Great Moravia as a Cultural Phenomenon


Two monarchs from the Great Moravian period are worthy of mention: Svätopluk and Rastislav. The first extended the state's borders through military aggression, mainly against the Frankish Empire, the second provided for our forefathers' spiritual regeneration. He wrote a letter to the Byzantine emperor Michael III saying: "Our people have rejected paganism and observe Christian law and we do not have a teacher such that would explain to us in our language the true faith of Christianity, so that other lands, when they see it, would emulate us. Therefore send us such a bishop and teacher. Because good law always comes from you on all sides." On the basis of this invitation, the two missionaries Constantine (he later entered a monastery in Rome and took the name Cyril) and Methodius came to Great Moravia in 863. They were brothers and had already participated in similar missions before (particularly Constantine). They came from Salonica (today Thessalonika), a place where Greeks mixed with Slavs. They could therefore both speak a Slavic language and could more effectively continue the conversion of Great Moravia than German and other priests had done before them. The language that the Slavs spoke in Salonica and around was not identical to the language of the Great Moravian Slavs, but it was very similar and therefore intelligible. The Salonican brothers prepared for their pastoral activity very conscientiously. They translated practically the whole bible and other religious, and later legal, works into Slavic. But first they had to establish a Slavic alphabet, because the population of Great Moravia had no script. They established it from the lower case of the Greek alphabet and it received the name Glagolitic. Its form was later simplified and under the name Cyrillic became the script of the Balkan Slavs (Bulgarians, Serbs) and Russians. Constantine and Methodius established church schools and other institutions in Great Moravia. Their work was successful and they soon had many students and followers. But they had to overcome various obstacles, mainly from the side of the Frankish (German) clergy and Frankish power as a whole. They undertook a journey to Rome to see the Pope, who permitted them to hold religious services in the local Slavic language. Despite the obstacles, education was developed in Great Moravia at that time and culture reached a high level.
           Proglas, which was a poetic introduction to the translation of the Gospels, needs to be singled out from the period's literary documents.
           The authorship of Proglas is ascribed to Constantine himself (Bulgarian Slavists say its author was Constantine the Bulgarian, one of Methodius' students), who was not only unusually linguistically gifted, but also had undisputed literary talent. Proglas is a celebration of education as a means to virtue and the road to God for both individuals and whole nations. It is an extensive work (110 verses), full of images and metaphors and it is worth quoting at least a small extract:

     As there can be no joy without lights
     that shines so we can see the world entire
     for not everything is clear or beautiful,
     so no soul, no soul without letters
     knows the law of God,
     the law of the book, the law of the spirit,
     the law through which we are led to God's Paradise.
     More dead than a man from stone is a soul,
     every soul without letters.
     For how can an ear that does not hear the roar of thunder
     stand in fear in front of God?
     More dead than a man from stone is a soul,
     every soul without letters

Other documents include the biographies of Constantine and Methodius (The Life of Constantine, The Life of Methodius), whose authors were local pupils of the Salonican brothers. The originator of the first, more extensive, was Kliment, the second Gorazd. Both biographies are similar in genre to legends, but are at the same time rich in historical roots and - despite this - show signs of the authors' personalities. The Life of Constantine appeared in Great Moravia during Methodius' lifetime, The Life of Methodius shortly after his death in 885. In the same year, Pope Stephen V banned worship in the Slavic language in Great Moravia and the year after Methodius' death King Svätopluk decided, clearly upon the initiative of Bishop of Nitra Wiching (of German origin), to eject Methodius' students and thereby also the whole cultural heritage of Constantine and Methodius. They were escorted to the border with the help of soldiers, from where they migrated to Bulgaria and continued their mission. The names Gorazd, Kliment, Vavrinec, Naum, Angelár, and others are mentioned in documents from the period in connection with this. The continuity of Byzantine Slavic worship (from 1054 the Eastern rite) and cultural orientation, which was suspended for a long time in Great Moravia, continued in Bulgaria and the Balkans, from where it later went to Russia.
           The expulsion of Methodius' students and liquidation of literary culture in Great Moravia in the local language, which had begun to develop pleasingly during the twenty-five years of the Byzantine mission, were a pogrom which meant that the Great Moravian ethnic group, i.e. the forefathers of today's Slovaks (but also Moravians and Czechs) were forgotten for many centuries. Another pogrom was the fall of the Great Moravian Empire around 907 (battle near Bratislava), as a result of the incompetence and disharmony of Svätopluk's sons (Svätopluk died in 894) and particularly military onslaughts from nomadic Magyar tribes, which seized the lands on the central Danube (former Pannonia) in the 10th century and permanently settled in Europe. They soon adopted Christianity and gradually subdued the Slav population. The territory of Slovakia (and its population) became a part of the Hungarian kingdom in the 11th century, although it still took a relatively long time for the Hungarian element to penetrate north of the Danube, where the forefathers of the Slovaks lived.