The Migration of Nations and the             Arrival of the Slavs in Slovakia

by Ján Steinhübel

Since the beginning of the Common Era belonged Moravia, the Over-Danubian part of Lower Austria and South-West Slovakia to the Suebi tribe of Quadi. East of the Quadi there were the Celtic Cotines and the Illyrian People of Os who were at the end of the Marcomanni wars (166 - 180) deported by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Pannonia. After the leaving of the Cotines and the People of Os penetrated the Quadi the territory of Central Slovakia. In the northeast of the Carpathian Basin, in the upper Tisa region, there settled during the Macomanni wars, most probably in 171 or 172, the Vandal tribe of Hasdings. We know on the basis of the findings of Vandal grey ceramics that their settlements spread even to East Slovakia, to Zemplín, Abov and Šariš. The areas south of the Vandal domain were in 271 taken by the Gepids, who settled under the rule of their king Fastida upon the rivers of Crasna, Berataul and Crisul Repede. This territory bordered to the northwestern part of the Roman province of Dacia, which was at that time conquered by the Visigoths. The Vandals as well as the Alans and a part of the Suebi (Quadi) refused to accept the rule of the Huns and therefore moved more to the west in 406. The Gepids, who accepted the rule of the Huns, occupied, with the permission of the Huns, most of the abandoned Vandal settlements in the upper Tisa and Samosa region. The lower and central Hornád region had also belonged to the Vandals, but there have been found no Gepid graves in this territory. If the Gepids did not occupy the Hornád valley, it must have been taken by the Suebi after the Vandals had left it, because there was no other significant tribe in the Carpathian Basin whose area neighboured to the Vandal territory. The Gepids and the Suebi, whose areas separated the Vandals in the south and in the west from the rest of the Carpathian Basin, divided the abandoned Vandal territory among themselves. The territory of the Suebi, who acquired the Central and Lower Hornád Valley in this way, was separated from the territory of the Gepids, who had taken Zemplín and Sabolč, by the Zemplín Hills and Slánske Hills, which played the same role as the Small and White Carpathians in the later periods in the west. The Suebi, as well as the Gepids, recognized the rule of the Huns and in the Battle of Catalaunian Fields in 451, fought on the side of the Huns. The Gepid King Ardarich and his allies defeated the Huns and their allies in 454 in the Battle at the river Nedao and destroyed the Hunnic Empire. After their victory “took the Gepids the settlements of the Huns violently and as the winners occupied the territory of the entire Dacia”. The Gepids extended their empire down to the Byzantine border at the Danube, to Siebenburgen and Small Walachia (Oltenia).

Shortly after invaded the Ostrogoths the Carpathian Basin, they were led by their King Valamer and his brothers Thiudimer and Vidimer and they seized Pannonia. The Rugii settled in the Over-Danubian part of Lower Austria under the leadership of their king Flaccitheus. The seat of the Rugii Kings was Krems. Their kingdom bordered in the northeast to the domain of the Heruls, who had conquerred and occupied South Moravia, the eastern part of the Lower-Austrian Weinviertel and the Slovak Záhorie with the remainder of the Suebi (former Quadi), who remained in the area even after the departure of their kinsmen in 406. Since the Herul Empire was formed in the Morava region, i.e. in the western half of the old Suebi territory, the Suebi Kingdom (“Suavia”), that was ruled by the King Hunimund, was restricted to that part of the Suebi territory that was situated east of the Small and White Carpathians. In the northern part of the territory between the Danube and the Tisa, in the area neighbouring to the domains of the Ostrogoths, Suebi, Gepids and Sarmatians, there were the settlements of the Skiri. The Kingdom of the Sarmatians was situated upon the Lower Tisa reaching its mouth into the Danube, south of the Skiri Kingdom. The Suebi fought in 454 on the side of the victorious Anti-Hunnic coalition. Their military victory and the destruction of the Hunnic Empire brought about their political independence and probably also a territorial expansion of their domain, as it happened in the case of their allies – the Gepids. The Suebi Kingdom, that was situated in the Slovak territory, bordered to the Herul Empire in the west, to the Ostrogothic Empire in the south along the Danube and reached even the Kingdom of the Skiri who inhabited the territory upon the Danube, east of the Ostrogothic Empire. In the east it extended to the boundaries of the Gepid Empire, reaching the Zemplín Hills and Slánske Hills. It comprised the entire northwestern area of the Carpathian Basin.

 In 468 the Suebi King Hunimund (“Hunimundus Suavorum dux”, “ipsum regem Hunimundum”) drew through the Gothic territory to Dalmatia. On his way back he was defeated by Valamer´s brother Thiudimer in the Battle at the Balaton Lake and he was taken captive. However Hunimund, who was released by Thiudimer together with his fighters and contracted friendship with him, prompted the Skiri to attack the Ostrogoths, even though the Skiri “lived at that time in the Over-Danubian area and were with the Goths on peaceful terms”. The king of the Skiri Edika invaded Valamer´s territory. The Ostrogothic King Valamer fell in the battle, but the Skiri were defeated by the enraged Ostrogoths. Against the successor of Valamer, Thiudimer, formed Hunimund an alliance with the Herul King Alarich and the Skiri King Edika. The Sarmatian Kings Beuka and Babay joined the Allies, as well as the Gepid and Rugii troops. Even the Byzantine Emperor Leo I. supported them. In 469 the Allies invaded Pannonia and in the Battle upon the unknown Bolia river they were totally defeated by the Ostrogoths. Edika fell in the battle and his kingdom was destroyed. Edika´s older son Hunulf, together with a part of the Skiri, offered his services to the Byzantine Emperor and his younger son Odoakar with the other part of Skiri left for Italy, where he seized the power in Rome, in 476. A large number of Heruls and Rugs left with the two brothers. The Suebi King Hunimund, the head of the destroyed Anti-Gothic coalition, was shortly afterwards struck by another disaster. In the winter of 469/470 the victorious Ostrogothic King Thiudimer crossed unexpectedly the frozen Danube and laid waste Hunimund´s Kingdom. Hunimund, together with a part of his nation moved up the Danube to distant western territories, reaching the territories of the Alemanni. The remainder of the Suebi who stayed in the Slovak territory, depressed by the defeats and abandoned by their last king, could not have represented a hindrance for the progressing Slavs.

The first Slavs occupied the territory of Slovakia from the north, coming over the passes in the Carpathian Mountains. Their settlements stretched down to the Danube in the south. The oldest archaeological evidence of their presence dates back to the end of the 5th century. After the decay of the Skiri Kingdom in 469 and the Sarmatian Kingdom in 472 the Gepid Empire expanded to the banks of the Danube in the west and reached the boundary of the Ostrogothic Pannonia. It was probably at this time that the Gepids left the Upper Tisa region under the pressure of the Slavs. In the autumn of the year 473 the Ostrogothic King Thiudimer together with his son Teodorich and with his nation left Pannonia and moved to the Byzantine Mesia. His younger brother Vidimer left with a minor part of the Ostrogoths and through Noricum and Italy made his way to South Gallia where he joined the Visigoths. In 488 the Ostrogoths under the leadership of their King Teodorich the Great moved from Mesia to Italy. After the destruction of the kingdoms of the Skiri, Suebi, Sarmati and finally also of the Pannonian Ostrogoths the Heruls became the dominating power in the Central Danubian region: “They succeeded gradually in becoming more powerful and more numerous than any other barbarian people in the region. They attacked the other tribes, defeated them gradually, raped them and took booty from them”. Within the reach of the power of the Heruls the Domain of the Rugii flourished at first. The Rugii King Feva, also called Feletheus, took advantage of the deposition of the last Roman Emperor in 476 and of the rise of Odoakar´s power in Italy.

 Odoakar put an end to the Roman rule over the Coastal Noricum and incorporated into his empire the eastern part of this last Roman province upon the Danube from Lorch to Wienerwald. Odoakar destroyed, however, the Rugii Domain during his two military expeditions in 487 and 488. The Lombards together with their king Gudeoc arrived in the disintegrated Rugiland and lived there under the rule of the Heruls also during the reign of Gudeoc´s son Klaff: “They finally defeated the Lombards, who were Christians, and charged them payments of tributes. They treated other tribes in a similar way… And as the rule over the Romans was seized by Anasthasios (491) there was nobody to fight against anymore. They put down their arms finally and were peaceful. They lived three years in peace during this period”. The Lombard King Tato, the son of Klaff, moved in 505 together with his nation down to the southern bank of the Lower-Austrian Danube. He moved out of the reach of the Herul power, to the Field of Tulln, at that time called “feld” and defeated in 508 the attacking Heruls by using new forces. The Herul King Rodulf fell in the battle and his empire ceased to exist. The victorious Lombards became the rulers of the territories that had been formerly governed by the Heruls, i. e. of Moravia, Rugiland and of the northern Pannonia down to the lower part of the Drava. In Slovakia only the territory of Záhorie belonged to their Empire.

The Lombard Empire was separated from the Slavic territories in Slovakia by the boundary of the Small and White Carpathians as well as by the Danube. This boundary was respected by both the Lomards and the Slavs. The Lombard Empire bordered in the east, following the line of the Danube, to the Empire of the Gepids, who after the destruction of the domains of the Skiri and the Sarmati, acquired both banks of the middle and lower Tisa down to the Danubian border of Pannonia. In 536 they occupied Sriem, as well. Neither the Gepids, nor the Heruls, and nor the Lombards after them, touched the territory of the Suebi Domain, since it was taken by the Slavs, shortly after Hunimund´s defeat and flight. The territorial boundaries of the old “Suavia”, that were known in the 5th century in the world of those times, did not perish. The territory received its new Slavic inhabitants and the boundaries became the boundaries of the Slavic territory in the northwest of the Carpathian Basin. Unlike Moravia that was inhabited both by the Slavs, who had come through the Moravian Gate, and by the Lombards, the territory of today´s Slovakia (except for Záhorie) did not belong to any Germanic domain. In a constant struggle for power within the Carpathian Basin, the Slavs seem to have been representing some sort of a third power that the competing Lombards and Gepids were trying to keep inclined for their interests. To the Lombard King Wacho (510-540), who had seized the royal throne by the murder of his uncle Tato, a son, named Walthari, was born in the last years of his reign.

Dramatic events were to follow and they were put down by Procopios: “The King of the Lombards Vakes (= Wacho) had a nephew, named Risiulf, who was, according to the law, the one to become the successor of the ruler after the death of Vakes. But Vakes had the idea of giving the kingdom to his son and therefore accused Risiulf without any reason and forced him into exile. The latter, together with some men, departed immediately and escaped to the territory of the Varns, but his two sons stayed. Vakes bribed the barbarians to kill Risiulf. One of Risiulf´s sons died of an illness and the other one, named Ildiges (= Hildigis) escaped to the territory of the Slavs. Shortly afterwards Vakes got ill and passed away. The rule over the Lombards was taken by his son Valdarus (Walthari)”. After the removal of Risiulf, his two sons remained in Pannonia. Since one of them died shortly afterwards, the right of the succession of young Walthari was endangered only by Risiulf´s second son ildigis, who saved his life by a flight to the Slavic territory. On behalf of minor Walthari (540-547) his guardian Audoin governed the domain and after Walthari´s sudden death he seized the Lombard throne and ruled over the tribe till 565. Audoin was afraid of Hildigis, who hadn´t given up his claim to the Lombard throne and relied upon the help from the Gepids. Audoin contracted therefore an alliance with the Emperor Justinian who was interested in Sirmium that had belonged to the Gepids since 536. Justinan gave to the Lombards at that time Inner Noricum and the Sava region of Pannonia that was situated south of the lower part of the Drava. The Gepids, endangered by the new Lombard-Byzantine alliance, reacted by contracting an alliance with the Slavs living in the north of the Carpathian Basin where Hildigis was staying. The Slavic army drew through the Gepid territory in 548, crossed the Danube and laid waste the Byzantine territory all the way to the town of Epidamnos (Drač).  In 549 the Lombard-Gepid war started. Hildigis took his Lombard suite with him, as well as “a lot of Slavs”, and came down to the Gepid king Thurisind (546 – 560). He hoped that Audoin would lose the war and he would seize the Longobard throne again. Thurisind was, however, threatened by an attack of the huge Byzantine army and therefore contracted a peace treaty with Audoin, whereby the hopes of Hildigis were ruined. Audoin requested the seizing of Hildigis. Turisind rejected this request and Hildigis returned to the Slavs.