views updated May 29 2018


BOHEMIA. The crown lands of early modern Bohemia stretched across a significant portion of central Europe. Though centered on the kingdom of Bohemia proper and oriented administratively around its capital, Prague, they also included Upper and Lower Lusatia, the margravate of Moravia, and the assorted duchies of Silesia. There was little institutional cohesion among these territories; Saxony absorbed Lusatia in 1635, while Prussia seized nearly all of Silesia in 1742. Before the Thirty Years' War (16181648), Bohemia boasted a population of three million, more than that of contemporary England. The region was also blessed with an array of natural resources that supported a thriving economy. The Elbe River valley and the southern Moravian plain were fertile agricultural regions while the silver mines of Jihlava (Iglau), KutnáHora (Kuttenberg) and the German settlement of Joachimsthal (Jáchymov) were known throughout Europe. Also important to the economy were the traditional Bohemian trades of brewing and fish farming combined with a textile industry that had a particularly strong base in Silesia with the commercial center of Breslau (Wrocław) as its most important hub.


The crown of St. Wenceslas was elective, and power within the kingdom was divided between the royal court and the three Estates: the lords, the knights, and the burghers. Constitutionally, Bohemia's political status was solidified by Emperor Charles IV (ruled 13551378). In 1356 he established the kingdom as one of the empire's seven electoral principalities. Charles founded central Europe's first university in Prague, began an ambitious building program in the city, raised the bishopric to an archbishopric, and initiated a lively cultural exchange with Italy. Both Petrarch and Cola di Rienzo visited Bohemia.

Scholars traditionally date Bohemia's early modern period to the accession of the Habsburgs in 1526. The two most pressing problems the new dynasty faced, however, had their origins in the previous century. Most serious was the issue of religion. Jan Hus (c. 1372/13731415) headed a reform movement that accelerated after his execution at the Council of Constance in 1415. Opposition to Rome crystallized around the Four Articles of Prague, which called for a general reform of clerical life and insisted upon the administration of the Eucharist in the form of both bread and wine. The Hussites successfully resisted five crusades and eventually won significant concessions that were negotiated at the Council of Basel in 1437. There were fissures, however, within the original reform movement. The radical contingent of the Hussite revolution would be crushed at the battle of Lipany in 1434. The Utraquists, representing a more conservative ecclesial tradition, would carry on Hus's legacy under the leadership of Jan Rokycana, a former master of the university. The Unity of Czech Brethren, a smaller group with a more biblicist orientation, would emerge as an independent body in the 1450s. The coming of the Reformation in the sixteenth century added further complexity to an already complex religious landscape. Lutheranism gained ground especially in German communities and among the nobility whereas Calvinism had a significant influence on the Czech Brethren. By the time Ferdinand I von Habsburg had ascended the throne, Bohemia had a well-established reputation as a homeland of heresy. The second problem from the Habsburg perspective was political. Their predecessors, the Jagiellonian kings, Władysław II and Ludvík (ruled 14711526), were relatively weak rulers. During their tenure the power of the Estates had grown at the expense of the crown.

Ferdinand's approach to these problems was initially gradual and indirect. In terms of politics, he worked around the Estates with his powers of patronage and appointment. He was able to select allies to staff such important positions as grand burgrave and chancellor. This gave him a freer hand at the conclusion of the Schmalkaldic War (15461547) to discipline the nobility who had joined the revolt. His response to the towns that had been allied with the rebels was even harsher. He deprived them of many of their traditional liberties and privileges. With regard to religion, Ferdinand, a devout Catholic, had even less room to maneuver. As Bohemia's king, he was constitutionally obligated to uphold the Compactata, those concessions the Utraquists had won at Basel, but he did provide the Catholic Church with an institutional framework upon which they could build. In 1561 he appointed Antonín Brus of Mohelnice as archbishop, a seat that had remained vacant ever since the defection of Konrad von Vechta to the Utraquists in 1421. Even more significantly, he invited the Jesuits to the Bohemian lands. Among their number was the young Edmund Campion (15401581), whose confessional rhetoric intensified divisions between the kingdom's various religious communities. The work of the Society of Jesus, especially in education, yielded handsome dividends within a generation.

Ferdinand's successors, Maximilian II (ruled 15641576) and Rudolf II (ruled 15761612), were more ambiguous confessionally, and Bohemia's non-Catholics made substantial gains during their reigns. In 1575 the Utraquists and Brethren jointly issued a single confession, the Confessio Bohemica, to which Maximilian gave a verbal guarantee of acceptance. More substantial, however, was a written grant of toleration, the Letter of Majesty, that the estates were able to wring out of Rudolf in 1609 as a result of his famous quarrel with his brother and political rival, Matthias. Bohemia's Rudolfine era is far better known for the great flowering of Renaissance culture that developed under the emperor's aegis. Though Ferdinand had commissioned what is arguably Bohemia's most important Renaissance monument, the gracefully arcaded summer palace, Rudolf easily surpassed his predecessors as both patron and collector. The imperial court at Prague attracted artists from across the Continent, including the fascinating Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Both Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler enjoyed Rudolf's patronage, while the emperor himself was deeply involved in the hermetic arts. Rudolf even showed an interest in Jewish learning, inviting Prague's most important Cabalist, Rabbi Loew, to an extended interview in the castle. Politically and confessionally, however, tensions were rising to a crisis level by the time Matthias officially ascended the throne.

In his feud with Rudolf, Matthias had supported the Protestants. He disappointed the Czech Estates as king, however, failing to address many of their grievances that had arisen from the growing political power of Bohemia's Catholics. The Estates eventually took matters into their own hands. Although the zealous Catholic, Ferdinand of Styria, had been elected Matthias's successor in 1617, matters quickly changed when, in the following year, leaders of the Estates announced their revolutionary intentions by throwing two imperial officials, along with their servant, from a high window of the Prague castle. Ferdinand II was quickly deposed and replaced by the Calvinist elector palatine, Frederick. As the estates appealed to the broader Protestant world for assistance, the Catholics rallied behind Ferdinand in this dramatic opening chapter of the Thirty Years' War. Bohemia's fate was quickly decided. On 9 November 1620, Catholic forces defeated Frederick's supporters on a chalky upland outside Prague.

The imperial victory at White Mountain, a great turning point in Czech history, afforded Emperor Ferdinand II the opportunity to resolve definitively both the political and religious problems of the stubborn kingdom. First, the elective status of the Bohemian crown was abolished in 1624. Then, in 1627 the Renewed Constitution redistributed power and privilege. The Chancellery was moved to Vienna, and the clergy were officially recognized as a new estate. Before 1620 the Catholic community had constituted approximately ten percent of the population. Now, the nobility and townspeople had the option to either convert or leave the kingdom in exile. Nearly a quarter chose the latter. Bohemia also suffered directly from war with a significant population loss and the destruction of its once thriving network of small towns. Before 1618 there were nearly eight hundred towns in the Bohemian kingdom. After the war there were hardly more than two hundred. Prague itself was occupied in 1631 by the Saxons, while the Swedes overran its left bank in 1648.

Stability slowly returned in the second half of the seventeenth century. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) ensured that Bohemia would remain firmly in the Habsburg orbit, while the suppression of a great peasant revolt in 1680 and the Turkish defeat of 1683 granted Bohemia a degree of security the kingdom had not known for many generations. It was also in this period that Bohemia's traditionally fractious nobility were more thoroughly domesticated. The Czech nobility came to play a substantial role in the governance of the empire. Although Albrecht von Wallenstein was an ambiguous Habsburg ally, there were others who exercised a quieter but important role in the imperial capital. The Lobkowitz, Liechtenstein, Černín, Kinsky, and Dietrichstein families served the Habsburgs faithfully in a variety of functions. Ironically, it was Kaspar Kaplíř, a grandson of one of the Czech rebels executed by Ferdinand in 1621, who would help lead the defense of Vienna some sixty years later against the Ottomans. Religious issues, too, were more effectively resolved in the two generations after Westphalia. A confessional identity that was thoroughly Catholic but authentically Czech was fashioned in this period. The cults of older but neglected saints were revived while newer ones were established. The old pilgrimage route from Prague to Stará Boleslav, the site of the martyrdom of St. Wenceslas, once more became popular, and newer forms of devotion, such as that to the Infant of Prague, quickly found their place in the religious life of the region. The exuberant art and architecture of the Bohemian baroque reflected the new self-confidence of the secular and clerical elites. This period culminated in 1729 with the canonization of the immensely popular John Nepomuk, who in the fourteenth century had supposedly been thrown into the Moldau for refusing to betray the secrets of the confessional.


The death of Emperor Charles VI in 1740 precipitated another crisis in Bohemia as the Bavarian elector, Charles Albert, challenged the claims of Charles's daughter, Maria Theresa. Although he was accepted as king by a narrow majority of the Bohemian nobility, support for the Bavarian was tepid, and after the military victories of the Austrians in Moravia and Bohemia (though not in Silesia), Maria Theresa assumed the reins of government without a major outcry from the nobility. She continued the process of political centralization. The last institutional reminder of an independent Bohemian kingdom was lost when the Bohemian Chancellery was merged with the Austrian in 1749. She also reorganized local government by reducing the Estates' role in its administration. Czechs, however, would continue to exert considerable influence at the imperial court, as best exemplified in the career of the Moravian noble, Prince Kaunitz, who directed Habsburg foreign policy from the 1750s to the 1790s. Economically, the policies of cameralism benefited the kingdom significantly. The Habsburgs focused their efforts on developing important centers of textile production in northern Bohemia and southern Moravia. Financial prosperity would bring its own problems, for Bohemia bore 50 percent of the imperial tax burden, a figure that would increase even more by the 1730s.

Important intellectual and religious reforms came along with these economic changes. After White Mountain, the Jesuits held a virtual monopoly on education. Concerned that doctrinal error might slip back into the region, the Jesuits were cautious and frequently resistant to intellectual innovation. Ironically, reversing the pattern of the seventeenth century, it was the Habsburgs, beginning most notably with Joseph I (ruled 17051711), who would push for religious and educational reform within Bohemia. This process of liberalization would culminate with the enlightened policies of Maria Theresa's advisor, Gerhard van Swieten, and Joseph II (co-regent 17651780, ruled 17801790). Bohemia's first scientific society was founded in the 1770s. A chair of Czech language was established at the university in the 1790s. Most important, however, were the twin edicts of 1781 that abolished serfdom and granted religious toleration. Even the Jews won a series of new privileges. One of the oldest and largest settlements in central Europe, the Jewish community of Prague had experienced a wide range of conditions from Ferdinand I to Maria Theresa. With Joseph II they were allowed to move more freely in Christian society and even attend the university. Although the conservative Francis II (ruled 17921835) attempted to rescind many of the reforms of Joseph and his brother Leopold (ruled 17901792), the important changes they initiated survived and ultimately transformed Bohemia in the following century.

See also Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Hussites ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) ; Prague, Defenestration of ; Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox ; Schmalkaldic War (15461547) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648).


Brock, Peter. The Political and Social Doctrines of the Unity of Czech Brethren in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries. The Hague, 1957.

Eberhard, Winfried. Konfessionsbildung und Stände in Böhmen. Munich, 1981.

Evans, R. J. W. "The Habsburg Monarchy and Bohemia, 15261848." In Conquest and Coalescence: The Shaping of the State in Early Modern Europe. Edited by Mark Greengrass. London, 1991. Most concise overview in English on early modern Bohemia (pp. 134150).

. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy, 15501700: An Interpretation. Oxford, 1979.

Hassenpflug-Elzholz, Eila. Böhmen und die böhmischen Stände in der Zeit des beginnenden Zentralismus: Eine Strukturanalyse der böhmischen Adelsnation um die Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1982.

Heymann, Frederick. "The Impact of Martin Luther upon Bohemia." Central European History 1 (1968): 107130.

Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta. The School of Prague: Painting at the Court of Rudolf II. Chicago, 1988.

Kerner, Robert Joseph. Bohemia in the Eighteenth Century: A Study in Political, Economic, and Social History. New York, 1932.

Macek, Josef. "Bohemia and Moravia." In The Renaissance in National Context, edited by R. Porter and M. Teich, pp. 197220. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Muneles, Otto, ed. The Prague Ghetto in the Renaissance Period. Prague, 1965.

Polišenský, Josef. The Thirty Years' War. London, 1971.

Teich, Mikuláš. "Bohemia: From Darkness into Light." In The Enlightenment in National Context, edited by R. Porter and M. Teich, pp. 141163. Cambridge, U.K., 1981.

Teich, Mikuláš, ed. Bohemia in History. Cambridge, U.K., 1998. Chapters 58 cover the early modern period.

Zdeněk, David. "The Strange Fate of Czech Utraquism." Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46 (1995): 641668. Important revisionist article on the religious culture of sixteenth-century Bohemia.

Howard Louthan


views updated Jun 27 2018


BOHEMIA (Cz. Čecny, Česko, Tschechien ; Ger. Boehmen ; Heb. פעהם, פיהם, כנען, בהם), independent kingdom in Central Europe, until the beginning of the 14th century, affiliated later in the Middle Ages with the Holy Roman Empire. In 1526 it became part of the hereditary *Hapsburg dominions and in 1620 lost its independence completely. From 1918 it was part of modern *Czechoslovakia (in 1939–45 part of the Nazi protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia), subsequently the Czech Republic.

Early and Medieval Periods

The beginnings of Jewish settlement in Bohemia are much disputed, and evidence has to rely on traditions that Jews had settled there before recorded Bohemian history. Trade contacts between the Roman Empire and southern Bohemia certainly brought Jews to the region, and some could have settled there. Presumably, the Jewish traders mentioned in the Raffelstaetten Tax Ordinance (906) were also active in Bohemia. In the second half of the 10th century Jews engaged in the slave trade in Bohemia are mentioned by *Ibrahim ibn Yakub. The Bohemian dukes of the 11th century probably employed Jewish moneyers. The first Bohemian chronicler, Cosmas of Prague, mentions Jews there in 1090. In 1096 many Jews in Bohemia were massacred by the Crusaders and others were forcibly converted. Those who reverted to Judaism and attempted to leave were robbed on their departure (1098). According to Cosmas Vicedominus *Jacobus Apella, a high court official reverted to Judaism in 1124. Apparently, the communities of *Cheb (Eger) and *Litoměřice (Leitmeritz) were well organized by the end of the 12th century. The places of Jewish settlement and activity in Bohemia are documented from the 13th century onward. The customs dues payable by Jews were regulated in 1222. The plethora of scholars living in Bohemia in this century, including *Isaac b. Jacob ha-Lavan of Prague, *Isaac b. Mordecai (Ribam), Eliezer b. Jacob, *Abraham b. Azriel of Bohemia, and *Isaac b. Moses of Vienna (Or Zaru'a), attests that Jewish culture was already deeply rooted and widespread among the communities there. From here *Pethahiah of Regensburg set out on his travels. The use of Slavic-Bohemian terms in the writings of some of these scholars to explain Hebrew terms indicates the linguistic and cultural ties existing between the Jews and local society. In 1241 the Jewish communities of Bohemia suffered with the rest of

the population from the devastations of the Tatar invasion. In 1254 *Přemysl Otakar ii granted a charter to the Jews based on the charter of the Austrian duke *Frederick ii (1244), appending to it the bull issued by Pope *Innocentiv combating the *blood libel. He reconfirmed it in 1268. The wave of new settlers who went to Bohemia after the havoc wreaked by the Tatars included a number of Jews. These settled in the cities mainly as moneylenders, encouraged by the grant of charters and the status conferred on them as *servi camerae regis, according them standing and protection at least not inferior to that in their countries of origin. The Altneu synagogue in *Prague was completed around 1270. At the time of the *Rindfleisch massacres in 1298 King Wenceslaus ii extorted large sums from Bohemian Jewry for protection. In 1336 King John of Luxemburg ordered the arrest of all the Jews in Bohemia to extort a ransom. There was a wave of massacres in this period in Čáslavy and *Jindřichův Hradec (Neuhaus) in 1337, and also after a Host desecration libel in Kouřim in 1338. The entire Cheb community was butchered in 1350. The atrocities of the 14th century reached a peak with the massacre of the Jews in Prague in 1389. During this period Charles iv confirmed a number of privileges formerly issued to the Jews and in some cases afforded them protection, strictly enforcing their status as serfs of the chamber. Wenceslaus iv protected the Jews from oppression by the local nobility, but on several occasions canceled the debts owed to the Jews, as in 1411. The Jews suffered during the *Hussite uprising in 1419–37. The *Chomutov (Komotau) community was annihilated by the Hussites, while the Jews were expelled from Cheb and Jihlava (Iglau) on the charge of supporting them. In Jewish sources of the late 15th century evidence is found of strong sympathy for the religious reformer John Huss and the Hussites, and in particular for the Taborites, who are regarded as Judaizers and fighting a just national war.

16th and 17th Centuries

With changes in the religious and social outlook of the burghers, the growing interest in finance and the increasing availability of money, moneylending ceased to be a Jewish monopoly. The competition of Christian moneylenders, abetted by the hypocrisy that forbade Jews to do what they themselves were engaged in, gradually eroded the central position held by Jews in this field. In addition, the weakening of central royal power threatened the existence of the Jews living in the crown cities. Despite a decision of the Diet to tolerate the Jews (1501) and its confirmation by Ladislas ii in 1510, they were eventually expelled from *Pilsen in 1504, and also from Prague, where some individuals were expressly permitted to remain. Their expulsion from the crown cities was formally proclaimed in 1541. Efforts made by *Joseph (Joselmann) b. Gershom of Rosheim to intercede were unsuccessful. The publication of the decree was followed by massacres of the Jews in Litoměřice, Nymburk, *Roudnice nad Labem (Raudnitz), and *Žatec (Saaz). Later a number of Jews returned. The decree of expulsion was renewed in 1557, and the Jews vacated all the crown cities except Prague where a few families remained. Many Jews left for Poland and Turkey.

By the end of the 16th century half of Bohemian Jewry was living in Prague. The rest were scattered throughout the countryside in the villages and small towns under the protection of the local nobility. Jews continued to reside in four towns, *Kolín, Roudnice, Bumsla (*Mladá Boleslav), and *Náchod (known in Jewish sources by their initials קרב״ן). Until the siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1683 the attitude of the authorities toward the Jews was influenced by the fear that they might support the Turks. In 1551 *Ferdinandi enforced the ordinance compelling the Jews to wear the yellow *badge. Four hundred and thirteen Jewish taxpayers are recorded in Bohemia (except Prague) in 1570, and over 4,000 Jews at the beginning of the 17th century. Until the development of a mercantilistic policy under *Charles vi, the Jews were almost the only traders in the rural areas. Their function was regarded by the local lords as versilbern, i.e., the conversion of the surplus produce of their domains (mainly wool, hides, feathers, and cheese) into money, and the supply of luxuries for their sumptuous households. Despite their frequently small numbers in many localities where they lived, the Jews of Bohemia developed an independent rural way of life and maintained Jewish traditions. Antagonism developed between the Prague community and the rest of Bohemian Jewry, the "Draussige" or "Ḥuẓim" ("outsiders"). The latter became organized in the *Landesjudenschaft.

Conditions improved under *Rudolf ii (1576–1612). Subsequently, the Prague community increased in size, attaining an importance in the Jewish world far beyond the boundaries of the country. Bohemian Jews gained a reputation as goldsmiths. Hebrew printing flourished in Prague. Mordecai Meisel achieved influence as a court banker. Among the prominent scholars of the period were R. *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (Maharal) and the chronicler and astronomer David *Gans. Jacob *Bassevi of Trevenberg was the first Jew to be granted a coat of arms. There was marked reciprocal influence between Bohemian society, in particular the sectarians, and Jews in the social and cultural spheres. Jewish sources express a local Bohemian patriotism. Gans states in his chronicle Ẓemaḥ David (Prague, 1595) that parts of his "General History" are written "to the glory [לכבוֹד] of this land in which I live." He gives a detailed description of Bohemia, its natural resources and its emblem, the lion, declaring "this land is full of God's blessings." He indignantly repudiates an anti-Czech song popular with the German-speaking population: "Ye should know that this song is entirely lies." He refers to the antiquity and beauty of Prague (Ẓemaḥ David, 2, fols. 7a, 46b, 49a, 97a).

Jewish life in Bohemia was disrupted by the Thirty Years' War (1618–48). In 1629 *Ferdinandii renewed and extended the privileges accorded to the Jews. However, in 1630 he ordered them to attend the conversionist sermons of the *Jesuits. There were 14,000 Jewish taxpayers in Bohemia in 1635. The community absorbed many refugees from the *Chmielnicki massacres in Poland in 1648. In 1650 the Diet decided to curtail the number of Jews permitted to reside in Bohemia and limit their residence to the places where Jews had been living in 1618. This was the beginning of the "Jew-hatred of the authorities," in contrast to the attitude of the nobility who were interested in the income they derived from the Jews. Irksome restrictions were introduced and there were increasing demands for higher taxes. For Prague, a special committee, the Judenreduktionskomission ("Commission to Reduce the Number of the Jewish Population") was appointed. The number of the Jews outside Prague was estimated to be 30,000 in 1724. They lived in 168 towns and small market towns and 672 villages.

Familiants Laws

The curtailment culminated in the *Familiants Laws under Charles vi (1726) which only allowed 8,541 families to reside in Bohemia. Jews were segregated in special quarters. Bohemia was divided into 12 district rabbinates (Kreisrabbinat). The Jews were expelled from Prague by *Maria Theresa in 1744, but the decree of expulsion was remitted in 1748 and most of the Jews returned. A decree for the whole of Bohemia (1745) was not carried out. There were 29,091 Jews living in Bohemia in 1754, of whom one-third lived in Prague. (See table "Jewish Population of Bohemia.") In the second half of the 18th century some Jews in Bohemia were attracted to the *Frankists. Bohemian Jews took an active part in the industrialization of the country and the development of its trade, among them the *Hoenigsberg family, Simon and Leopold von *Laemel, and the *Popper family.


The Toleranzpatent of *Joseph ii for Bohemian Jewry was issued on February 13, 1782. As an outcome, Jewish judicial autonomy was suspended, Jewish schools with teaching in German were opened, and the use of German was made compulsory for business records. Jews were permitted to attend general high schools and universities, and were subject to compulsory military service. These measures were supported by adherents of the *Haskalah movement in Prague, including members of the *Jeiteles family, the *Gesellschaft der jungen Hebraeer, Peter *Beer, Naphtali Herz *Homberg, and Raphael *Joel, among others. They were resisted by the majority of the Jews, led by the rabbis Ezekiel *Landau, Eleazar *Fleckeles, Samuel *Kauder, and Bezalel Ronsburg. The legal position of the Jews of Bohemia was summarized in the Judensystemalpatent issued in 1797. Bohemian Jews were entitled to reside in places where they had been domiciled in 1725. They were permitted to pursue their regular occupations, with some exceptions, being prohibited from obtaining new licenses for the open sale of alcoholic beverages or from leasing flour mills. New synagogues could only be built by special permission. Rabbis were obliged to have studied philosophy at a university within the empire. Only Jews who had completed a German elementary school could obtain a marriage license or be admitted to talmudic education. The *censorship of Hebrew books was upheld.

19th and 20th Centuries

The increasing adaptation of individual Jews to the general culture, and their rising economic importance, furthered Jewish assimilation into the ruling German sector. During this period Jews such as Moses and Leopold Porges-Portheim, Aaron and Solomon Pribram, Moses, Solomon, and Leopold Jerusalem developed the Bohemian textile industry, introducing modern machinery. The discrepancy between the rise in economic and cultural standards and the restrictions imposed on the Jews by their humiliating legal status led to frequent circumvention of the existing legislation.

The budding Czech national renaissance at first attracted the Jewish intelligentsia, enraptured with the new learning, among them Siegfried *Kapper, Ludwig August *Frankl, and David *Kuh, supported by Václav Bolemir Nebeský. However, the inimical attitude of Czech leaders such as Karel Havlíček-Borovský, and the outlook of the majority of the Jews molded by an essentially German education, soon brought them into the German liberal camp, in which Moritz *Hartmann and Ignaz *Kuranda distinguished themselves in the revolutionary tumult of 1848.

In general, however, especially in the small communities, Jewish society continued the traditional way of life and mores despite the persistent trend toward assimilation and the changes introduced by such communities as *Teplice. Legislation introduced in the 1840s brought some relief of the humiliating restrictions. In 1841 the prohibition on Jews owning land was waived. The *oathmore iudaico and the Jewish tax (collected by a much hated consortium of Jewish notables, the "Juedische Steuerdirection") were annulled in 1846. The Jewish orphanage in Prague was built from its surplus funds. The 1848 revolution proved disappointing to the Jews as it was accompanied by anti-Jewish riots in many localities, principally in Prague. The Jews of Bohemia, however, benefited by the abolition in *Austria of marriage restrictions and by the granting of freedom of residence. There began a "Landflucht," movement from the small rural communities to the commercial centers in the big towns, in which many of the former communities disintegrated in the process. This was speeded up later by the growing antisemitism among Czechs and Germans alike (see below). There were 347 communities in Bohemia in 1850, nine with more than 100 families and 22 with over 50. By 1880 almost half of Bohemian Jewry was living in towns with over 5,000 inhabitants, mostly in the German-speaking area. There were 197 communities in 1890. In 1921 only 14.55% of Bohemian Jewry lived in localities of less than 2,000 inhabitants, and were 0.27% of the population in these localities. Sixty-nine percent lived in towns of over 10,000. In 1930, 46.4% of all Bohemian Jews lived in Prague and the number of Jews in the countryside had decreased by 40% since 1921. During this period many Jews moved to Vienna or immigrated to the United States. Until 1848 the vast majority of Bohemian Jewry had belonged to the poorest sectors of the population. Subsequently, most of them, as a result of their economic activities, moved up to the prosperous and wealthy strata even though their occupations remained essentially in the same sphere as before 1848.

In the second half of the 19th century Bohemian Jewry became increasingly involved in the bitter conflict between the Czech and German national groups. While the elder generation generally preferrred assimilation with German culture, and supported the German-oriented liberal political parties, the Czecho-Jewish movement (Svaz *Čechožidů), initiated and supported by Filip *Bondý, Siegfried Kapper, Bohumil *Bondý, and others, achieved some success in promoting Czech assimilation. By 1900, 55% of Bohemian Jewry declared their mother tongue as Czech and 45% as German. Some Jewish leaders, notably Joseph Samuel *Bloch, advised Bohemian Jews not to become involved in the conflict of the nationalities, but they continued to take sides on this issue until Zionism enabled at least its adherents to remain neutral.


As a result of emigration and a steady decline in the birth and marriage rates among Jews in Bohemia, the percentage of the aged rose, and the total population of the community decreased. The vast majority of Jews became indifferent to religion and inclined toward total assimilation: the *Yahrzeit, the Day of Atonement, and a subscription to the Prager Tagblatt, the German-liberal daily, were considered by many Jews their only links with Judaism. There was an increase in mixed marriages from 0.15% in 1881 to 1.75% in 1910, and 27.56% in 1930, and many dropped their Jewish affiliation. The percentage of Jewish mixed marriages was 0.15% in 1881, 1.75% in 1910, and 27.65% in 1930.

Of all persons in Bohemia considered Jewish according to the Nazi standards introduced in 1939, 11.1% were not of the Jewish faith. Antisemitism became strong in Bohemia at the end of the 19th century. The German population of the Sudetenland, the "Rand-Orls," was the stronghold of the *Schoenerer brand of racial antisemitism in the Hapsburg Empire (see also *antisemitic political parties and organizations). Czechs saw the Jews as the instruments and partisans of Germanization and the allies of Hapsburg patriotism. The economic anti-Jewish *boycott movement in Bohemia, "Svůj k svému" ("Each to his own kind"), was among the first of its sort to emerge in Europe and in particular hit Jewish shopkeepers in the villages. Finally a wave of blood libels, instigated by the Austrian *Christian Social Party, swept Bohemia. These occurred in Kolín and Náchod, among other places, and culminated in the *Hilsner Case. At this time the internal division in Jewry between the parties supporting Czech or German assimilation became increasingly pronounced. Jews joined the liberal and radical parties of both sides. At the end of the 19th century the Czecho-Jewish movement achieved the closure of Jewish schools where teaching was in German. During World War i Bohemia absorbed thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe. Many settled there permanently and contributed to the revival of Jewish religious and cultural life in the communities. The establishment of independent *Czechoslovakia in 1918 linked Bohemian Jewry with the Jews living in the other parts of the new state. Bohemia attracted many Jews from Carpathian Russia (see *Subcarpathian Ruthenia) and Eastern Slovakia, and the Jews of Bohemia were active in organizing relief for Jews in these impoverished areas. After 1918 there were three federations of communities, one for those of Great Prague and *České*Budejovice and *Pilsen, one of Czech-speaking communities, and one of German-speaking communities. From 1926 they were represented, together with the federations of communities in Moravia and Silesia, by the "Nejvyšší rada svazu náboženských obcí židovských v Čechách, na Moravě a ve Slezsku" (Supreme Council of the Federations of Jewish Religious Communities in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia). In 1930, 46.4% of Bohemian Jewry declared their nationality as Czech, 31% German, and 20.5% Jewish. (See table "Jewish Population of Bohemia.") In 1937 there were 150 communities. In 1938 with the Sudeten crisis 29% of Bohemian Jewry living in the Sudeten area became refugees.

The Jewish State Museum in Prague now has synagogue equipment and archivalia from more than 100 Bohemian communities, most of them brought there in 1942 by Nazi orders when the communities were deported.

For Holocaust and contemporary period, see *Czechoslovakia.


Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), 1–71, 269–438; G. Kisch, In Search of Freedom (1949), 333–65 (extensive bibliography); Bondy-Dworský; H. Gold, Die Juden und Judengemeinden Boehmens… (1934); H.R. von Kopetz, Versuch einer systematischen Darstellung… (Prague, 1846); A. Stein, Geschichte der Juden in Boehmen (1904); J. Bergl, in: Sbornik archivu ministerstva vnitra, 6 (1933), 7–64; jggjČ, 1–9 (1929–38); Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei, 1–5 (1930–38); R. Dán, in: Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden, 5 (1968), 177–201 (index for the above periodicals); R. Jakobson and M. Halle in: For Max Weinreich (1964), 147–72; O. Scheiber, ibid., (1964), 55–58, 153–7; S.H. Lieben, in: Afike Jehuda Festschrift (1930), 30, 39–68; B. Bretholz, Geschichte der Juden in Maehren, 1 (1934), index; Baron, Community, 3 (1942), index; F. Weltsch (ed.), Prag vi-Yerushalayim (1954); H. Tykocinski, in: Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 27–46; 2 (1968), 91–93; M. Lamed, in: blbi, 8 (1965), 302–14; R. Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den boehmischen Laendern, 1 (1969), incl. bibl.; idem, in: Roth, Dark Ages, 309–12, 440–1; idem, in: Judaica Bohemiae, 4 (1968), 64–72; idem, in: Zion, 9 (1945), 1–26; 12 (1948), 49–65, 160–89; idem, in: jjs, 5 (1954), 156–66; 6 (1955), 35–45; idem, in: Gesher, 15 no. 2–3 (1969), 11–82; F. Weltsch, ibid., 207–12; M. Ben-Sasson, Ha-Yehudim Mul ha-Reformaẓyah (1969), 66–68, 102–8; idem, in: Tarbiz, 29 (1959/60), 306–7.

[Jan Herman /

Meir Lamed]


views updated May 21 2018


Bohemia was a kingdom in central Europe that became a seat of power within the Holy Roman Empire*. During the Renaissance several Bohemian kings ruled this empire. Under their leadership, the Bohemian city of Prague developed into a lively center of scholarship and artistic creativity.

Bohemia's Rise to Power. In the mid-1300s Charles IV became king of Bohemia. In 1348 he founded the University of Prague, the first university in central Europe. He also started an ambitious building program, designed to transform Prague into a major capital.

In 1355 Charles was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The following year he issued the Golden Bull, a document establishing a system for electing the emperor. The king of Bohemia was one of the seven rulers who voted to choose the emperor. As the imperial residence of Charles, Prague attracted scholars and artists. The newcomers brought Renaissance learning and ideas to the city.

In the late 1400s, Bohemia emerged as a center of humanism, a cultural movement promoting the study of the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome as a guide to living. The Bohemian king Vladislav II Jagiello (ruled 1471–1516) increased cultural ties with Italy, where humanism had begun. About 20 years into his reign, Vladislav also became king of the neighboring kingdom of Hungary. Buda, Hungary's leading city, was an early center of humanism, and humanist views spread to Bohemia during Vladislav's rule. In addition, the king encouraged Italian artistic ideas. When he rebuilt Prague Castle, he added a wing based entirely on Italian Renaissance design.

Habsburg Rule. Vladislav's son, Louis II, ruled Bohemia from 1516 to 1526. Then Ferdinand I, who was Louis's brother-in-law and a member of the powerful Habsburg family, claimed the throne. This led the Bohemian nobles to revolt against the monarchy. The Habsburgs were Roman Catholics. However, many members of the nobility were Hussites, a group of political and religious rebels. The Bohemian nobles also opposed the Habsburg rulers' attempts to establish a powerful central government. In 1547 the Habsburgs put down the uprising and severely punished the rebellious nobles.

Throughout the 1500s the Bohemians made advances in farming (including the breeding of fish in ponds), brewing, mining, metalworking, and architecture. Italian-style mansions and villas* became popular. Some towns erected new city halls, schools, and other public buildings to highlight their prosperity and importance.

Ferdinand I commissioned a number of notable structures in Prague. His first project, the royal garden, was heavily influenced by Italian Renaissance design. It included a wooden orangery, an enclosure for raising plants that need protection from the cold. The development of Prague continued in the 1580s under Rudolf II (ruled 1576–1611). In 1592 he appointed Boniface Wohlmut as court architect. Wohlmut built the Great Ball Court at Prague Castle, one of the first buildings dedicated to sport.

The Arts and Sciences. Under Rudolf II, Prague gained a reputation as a center of late Renaissance science. Many doctors, chemists, botanists, lawyers, and historians lived there. Specialized workshops produced precision instruments for astronomers such as Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. The city's thriving printing industry made it possible to spread new ideas and information rapidly.

Rudolf also supported the work of Renaissance artists, such as the portrait painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo and still life and landscape painter Roelant Savery. Many wealthy citizens of Prague became generous patrons* of the arts. Their assistance encouraged a flood of foreign painters and sculptors to settle in the city. In addition, a flourishing Jewish community, which included many scholars, contributed to the city's intellectual environment. By the early 1600s Prague had grown into a sophisticated cultural center.

Conflict and War. Religious tensions in Bohemia between the Catholic Habsburgs and the Hussite nobles continued into the 1600s. Both Rudolf II and Ferdinand II (ruled 1619–1637) tried to restore the power of the Roman Catholic Church. However, in 1619 the Bohemian nobles revolted and overthrew Ferdinand. The uprising led to the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, a conflict involving many states of Europe. The war ended with the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a treaty that confirmed the political and religious control of the Habsburgs over Bohemia.

(See alsoCatholic Reformation and Counter-Reformation; Holy Roman Empire; Protestant Reformation. )

* Holy Roman Empire

political body in central Europe composed of several states; existed until 1806

* villa

luxurious country home and the land surrounding it

* patron

supporter or financial sponsor of an artist or writer


views updated May 21 2018


Kingdom of central Europe and a leading northern center of literature and scholarship during the Renaissance. The name of Bohemia comes from the Boii, a tribe of Celts that inhabited this region in the time of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the western Roman Empire in the fifth century, Bohemia was settled by Slavs from the east. The Przemyslid dynasty established itself with the reign of King Boleslav I in the ninth century, when the people of Bohemia converted to Christianity. From about this time, the kings of Bohemia were subject to the ultimate authority of the Holy Roman emperor, a fact that led to a number of religious and political conflicts during the Renaissance.

After the invasion of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the western and northern borderlands of Bohemia were settled by large numbers of Germans. In 1310, King John I established the Luxembourg dynasty. Bohemia became an important center of learning in the middle of the fourteenth century with the founding of the University of Prague during the reign of Charles IV. Charles ascended to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire and brought Bohemia its greatest success, controlling several regions of Germany, the duchy of Luxembourg, Moravia to the east, and Silesia in what is now southern Poland.

Bohemia's tradition of scholarship and religious tolerance was put to the test early in the fifteenth century, when Jan Hus, the rector of the University of Prague, began expounding a doctrine of defiance of the Catholic authorities. Invited to the Council of Constance, Hus was taken prisoner, tried, and burned at the stake for his heretical views, a punishment that was carried out on the orders of Emperor Sigismund. The death of Jan Hus inspired a violent rebellion in Bohemia, known as the Hussite Wars, and also served as an inspiration to the Protestant movement of Martin Luther in sixteenth-century Germany. Although the anti-Catholic forces were eventually defeated, Bohemia decreed freedom of religion within its borders in a document known as the Basel Compact.

In 1526 with the death of King Louis in battle against the Turks, Bohemia was joined to the Habsburg Empire of Austria under its new king, the Habsburg monarch Ferdinand I. The Catholic emperors, as kings of Bohemia, often found themselves at odds with their subjects over religious doctrine. One such conflict between King Ferdinand II and the Protestants of Bohemia touched off the Thirty Years' War that would devastate central Europe from 1618 until 1648.

Bohemia was a nation quite open to the new artistic and intellectual movements of the Renaissance. Printing presses arrived in Prague, the Bohemian capital, by the 1470s, helping disseminate essays and poetry in Latin and scholarly works in the Czech language. Bohemian translators rendered ancient Latin and Greek texts, as well as the works of contemporary Renaissance authors such as Martin Luther and Erasmus, into the Czech language. The historian Daniel Veleslavina published works of history, travel, and geography; other scholarly works covered law, medicine, and botany; the astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe both lived and worked at the court of Rudolf II in Prague. More daring authors of Bohemia wrote satirical verses and parodies that ridiculed the emperor, the Catholic Church, and the nobility.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Bohemia Historic region which (with Moravia) now comprises the Czech Republic. Its borders with Germany are formed (nw) by the Ore Mountains and (sw) by the Bohemian Forest. The plateau region is drained by the rivers Elbe and Vltava. The major cities are Prague and Plzeň. Bohemia was established as an independent principality at the end of the 9th century. In the 920s, Saint Wenceslas successfully resisted Germanic invasion, but by the end of the 10th century Bohemia formed part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1198 Ottocar I formed an independent kingdom. At the height of its power during the reign (1253–78) of Ottocar II, Bohemia stretched from the Oder to the Adriatic. Bohemia's golden age was in the reign (1347–78) of Emperor Charles IV, who made Prague his capital. In the reigns of Wenceslas and Sigismund, Bohemia was at the centre of nationalist and religious revolts against imperial domination, including the rebellion of Jan Hus. In 1526 Bohemia was inherited by the Habsburg dynasty. In 1618 the Defenestration of Prague sparked the Thirty Years' War. The process of Germanization was continued by Maria Theresa and Joseph II. Leopold II was the last King of Bohemia. The formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire failed to satisfy Czech demands for autonomy; independence was finally achieved at the end of World War I under Tomás Masaryk. In the Munich Agreement (1938), Czechoslovakia was forced to cede the Sudetenland to Germany. In 1993, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia saw Bohemia and Moravia join to form the Czech Republic.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Bohemia a region forming the western part of the Czech Republic, originally a Slavic kingdom, later subject to Austrian rule.

In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (1610–11), Perdita is abandoned as an infant on the coast of Bohemia, and later marries the king's son.

From the mid 19th century, Bohemia was also used to designate the community or milieu of social Bohemians, persons with informal and unconventional social habits, especially artists or writers. The usage comes (in the mid 19th century) from French bohémien ‘gypsy’, because gypsies were thought to come from Bohemia, or because they perhaps entered the West through Bohemia.