Early Beginnings and the Přemyslids (870-1306)

It is in Roman records that historians can trace the history of the Boii, who were a Celtic tribe living in the Prague area – a land that they called Boiohaemum (you might recognize this to be similar to “Bohemia” and it’s where the name comes from). By the 6th century however, Slavic tribes had replaced the Celts in the area.

The Přemyslid dynasty is the first dynasty of note to appear in the area we now call Prague, and the first known members were Prince Bořivoj and his wife Ludmila, who were converted to Christianity by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, who came from Byzantium. It wouldn’t take long, however, for the Byzantine Orthodox religion to be replaced by Roman Christianity though, mainly due to Bohemia’s connections to Western Europe. It was also during the time of Prince Bořivoj that the family moved to the residence in Hradčany.

The next in line to the dynasty was Václav I (also known as Wenceslas and the subject of the famous Christmas carol), and his grandmother made sure that he was Christian before she was murdered by her daughter-in-law. Václav I was also killed, this time by his own brother, and legend states that, like his grandmother, he was killed because of his Christian beliefs – this is disputed though, and many historians state that an inter-family power struggle was probably the cause of both deaths. Václav I and Ludmila were both considered holy figures after their deaths though, and they were both made into the first patron saints of Bohemia.

Prague started to grow around the royal residence in Hradčany and also around the German merchant settlements in Old Town. A record written by an emissary from Cordoba, named Ibrahim ibn Ya’qúb, in 965 stated that Prague was bigger than a village, but not as large as a town. It also noted that Prague had been “made richer by commerce” than any other place he knew of within Europe.

In 993, Vojtěch (Adalbert), the second bishop of Prague – Prague has only become a bishopric in 973 – founded the city’s first monastery, at Břevnov. He became the third patron saint of Prague in 999. The fourth patron saint is Procopius (Prokop), who founded the Sázava monastery in 1032 and was canonized in 1204. More and more monasteries were founded under the rule of Vladislav II, while the Knights Templar of Malta built a monastery at the foot of the first bridge over the river, naming it in honour of Vladislav’s queen, Judith.

It was in 1212 that Bohemia was elevated to the status of a kingdom by the Golden Bull of Sicily, and they placed one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire as its king. The most powerful period enjoyed by the Přemyslids came when under the rule of Otakar II (1253-1278) though, as under his rule the kingdom conquered territory from the Baltic to the Adriatic, and he was even considered a candidate for emperor. During his reign, Prague also became a centre for education, as well as architecture. He also founded Malá Strana, which was below the castle and inhabited by South German colonists. His sister Agnes also founded a famous hospice in the Old Town.

The Přemyslid dynasty would finally come to an end in 1306, when Wenceslas III was assassinated.

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