Around the 4th century B.C. the present-day Czech Republic was populated by Celts. The Celtic Boii tribe gave the country its Latin name – Boiohaemum (Bohemia). At the end of 5th and the beginning of 6th century Slavs settled in the territory of Bohemia and Moravia during the period known as the Migration of Peoples. The first half of the 7th century marks the first successful attempt to unite Slavonic tribes that resisted the pressure of the powerful Avar empire centered in the Hungarian lowlands, and defended its territory against the forces of the Frank attackers from the west, with partial success.
The Czech state, formerly known as Bohemia, was formed in the late 9th century as a small duchy around Prague, at that time under the dominance of the powerful Great Moravian Empire. The culture of the Great Moravian Empire greatly influenced the development of culture and religion among the Eastern and Southern Slavs in the Middle Ages. In 863, the Byzantine Christian missionaries Constantin and Methodius came to Moravia to introduce Slavic liturgy there. Very soon, however, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church expanded, proving to be decisive in the course of the history of Bohemia and Moravia.
The Premyslid Dynasty (9th century – 1306)
After the fall of the Empire in 907, the centre of power was transferred from Moravia to Bohemia, under thePřemyslids, who united small Slavic tribes. This happened under the influence of German neighborhood. The Czech Church was controlled by the Bishop of Regensburg. Bohemia became the center of an independent state-building process. Since 1002 it was formally recognized as part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1212 the duchy was raised to a kingdom and during the rule of Přemyslid dukes/kings and their successors, the Luxembourgs, the country reached its greatest territorial extent (13th–14th century). Přemyslids invited ethnic Germans to cultivate land. Germans populated towns and mining districts and, in some cases, formed German colonies in the interior of Bohemia and since that both ethnics lived together for many centuries.
The Luxembourg Dynasty (1310 – 1437)
The kingdom of Bohemia reached its height of power and prestige during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378), the second Luxembourg on the throne of Bohemia. He established Charles University in 1348 – it was the first university founded north of the Alps. In 1344, the Prague Archbishopric was founded. Charles IV was crowned Roman Emperor in Rome in 1355.
The Hussite Revolution (1419 – 1436)
A powerful Church reform movement began in Bohemia in the beginning of 15th century. Its spiritual leader, JanHus (also referred to in English as John Huss), was burnt at the stake for his teachings in Constance in 1415. Despite his death, his supporters successfully continued in their efforts to reform the Church. Luther regardedHus as his predecessor. During the Hussite wars the kingdom faced economic embargoes and crusades from all over Europe. The country burst out into the civil war and many catholic churches and monasteries were destroyed. The agreement between Hussite Bohemia and Catholic Europe was proclaimed in 1436 and confirmed the Hussitedenomination. The Hussite movement changed the structure of society in many ways. It created religious dualism for the first time in Christian Europe.
The Jagellon Dynasty (1471-1526)
During the reigns of Jagellons, the power of the Estates grew, however, royal power diminished. Various conflicts also took place: a conflict between royal towns and nobles, and religious struggles between the Hussite Church and the minority Catholic Church which aimed to regain its former power.
The Habsburg Dynasty (1526-1918)
The Habsburgs of Austria succeeded to the throne of Bohemia when the Jagellon line died out. The Czech Estates forced Habsburgs to issue a decree – so called “Maiestatus” – proclaiming freedom of religious confession.Habsburgs however tried to limit this freedom and their efforts sparked a civil war between the Estates and the Catholic Emperor. The Bohemian Revolt (1618–20) lost in the Battle of White Mountain led to Thirty Years War, which brought political disorder and economic devastation to Bohemia. The Habsburgs started forcedrecatholization and Germanization. The people of Bohemia were forced to accept the Catholic faith or to emigrate. The throne of Bohemia was made hereditary in the Habsburg dynasty and the most important offices were transferred permanently to Vienna. The Kingdom of Bohemia lost its independence for the following almost 300 years, until 1918. In the period after the end of the Thirty Years’ War high Baroque culture became deeply rooted in Bohemia. Czech Baroque influenced the architecture of Czech towns and villages for several centuries. A crisis of feudalism and the fiscal interests of the state led to the Enlightment reforms of Maria Theresa and Joseph II in the second half of the 18th century. The reforms brought some positive results, but also contributed to the centralization of power and to Germanization, which proved to be a serious threat to the identity of the Slavic nationalities of the empire.
Foundation of the Modern Czech Nation
in the 19th century, German language was the official language and was dominant in the towns and within the higher society. The Czech language was mostly spoken in the countryside. Although the Czech national revival movement aspired at first only to a revival of the Czech language and culture, it soon began to strive for political emancipation. In the revolutionary year 1848, Czech politicians made the first coherent political propositions aimed at rebuilding the empire into a federalist state. A desire for national emancipation was supported by the quick industrialization of Bohemia, which made the country the most developed land of the monarchy in the second half of the 19th century. The national movement resulted into growing tense between Czechs and Germans and finally led to a creation of Czechoslovakia.
At the close of World War I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia in 1918. Czech and Slovak political leaders brought the idea of “Czechoslovak” nation (both languages are very similar) in order to exceed the German minority (in 1918 there were roughly 7 millions of Czechs, 3 millions of Germans, 2 millions of Slovaks, almost 1 million of Hungarians and 0.5 million ofRuthenians). From the beginning, Germans refused to accept the idea of the Czechoslovak state and only after ten years German social democrats became members of the coalition government. During the interwar years, having rejected a federal system, the new country’s predominantly Czech leaders were frequently preoccupied with meeting the increasingly strident demands of other ethnic minorities within the republic, most notably the Slovaks, the Germans, and the Ruthenians (Ukrainians). Adolf Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany, economic crisis and also predominance of Czechs led to radicalization of Germans and in 1935 Sudeten German Party wan elections. Leaders of this party wanted unite bordering Sudetenland with Germany. Threatening war, Hitler reached through the Munich Agreement in September 1938 (signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain) the cession ofSudetenland, where all Czech population was forcibly expelled. This led into political crisis and eventually on the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany occupied the rest of Czech part of the country in March 1939 and Slovakia became an independent state allied with Germany. Germans established Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
The 2nd World War (1939-1945)
The assassination of Reichsprotector Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 by a group of British-trained Czech and Slovak commandos led to reprisals, including the annihilation of the village Lidice. All adult male inhabitants were executed, while females and children were transported to concentration camps. Except for the brutalities of the German occupation in Protectorate (and, after the Slovak National Uprising in August 1944, also in Slovakia), Czechoslovakia suffered relatively little from the war damages. The Jewish population was virtually annihilated. Many Jews emigrated after 1939. By 1945, some 14,000 Jews remained alive in the Czech lands. In total, some 360,000 people died during the war.
Development after 1945
In the months following the end of the war “wild” expulsions happened from May till August 1945. Czechoslovak President in October 1945 called for the “final solution of the German question” which would have to be “solved” by deportation of the ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia. Some 3 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia with Allied approval, their property and rights declared void by the presidential decrees. Several thousand died violently during the expulsion and more died from hunger and illness as a consequence. After the war, a reunited but truncated Czechoslovakia (less Ruthenia) fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. Disillusion with the Western response (i.e. Munich Agreement) and gratitude for the liberation of the major portion of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army, the Communist Party won the majority in the 1946 elections. Czechoslovakia became a communist-ruled state after the coup d’état in 1948 . In 1968, an invasion by Warsaw Pact troops ended the efforts of the country’s leaders to liberalize communist rule and create “socialism with a human face,” ushering in a period of repression known as “normalization.” The peaceful “Velvet Revolution” swept the Communist Party from power at the end of 1989 and inaugurated a return to democratic rule and a market economy. On 1 January 1993, the country underwent a nonviolent “velvet divorce” into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004.