With Moravia and Czech Silesia, Bohemia constitutes the traditional Czech Lands, although historically there was a sizable German minority, and in its broader meaning Bohemia is often understood to include this entire area, which until 1918 was a Hapsburg crown land. Prague is the traditional Bohemian capital. Although Bohemia is highly urbanized and densely populated, agriculture and rural life and customs retain their importance. Central Bohemia consists of fertile lowlands and plateaus, drained by the Elbe and Vltava (Moldau) rivers. Grain, sugar beets, grapes and other fruit, flax, and the famous hops used in the breweries of Plzeň (Pilsen) are the principal crops. Prague is the center of a heavy industrial region, and Plzeň is also known for the huge Skoda works, producing machinery and munitions. Bohemia is celebrated for its spas and beautiful resorts, notably Karlovy Vary (Ger. Karlsbad) and Mariánské Láznĕ (Ger. Marienbad). The overwhelming majority of the population is Czech, but there are some Slovak, German, and other minorities.
The Romans called the area Boiohaemia after the Boii tribe, probably Celtic, which was displaced (1st-5th cent. A.D.) by Slavic settlers, the Czechs. Subjugated by the Avars, the Czechs freed themselves under the leadership of Samo (d. c.658). The legendary Queen Libussa and her husband, the peasant Přemysl, founded the first Bohemian dynasty in the 9th cent. Christianity was introduced by saints Cyril and Methodius while Bohemia was part of the great Moravian empire, from which it withdrew at the end of the century to become an independent principality. St. Wenceslaus, the first great Bohemian ruler (920-29), successfully defended his land from Germanic invasion; but his brother, Boleslav I (929-67), was forced to acknowledge (950) the rule of Otto I, and Bohemia became a part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Bohemian principality retained autonomy in internal affairs, however. Later Přemyslide rulers acquired Moravia and most of Silesia.
German influence in Bohemia increased with the growth of the towns and the rise of trade between East and West. Silver, mined chiefly at Kutná Hora, greatly added to the wealth and prestige of the dukes who, by the 12th cent., began to take part in the imperial elections. In 1198, Ottocar I was crowned king of Bohemia, which became an independent kingdom within the empire. The conquests and acquisitions of Ottocar II (1253-78) brought Bohemia to the height of its power and its greatest extent (from the Oder to the Adriatic), but his defeat by Rudolf I of Hapsburg cost Bohemia all his conquests.Golden Age and Hussite Wars
After the Přemyslide line became extinct (1306), John of Luxemburg was elected king in 1310. The reign of his son, Charles IV (1346-78), who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1355, was the golden age of Bohemia, and Prague became the seat of the empire. His Golden Bull (1356) permanently established the kings of Bohemia as electors. In the reigns of his successors, emperors Wenceslaus and Sigismund, religious, political, and social tensions exploded in the movement, both religious and nationalist, of the Hussites against the Holy Roman Empire. The Hussite Wars led to the defeat (1434) of the radical Taborites at the hands of the moderate Utraquists, who were supported by the great nobles. In 1436, by the so-called Compactata, the Utraquists returned to communion with the Roman Catholic Church and established Utraquism as the national religion. Meanwhile the crown had passed to Albert II, a Hapsburg, and then to Ladislaus V of Hungary (in Bohemia, Ladislaus I). George of Podebrad actually ruled for Ladislaus and was elected to succeed him as king in 1458. On his death (1471) the crown reverted to the kings of Hungary—Uladislaus II (Ladislaus II), Matthias Corvinus, and Louis II. The nobles profited from the disorders of the period and in 1487 secured vast privileges, reducing the peasantry to virtual serfdom.Hapsburg Rule
The accession (1526) of Archduke Ferdinand (later Emperor Ferdinand I) began the long Hapsburg domination of Bohemia. Ferdinand began the gradual process by which Bohemia was deprived of self-rule. He also introduced the Jesuits in order to secure the return of Bohemia to Roman Catholicism. The religious situation remained explosive. The conservative wing of the Utraquists had become almost indistinguishable from the Roman Church, and there had arisen a frankly Protestant movement, the Bohemian Brethren (see Moravian Church). The Brethren and their close allies, the Lutherans, won equality with the Utraquists by inducing Emperor Maximilian II to declare (1567) that the Compactata no longer were the law of the land. Rudolf II was forced to grant freedom of religion by the so-called Letter of Majesty (Majestätsbrief) of 1609. When in 1618 Emperor Matthias disregarded the Majestätsbrief, members of the Bohemian diet revolted and dramatized their position by throwing two imperial councilors out of the windows of Hradcin Castle on May 23, 1618.
The so-called Defenestration of Prague precipitated the Thirty Years War, which came to involve most of Europe. Matthias's son (later Emperor Ferdinand II) was declared deposed, and Frederick the Winter King was elected king of Bohemia. Frederick and the Protestants were crushed in the battle of the White Mountain (1620) by Ferdinand II. The Protestants were suppressed, and in 1627 Bohemia was demoted from a constituent Hapsburg kingdom to an imperial crown land; its diet was reduced to a consultative body.
The Thirty Years War laid Bohemia waste; after the Peace of Westphalia (1648), forcible Germanization, oppressive taxation, and absentee landownership reduced the Czechs, except a few favored magnates, to misery. The suppression (1749) of the separate chancellery at Prague by Maria Theresa and the introduction of German as the sole official language completed the process. Joseph II freed the serfs and permitted freedom of worship, but he incurred the hatred of the Czechs by his rigorous policy of Germanization. Leopold II tried to conciliate the Czechs; he was the last ruler to be crowned king of Bohemia (1791). During the later 18th cent. the foundations of industrialization were laid in Bohemia, but the German population fared better than the mostly peasant Czechs.Czech Nationalism and Nationhood
The 19th cent. brought a rebirth of Czech nationalism. Under the leadership of Palacký a Slavic congress assembled at Prague in the Revolution of 1848, but by 1849, although the Czech peasantry had been emancipated, absolute Austrian domination had been forcibly restored. The establishment (1867) of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy thoroughly disappointed the Czech aspirations for wide political autonomy within a federalized Austria. Instead, the Czech lands were relegated to a mere province of the empire. Concessions were made (1879) by the Austrian minister Taaffe; Czechs entered the imperial bureaucracy and parliament at Vienna. However, many Czechs continued to advocate complete separation from the Hapsburg empire.
Full independence was reached only at the end of World War I under the guidance of T. G. Masaryk. In 1918, Bohemia became the core of the new state of Czechoslovakia. After the Munich Pact of 1938, Czechoslovakia was stripped of the so-called Sudeten area, which was annexed to Germany. In 1939, Bohemia was invaded by German troops and proclaimed part of the German protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
After World War II the pre-1938 boundaries were restored, and most of the German-speaking population was expelled. In 1948, Bohemia's status as a province was abolished, and it was divided into nine administrative regions. The administrative reorganization of 1960 redivided it into five regions and the city of Prague. In 1969, Bohemia, along with Moravia and Czech Silesia, was incorporated into the Czech Socialist Republic, renamed the Czech Republic in 1990. The Czech Republic became an independent state when Czechoslovakia was dissolved on Jan. 1, 1993.
See C. E. Maurice, Bohemia from the Earliest Times to the Foundation of the Czecho-Slovak Republic in 1918 (2d ed. 1922); J. Macek, The Hussite Movement in Bohemia (tr. 1965); S. Z. Pech, The Czech Revolution of 1848 (1969); E. Beneš, Bohemia's Case for Independence (1917, repr. 1971); R. Miller, Bohemia: The Protoculture Then and Now (1978); G. Levitine, The Dawn of Bohemianism (1982).
Former kingdom, central Europe. Settled in the 5th century AD by the Czechs, it became tributary to Charlemagne's empire. It was part of the kingdom of Moravia in 870; on the dissolution of Moravia, it became a duchy with an important center at Prague. In the 10th century it expanded to include parts of Silesia, Slovakia, and Kraków. From the election of Ferdinand I as king in 1526, it remained under Habsburg rule until 1918. Following World War I, Bohemia declared independence along with Moravia and Slovakia. It was invaded by Germany in 1939 on the pretext that much of the population was German. After World War II it became a province of Czechoslovakia (later the Czech Socialist Republic). On the breakup of the eastern European bloc, it became part of the independent Czech Republic in 1993.
Learn more about Bohemia with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Bohemia (Čechy; ; Bohemia; Czechy) is a historical region in central Europe, occupying the western two-thirds of the traditional Czech Lands, currently the Czech Republic. In a broader meaning, it often refers to the entire Czech territory, including Moravia and Czech Silesia, especially in historical contexts, such as the Kingdom of Bohemia.
Bohemia has an area of 52,750 km² and 6.25 million of the Czech Republic's 10.3 million inhabitants. It is bordered by Germany to the southwest, west, and northwest, Poland to the north-east, the Czech historical region of Moravia to the east, and Austria to the south. Bohemia's borders are marked with mountain ranges such as the Bohemian Forest, the Ore Mountains, and the Krkonoše within the Sudeten mountains.
After the Bavarian emigration, Bohemia was partially repopulated around the sixth century by the Slavic precursors of today's Czechs, though the exact amount of Slavic immigration is a subject of debate. The Slavic influx was divided into two or (more probably) three waves. The first wave came from the southeast and east, when the Germanic Langobards left Bohemia (circa 568 AD). Later immigrants came from the Black Sea region, as shown by their place names—for example "Dudleb" (today in Prachens region, South Bohemia) is of Iranian origin and "Charvat" is of Turkic origin. Soon after, from the 630s to 660s, the territory was taken by Samo's tribal confederation. His death marked the end of the archaic-"Slavonic" confederation, just the second attempt to establish such a Slavonic union after Carantania in Carinthia.
Other sources (Descriptio civitatum et regionum ad septentrionalem plagam Danubii, Bavaria, 800-850) divide the population of Bohemia at this time into the Merehani, Marharaii, Beheimare (Bohemani) and Fraganeo. (The suffix -ani or -ni means "people of-"). The great tribes of Dudleb, Lemuz and Charvat are missing from this list, which shows a linguistic and cultural shift in favor of Slavonic dialects, a common occurrence in nomadic immigrations. The first religions of these "Bohemians" are unclear, although some Iranian religion-inspired cults (for example, the god Mihr) have been discovered in extant graves (from Pohořelice, Kal, Mikulčice in the 8th century), and a temple of the Fire called Žīži in the center of Fraga. Christianity first appeared in the early 9th century, but became dominant much later, in the 10th or 11th century. The ninth century was crucial for the future of Bohemia - the manorial system sharply declined (as in Bavaria) and the power of central Fraganeo grew.
Initially, Bohemia was a part of Greater Moravia. The latter which was weakened by years of internal conflict and constant warfare. It ultimately succumbed and fragmented due to the continual incursions of the invading nomadic Magyars and Avars. However, Bohemia's initial incorporation into the Moravian Empire resulted in the extensive Christianization of the population. A native monarchy arose to the throne, and Bohemia came under the rule of the Přemyslid dynasty), which would rule the Czech lands for the next several hundred years.
The Přemyslids secured their frontiers from the remnant asian interlocurs, after the collapse of the Moravian state, by entering into a state of semi-vallage of the Frankish rulers, led by including Charlemagne. Charlemange campaigned extensively against the Avars in the late eighth and early ninth century. This alliance was facilitated by Bohemia's conversion to Christianity, in the ninth century. Continuing close relations were developed with the East Frankish kingdom, which devolved from the Carolingian Empire, into East Francia, and eventually became the Holy Roman Empire. .
After a decisive victory of the Holy Roman Empire and Bohemia over invading Magyars in the 955 Battle of Lechfeld, Boleslaus I of Bohemia was granted the March of Moravia by German emperor Otto the Great. Bohemia would remain a largely autonomous state under the Holy Roman Empire for several decades. The jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire was definitively reasserted when Jaromír of Bohemia was granted fief of the Kingdom of Bohemia by Emperor King Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire, with the promise that he hold it as a vassal once he re-occupied Prague with a German army in 1004, ending the rule of Boleslaw I of Poland.
The first to use the title of "King of Bohemia" were the Přemyslid dukes Vratislav II (1085) and Vladislav II (1158), but their heirs would return to the title of duke. The title of king became hereditary under Ottokar I (1198). His grandson Ottokar II (king from 1253–1278) conquered a short-lived empire which contained modern Austria and Slovenia. The mid-thirteenth century saw the beginning of substantial German immigration as the court sought to replace losses from the brief Mongol invasion of Europe in 1241. Germans settled primarily along the northern, western, and southern borders of Bohemia, although many lived in towns throughout the kingdom.
The uprising against imperial forces was led by a former mercenary, Jan Žižka of Trocnov. As the leader of the Hussite armies, he utilized innovative tactics and weapons, such as howitzers, pistols (from Czech píšťala, the flute), and fortified wagons, which were revolutionary for the time and established Žižka as a great general who never lost a battle.
After Žižka's death, Prokop the Great took over the command for the army, and under his lead the Hussites were victorious for another ten years, to the sheer terror of Europe. The Hussite cause gradually splintered into two main factions, the moderate Utraquists and the more fanatic Taborites. The Utraquists began to lay the ground work for an agreement with the Catholic church and found the more radical views of the Taborites distasteful. Additionally, with general war weariness and yearning for order, the Utraquists were able to eventually defeat the Taborites in the Battle of Lipany in 1434. Sigismund said after the battle that "only the Bohemians could defeat the Bohemians."
Despite an apparent victory for the Catholics, the Bohemian Utraquists were still strong enough to negotiate freedom of religion in 1436. This happened in the so-called Basel Compacts, declaring peace and freedom between Catholics and Utraquists. It would only last for a short period of time, as Pope Pius II declared the Basel Compacts to be invalid in 1462.
In 1458, George of Podebrady was elected to ascend to the Bohemian throne. He is remembered for his attempt to set up a pan-European "Christian League", which would form all the states of Europe into a community based on religion. In the process of negotiating, he appointed Leo of Rozmital to tour the European courts and to conduct the talks. However, the negotiations were not completed, because George's position was substantially damaged over time by his deteriorating relationship with the Pope.
Bohemia enjoyed religious freedom between 1436 and 1620, and became one of the most liberal countries of the Christian world during that period of time. In 1609, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II who made Prague again the capital of the Empire at the time, himself a Roman Catholic, was moved by the Bohemian nobility to publish Maiestas Rudolphina, which confirmed the older Confessio Bohemica of 1575.
After Emperor Ferdinand II began oppressing the rights of Protestants in Bohemia, the resulting Bohemian rebellion resulted in the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War in 1618. Elector Frederick V of the Palatinate, a Protestant, was elected by the Bohemian nobility to replace Ferdinand on the Bohemian throne, and was known as the Winter King. Frederick's wife, the popular Elizabeth Stuart and subsequently Elizabeth of Bohemia, known as the Winter Queen or Queen of Hearts, was the daughter of King James I of England. However, after Frederick's defeat in the Battle of White Mountain in 1620, 26 Bohemian estates leaders together with the Jan Jesenius, rector of the Charles University of Prague were executed on the Prague's Old Town Square and the rest were exiled from the country; their lands were then given to Catholic loyalists (mostly of Bavarian and Saxon origin), this ended the pro-reformation movement in Bohemia and also ended the role of Prague as ruling city of the Empire.
Until the so-called "renewed constitution" of 1627, the German language was established as a second official language in the Czech lands. The Czech language remained the first language in the kingdom. Both German and Latin were widely spoken among the ruling classes, although German became increasingly dominant, while Czech was spoken in much of the countryside.
The formal independence of Bohemia was further jeopardized when the Bohemian Diet approved administrative reform in 1749. It included the indivisibility of the Habsburg Empire and the centralization of rule; this essentially meant the merging of the Royal Bohemian Chancellery with the Austrian Chancellery.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the Czech national revivalist movement, in cooperation with part of the Bohemian aristocracy, started a campaign for restoration of the kingdom's historic rights, whereby the Czech language was to replace German as the language of administration. The enlightened absolutism of Joseph II and Leopold II, who introduced minor language concessions, showed promise for the Czech movement, but many of these reforms were later rescinded. During the Revolution of 1848, many Czech nationalists called for autonomy for Bohemia from Habsburg Austria, but the revolutionaries were defeated. The old Bohemian Diet, one of the last remnants of the independence, was dissolved, although the Czech language experienced a rebirth as romantic nationalism developed among the Czechs.
In 1861, a new elected Bohemian Diet was established. The renewal of the old Bohemian Crown (Kingdom of Bohemia, Margraviate of Moravia, and Duchy of Silesia) became the official political program of both Czech liberal politicians and the majority of Bohemian aristocracy ("state rights program"), while parties representing the German minority and small part of the aristocracy proclaimed their loyalty to the centralistic Constitution (so-called "Verfassungstreue"). After the defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, Hungarian politicians achieved the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, ostensibly creating equality between the Austrian and Hungarian halves of the empire. An attempt of the Czechs to create a tripartite monarchy (Austria-Hungary-Bohemia) failed in 1871. However, the "state rights program" remained the official platform of all Czech political parties (except for social democrats) until 1918.
After World War I, Bohemia (as the biggest and most populated land) became the core of the newly-formed country of Czechoslovakia, which combined Bohemia, Moravia, Austrian Silesia, Upper Hungary (present-day Slovakia) and Carpathian Ruthenia into one state. Under its first president, Tomáš Masaryk, Czechoslovakia became a rich and liberal democratic republic.
Following the Munich Agreement in 1938, the border regions of Bohemia inhabited predominantly by ethnic Germans (Sudetenland) were annexed to Nazi Germany; this was the only time in Bohemian history that its territory was divided. The remnants of Bohemia and Moravia were then annexed by Germany in 1939, while the Slovak lands became the Slovak Republic, a client state of Nazi Germany. From 1939 to 1945 Bohemia (without the Sudetenland) formed with Moravia the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (Reichsprotektorat Böhmen und Mähren). After World War II ended in 1945, the vast majority of remaining Germans were expelled. After World War II Czechoslovakia was re-established. In 1946, the Communist Party strongly subsidized by the Soviet Union (due to an agreement amongst the Allies, Patton's armies did not enter Prague and the city had to liberate itself before being officially liberated by the Soviet Red Army) won elections. In February 1948 the Communists ousted the remaining democratic ministers in a coup d´état from the government and abolished democratic freedoms.
Beginning in 1949, Bohemia ceased to be an administrative unit of Czechoslovakia, as the country was divided into administrative regions. Between 1949 and 1989 Czechoslovakia (from 1960 officially called Czechoslovak Socialistic Republic) became a Soviet satellite even though there wasn't a Soviet army present (interestingly enough, surrounding countries including Austria were occupied by the Red Army) until Czechoslovak Communist Party started to reform and democratize itself in 1968. This "Prague Spring" process was stopped abruptly by an invasion of 'brotherly' armies of Warsaw Pact in August 1968. In 1989, Agnes of Bohemia became the first saint from a Central European country to be canonized by Pope John Paul II before the "Velvet Revolution" later that year. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993 (the "Velvet Divorce"), the territory of Bohemia became part of the new Czech Republic.
The Czech constitution from 1992 refers to the "citizens of the Czech Republic in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia" and proclaims continuity with the statehood of the Bohemian Crown. Bohemia is not currently an administrative unit of the Czech Republic. Instead, it is divided into the Prague, Central Bohemian, Plzeň, Karlovy Vary, Ústí nad Labem, Liberec, and Hradec Králové Regions, as well as parts of the Pardubice, Vysočina, South Bohemian and South Moravian Regions.
A Forgotten Daughter of Bohemia: Gertrude Christian Fosdick's out of Bohemia and the Artists' Novel of the 1890s
Jun 01, 2008; In October 1859, George William Curtis, editor of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, attempted to define for his readers the concept...