Although the history of Czechoslovakia as a sovereign state
dates only from the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire at the end of
World War I, the military traditions of the Czechs and Slovaks
date back to the upheavals of the Middle Ages in Central Europe.
Boleslav I of Bohemia, for example, commanded Czech troops at the
Battle of Lechfeld in 955, when the forces of the Holy Roman
Empire under Otto I finally halted the Hungarian raids through
Europe. After their defeat, the Hungarians retreated into the
Carpathian Basin, and for most of the next 1,000 years the
Slovaks remained under Hungarian domination.
King John of Bohemia and his son Charles fought on the side
of the French against the English during the Hundred Years' War
(1337-1453). John, lashed to his horse because of blindness, rode
to his death on the battlefield at Crecy. Charles, wounded in the
same battle, returned to Prague as king and was later crowned
Holy Roman Emperor. He is remembered in Czechoslovakia as an
enlightened, benevolent king of Bohemia. Charles founded the
university that bears his name and ordered the construction of
the bridge across the Vltava River, which was also named in his
honor. Charles hired French and Italian architects to build the
churches, palaces, and mansions that made Prague one of Europe's
most beautiful cities.
Additional popular military traditions originated in the
religious wars of the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries. During
the Hussite wars, Jan Zizka became a military leader of such
skill and brilliance that his name is well remembered more than
500 years later. Two centuries after the Hussite wars, religious
strife again wracked the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, and
at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, Czech freedom was
lost to the Austrian Hapsburgs
(see Hapsburg Absolutism and the Bohemian Estates
, ch. 1).
Data as of August 1987