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3: Toward Political Organization

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The Moravian State proved a merely ephemeral creation, founded at the beginning of the ninth century and destroyed at its end. But it was the first body politic that was large and strong enough to be sometimes named an empire, though incorrectly, and it was undoubtedly established by the Slavs themselves without any foreign impact or leadership. The very name would point to present-day Moravia as its main center, but it rather seems that the real center was in the region of Nitra in Slovakia. The Moravians, close kin of the Slovaks, were of course included from the start, and the Czech tribes of Bohemia also turned toward the new Slavic state in spite of growing German pressure to which they were exposed. That pressure from the Frankish side was precisely the chief reason why the Slavs of the Danubian region, after the fall of the Avars, resuming the old tradition of Samo’s time, at last tried to create an independent political organization. That organization also included the Slovenian tribes south of the Danube, northern and southern Slavs being still immediate neighbors. The Slovenes had their own leader, Pribina, who under German overlordship controlled the region of Lake Balaton in Pannonia until his son Kotzel came under the authority of the dynasty which around 830 created the Moravian State and which after its founder is called the Moymirids.

In 846 Moymir I was succeeded by his nephew Rostislav who was fully aware of a twofold danger which threatened Moravia from the East Frankish Kingdom. Politically, the Germans tried to encircle the Slavic State by an alliance with Bulgaria which had been negotiated between King Louis the German and Boris. At the same time German missionaries continued their eastward drive and had already partly converted the Moravian and Sloven peoples, bringing them under the ecclesiastical authority of German bishops and thus also serving political German interests as usual. Rostislav himself, after being baptized, had first been a vassal of Louis, but as he wanted to free his country from German domination, in 855 he defeated the king s forces. Remaining in a very critical situation, however, in 862 he decided to turn to Byzantium. Through his envoys sent to Constantinople he asked not only for diplomatic assistance in connection with the Bulgar problem, but also for missionaries who would help him to organize a Slavic church independent of German control.

Emperor Michael III and Patriarch Photius entrusted that mission to the two brothers, Constantine and Methodius, who were familiar with the Slavic dialect spoken in the region of Salonika. It was on that dialect that they based their translation of the Gospel and of the liturgical books needed for their mission, since the Byzantine church, in the case of the Slavs as in other similar cases, had admitted the use of the vernacular in their ecclesiastical life. The two Greeks, in particular Constantine (called Cyril as a monk), not only laid the foundations for the development of the language, which under the name of Old Slavonic or Church Slavonic was to remain until the present the liturgical language of most of the Orthodox Slavs, but they also invented a special alphabet, more suitable than the Greek, for expressing Slavic sounds.

That alphabet, too, is still used today by all Slavs who belong to the Eastern church, but in a somewhat modified form. For most probably Constantine himself invented the so-called Glagolitic alphabet, which is based upon the Greek cursive and possibly some Oriental characters also. Only after his death, toward the end of the century, one of his brother s disciples developed that script of limited use into the well-known “Cyrillic” alphabet, combining Greek uncials with some additional signs for specifically Slavic sounds. In any case, the Slavs thus received their own alphabet, which contributed to their literary progress but at the same time created a lasting cultural difference, to a certain extent even a barrier, between those of them who remained faithful to that tradition, and all other European peoples, including those of the Slavs who eventually decided for the Latin alphabet.

That future division of the Slavic world was, of course, based upon something more important than the mere difference of alphabet. In connection with the Oriental Schism, it was to become a profound religious difference between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Slavs. It must be remembered, however, that in the days of Constantine and Methodius, who are recognized as saints by both the Greek and the Roman church, the schism was not yet accomplished, so that the two Apostles of the Slavs, as they are called by both churches, could at the same time remain loyal to Photius, to whose partisans they seem to have belonged in Byzantium, and to the popes, with whom the patriarch had occasional conflicts.

Even Photius could not possibly question that the territory where, on Rostislav’s invitation, they started to work from the next year, 863, was ecclesiastically not under the Patriarchate of Constantinople but directly under Rome. It was, therefore, indispensable to secure from the popes, too, approval of the use of the Slavic language in the liturgy and a clarification of the position of the two brothers in the general organization of the church. In both respects they encountered serious difficulties which, however, resulted neither from their Greek origin nor from any Roman opposition, but from the hostility of the German clergy and also partly from insufficient support by the Moravian rulers.

Already under Rostislav, their main protector, they were opposed not only by the Bavarian missionaries who had worked among the Slavs before the arrival of the two Greeks, but particularly by the Archbishop of Salzburg and the Bishop of Passau who claimed the whole territory of the Moravian State for their dioceses. These claims were backed, of course, by the Eastern Frankish kingdom, which wanted to create there a territorial church under a metropolitan archbishop who would closely cooperate with the king and strengthen his political control over the Slavic princes. Such an approach was a challenge, however, not only to Rostislav but also to the Roman See which was alarmed by the alliance between the secular power and the local metropolitan in many European countries. In the case of the recently converted Moravian State, the Pope much preferred to see there a missionary church under his own exclusive control.

The main argument which the German clergy used in Rome was the alleged danger of replacing the universal Latin language of the Church by the vernacular of the Slavic population which they still considered semi-pagan, as Constantine and Methodius had done. Therefore, after five years of struggle, in 868 the two brothers found it necessary to come to Rome in person in order to obtain from Pope Hadrian II formal approval of their methods and of the establishment of a separate ecclesiastical organization for the Moravian State.

Their arguments in favor of the use of the Slavic language in the liturgy convinced the Pope, who solemnly deposited liturgical books in Slavic on the altars of several churches in Rome. Furthermore, he decided to create a new archdiocese in the Danubian region which thus would be freed from the authority of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Since the elder brother Constantine died in Rome in 869, after receiving on his death bed the highest monastic rank and the name of “Cyril,” only Methodius was ordained by Hadrian II as Archbishop of Pannonia, with his see at Syrmium.

The choice of that place is significant because it was situated at the extreme southern border of the Moravian State, near the Byzantine frontier and far away from the bases of German political and ecclesiastical power. It proved, however, impossible completely to eliminate Frankish influence from the territory of Greater Moravia. Even in Slovakian Nitra, which besides Velehrad in Moravia proper remained the main center of the state of the Moymirids, a German priest, Wiching from Swabia, had to be accepted as bishop. He was, of course, under Methodius’ authority, but he soon became the leader of the opposition against his archbishop, who after his return from Rome in 870 had to struggle for fifteen years against the intrigues and accusations of his enemies.

Methodius’ position was now even more difficult than before because in the same year, 870, Rostislav’s nephew Svatopluk rebelled, with German assistance. After arresting his uncle, he occupied the throne himself. Although he proved a skillful and energetic ruler, who soon broke with the Germans politically and by 874 restored the independence of the Moravian State, he was prepared to compromise in ecclesiastical matters. In particular, he seems to have been less interested than his predecessor in the Slavic liturgy, which continued to be the chief target of the attacks of the German clergy.

Although Methodius probably acted as papal legate to the Slavic peoples, he was tried by King Louis the German and remained in prison for three years. Not before 873 did Pope John VIII obtain his release, and in 879 the Pope again summoned him to Rome. For the second time Methodius succeeded in defending himself against all charges regarding his orthodoxy and in obtaining another papal approval of the use of the Slavic language in church. This time, however, the Pope made some reservations; for instance, he requested that at least the Gospel be first read in Latin. But in general, John VIII continued to support Methodius. He returned to his archbishopric once more, and there, amidst growing difficulties, he defended his work until his death in 885.

In that same year a new pope, Stephen V, in a letter to Svatopluk, the authenticity of which is, however, uncertain, reversed the position of the Holy See in the matter of the Slavic language, prohibiting its use in the liturgy. Svatopluk himself now sided in that matter with Wiching, and the disciples of the two Apostles of the Slavs were expelled from Moravia. They had to take refuge in Bulgaria where they greatly contributed to the lasting Christianization of that even more recently converted country and to the final adoption of the Slavic tongue by the Bulgarians. Their national assembly of 893, which confirmed Boris son Simeon as ruler of Bulgaria, also recognized Slavic as the official language of the Bulgarian church. With the establishment of Slavic schools, that country became for the following centuries an important cultural center where Slavic letters and religious life rapidly developed.

But in the Moravian State the results of the work of Saints Constantine and Methodius did not disappear completely either. Although the so-called Pannonian Legends which glorify their activity may contain some exaggerations, it is highly probable that their missionary activity even reached the Polish tribes on the upper Vistula which were temporarily in the sphere of influence of Greater Moravia. And positive traces of the survival of the Cyrillo-Methodian tradition and of the Slavic liturgy can be pointed out in Bohemia and even in Poland.

Politically, however, the power of the Moravian State was already doomed toward the end of Svatopluk’s reign. In 892 Bishop Wiching, whom he had tried to appease by making concessions in the ecclesiastical field, openly went over to the German side and became the chancellor of King Arnulf. Two years later Svatopluk died, and during the following civil war between his sons, Pope Formosus, probably at the request of Moymir II, sent a papal mission to Moravia which tried to reorganize an independent church directly under Rome. Opposed again by the Bavarian clergy, in cooperation with their king, that action failed not only because the great Apostles of the Slavs were no longer there to support it but also in view of the complete disintegration of the Moravian State.


In spite of the predominantly Slavic character of East Central Europe, the role of some non-Slavic peoples throughout the history of that region could hardly be overrated. In its northern part the Baltic tribes, already important in prehistoric times, were to influence that history only in the later Middle Ages. The historic action of the Magyars, the only Asiatic invaders who notwithstanding their racial origin were included in the European community, started much earlier. Inseparable from Slavic history, their destinies are also closely connected with the development of another non-Slavic people of the Danubian region, the Rumanians, whose present territory they had to cross before occupying the Pannonian Plain. Of European race like the Balts, the Rumanians were always proud of their descent from Roman colonists who through all the vicissitudes of the following centuries remained in what had been the Roman province of Dacia. The Hungarians, however, as the Magyars were called by their neighbors, have always contested that theory of Rumanian continuity, which is one of the most controversial problems in the history of East Central Europe.

The Magyars themselves were one of the Ugrian tribes, closely related to the Finns, which in the first centuries of the Christian era migrated from the Ural region to the North-Caucasian area and from there to the steppes north of the Black Sea. Closely associated with the Khazars for three hundred years, and recognizing the authority of the Khagan, the Magyar clans, though not very numerous themselves, ruled over the native tribes of that region, Slavic and Iranian. But in spite of mutual influences, they were never Slavized, as were the Bulgars.

While the latter moved in the direction of the lower Danube and the Balkans, the Magyars had already extended their domination toward the north in the eighth century. Around 840, under their duke, Olom (Almus), they occupied Kiev, probably in agreement with their Khazar overlords. Soon, however, the first Norman leaders appeared in Kiev, and around 878 the Magyar rule in the Dnieper region definitely came to an end. Under Norman pressure from the north, and defeated by the Pechenegs (Patzinaks), a new Asiatic tribe that was advancing from the east, most of the Magyars moved westward to the Carpathian Mountains.

According to the Rumanian tradition, on both sides of these mountains they found communities that had been created by descendants of Roman settlers. These survived the passage of the successive Asiatic invaders, including that of the Magyars, who penetrated through Transylvania to the Central Plain of what was to be the Hungary of the future. The Hungarians defend the opinion that it was only much later that Rumanian elements, represented by “Vlach” (Wallachian) herdsmen from the Balkans, gradually infiltrated the no man’s land of both Wallachia and Transylvania, the latter having been first settled by Magyars and the closely related tribe of the Szeklers soon after their occupation of the Danubian Plain. That issue, however, was to become of historical importance only in the later Middle Ages; the traditionally admitted date of the Magyar settlement in Pannonia is 896. Under their leader Árpád, the founder of their national dynasty, they permanently occupied the plain on both sides of the middle Danube and completely replaced its Slavic population.

Becoming the immediate neighbors of the Germans who advanced from the west through the Alpine valleys, the Hungarians forever separated the Southern Slavs—Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs, as well as Slavized Bulgars from the Northern Slavs, whether Western (Czechs and Poles) or Eastern (the ancestors of present-day Ukrainians). Furthermore, the Slavic population which remained south of the Carpathians, especially the Slovaks, came for more than a thousand years under Hungarian rule and thus were separated from their nearest kin, the Czechs.

It is hardly necessary to emphasize the consequences of these facts for the whole later course of Slavic and Central European history. At the given moment, the appearance of the Magyars and their lasting conquest finally destroyed the Moravian State, a large part of which became the Hungary of the future. The year 906 is usually regarded as the decisive date. Before and after that year, the Magyars, following the example of the Avars, raided the neighboring territories which they did not actually conquer. These included not only Moravia proper but also the southeastern marches of Germany. They even penetrated to the Italian border and far into Bavaria, and it was there that their onslaught had to be broken, first in 933, by Henry I, King of Germany, and finally in the Battle of Augsburg in 955, by Otto I, a few years before he became Roman Emperor.

It was not before the end of that same tenth century that the pagan Magyars completed the organization of their new state, and under Prince Géza, one of Árpád’s successors, they were converted to the Christian faith chiefly through German missionaries. Unusual, however, was the rapidity with which that people of alien race and nomadic origin integrated itself into the Christian European community and absorbed Western culture. It was soon to become one of that culture’s outposts in a region where conflicting cultural trends had met in the preceding centuries. That advance of the Latin, Catholic West in the direction of South Eastern Europe was particularly significant at a moment when Byzantine influence, rapidly vanishing in Hungary, was achieving its farthest northeastern advance by penetrating into the vast territories of another new state which foreign invaders of Teutonic race had organized in the border regions of the original Slavic homeland, a state which was to become the Russia of the future.

On land, through the Rumania of the future, and particularly across the Black Sea, the Eastern Empire, which together with the Southern Slavs was cut off from Central Europe by pagan and later Catholic Hungary, communicated in war and peace with the distant East Slavic territory which was to become an offshoot of Orthodox Christendom.


The role of the Normans in the history of Western Europe is well known and of great importance indeed. But it was in Eastern Europe that their expeditions and conquests had particularly far-reaching and lasting consequences, since the appearance of Scandinavian vikings, the so-called Varangians, is connected with the origin of what was to be in the future the largest and strongest Slavic state—Russia.

The whole story, as it is told in detail by the Primary Russian Chronicle, raises more controversial issues, however, than any other problem of European history. The legendary Rurik (Riurik), who was invited by the East Slavic and Finnish tribes of the Novgorod region, according to the Chronicle, and arrived there from Scandinavia in 862, has been identified with Roric of Jutland, a Danish lord who is mentioned in contemporary Western sources. And all that we know about him makes it highly probable that he really undertook the expedition to Novgorod, probably as early as between 854 and 856, and there organized a state which under his leadership soon expanded toward the South along the waterways “from the Varangians to the Greeks”—the Dvina and the Dnieper. But it is equally certain that, long before Rurik, Norman vikings from Sweden appeared in what is now Russia and on the Black Sea, using first a longer route which followed the Volga and the Don rivers.

Envoys of these Russians of Swedish race, returning from Constantinople, came in 839 to Ingelheim in Germany to be sent home to their Khagan (as their ruler was called on the Khazar model) by Emperor Louis I. And in 860 a Russian fleet made a first attack against the Byzantine Empire, suffering heavy losses, however, thanks to the courageous defense of the imperial city under the leadership of Photius. These are well-established facts, and it is also quite probable that this first Russian Khaganate had its center somewhere in the Azov region, possibly in Tmutorokan, on the eastern side of the Kerch Strait, where the Russians, coming first as merchants and later as conquerors, made themselves independent of the Khazar Empire early in the ninth century.

On the contrary it is very doubtful whether the name Rus, which is rather misleadingly rendered by Russia and Russians, originated in that same region or in general among the Slavic or Alanic tribes of the steppes north of the Black Sea. The traditional interpretation of that name, as being derived from the name Ruotsi which was given to the Norman Varangians by the Finns, seems more convincing. That philological puzzle would not be so important for the historian if it were not part of the general controversy between “Normanists” and “Anti-Normanists” which started in eighteenth-century historiography and is far from being decided even today.

According to the first of these two schools, it was the Normans who, bringing even the name of Rus from Scandinavia, played a decisive role in the formation of the Russian State, giving to the tribes of the Eastern Slavs their first political organization and remaining their real leaders throughout the ninth and tenth centuries. The Anti-Normanists would reduce that role to the occasional cooperation of various groups of vikings who in the course of these centuries, and perhaps even earlier, came to a Slavic country where the name Rus, of local origin, was already used. That cooperation of experienced warriors might have been valuable, but the comparatively small number of these vikings, including the dynasty founded by Rurik, were soon absorbed and Slavized.

The Anti-Normanist school has certainly contributed to a constructive revision of the oversimplified account given in the Chronicle, which was compiled in the eleventh century. But it seems impossible to contest the Norman initiative in the creation of one or more “Russian” states and in the process of unifying the many tribes into which the Eastern Slavs were divided. The very fact that, thanks to that process, all these tribes enumerated by the chronicler received a common name can hardly be overrated, whatever the origin of that name might be.

That gradual unification under the same Norman dynasty and the use of the common name of Rus, first indicating the Varangian leaders and later all the people under their rule, does not imply the disappearance of all differences, which among the tribes of the Eastern Slavs were not fewer than among the Slavs of the west or of the south. Even from the merely linguistic point of view, at least two groups, a northern and a southern, can be distinguished among these tribes. No less important must have been the difference which developed between those Eastern Slavs who remained in their original homeland and those who, simultaneously with the coming of the Normans, colonized the originally Finnish territories in the northeast, mixing with the native population. And since the names Russia and Russian are specifically applied to the nation which in later centuries was formed precisely in that northeastern colonial region, it is highly questionable to identify these names with Rus and to apply them to all East-Slavic tribes, even to those who are the ancestors of the present-day Ukrainians and White Russians or Byelorussians. For the latter, the designation White Ruthenians would be more appropriate, since in the Latin sources both western groups of the Eastern Slavs are usually called Ruthenians, from the Slavic Rusini which is derived from Rus, and clearly distinguished from Muscovite Russia (Rossiia). To call the latter Great Russia, and to call old Ruthenia (now the Ukraine) Little Russia, is less advisable, although it is supported by the Greek terminology of the later Middle Ages.

The tribe of the Slovenians (Sloven) in the Novgorod region, which first came under Rurik’s control, is indeed Russian in the specific Great Russian sense and was to play a prominent part in the colonization of the Finnish neighborhood long before Moscow appeared in history. Advancing through the territory of the Krivichians, who with their branch of the Polochanians in the Polotsk region correspond to the White Ruthenians of the future, the Normans, led by two of Rurik’s “boyars,” Askold and Dir, went down the Dnieper River and passing between the Dregovichians and Drevlianians in the west, and the Radimichians and Viatichians in the east all of which were tribes that were conquered only later—came into the land of the Polianians around Kiev. Probably around 858 they established their rule in that important center which still paid tribute to the Khazars and was practically controlled by a Magyar leader. Twenty years later, Oleg, who after Rurik’s death ruled in the name of the minor Igor, after occupying the cities on the upper Dnieper, including Smolensk, captured Kiev by ruse. Askold and Dir were killed and the whole area from Novgorod to Kiev was united under the same Varangian leader.

The tribes of the Kiev region are undoubtedly the ancestors of the Ukrainians of today; not only the Polianians but also their western neighbors, the Dulebians in Volhynia (therefore sometimes called Volhynians), as well as the Severians east of the Dnieper River. The Dreylianians must have belonged to the same ethnic and linguistic group too, but the Dregovichians north of them may rather be associated with the later White Ruthenians,while the Radimichians, together with the Viatichians, expanding in the Volga Basin, were the main body of the future Great Russian group. Ukraina was not yet a proper name, attached to the area on both sides of the lower Dnieper as it was from the sixteenth century, but the common designation of any frontier region. Typical frontier men, living south of the Polianians in the steppes between them and the Black Sea, were the Ulichians and the Tivertsians, two tribes which usually are supposed to have belonged to the same group, although they must have been mixed with the populations of Asiatic origin which one after the other migrated through that gateway toward Hungary and the Balkans.

For the Kievan State it was a very vital problem indeed to secure the control of these steppes as an indispensable basis for any further advance in the direction of Constantinople by land or by sea. Already at the beginning of the tenth century, when the Magyars had left that territory to settle beyond the Carpathians, that goal seemed to have been achieved. As a matter of fact, Oleg, who soon after the occupation of Kiev had conquered the Drevlianians and also the Severians, who were formally subject to the Khazars, undertook a first campaign against Byzantium in 907. The Tivertsians, among other tribes, also participated in this campaign. The details of the siege of Constantinople are probably legendary, but the Primary Russian Chronicle also contains a summary of the Russo-Byzantine treaty concluded in the same year, as well as the full text of the supplementary agreement of 911. The Russians received a huge indemnity, and their commercial relations with Byzantium were facilitated through detailed stipulations that were made on the basis of full equality.

One or two years later Oleg died and was succeeded by Igor, a grandson of Rurik. He extended the Varangian raids as far as Anatolia and the Transcaucasian region. Strong enough to crush the revolt of the Drevlianians, Igor suffered serious setbacks in his audacious expeditions, however, and another Turkish people, the Pechenegs or Patzinaks, for the first time invaded the Kievan State and were soon to become a permanent threat to its security. Nevertheless, toward the end of his reign, in 944 Igor organized a campaign against the Byzantine Empire, as his predecessor had done. He even used a horde of Pechenegs as reinforcement. But he only reached the Danube, and the peace treaty of the following year, which was less favorable to the Russians in its detailed commercial clauses, included a political agreement directed against the Khazars and the Volga Bulgars. It is therefore also possible that the ruler of the Tmutorokan Russians, who was particularly interested in relations with these peoples, was among the princes who, besides “grand prince” Igor, concluded the treaty. But even the Kievan land was obviously not yet fully united under his control, and the same year he was killed by the Drevlianians from whom he wanted to extort an increased tribute.

After avenging his death, his widow, Olga, who was possibly of Slavic origin in spite of her Scandinavian name, ruled for several years in the name of their minor son Sviatoslav, the first member of the Varangian dynasty to receive a Slavic name. Olga improved the administration of the Kievan State and was the first to realize that in order to enter the community of European nations, that state had to be Christianized. In the treaty of 945, besides the pagan majority, “Christian Rus” are already mentioned, and it was from Byzantium that since the days of Photius the Christian faith was being propagated among both the Slavic population and their Norman leaders. But Olga, probably baptized in Kiev in 955, wanted to obtain for her country an autonomous ecclesiastical organization, and for that purpose she negotiated with both Eastern and Western Christendom, just as the Bulgars had done before their conversion. And although even in the tenth century there was not yet any schism separating Rome from Byzantium, the issue was of the greatest possible importance for the future.

Olga first went to Constantinople where in 957 she was solemnly received by Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Probably, however, no agreement was reached, since two years later she sent her envoys to the German king, Otto I, asking him to send a bishop to Kiev. This was before Otto’s coronation by the pope as Roman Emperor, but in any case it would have brought Russia under papal authority and under Western influence.

Just as in the case of the Moravian church almost one hundred years earlier, it would have been a German influence. In this case, however, it seemed less dangerous politically because of the great distance between the two countries, which were separated by all the Western Slavs. Nevertheless, when after initial difficulties that probably resulted from that very distance, a German monk ordained as bishop eventually reached Kiev, he was not accepted there and in 962 he had to return.

At that time, when Otto I was busy with his imperial projects in Italy, Kiev was already ruled by Sviatoslav himself. The failure to establish a Catholic ecclesiastical organization there was therefore caused not only by the problem of its autonomy but also by the lack of interest of a prince who showed all the distinctive features of a pagan viking. His ambition was first directed against the East where in two expeditions, in 963 and 968, he destroyed the Khazar Empire. He was, however, unable permanently to conquer that vast territory which was now open to new invasions from Asia. After entering Tmutorokan and raiding the Volga Bulgars, he became involved in the problems of Byzantium and the Balkans between his two eastern campaigns. In spite of the Pecheneg danger threatening Kiev, he was chiefly interested in the conquest of Danubian Bulgaria where he wanted to establish his capital. Finally, however, both Bulgarians and Greeks joined against him, and in 971, after several defeats, he had to give up his claims. The next year, on his way back to Kiev, he was killed by the Pechenegs.

The interlude of Sviatoslav’s adventures delayed the conversion and definite organization of the Kievan State. The Norman element which had so greatly contributed to the foundation of that state was, however, practically absorbed by the East Slavic population, which now was ready for joining the other Slavs, Western and Southern, in entering the European community. The later tenth century is therefore the decisive transition period between the early background of the whole East Central European region and its medieval development into a group of independent Christian states at the border of both the Eastern and the restored Western Empire and of their respective spheres of influence.

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