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The first inhabitants of the Czech lands were prehistoric fish. That's because the country, at the time, was covered by a prehistoric ocean - thanks to which it is possible to find some very nice fossils of trilobytes in the Czech Republic today.
Today's Czech Republic was later populated by dinosaurs of all sorts, and later by neanderthals and even by mammoths. The prehistoric settlement of the present-day Czech Republic by people culminated in the fourth century B.C. with the arrival of the Celts, the first modern human inhabitants of this territory that we know of. In fact, the Latin name for the Czech lands, "Boiohaemum" (Bohemia), is derived from the name of the Boii Celtic tribe; and the Czech name for the Moldau River (which flows through the capital city of Prague) is Vltava - which is said to come from the Celtic "Vlt" meaning wild, and "Va" meaning water.
The Czech Celts were in part chased out of the region and in part assimilated by the next peoples to inhabit the area: the Germanic Marcomanni and Quadi tribes from the west and the Romans from the south. The Romans didn't actually occupy Czech territory - they only got as far north as the Danube River, which flows from Germany - through Austria along its border with Slovakia - and then over to Hungary before continuing on to Yugoslavia. During the Migration of Peoples - roughly from the 3d to the 7th centuries - Slav colonization spread westward from the steppes of the East all the way to the territory of the present-day Czech Republic. From the sixth century AD on, the Slavic peoples gradually settled into the regions which had been conveniently abandoned by the Germanic tribes.
This is the way that it all came to be - according to Czech legend: Once upon a time there were three brothers: Czech, Lech and Rus. One day, they decided to find a new place to live, and so they and their tribes set out on a journey. They got as far as the Dnieper River when Rus said, "This is the place for me and my tribe!" and there the Russians stayed. Czech and Lech continued. Soon, they came upon a rich land overflowing with milk and honey and Czech (who is known as "Praotec Cech," or Great-Granddad Czech in these parts) climbed to the top of Rip hill in Bohemia and decided that this was the place for him and for his tribe. Lech and his people continued their journey and settled in present-day Poland. That's the way that the Czechs tell the story, we don't know what the Poles and the Russians have to say about it...
Well, Cech's people were happy in the Czech lands, time passed, and after a few generations the Slavs of Bohemia had a new leader - a guy by the name of Krok, who lived at Vysehrad (which means "high castle" and is today the site of the Czech National Cemetery). Probably the most important thing about Krok were his three very beautiful daughters, who were named Kazi, Teta and Libuse. The last of these, Libuse, had special powers which allowed her to see the future. One day, whilst she was standing atop Vysehrad hill, she had a vision in which she foretold of the glory of the Czech capital: she said that on the seven hills of Prague a fair city would grow, the fame of which would rise to the very stars. And all that she saw and all of which she foretold really came true. Of course!
Libuse's talent also came in handy when it came time for her to marry. According to legend, she inherited rule over the Czech tribes from her father, Krok. As ruler of the lands, she was also the highest 'court of appeal' for disputes among the people. It is said that a guy who did not like one of her decisions as judge started a stink about the fact that the Czechs were ruled by a woman. And so Libuse had another vision - and sent her white horse - followed by a group of her subjects - to go out and find a guy ploughing. Sure enough, the horse and the humans did come upon just such a man and Przemysl Ploughman (Premysl Orac in Czech) married Libuse and together they started the Przemyslid Dynasty, which ruled over the Czech lands till the 14th century.
Now, while Cech and Libuse are the stuff of imaginative Czech legend, it is believed that Samo - who may or may not have ruled this part of the world in the first half of the seventh century AD - was probably a real person. It's hard to tell, though, since nobody is sure of minor details like where Samo was from, where Samo lived, or where Samo ruled. Samo, if he did exist, is thought to have been a Frankish merchant who placed himself on the side of the Slavs against the wicked Avar tribes of Hungary. He is mentioned in early chronicles, where his address is given as Wogastisburg fortress. Nobody today knows where this Wogastisburg fortress was - but it's believed to have stood on Rubin hill in Bohemia.
Under Samo's rule. the first successful attempt at uniting the Slavic tribes took place. The Slavs are not exactly known for their brotherly love for one another (then again, who in Europe is?), and the reason for this unification under Samo was, predictably, quite pragmatic. The Slavic tribes cooperated in order to withstand attacks by the Avars, a powerful Asian tribe whose home was on the plains of Hungary.
Samo came and went, and nobody's quite sure what came after him. According to period chronicles, the people living along the Morava River at the time were already known as "Moravians," and these Moravians - in alliance with the Franks and under the command of Charlemagne - finally helped to decisively repel the Avars from Central Europe in the 8th century.
This cleared the way for the establishment of the first big Slavic state on present-day Czech territory, Greater Moravia. By the end of the ninth century, Greater Moravia was ruled by the Moravian prince Svatopluk and consisted of its original South Moravian center, the southernmost bits of present-day Poland and Silesia, the western part of Hungary and, for a short time, the whole of Bohemia. This was the first legal sort of state structure in the area to accept Christianity, and the cultural development of the Greater Moravian Empire is inseparably linked to the spread of the eastern Byzantine liturgy of Sts Cyril and Methodius, who came to these parts in 863. Some buildings from around about this time still stand - mostly Romanesque basilicas like the one on Rip Hill (the very hill that Great-Granddad Czech liked so much!), at Vysehrad, at Prague Castle and at other places. It was Cyril and Methodius, too, who brought the written word to the region (the Cyrillic alphabet is named for Cyril even though his real name was not Cyril but Constantine). The beginning of a written Slavic language was to be of enormous importance to Slavic nations in the Middle Ages. On the downside, the introduction of Christianity to this territory was so overwhelmingly successful that we know very little today about the pre-Christian religion of the pagan Slavs.
The Greater Moravian Empire disintegrated after the Hungarian invasion of 903 or 904. After that, the Slavic mission in Moravia - which had been established by the missionaries Cyril and Methodius - collapsed, and the population reverted to tribal conditions. The heritage of the Greater Moravian Empire, however, was to be preserved with the ascent of the Przemyslid dynasty to the throne of Bohemia.
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