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Prague Castle

Prague Castle offers a unique example of continuous settlement and uninterrupted human activity for more than thousand years. It became the seat of the profane as well as the church authority of the Přemyslid princedom and all later Central European states with Prague as their capital.

  • Personalities

Personalities

The unknown warrior

Fig. 36: Iron objects from the grave of the ‘warrior’ in the 3rd courtyard. 1 – sharpening steel; 2 – axe; 3, 5 – dagger or knife; 4 – part of a knife or razor; 6 – sword (omitted are the remains of a bucket). Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

Fig. 36: Iron objects from the grave of the ‘warrior’ in the 3rd courtyard. 1 – sharpening steel; 2 – axe; 3, 5 – dagger or knife; 4 – part of a knife or razor; 6 – sword (omitted are the remains of a bucket). Credit: Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague Castle

The unknown man buried in today’s 3rd courtyard probably was an important figure of his time. His high social rank is testified by unusually rich grave goods, unique in the contemporary context of Prague Castle: it contained a long iron sword, an axe, three objects with smaller blades, interpreted as dagger, knife and razor, a sharpening steel or kit for lighting fire, and a wooden bucket.

The grave was excavated under the guidance of Ivan Borkovský in 1928. It was cut out from the soil in the shape of a block. Anthropological examinations did not reveal any sings that would link it to the Přemyslid family, which is yet another argument to date the burial into the pre-Přemyslid era of the 9th century. The context shows that the man was buried on a smaller burial site, which was, however, largely destroyed by later adjustments. The other 16 graves, attested at this cemetery, contained, as usual in the 9th and 10th centuries, either poor or no equipment. The man, referred to as ‘unknown warrior’, could have been a ruler of the castle sometime during the 9th century.

Emma

Fig. 37: St Wenceslas receiving the martyr’s crown from Jesus, adored by Duchess Emma. Gumpold’s Legend of St Wenceslas, illumination 18v from a copy of the legend in the codex kept in the library of Wolfenbüttel, created before 1006. Credit: Auskunft der Herzog August Bibliothek, Lessingplatz 1, D-38304 Wölfenbüttel

Fig. 37: St Wenceslas receiving the martyr’s crown from Jesus, adored by Duchess Emma. Gumpold’s Legend of St Wenceslas, illumination 18v from a copy of the legend in the codex kept in the library of Wolfenbüttel, created before 1006. Credit: Auskunft der Herzog August Bibliothek, Lessingplatz 1, D-38304 Wölfenbüttel

Former Queen and Duchess Emma represents one of the most interesting female characters of early medieval Bohemian history. A lot of theories have been proposed on her origin; most probably she is of Frankish descent. She entered history by a couple of notes in written sources that connected her with Prague Castle. Archaeologically she is known from coin inscriptions, reading ‘ENMA REGINA * CIVITAS MELNIC’, as well as from an illumination on the votive page of the so-called Wolfenbüttel copy of the ‘Legend of St Wenceslas’ by Bishop Gumpold.

Fig. 8: Duke Wenceslas murdered by his brother Boleslav, Gumpold’s Legend of St Wenceslas, illumination 21r from a copy of the legend in the codex kept in the library of Wolfenbüttel, created before 1006. Credit: Auskunft der Herzog August Bibliothek, Lessingplatz 1, D-38304 Wölfenbüttel

Fig. 8: Duke Wenceslas murdered by his brother Boleslav, Gumpold’s Legend of St Wenceslas, illumination 21r from a copy of the legend in the codex kept in the library of Wolfenbüttel, created before 1006. Credit: Auskunft der Herzog August Bibliothek, Lessingplatz 1, D-38304 Wölfenbüttel

According to the most interesting hypothesis, Emma (948/950–November 2, 1006?) was the daughter of the Italian king Lothar and Adelaide of Burgundy. Her mother married the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, on whose court Emma was raised. In 966, she married King Lothair of West Francia and had two sons with him, both of which died early. In 989, she arrived in Bohemia, apparently as the wife of Duke Boleslav II. She took part in the stabilisation of political conditions, had her own coins minted and settled down in Mělník. In 1002, after disputes about the Bohemian throne, she had to flee the country and obviously died in 1006. Her burial place remains unknown.

St Adalbert

Fig. 38: Bishop Adalbert and Bohemian envoys at emperor Otto II’s in Verona, ad 983. Bronze door of the cathedral at Gniezno, around 1175. Credit: Jaroslav Prokop

Fig. 38: Bishop Adalbert and Bohemian envoys at emperor Otto II’s in Verona, ad 983. Bronze door of the cathedral at Gniezno, around 1175. Credit: Jaroslav Prokop

St Adalbert (Vojtěch at birth; around 957–997) was born into the family of prince Slavník, seated in Libice nad Cidlinou (Central Bohemia). Educated in Magdeburg, he became second bishop of Prague. Disgusted by local immorality and pagan conditions, he fled to the Aventine monastery in Rome. In 992, at the request of Boleslav II, he returned. However, after his family was exterminated by the ruling Přemyslids in 995, he became a missionary to die the death of a martyr while christening the Prussians in 997. The Polish ruler Bołeslaw I Chrobry bought back his relics and kept them in Gniezno. In 1039, the relics were looted by the Bohemian Duke Břetislav I during a military campaign. After their return to Prague, the relics were interred on the cemetery next to St Vitus Rotunda.

Already since the 11th century, St Adalbert has been venerated as the second most important patron saint of Bohemia, however, he has never been as popular as St Wenceslas or St Ludmila. He played a symbolic role as the first ‘Czech European’ at the accession of the Czech Republic to the EU.

Břetislav I.

Fig. 39: Scene above: At a hunt, Břetislav’s father Oldřich meets the peasant woman Božena; on the right, their wedding; scene below: Oldřich at his return from the hunt leads Božena to his castle. Illustration from Dalimil’s chronicle, latin translation from the 14th century. Credit: National Library of the Czech Republic

Fig. 39: Scene above: At a hunt, Břetislav’s father Oldřich meets the peasant woman Božena; on the right, their wedding; scene below: Oldřich at his return from the hunt leads Božena to his castle. Illustration from Dalimil’s chronicle, latin translation from the 14th century. Credit: National Library of the Czech Republic

To compensate at least partially his illegitimate status, Břetislav (1002/1005–1055) took Judith, a daughter of the Bavarian nobleman Henry of Schweinfurth, as his wife, whom he had to kidnap from a monastery in Schweinfurth. After the death of his father in 1034, he became ruler, and after years of political instability, consolidated power. In 1039, he took advantage of riots that upset Poland and with the assistance of bishop Šebíř marched against Cracow and Gnezno, looting the relics of St Adalbert. Břetislav decreed upon his grave the first Bohemian code, the so-called Břetislav Decrees. His raid aroused the attention of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III, who in 1040 invaded Bohemia, and in 1041, even besieged Prague Castle. Břetislav subjugated to the emperor, on his knees, wearing penitential garment, he was begging for remission in Regensburg. Henry made him his ally in a campaign to Hungary. In 1054, Břetislav issued the so-called Seniority Law. He died at the castle of Chrudim during preparations for the Hungarian campaign.

Cosmas

Fig. 40: Representation of Cosmas in the Leipzig copy of his ‘Chronicle of the Bohemians’, one of the earliest manuscripts from the end of the 12th century. From 1839 to World War II, it was kept at Leipzig, Germany. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fig. 40: Representation of Cosmas in the Leipzig copy of his ‘Chronicle of the Bohemians’, one of the earliest manuscripts from the end of the 12th century. From 1839 to World War II, it was kept at Leipzig, Germany. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

We do not know anything about Cosmas (c. 1045–1125) descent, but he must have stemmed from a wealthy family that could afford his studies abroad. After the Cathedral school at Prague he continued his studies in Liège, became member of the Prague Chapter, in 1110 its dean. His wife Božetěcha is mentioned in his opus magnum, the Chronicle of the Bohemians. This work marks the beginning of Czech historiography and represents one the main historical sources for the study of early medieval Bohemian history, Cosmas is considered the first Bohemian annalist.

The unknown warrior Emma St Adalbert Břetislav I. Cosmas

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