Great Moravia, a valuable legacy from the Middle Ages

The Morava River winds its way through Uherské Hradiště. Photo: Celia Pérez


Located in Central Europe, the Great Moravian Empire was established as the first Western Slavic state between the years 833 and 907. This empire included present day Slovakia and the Czech Republic, southern of Poland and parts of Austria, Hungary and Serbia.

The Great Moravian Empire. Radio Prague

The predecessor of Great Moravia was the Principality of Moravia. Mojmír the First, who was the Prince of Moravia at that time, conquered the Principality of Nitra (in the south-west of Slovakia) and united both territories, thus founding the Great Moravian Empire.

Despite its short duration, ancient Moravia was the cradle of the Slavic liturgy. Under the reign of Rostislav the First (846-870) the Byzantine brothers Cyril and Methodius travelled as missionaries to Great Moravia and created the Glagolitic alphabet to translate the Bible, which was an important cultural legacy.

The Morava River, the heart of the empire

Due to the great value of water for crops and fishing, the river Morava was the geographic and economic nucleus of the kingdom, hence its name. Around this river were the main cities, such as Staré Město and Uherské Hradiště, which at that time formed the same town, and Mikulčice.

Tomáš Chrástek, director of the Department of Archaeology at Slovácké Muzeum, points out that the capital of the empire was probably moved from Staré Město-Uherské Hradiště to Mikulčice and vice versa when there were changes of reign.

In addition, this tributary of the Danube was part of the Amber Route[1]. According to Chrástek, Great Moravia exported animal skins, honey and slaves across the river. On the other hand, “the empire bought luxurious garments and gold”, says the archaeologist.

Cyril and Methodius, the fathers of Slavic writing

The Moravian king Rostislav the First asked the Byzantine emperor Michael the Third to send teachers or missioners to Great Moravia in order to preach the Christian faith. The Byzantine emperor accepted. Consequently, brothers Cyril and Methodius went to the empire of Rostislav the First in 863.

It is important to stress that, as Juan Torquemada – professor at the University of Granada – explains to Radio Prague, at that time all Slavic peoples spoke ancient Slavic, although it is true that there were small differences[2]. “But from a grammatical and phonetic point of view, it was the same language”, Torquemada states.

The Byzantine brothers from Thessaloniki translated the Holy Scriptures into Slavic. For this they created the oldest Slavic alphabet: the Glagolitic. In addition, they began to celebrate mass in Slavic.

It is thought that later the same brothers created the Cyrillic alphabet. With the passage of time, the latter became the predominant alphabet, which is used today in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

However, the Catholic Church did not welcome the birth of Slavic liturgy. Since, according to the ancient clergy, the Bible and the mass could only be offered in three languages: Latin, Greek and Hebrew. For this reason, Torquemada underlines that Cyril and Methodius had to travel to Rome to defend their work[3].

Uherské Hradiště, the place chosen by Methodius

Church foundations at Sady. Photo: Celia Pérez

Uherské Hradiště is located in the southeast of the Czech Republic, close to the Slovak and Austrian borders. This town, as already mentioned, was very important during the Great Moravian Empire because it lies on the river Morava.

Archaeologist Chrástek maintains that Methodius lived where nowadays Uherské Hradiště Sady is, a district of Uherské Hradiště. In fact, the director indicates that Methodius is believed to have been buried in Sady’s church, but it is not known where he is. Here you can find the ruins of a church which, according to Chrástek, was the place where Methodius celebrated mass and where he taught Slavic liturgy.

Chrástek explains that Methodius had two student groups: those who learned Latin liturgy and those who learned Slavic liturgy. In the archaeologist’s opinion, there was rivalry between the two groups as both wanted to be more powerful in Great Moravia, but Methodius knew how to mediate between them to avoid conflict.

However, when Methodius died, king Svatopluk the First was in favour of the Latin group. Therefore, the Slavic liturgy in Great Moravia gradually declined. Chrástek thinks Svatopluk preferred to have the support of the powerful Frankish Empire and Rome, which did not accept the Slavic liturgy.

As a result, the archaeologist emphasises: “Methodius’ students were expelled from Great Moravia. For this reason, his disciples travelled to Bulgaria and spread the Slavic liturgy among the other Slavic peoples”.

An uncertain end to the empire

There are several theories about the dissolution of the Great Moravian Empire. According to Chrástek, one of them is based on a probable flood, but no archaeological evidence has been found.

The director maintains that the second and most repeated theory is the possible destruction of the empire by enemies and/or empires. In fact, the archaeologist explains that after excavations which he conducted in Mikulčice it can be seen that there were enemy attacks on that town.

On the other hand, in excavations carried out also by him in Staré Město and Uherské Hradiště no archaeological evidence has been found that indicates the empire was destroyed by enemies. For this reason, Chrástek considers that Great Moravia was dissolved owing to economic and/or political problems.

Undoubtedly, the Moravian empire left an important and significant cultural mark on the Slavic peoples. The creation of the Slavic alphabet not only allowed the translation of the Bible, but also opened the door to the translation and writing of literary texts, which makes ancient Moravia the place of origin of Slavic literature.

Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 4.0 Internacional.

[1] An ancient trade route that connected the North Sea and Baltic Sea with Italy, Greece, the Black Sea and Egypt

[2] Cirilo y Metodio, los padres de la literatura de las lenguas eslavas Radio Prague 05/07/2012

[3] Cirilo y Metodio, los padres de la literatura de las lenguas eslavas Radio Prague 05/07/2012

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