Go to content Go to menu

Mikulčice the Center of the Great Moravian Empire

The Great Moravian Empire reached its largest territorial extent under the earl Svätopluk I (Svatopluk in Czech), who ruled from 870 to 894. Although the borders of his empire cannot be exactly determined, he controlled the core territories of Moravia as well as other neighbouring regions, including Bohemia, most of Slovakia and parts of Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and Ukraine, for some periods of his reign. Separatism and internal conflicts emerging after Svätopluk's death contributed to the fall of Great Moravia, which was overrun by the Hungarians who then included the territory of the now Slovakia in their domains. The exact date of Moravia's collapse is unknown, but it occurred between 902 and 907.

Great Moravian Chorale - "Velkomoravský chorál" or "Gorazdova modlitba" ("Prayer of St. Gorazd") is an oldest preserved written relic in Old Slavonic language on area of the Great Moravian Empire (833–907). Glagolitic script used was first alphabet of the Slavic language which were created by Slavic apostletes St. Cyril and Methodius.  "On our Kingdom, Lord, gracefully look, Take our stranger, And do not put us in captivity, to Pagan peoples. For Christ, our Lord, Who reigns with the Father and with the Holy Spirit." 

From the sixth until the tenth century, a Slavic fortified settlement existed 3 km away from the modern village. The settlement was one of the main centres of the Great Moravian Empire, plausibly its capital city. Excavations, led by Josef Poulík, unearthed the remnants of twelve churches, a palace, and more than 2,500 graves (three containing African skeletons) (including a horse burial). The only still-standing church safely dated to the Great Moravian period is found in the nearby Slovak village of Kopčany just across the Morava river. The excavation complex is nationally recognised as the Mikulčice-Valy or Mikulčice Archaeopark heritage site.


the fortification plan

The excavations commenced in 1954, when Joseph Poulík[6] discovered the 2nd Church in the curve of the rampart close to the western entrance of the acropolis. The church was surrounded by a cemetery of about 200 graves, including three burials with swords (nos 90, 265 and 280) and rich grave goods in other burials including spurs, buttons and earrings and elaborately ornamented belt fitting. Excavations of the adjacent ramparts showed that they were built in two phases. To the East another stone building was found, originally thought to be a church, but this interpretation is not now accepted. In 2011 the new Exhibition Pavilion was opened which incorporates the foundations of Church 2.

In 1957 excavations moved to the 3rd or Basilica church. This doubled aisled church with an eastern apse and western atrium and narthex, is by far the largest church to have been found at Mikulčice. It may have served as a Cathedral. It was surrounded by a graveyard of about 550 burials, some of which were very rich and included five burials with swords (nos 341, 375, 425, 438, 500 and 580). 580 was a particularly rich burial, placed in the Nave of the church, and is likely to have been a member of the ruling elite. It contained a sword, an axe, a dagger with decorated hilt, a bucket, belt fittings and a golden button. The body had been placed in a coffin made from forged iron panels.

aerial view of the site

In 1958 the excavations moved to the Palace building, to the west of Church 3. The Palace had been built of stone, but the stone had been removed and the rectangular outline was preserved by the robber trenches. The building was 26m long and 10m wide, with a hall with a fireplace,at the west end and a smaller chamber at the east end. Some rich burials were found in the area and there was extensive evidence of metalworking including goldsmithing. There was some evidence of settlement that pre-dated the Greater Moravian Empire including a hoard of clay animal figurines. A number of iron styli for writing on wax tablet were discovered, suggesting that the building would have been used for administrative purposes.

church no.1

Also excavated in 1958 was the 4th church, which was almost rectangular with an apse. It was surrounded by about 100 burials. The graves were more poorly furnished, possibly reflecting Christianisation. In this cemetery there were more female burial than male. Close to this church was the largely destroyed 11th church, associated with a much richer cemetery. This included the burial (no. 821) of a six-year-old child with a cast bronze Avar horse head fitting, pottery vessels, a bucket and a bell.


Excavation of the 5th church followed in 1959, together with a timber hall building with wattle and daub infill panels. The fifth church had a rectangular nave with an almost rectangular chancel. Adjacent to the church, which was next to a roadway leading to a gateway in the rampart, was a metalworking workshop producing high quality goods.

church no. 10

In 1960 excavation moved to an extramural settlement outside the rampart, which had been reached over the river course by a wooded bridge. Extensive remains of wood were recovered including a logboat. Also discovered was a circular stone rotunda church with two semi-circular apses. Also in 1961 the 8th church was excavated, which had a rectangular nave and chancel. The graves of surrounding cemetery were relatively poorly furnished, but in the nave of the church was found a large hoard ironwork, including axes, ploughshares sickles and iron ingots. Also excavated was the bridge leading into the Outer bailey and the surrounding rampart. Finds from river-bed included another longboat, an archery bow, identified as being made from English yew, wicker fish-traps, ladles, spoons, buckets and vats.

church no. 4

In 1962, the extramural settlement, on a former island, known as Kostelisko, was excavated. The Church was a round structure with four apses or niches set within the thickness of the walls of the rotunda. The church had survived into the 15th century, when it had been fortified during the Hussite wars. The cemetery associated with the church contained about 80 burials of the Great Moravian period, but also Early Medieval burials. The Moravian burials were very rich and contained a number of warrior burials with iron axes and spurs. In 1963–4 Excavation moved to investigating the interior of the Outer bailey and also church no 10, which was outside the ramparts and over the other side of the former river. In the outer bailey there were numerous wooden dwellings and a number of these building had rich graves cut through their floors. Below this level on the bedrock there was an ashy layer with Avar cast metalwork suggesting an 8th-century settlement that pre-dated the Great Moravian Empire.


From 1964 to 1974 the second phase of excavation explored the outer bailey and oxbow lakes with preserved woodwork and bridges. This was followed by the third phase from 1975 to 1990, which concentrated on area excavation within the ramparts of the acropolis which ended previous work. Also between 1984 and 1990 the Kostelisko cemetery was excavated to the west of the 9th church. This contained c.415 graves which were accompanied by rich grave goods. In 1990 the yearly excavations were suspended. In 1993 a series of limited excavations, mainly to confirm the stratigraphy on the main sites were started. Also the Research Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences started rescue excavations in the vicinity of Mikulčice. These include the Panské Cemetery, excavated in 1999–2000, when the railway to Prerov was widened. This cemetery revealed 128 burials from the 9th to the 11th centuries.

basilica,  church no. 3

The stone used for the building of the church would have been quarried from the White Carpathian Mountains and brought a distance of about 8 kilometres. The churches were rendered on the outside and plastered internally. There is evidence for wall painting, which appears to have been mainly geometric designs in the 4th and 6th churches. The lack of evidence for roofing materials, makes it likely that the roofs were covered with split wooden tiles or shingles.


The churches discovered at Mikulčice belong to the general tradition of Pre-Romanesque Church architecture but the design and layout can be seen as being derived from various areas of Europe; from Byzantine architecture, Italian architecture, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon and Celtic of the British Isles. This mixture of styles is not surprising. Initially the bishop of Passau was charged with the Christian mission in mission in the area north of the Danube in the 8th century. In this he was assisted by Hiberno-Scottish Monks. The first Moravian ruler known by name, Mojmir I of Moravia was baptised in 831 by Reginhar, bishop of Passau[19] Mojmir was deposed by Rastislav in 846; as Mojmir was aligned with the Germans and the Catholic Church, Rastislav asked for support from the Byzantine Empire and aligned himself with the Eastern Orthodox Church. This was followed in 863 by the mission of Cyril and Methodius and for the remainder of the century there was a power struggle over the Christianization of Moravia. This is clearly reflected in the church architecture at Mikulčice.


Over 2,500 inhumation burials, mainly in cemeteries of the Great Moravian period, have now been found at Mikulčice. The largest and richest of these cemeteries were those associated with the Basilica church (no. 3) and the Kostelisko site. The detailed study of the chronology and typology of grave goods is yet to be completed.[20] A degree of social stratigraphy can be distinguished in the[clarification needed] with the élite warrior burials who are accompanied by their swords and the horse-men who are equipped with gilded bronze spurs and battle axes.


Very typical of Great Moravian metalworking is the hollow globular metal buttons or gombik that were used, often in pairs, to hold a cloak or garment around the neck, They occur with both male and female burials and were almost certainly made in local workshops.