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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents


To 1918

Although the history of Czechoslovakia as a sovereign state dates only from the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire at the end of World War I, the military traditions of the Czechs and Slovaks date back to the upheavals of the Middle Ages in Central Europe. Boleslav I of Bohemia, for example, commanded Czech troops at the Battle of Lechfeld in 955, when the forces of the Holy Roman Empire under Otto I finally halted the Hungarian raids through Europe. After their defeat, the Hungarians retreated into the Carpathian Basin, and for most of the next 1,000 years the Slovaks remained under Hungarian domination.

King John of Bohemia and his son Charles fought on the side of the French against the English during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). John, lashed to his horse because of blindness, rode to his death on the battlefield at Crecy. Charles, wounded in the same battle, returned to Prague as king and was later crowned Holy Roman Emperor. He is remembered in Czechoslovakia as an enlightened, benevolent king of Bohemia. Charles founded the university that bears his name and ordered the construction of the bridge across the Vltava River, which was also named in his honor. Charles hired French and Italian architects to build the churches, palaces, and mansions that made Prague one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

Additional popular military traditions originated in the religious wars of the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. During the Hussite wars, Jan Zizka became a military leader of such skill and brilliance that his name is well remembered more than 500 years later. Two centuries after the Hussite wars, religious strife again wracked the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, and at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, Czech freedom was lost to the Austrian Hapsburgs (see Hapsburg Absolutism and the Bohemian Estates , ch. 1).

Data as of August 1987