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History of Czech Republic
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Early History

Archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric human settlements in the area, dating back to the Neolithic era. In the classical era, from the 3rd century BC Celtic migrations, the Boii and later in the 1st century, Germanic tribes of Marcomanni and Quadi settled there. During the Migration Period around the 5th century, many Germanic tribes moved westwards and southwards out of Central Europe.

Slavic peoples from the Black Sea and Carpathian regions settled in the area (a movement that was also stimulated by the onslaught of peoples from Siberia and Eastern Europe: Huns, Avars, Bulgars and Magyars). Following in the Germans' wake, they moved southwards into Bohemia, Moravia and some of present day Austria. During the 7th century, the Frankish merchant, Samo, supporting the Slavs fighting their Avar rulers, became the ruler of the first known Slav state in Central Europe. The Moravian principality arose in the 8th century.

The Bohemian or Czech state emerged in the late 9th century, when it was unified by the Přemyslid dynasty. The kingdom of Bohemia was a significant regional power during the Middle Ages. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire during the entire existence of that confederation.

Middle Ages

In 1212, King Přemysl Otakar I (1198-1230), bearing the title “king“ already since 1198, extracted a Golden Bull of Sicily (a formal edict) from the emperor, confirming the royal title for Otakar and his descendants. The 13th century was also a period of large-scale German immigration. The Germans populated towns and mining districts on the Bohemian periphery and, in some cases, formed German colonies in the interior of the Czech lands. In 1235, the mighty Mongol army launched an invasion of Europe and after the Battle of Legnica, the Mongols carried their devastating raid into Moravia.

King Přemysl Otakar II (1253-1278) earned the nickname of "the King of Gold and Iron" due to his military power and wealth. He acquired Austria, Styria and Carinthia thus spreading the Bohemian territory to the Adriatic sea. He met his death at the Battle on the Marchfeld in 1278, in a war with his rival, the Roman king Rudolph I of Germany. Ottokar's son Wenceslaus II acquired the Polish crown in 1300 for himself and the Hungarian crown for his son. In 1306, however, the Přemyslid line died out and, after a series of dynastic wars, the House of Luxembourg gained the Bohemian crown.

The 14th century, particularly the reign of Charles IV (1342-1378), is considered the Golden Age of Czech history. Of particular significance was the founding of Charles University in Prague in 1348. The Black Death, which had raged in Europe from 1347 to 1352, decimated the Kingdom of Bohemia in 1380, killing about 10% of the population.

In the 15th century the religious and social reformer Jan Hus formed a movement, later named after him. Although Hus was named a heretic and burnt in Constanz in 1415, his followers seceded from the Catholic Church and in the Hussite Wars (1419-1434) defeated five crusades organised against them by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Petr Chelčický continued with Czech Hussite Reformation movement.

16th to 19th Century

During the next two centuries, 90% of the inhabitants converted to the Hussite form of Protestantism. After 1526 Bohemia came increasingly under Habsburg control as the Habsburgs became first the elected and then the hereditary rulers of Bohemia. The Defenestration of Prague and subsequent revolt against the Habsburgs in 1618 marked the start of the Thirty Years' War, which quickly spread throughout Germany. In 1620, the rebellion in Bohemia was crushed at the Battle of White Mountain and the country became a province of the Austrian monarchy. The war had a devastating effect on the local population; the people were given the choice either to convert to Catholicism or leave the country.

Czechs call the following period, from 1620 to the late 18th century, the "Dark Age". The population of the Czech lands declined by a third due to war, disease, famine and the expulsion of the Protestant Czechs. The Habsburgs banned all religions other than Catholicism. Ottoman Turks and Tatars invaded Moravia in 1663, taking 12,000 slaves. In 1679-1680 the Czech lands faced a devastating plague and an uprising of serfs.

The reigns of Maria Theresa of Austria (1740-80) and her son Joseph II (1780-90), Holy Roman Emperor and co-regent from 1765, were characterised by enlightened absolutism. In 1742, most of Silesia, then the possession of the Bohemian crown, was seized by King Frederick II of Prussia in the War of the Austrian Succession. The Great Famine, which lasted from 1770 until 1771, killed about one tenth of the Czech population, or 250,000 inhabitants, and radicalised countrysides leading to peasant uprisings.

After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia became part of the Austrian Empire and later of Austria-Hungary. Serfdom was not completely abolished until 1848. After the Revolutions of 1848, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria attempted to rule as an absolute monarch, keeping all the nationalities in check.


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