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Chapter 4

The Birth of Nation States
10th--13th Centuries

The settling of the Magyar tribes in central Europe put an end to the long series of migrations. With the inflow of new tribes at an end, the peoples of east-central Europe tried to organize themselves into structured nation-states. Most succeeded between the 10th and the 13th centuries.


The Germanic Sphere of Influence

As the 10th century dawned, the German kings still powerful in the 9th century had lost much of that power to feudal lords. The only coherent moral and political strength in east-central Europe belonged to the Church.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, bishoprics and archbishoprics were created in a number of German cities, as the Germanic zone of influence spread outward. They served as advance strongholds of Christianity against the still-pagan Slavs and Hungarians. From these bishoprics, missionaries departed for the east with the intention of converting the pagan peoples. It was generally by the conversion of the Magyar and northern Slavic chiefs, as well as some Czechs and Poles, that nation-states came about: Christianity proved to be a powerful force in fostering nationhood.

In the 1Oth century, the Duchy of Bohemia was established under the family of the Przemyslides. After initial contact with Christianity in the 9th

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century, the Duke of Wenceslas (915-929) was converted by missionaries from Ratisbonne. As shown by the assassination of Wenceslas by his brother, Boleslas, paganism retained deep roots. The unfortunate victim was canonized shortly afterward, and St. Wenceslas became the patron saint of

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Bohemia. Boleslas I (929-961), named the Cruel, finally converted to Christianity himself and endeavored to maintain good relations with the king of Germany, Otto the Great. In 955, Boleslas fought beside Otto at the Battle of Lechfeld, a battle that put an end to Magyar invasions in the West. Boleslas then acknowledged himself a vassal of Otto, who became Emperor Otto I in 962. The Duchy of Bohemia thus became a fief of the Empire, and was granted a quasi-independent status with some feudal obligations, similar to the Empire's other fiefdoms. Under Boleslas II, the Pious (967-999), the Christian religion was firmly established. Boleslas founded the bishopric of Prague in 973. The first bishop of Prague, Vojtech, better known as Saint Adalbert, was a Czech by origin and had been active as a missionary among the Prussians, Poles, and Hungarians.

While the Przemyslides were beginning to organize Bohemia, Prince Mieszko of the Piast family, chief of one of the numerous Slav tribes living on the plains between the Oder and the Vistula, made Poznan the center of a confederation of tribes whose territory from that time on was known as Polska, meaning the plain. Mieszko ruled from 960 to 990 over the fledgling Polish state, and was influenced by German missionaries and by his Christian wife, sister of Boleslas I, Duke of Bohemia. Mieszko was baptized in 966 under the name of Mieszko l, and until his death encouraged the spread of Christianity in Poland. He founded a bishopric at Poznan in 968 under the jurisdiction of the archbishopric of Magdeburg. Here, as in Bohemia, the high German clergy guided the first steps of the Polish church. The son of Mieszko, Boleslaw the Valiant (992-1025), continued the unification of the Polish tribes. He extended his authority in Lusace, on the left bank of the Oder, and into Moravia. Poland in the year 1000 was a completely Christian Poland, and became independent of the German church with the foundation of the archbishopric of Gniezno--still the patriarchal seat of the Polish church today.

The conversion of the Hungarians proved more difficult. During the first half of the 10th century, the Hungarians used the plains of the middle Danube as a base of departure for devastating raids into the Germanic countries (907-913 A.D.) as well as in the direction of Byzantium in the years 927, 934, and 943. In 917-918, Hungarian horsemen pushed into Lorraine and Champagne, and in 924-925 they conducted an expedition that reached as far as Languedoc and Toulousain. In the years that followed, the expeditions became fewer until on August 10, 955, the Hungarians were dealt a crushing defeat at Lechfeld by the German king, Otto the Great. From then on, the influence of neighboring Slavs encouraged the Hungarians to settle down. Moreover, Christian missionaries sent by Bishop Pilgrim of Passau and by his colleague Vojtech in Prague accelerated the integration of the Hungarians into the western Christian community. Towards the end of

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the 1Oth century, the reigning prince, Geza, and his son, Vajk--descendants of the conqueror, Arpad--converted to Christianity. Vajk took the Christian name of Istvan (Stephen), and shortly thereafter married the daughter of the Duke of Bavaria, the princess Gisela. Under Istvan I (997-1035), Hungary became a Christian state organized in a manner similar to the western feudal monarchies. Istvan was sent the royal crown in the year 1000 by Pope Sylvester II. With his independence from the church in Rome recognized, Istvan proceeded to organize the Hungarian church around a national base, creating eight bishoprics and two archbishoprics with a patriarchate at Esztergom. To complete the evangelical task, he called in Benedictine monks who founded the Abbey of Pannonhalma--still an important cultural and spiritual center today. Istvan was canonized as Saint Istvan (St. Stephen) in 1081, and remains the patron saint of Hungary.

The Byzantine Sphere of Influence

In the 10th century, the Macedonian dynasty that had ruled Constantinople since 867 was experiencing increasing difficulties in Asia due to Arab expansion. The Balkan peoples, though still theoretically subject to Byzantium, took the opportunity to rebel.

Under Tomislav (910-928), the Croats had formed a kingdom that was independent from both the Francs and from Byzantium. This situation was solidified by Emperor Basil II at the end of the 1Oth century, who officially recognized Prince Drgislav (969-997) as king of Croatia and Dalmatia.

It was in fact the Bulgars who achieved the greatest success in attempting to form an independent state at Byzantium's expense. Converted to Christianity during the rule of Prince Boris (852-889), the Bulgars were, however, still living under Byzantine rule at the end of the 1Oth century. With the assistance of the southern Russian Petcheneges tribe, however, Boris, son, Symeon, initiated a rebellion. After his victory over the imperial armies in 896, Symeon proclaimed himself ruler of an independent Bulgaria to which Byzantium had to pay an annual tribute. Later, Symeon invaded the Empire and even appeared at the gates of Constantinople in 913. From 913 to 925, his armies laid waste to Thrace and Macedonia, and Symeon took the title of Tsar of the Bulgars in 925. Symeon's son, Peter, (927-969), continued to build a Bulgar empire, independent from Byzantium. He was also recognized as Tsar and tried to maintain good relations with the Empire. However, his close relations with Byzantium angered some Bulgars who turned away from traditional Christianity. Bulgaria was momentarily weakened, but with Prince Samuel (976-1014), the Bulgars rose again from their political and cultural center at Ochrid.

The Bulgarian patriarchate abolished in 971 was reestablished, and a Bulgarian empire was formed stretching from the Adriatic to the Black Sea.

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Byzantine reaction under Emperor Basil II (976-1025), was brutal. After long and hard campaigns, Basil crushed the Bulgar army in July 1014. Thousands of Bulgar soldiers were blinded by order of the emperor and sent back to Tsar Samuel. The attempt to create an independent Bulgar empire in defiance of Byzantium had failed.

The Serbs called little attention to themselves in the 10th century. They were the fairly docile vassals of their most powerful neighbors of the moment--of the Bulgars under the Tsars Symeon and Samuel, and of Byzantium. The mountain tribes of the Albanian and Vlachs remained subjects of Byzantium; there were, however, slow but noticeable migrations of Vlach shepherds to the Bulgarian plains.

Thus, by around the year 1000 Byzantium had succeeded without undue effort in discouraging the formation of nation states within its area of influence.

The 10th century was a key period in the shaping of the future nations of central and eastern Europe. Wherever the Roman Church was successfully implanted among "barbarian,, peoples, it fostered the creation of durable states independent of the German empire. By contrast, where Byzantine Christianity became dominant, the close association between the church and the empire hindered the formation of independent Slav states. Byzantium used the Greek Orthodox church -- which willingly allowed itself to be used -- as a means to political domination, just as later during the Ottoman period it would serve as the best agent of Turkish oppression over the Slavs of the Balkans.


The contrast between the westernized states and the Byzantium- dominated Balkans continued and intensified over three centuries.

The Consolidation of Westernized States: Bohemia, Poland and Hungary

As a fief of the empire, the Duchy of Bohemia became increasingly organized. The duke, a vassal of the empire, was chosen by nobility from the Przemyslide family, but no prescribed order of succession existed. Consequently, upon the death of the sovereign, interior conflicts would arise and unfailingly require the intervention of the emperor. Upon election, the duke would pledge his homage to the emperor--an oath which implied duties on his part, but also granted him certain rights. The right to participate as elector-prince in the election of the emperor is an example of both his duties and rights as a vassal. The 12th century, however, saw the rise of hereditary dukedoms. Taking advantage of the difficulties plaguing the imperial power, in 1198 Premysl I made Bohemia a hereditary kingdom, a fact not confirmed until 1212.

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The close ties that united Bohemia to the Empire fostered the growth of Germanic influences. From the 11th century on, German priests, monks and merchants mingled with the Czech peasantry in Bohemia. In order to increase revenues during the 12th century, the Czech nobility adopted a large-scale policy of clearing and settling land similar to that of the West. They invited German colonists to populate the new territories, which were generally located in the mountainous regions. At the end of the 12th century, there was a massive influx of German merchants and artisans in Bohemian villages, of which many would organize into communities according to the Law of Magdeburg. The cities, however, maintained their Czech majorities even though the cultural and financial elite were often German. For an extended period of time, this duality of population presented no problems. Conflict between the two was absent even when Emperor Rudolph of Habsburg challenged the king, Premysl-Ottokar (1253-1278), at the end of the 13th century for the Babenberg heritage of Styria, Austria, and Carinthia, which the Bohemian kings had confiscated in 1246. After the defeat and death of Ottokar II on the battlefield at Durnkrut on August 26, 1278, during the minority of Wenceslas II (1 278- 1305), the regency of Otto of Brandenburg was imposed by the emperor -- a regency bitterly resented by the Czechs. At his majority, Wenceslas II succeeded through several fortunate inheritances in briefly making his kingdom the center of an empire. He gathered the crowns of Poland and Hungary around Bohemia in 1300 and 1301, although only for a few years. In 1306, the assassination of Wenceslas' son put a violent end to this period of brilliance. With the death of Wenceslas III expired the masculine line of the national dynasty of the Przemyslides.

The beginnings of the feudal period in Poland were characterized by a constant tug of war between the dukes and the nobility. Surprisingly, the cities were increasingly a force on the side of the nobles. Since the 11th century, Krakow had claimed to be capital of the country, but the cities of Gdansk, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Gniezno were also developing functions as both strongholds and commercial centers. As in Bohemia, the arrival of German colonists in the 12th century modified the ethnic composition of the villages, and sparked growth in skilled crafts and trade. Here also, the communal movement arose in the 13th century, and the Law of Magdeburg vas adopted. The more cultivated Germans became the elite of the cities and also served in the clergy. German ecclesiastics introduced the Cistercian reform, while 12 abbeys were founded between 1143 and 1260. The Germans also played an important role in the development of mineral resources; it was at this time that the salt mines of Widliczka, the copper and iron mines of Kielce, and the argentiferous lead mines of OIkusz and Chenciny were

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opened. In the 13th century, Gdansk, a member of the Hanseatic League, well located at the mouth of the Vistula, became the port through which Polish grain, lumber and ore destined for the West departed, and through which arrived Flemish textiles and Mediterranean products.

During this period the northern plains of Poland were constantly threatened by both the Prussian populations who remained pagan and the Teutonic knights who, under the pretext of converting the heathen, were quick to view the region as an area to be colonized. At the end of the 13th century, the Polish state claimed independence, but its structure was far less stable than that of Bohemia. In 1300, the German bourgeoisie of Krakow even went so far as to offer the crown to the Bohemian king, Wenceslas II.

After the death of St. Stephen, Hungary underwent nearly half a century of difficulties regarding succession: a situation which emperor Henry III tried to turn to his advantage. The problem was settled by Geza I and by his brother, Ladislas, who like St. Stephen, was canonized. St. Ladislas (1075-1095) completed the Christianization of the country. To counter the nobility who had taken advantage of the troubles to strengthen their hold on the government of the country, Ladislas looked to the cities. Already fairly numerous, Ladislas gained their support by often granting them the status of free royal cities. St. Ladislas also turned back attacks by the Cumans. Upon the death of his brother-in-law--the Croatian king, Zvonimir--Ladislas occupied Slavonia and part of Croatia between 1091 and 1095. The Croatian inheritance was definitively brought under the Hungarian crown by the nephew and successor to Ladislas, Coloman (1095-1116), who also occupied Dalmatia in 1105, giving Hungary access to the sea as well as direct contact with the Byzantine Empire. From then until 1918, the kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia was united with Hungary by a personal union. Croatia kept its institutions and privileges by authority of the Ban, a governor representing the king.

Byzantine influence in Hungary increased during the 12th century. Under Geza I, Emperor Michael VII Doukas had already attempted to win Hungarian friendship by offering the king a crown. Intended to be joined with the crown sent to St. Stephen by the Pope, the two were to create the Holy Crown, meant to symbolize the state's arrival at the Millennium. Under the successors of Coloman, notably under Stephen II (1162-1172), emperor Manual Comnenus openly intervened in Hungarian affairs and even occupied Dalmatia from 1163-1180. At the end of the 12th century, Hungary regained its strength and power under King Bela III (1172-1196), who, even though raised at the court of Constantinople, oriented Hungary toward the West. Bela III himself successively married two French princesses, Anne de Chatillon and then Marguerite, the daughter of King Louis VII. Like the rulers of Bohemia and Poland, he encouraged German colonists to

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immigrate, and settled them mainly in the eastern part of Transylvania. Vlach shepherds also infiltrated Transylvania at this time. Bela III took over St. Stephen's formula, according to which "a kingdom is weak and fragile if it has only one language and only one set of customs.,,

After the death of Bela III, royal power declined for a time while the nobility grew. Upon his return from the Crusades, King Andras II (1204-1235) was forced to concede the Golden Bull of 1222 to the rebellious nobles, granting them a measure of power over royal politics by means of an annual Diet that met at Szekesfehervar. The Golden Bull gave the nobles the right to dissent, but also guaranteed the rights of free men and of the royal cities. It is interesting to note that the Hungarian Golden Bull closely followed the signing of the Magna Carta by King John of England in 1215 to appease his rebellious English barons.

The Balkans Under Byzantium: The Serbs and the Bulgars

In the 11th century and through most of the 12th century, the Serbians, Bulgars, Albanians and the Vlachs were fairly docile subjects of Byzantium. Byzantine hegemony was both religious and political, and even those national princes that persisted found themselves vassals of the Byzantine Empire. However, upon the death of Manual Comnenus in 1180, those under the yoke of Byzantium seized the opportunity to free themselves during the struggles for succession.

The Serbs had lived divided into the two patriarchal principalities of Rascia and Zeta for a long time. In 1170, Stefan Nemanja, as great Zupan of Rascia since 11159, managed to extend his rule to the tribes of Zeta. When the Third Crusade led by Frederick Barbarossa passed through, Nemanja tried to gain the support of the Crusaders. He even held a meeting with Barbarossa at Nich in 1189, and the following year he obtained recognition of Serbian independence from the Byzantine Emperor, Isaac 11 Angelus. After abdicating in favor of his younger son, Stefan (1196-1227), Stefan Nemanja first withdrew to the Studenica monastery and then to Mount Athos, where he joined another of his sons, Rastko, better known as St. Sava. With some difficulty Stefan managed to keep Serbia independent, both from the Latin Empire set up in Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade and from the Byzantine Empire reorganized at Nicea.

Sava, as head of the autonomous Serbian church, led the coronation of his brother Stefan in 1219. It was in fact the second crowning, as Pope Honius III had already sent a royal crown to Stefan in 1217, hoping in vain to attract the Serbian church back to Rome. Crowned as Stefan I Prvovencani, Stefan was the true founder of the ruling house of Serbia known as the Nemanjic dynasty. After his death in 1227, Serbia completed its organization out of Rascia under Stefan's sons, Radoslav (1227-1233), Vladislav (1233-1243) and Uros I (1243-1276).

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After the conquest by Basil II, the Bulgars were closely controlled by Byzantium and were integrated into the Empire. Even though the Bulgars were able to keep their religious autonomy through the independent archbishopric of Ochrid, Byzantine political and cultural hegemony was overwhelming. Demographically, the Bulgars were diluted in the cities by Greek, Jewish and Armenian newcomers, while Vlachs were slowly infiltrating Macedonia and the plains of the lower Danube, where they encountered another recently arrived tribe, the Cumans. The Vlachs and the Cumans played an important role during the Bulgar uprising staged from Macedonia by the brothers, Peter and Asen, in 1185-1186, with the assistance of Stefan Nemanja. In 1187, Isaac II Angelus left the area between the Danube and the Balkans to the Bulgars. This marked the beginning of the Second Bulgar Empire. In 1187, the Archbishop of Tirnovo solemnly crowned Emperor Asen I ( 1187- 1196) in the church of St . Demetrios . Byzantium accepted this situation reluctantly, and Asen I was faced with constant struggle to defend his throne. In 1196 he was felled by the Boyar, Ivanko, who headed a rebellion incited by Byzantium. Asen's successor, Kalojan (1 197-1207), restored the situation. As a result of the Fourth Crusade, Constantinople was in the hands of the Latins, and it was from Pope Innocent II that Kalojan received the imperial crown in 1204. This, however, did not prevent him from reconciling with the Greek Empire at Nicea. Under John Asen II (1218-1242), the Second Bulgar Empire reached its peak: other than Bulgaria, it extended over Thrace, Macedonia and part of Albania. But the Second Empire was as ephemeral as the first. After the death of Asen II, a period of decline began that coincided with the Tartar invasion of 1241 , and led to the restoration of the Byzantine Empire 20 years later.

The Tartar Invasion and Its Consequences

In the early years of the 13th century, Genghis Khan consolidated under his command the Tartars of the Golden Horde. A Turkish-Mongolian people from Central Asia, the Tartars succeeded in conquering a vast territory reaching from China to the steppes of the Ukraine. In doing so the Tartars displaced certain nomadic peoples such as the Cumans; some settled on the plains of the Lower Danube, while others found asylum in Hungary. King Bela IV (1235-1270) settled many on the plains between the Danube and the Tisza.

Beginning in 1240, the Tartars launched a series of invasions toward the west. In 1241, under their leader, Orda, a party of Tartars devastated Galicia and Upper Silesia, but were not able to take Krakow. The main body of the Tartar force commanded by Genghis's son, Batu, moved toward Hungary, and on April 11 and 12, 1241, defeated the army of Bela IV at Mohi. The

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Tartar army then moved north up the Hungarian plain in an orgy of plundering and devastation, in the process of which a good portion of the local population perished. After wintering in Hungary, the Tartars swept down into Slavonia and Croatia, and in May abruptly turned back toward the Ukraine. The cities and countryside of the Transylvanian valleys were not spared their attentions.

Having taken refuge in Dalmatia, Bela IV returned to find a country shattered by the Tartars. In order to repopulate the devastated areas, he invited foreign settlers--mainly Germans--to enter Hungary. Bela IV also welcomed Ruthenians, who settled on the southern slopes of the northern Carpathians, leaving the Galician plains to the Tartars. Bela also allowed increasing numbers of Vlach shepherds searching for new grazing grounds into Transylvania. Thus the Tartar invasion led to noticeable changes in the ethnic composition of the kingdom. By the end of Bela IV's reign, over 15 percent of Hungary's population was of foreign extraction. At the same time, in order to forestall any future attacks, Bela IV authorized the great lords to construct fortresses in their lands. Fortresses were accordingly built at Trencsen, Kesmark, and Beszterce. Bela himself saw to the fortification of the free royal cities of Buda, Visegrad, Pozsony, and Varasd. Another consequence of the Tartar invasion was the void left on the plains of the western banks of the Lower Danube. Numerous Vlachs seized the opportunity to settle there, and in 1247 the first attempt to establish a Vlacho-Rumanian state was made with the formation of the Principality of Vlacho-Wallachia .

Despite the difficulties encountered, as the 14th century dawned the westernized monarchies of Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary had become well structured political entities. The feudal system--modeled after that of western monarchies--was firmly in place. The dynasties that had originally formed these states, however, were in decline. In Hungary, the national dynasty founded by Arpad ended in 1301 with the death of his last descendent, Andras III (1293-1301). In Bohemia, the Przemyslide dynasty ended with the death of Wenceslas II, while in Poland, the Piast dynasty was experiencing an extremely difficult struggle for succession. The opportunity for foreign intervention was wide open, and the German Holy Roman Empire did not hesitate. The existence of these states as individual entities, however, was never questioned.

In the Balkans, while the Serbs and to a lesser degree the Bulgars had attained partial independence from Byzantium, this was due more to the weakness of the Eastern Empire rather than to any strength or unity on the Slavic peoples' part. The Balkan situation remained precarious for two reasons: their fragile political structures, and the arrival of a new menace--the Ottoman Turks.

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