Slavs belong to the oldest inhabitants of Europe, they became the dominant ethnic group on the Slovakia’s territory in the 5th century.
Map of Slavs in 5th century:
They lived in a kind of symbiosis with the Avars who came to the same region a bit later. They took part in joint expeditions against the Franks, Langobards, Byzantines even though the Slavs were suppressed by the Avars – In the 6th and 7th century Slavs suffered from invasions of Avars.
Indeed, skirmishes among Avars and Slavs provided the occasion for the development of the first important state organization among the western Slavs, the Empire of Samo – after a successful Slavic insurrection against the Avar Khaganate in 623. Samo, a Frankish buyer, united Slavs, fought against Avars and ruled the territory for thirty-five years.
Map of Samo’s Empire:
After his death in the year 658, there are no written documents concerning this empire – most likely it collapsed. Only after one and a half century (at the beginning of the 9th century), the Frankish reports reveal the existence of a further state in the region – the principality of Nitra (Nitra as the capital), which was governed by Prince Pribina. At the beginning of the third decade of the ninth century Pribina was expulsed by Mojmír, a prince from neighbouring Moravia. Through this union of the Old Moravian and the Nitra principalities developed Great Moravia. Great Moravian State arose around year 830 when Mojmír unified the Slavic tribes settled north of the Danube and extended the Moravian supremacy over them.
The Great Moravian Empire encompassed the lands of modern Slovakia and Moravia as well as parts of Hungary and Austria. For a short time the lands of Bohemia, the southern part of Poland and Lusatia, today part of Germany, also belonged to it.
Map of Great Moravia in 9th century:
Letters, chronicles and archaeological findings from the Great Moravian period provide information concerning Great Moravian stone structures and the flowering of handicrafts, iron and other metal workers as well as glass-makers skilled in various techniques as demonstrated by the remarkable necklaces, earrings, buttons they produced. Great Moravia was an equal partner with its neighbour to the west, the Frankish Empire. They maintained lively commercial and cultural contacts. But military confrontation between them also developed and called forth the attempts of the rulers of the Frankish Empire to extend their sphere of influence to the east. This also influenced the most significant cultural initiative of the era of Great Moravia – the acceptance of Christianity.
Christianity first penetrated the territory of Slovakia from the Frankish Empire already during the era before the emergence of the Great Moravian Empire. In 828 or 829 Prince Pribina had a stone church in Nitra consecrated by the Archbishop of Salzburg. But Mojmír’s successor – prince Rastislav wished to free himself from the church influence of the Franks and to strengthen his own independence, so he turned to the Byzantine emperor with a request to send priests, who spreaded Christianity in Great Moravia and education of the Slavic languages.
In 863 the brothers Constantine and Method headed a mission to Great Moravia at the invitation of Prince Rastislav. From the small Greek alphabet Constantine devised the oldest Slavonic calligraphy – Glagolitic (Hlaholithic) alphabet. Together with Methodius they translated liturgical books and part of the Bible into Old Church Slavonic. They also established an ecclesiastical organization and founded a theological training center – they were teaching young priests, who replaced the foreign priests.
Pope Hadrian II approved the use of Old Slavonic as a liturgical language and in 870 consecrated Method as an archbishop in Rome. However, after the death of Method, the use of the Slavonic liturgy was terminated in Great Moravia due to the pressure of the Franks and as a result or the decision of Svätopluk. But Method’ s pupils, who were forced into exile in Bulgaria and Macedonia, continued to cultivate the Slavonic liturgy and the old Slavonic language. Later, the old Russian Christian culture was drawn from this spring. Effects of Constantine and Methodius in Great Moravia had a major cultural and political importance. Spreading Christianity and education in the language they all understood was something new. Slavic language exalted to the level of cultural languages, such as Latin and Greek at that time.
After Rastislav, his nephew Svätopluk started to govern Great Moravia and since 871 he became relatively independent monarch of Great Moravian Empire. Under Svätopluk’s government Great Moravia reached the largest territorial expansion, but after his death, a gradual decline occurred in the country. The Empire was divided between Svätopluk’s sons: Mojmír II. and Svätopluk II. Main ruler should have been Mojmír II., but there were conflicts between the two sons. Great Moravia was weakened by wars with its neighbours and because of the invasions of nomadic tribes – Hungarians (Magyars). Mojmír II. was not able to maintain the integrity and independence of the empire and around the year 907, the Great Moravian Empire collapsed.
Even if it existed only for seventy years, the Great Moravian Empire is still considered to be the most important part of the historical consciousness of the Slovaks. Constantine, canonized under the name Cyril, and Method are considered national saints. Since the era of romanticism, the princes Pribina, Mojmír, Rastislav and Svätopluk have been the heroes of epic poems, prose and dramatic works. Many creative artists and musicians have been inspired by their activity, doing Great Moravian art.
Map of West Slavs in 9th and 10th century: