old territorial lines. These were overseen by župani (commissioners), who resided in hrady (castles or citadels) in the district.
Political Parties and Factions
Throughout Great Moravia’s history, the nation found itself in conflict with its German neighbor, East Francia. German clergy within Great Moravia spread propaganda pressing East Francia’s claims, which lent urgency to the Great Moravian crown’s attempts to establish an independent Slavic clergy to battle the German influence.
In an attempt to thwart German ambitions, in 860 King Rastislav (d. 869) appealed to Pope Nicholas I (c. 819–867) for Christian missionaries who could speak the Slovak language. Rome was unable to comply, so Rastislav appealed to the Byzantine emperor Michael III (838–867) in 862. The following year Michael sent Constantine (c. 827–869), a scholar who later took monastic vows and adopted the name Cyril, and his brother Methodius to Great Moravia to preach to Rastislav’s people in their own language. On hearing that Rastislav’s subjects had no written script, the brothers set about inventing one. They used the Greek alphabet as its base, adding signs and other characters to accommodate the sounds of Slavic speech. This system, called the Glagolitic alphabet, was a precursor to the Cyrillic alphabet, which is used today to write the languages of Slavic peoples including Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, and Ukrainians. After Constantine’s death in 869, Methodius continued the work of organizing the church in Great Moravia and other Slavic lands.
In 869 the Germans invaded and pillaged the Great Moravian Empire. Rastislav succeeded in keeping a portion of his empire intact, but he was betrayed by his ambitious nephew Svatopluk (d. 894), who won the cooperation of the Germans to become the last king of a united Great Moravia. Tiring of the Germans, Svatopluk later plotted with another rival, Slavomir, to take the empire back from German domination in the early 870s. In 874 the Germans signed a peace pact recognizing the independence of Great Moravia.
In 906 a combined force of Magyars, the ancestors of Hungarians, invaded Great Moravia and toppled its government, putting an end to the first independent Slovak state. Great Moravia was divided into two new states, Bohemia in the west and Hungary in the east. Both were considered heirs to Great Moravia.
The Slovak people never lost their sense of ethnic identity, and they continued to safeguard their language, religion, and time-honored customs. They were never assimilated into other ethnic populations or dispersed out of their homeland in the steep mountains and river valleys.
Boba, Imre. Moravia’s History Reconsidered: A Reinterpretation of Medieval Sources. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971.
Kirschbaum, Stanislav J.. A History of Slovakia: The Struggle for Survival. 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Oddo, Gilbert Lawrence. Slovakia and Its People. New York: Robert Speller, 1960.