Information in brief

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Information in brief

Derived from E. Franzel's "Sudetendeutsche Geschichte" and

"Die Sudetendeutschen - eine Volksgruppe im Herzen Europas" by Böse/Eibicht


1. Bohemia in the center of Europe

Bohemia, the periphery of which had been home and living space of ethnic Germans for centuries, never stood at the periphery of world affairs, but was crossing point of mass migrations, important trade routes and military corridors and thereby an intersection of European and Christian cultural currents. Geographically it is the center of Europe, meaning, it has always been surrounded by neighboring countries, a situation which influenced and determined its political course. Over many centuries the Germans played an important role as balancing and invigorating participants.


2. The original inhabitants

More than 2000 years ago Bohemia was populated by the Celtic Boii who gave the land their name and part of whom later migrated westward (Bayern/Bavaria). Studies of place-names disclose that the area was also, earlier or simultaneously, the home of Illyrians who eventually migrated to the Balkans. Germanic tribes from the Northwest also migrated into the region, in Bohemia known as Markomanns and in Moravia as Quadis. These two tribes tenaciously defended themselves against conquest by the Romans. Many other tribes left traces and artifacts during the migratory upheavals in Bohemia.

3. Arrival of Slavic settlers

In all probability Slavic groups arrived from the East at the time of the continental migrations, although sporadically and not as family or community groups guided by authorities the way the Germanic farmers did. This is substantiated by names and archeological evidence. At the end of the sixth century the Slavs were subdued and enslaved by the Avars. A nobleman of the Markomanns, Samo by name, is said to have freed them. The Avars were finally subdued by Charles the Great (Charlemagne). Charles also led a campaign against the Slavs in Bohemia in 805. The later accounts tell of conflicts but also of agreements, trade contracts and cultural interchange. Slavic tribes spread out as far north as the Baltic Sea and into present-day Holstein, and towards the South their influence extended as far as the Adriatic Sea. This dominion reached its peak in the ninth century in Moravia. At the eastern edge of the East-Franconian kingdom the Slavs were known at times as enemies or robbers, at other times as allies.


4. Duke Wenzel / Wenzeslaus

Around the year 900 the Magyars broke into Europe and demolished the dominion of Moravia. As a mighty wedge the Magyars separated the South-Slavs from the West-Slavs. In predatory attacks into the West they also turned the duchy of Bavaria into wasteland. As a result, the center of the evolving German kingdom shifted northwards. Heinrich, Duke of Saxony, became king (also known as Henry I, the Fowler). He understood his noblest task in banning the Magyar threat and in securing the kingdom's eastern frontier. With Duke Wenzel, a young, fervently Christian prince, he found an ally for his peace-enforcing endeavors. In disagreement with Wenzel's policies, his brother Boleslav arose as leader of an oppositional group and slew Wenzel at the gate to the church of Altbunzlau in 929. But only a few years later Boleslav had to submit to foreign power. He entered into a tributary and federal relationship with the German king. In 955, in the decisive battle against the Magyars, Bohemians fought on the Lechfeld at the side and under the command of Otto the Great, German king (son of Henry I).

The murdered Wenzel became a shining hero and holy figure, patron saint, in the eyes and the consciousness of the people of Bohemia. Having died for his conciliatory conduct towards the German kingdom, he also brought the two peoples closer together. His name was bequeathed among the German peasantry of Bohemia well into the 20th century.


5. The kingdom of Bohemia

King Otto became kaiser of the land later known as "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation". Bohemia, ruled by Slavic dukes, grew organically into the Roman-German Empire as a fiefdom during the Middle Ages. This had twofold consequences. Firstly, communication lines running across the empire augmented the peaceful development of the Bohemian-Moravian region. The Germans did not come with arms and ordnance into the periphery of Bohemia but with plows, shovels and calloused hands. Secondly, Bohemia and Moravia joined the framework of the German ecclesiastical organization. At that time the responsibilities of the church were not limited to spiritual and cultural tasks; they encompassed all civil services, social welfare, care of schools and education. Consequently the integration of the Bohemian lands into the church organization of the Roman-German Empire became of utmost importance for the dawning, close companionship and rivalry between the Germans and Bohemian-Moravian Slavs. One German who - by deed and example - made significant contributions to peaceful cooperation between the nations was the Benedictine hermit Gunther. He appears to have been capable of combining high proficiency in diplomacy with deep religiousness. During the wars between Kaiser Heinrich III and the Duke of Bohemia he negotiated a ceasefire, exchange of prisoners and the peace. The Germans placed with him their first saint in the gallery of religious images in the history of Bohemia. For generations German and Bohemian dukes remained loyal to each other. After 1198 the title of king became hereditary in Bohemia. The duchy had become a kingdom authenticated by the German kaisers.



Copyright © by Inge Schwarz 1997 (Heimatstelle Maffersdorf) 
Copyright © by Anton Möller • 2005

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