Was Medieval Moravia in the Hungarian Plain?

Henrik Birnbaum

Martin Eggers:
Das "Großmährische Reich" -  Realität oder Fiktion? Eine Neuinterpretation der Quellen zur Geschichte des mittleren Donauraumes
im 9. Jahrhundert.
Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1995
(Monographien zur Geschichte des Mittelalters, Bd. 40).
Das Erzbistum des Method.
Lage, Wirkung und Nachleben der kyrillomethodianischen Mission.
Munich: Otto Sagner, 1996
(Slavistische Beiträge, Bd. 339).


One of Egger's tenets is that Mojmir's and Rastislav's Moravia -  by him called with this Latinized name also in his German text, in order to set it apart from the common German designation Mähren -  was located not where we traditionally assume it to have been and also not where Boba had sought to place it, i.e., south of the Danube, but in the Great Hungarian Plain -  Alföld -  on the banks of the Tisza River. Its capital, or chief center, was, according to Eggers, Maroswar (modern Marosvár) or urbs Morisena, later renamed Csanád (Romanian Cenad) after one of King Stephen I's victorious warlords, on the river Maros (Mures¸) east of where it enters the Tisza at Szeged. The town was located near today's Arad and seems to have been protected by ramparts which have been excavated (as well as at least one ecclesiastic structure in this settlement; cf. the relevant studies by K. David of 1974 and L. Marghit¸an of 1985 2 ). It was thus in the very heart of what was once considered the "Avar Desert" after the collapse of the Avar realm at the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th century. If settled by Slavs -  or rather to the extent it was settled by Slavs -  this region has previously been considered either an extension of the Great Moravian state under Sventopulk (with its center to the northwest) or of the First Bulgarian Empire (with its center farther to the southeast). 3 The Moravians of this area are by Eggers assumed to have been a decidedly South Slavic tribe, deriving their name from the region of the Southern Morava River, presumably therefore their ancestral home.


If this theory may seem fairly far-fetched, though not entirely inconceivable, the German scholar's real surprise comes in the third section of his earlier book, dealing with "the territorial and conceptual expansion of Moravia under Sventopulk." It should be mentioned here that in discussing the Slavic ruler's greatly expanded state -  allegedly originally centered south of the Danube -  Eggers is much closer to Boba's ideas than in the previous section. His main historical source in this context is the previously mentioned Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea, a text of dubious value as a historical source which, however, he seeks to vindicate. His argument runs roughly as follows: The time of Sventopulk's rule was marked by an enormous expansion. His original regnum, before his assuming power in Moravia proper (east of the mid-Danube) in 871, included not only Bosnia, as posited by Boba, but also a portion of Slavonia between the Sava and Drava Rivers. While Moravia (in the Great Hungarian Plain) and Bosnia-Slavonia thus allegedly were merged in 870/71 as a result of Sventopulk's overthrowing his uncle Rastislav, other territories are said to have subsequently been conquered, or annexed from the East Frankish kingdom and incorporated in Sventopulk's patrimonium. This supposedly applied to Lower Pannonia (around Lake Balaton, i.e., Pribina's and Kocel's former vassal dukedom) in 884, possibly to Upper Pannonia (between the Raab/Rába River and the Danube, around the Neusiedler See) in 884 or 890, the entire region of the "Vulgarii" (north of the Danube, on the rivers Waag/Vák and Gran/Hron in today's Slovakia, with Nitra as its center) in 874/80, and all of traditional Moravia and Bohemia in 890. Less clear is Egger's view of the crucial area of Sirmium (with the city of the same name) in the region south of the lower Sava, up to Belgrade; probably it remained under Bulgarian rule. Dependent on Sventopulk's immense regnum or in some dynastic relation with him personally are said to have been the rulers of the South Slavic territories along the Adriatic coast, formally under Byzantine suzerainty, from the Kvarner archipelago in the north all the way to the Bay of Kotor and Lake Scutari in the south as well as landlocked Serbia (or Rasÿka, with Ras as its chief city). It is in view of Sventopulk's influence, if not dominance, also among the Southern Slavs that we are to understand the significance of the information contained in the Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea, Eggers proposes. Whether, in the north, the Vistulans in South Poland or the Sorbians (residing north of the Czechs) at one point also came under Sventopulk's sway is left open but considered possible.

Not all the details of Eggers' argument can be examined here. One of his chief concerns is, naturally, to explain how and why the Priest of Dioclea wrote his chronicle of the Slavs (Regnum Sclavorum, later translated into Croatian) and how much of his claims can be independently corroborated by other, more reliable sources. To explain the most difficult problem -  the claimed subjugation by Sventopulk (d. 894) also of distant Bohemia -  the German scholar suggests the relatively late conquest of the "Bulgarian" (Avar?) region around Nitra and, more importantly, that it was not the traditional Moravians of the Northern Morava Valley who at one point subdued their Czech neighbors, but that, on the contrary, it was the Czechs -  most of the time forming part of the East Frankish kingdom -  who managed to become masters of the Morava region before they, along with the (traditional) Moravians, were brought under the rule of Sventopulk's "Moravljans."

In his recent follow-up publication Eggers has reiterated and elaborated a number of points raised in his earlier study. Thus, while he repeats his previous entirely untenable assertion, based solely on the unreliable suggestion contained in the Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea, that King Tomislav of Croatia was the grandson of Sventopulk, and a number of his other claims strike one as misleading or outright erroneous -  so, for example, the reference to Methodius as the creator of the Glagolitic script as well as him being the sole author of the Vita Constantini -  the German scholar's new book nonetheless contains several cogent arguments. 6 Among other things, his insistence on Croatia -  or rather Dalmatia and Istria -  as the region where the Cyrillo-Methodian tradition was most firmly rooted makes good sense, while most attempts to somehow associate it with the Czech lands of Bohemia and (traditional) Moravia show certain shortcomings, not to speak of the dubious traces of any Cyrillo-Methodian activity in Southern Poland. According to Eggers, the Church Slavonic literacy in Bohemia must rather be seen as a result of the close contacts between the Benedictine Sázava Abbey and Kievan Rus' (in the 11th century) and, subsequently, in the 14th century, as due to Emperor Charles IV's inviting Croatian Glagolites to Prague. Also, his assessment of the Kiev Folia as possibly having originated at the western edge of South Slavic territory and reflecting the East-West rite, known as St. Peter's liturgy, introduced in the Patriarchate of Aquilea and its missionary field of Dalmatia and Southern Pannonia may indeed have some merit. 7 Though a bit far-fetched, Eggers' idea that the Bohemisms (or Moravianisms) of the Kiev Folia may have something to do with the first suffragan bishop of Zagreb (subordinate to the see of Esztergom), a Czech named Duh, or his entourage, is at least worthy of consideration. Yet the question posed by Eggers -  Old Church Slavonic or Old Bulgarian -  is in fact pointless as no serious scholar has doubted the South Slavic, or, to be precise, East South Slavic (i.e., Old Bulgarian) origin of the language first recorded by the Thessalonian brothers. 8

All in all, however, it must be said that, even though Eggers' new study contains a number of valuable observations, testifying to his great erudition and aptness for novel interpretations of the sources studied (along with some mistaken or unsubstantiated claims and even embarrassing lapses), it is the archeological evidence in the territory claimed by him as the original Moravia -  the Great Hungarian Plain -  that raises the most serious doubts about the correctness of his whole hypothesis; cf. also the references given above in notes 3 and 4. It is another -  equally grave -  matter that it is difficult to understand why all of Methodius' archdiocese should have collapsed shortly after his death and certainly no later than by the advent of the Hungarians if large portions of it, namely, Dalmatia and its immediate hinterland, were left intact and unaffected by the Magyar invasion. The Curia did not, at least initially show any sustained opposition toward the older of the Thessalonian brothers and his missionary work, the hostile activity of his own suffragan bishop (and successor), the German Wiching, rather being of an episodic nature.



2 * K. David, Az Árpád-kori Csanád vármegye mûvészeti topográfiája, Budapest; L. Marghit¸an, Banatul în lumina arheologiei -  sec. VII-XII e.n., Timisoara.

3 * Cf. in particular the highly knowledgable discussion in Á. Cs. Sós, Die slawische Bevölkerung Westungarns im 9. Jahrhundert, Munich, 1973, pp. 3-65, esp. pp. 57-65.


6 * On Tomislav's alleged ancestry, see Das "Grossmährische Reich", pp. 343-350, and Das Erzbistum des Method, p. 90 and p. 92. To be sure, King Tomislav is surprisingly mentioned by name only in relatively few sources and his ancestry is indeed controversial. In all likelihood, though, he was a member of the Trpimir dynasty, presumably the son of Trpimir's son Mutimir (Muncimir); cf., e.g., N. Klaic´, Povijest Hrvata u ranom srednjem vijeku, Zagreb, 1975, pp. 275-278; J. V. A. Fine, Jr., The Early Medieval Balkans, Ann Arbor, 1983 [1989], p. 261; N. Budak, Prva stoljec´a Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1994, pp. 30-33; I. Goldstein, Hrvatski rani srednji vijek, Zagreb, 1995, pp. 269-301. On Methodius as the alleged creator of Glagolitic and the sole author of the Life of his brother, see Das Erzbistum des Method, p. 88 and p. 78.

7 * See op. cit., pp. 114-118.

8 * See ibid., pp. 82-86.

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