The Czech military history and museums II

The Czech military history and museums II
Author: Michaela Wecker|Caption: Austerlitz 2015, re-enactment
28 / 11 / 2019, 10:00

As promissed in the article on the Czech military history and museums covering the modern periods starting with the 1866 prusso-austrian war and the battle of Königgrätz (today it’s the 152nd anniversary of the battle which allowed Prussia to effectively start it’s project of German unification, a project which had consequences for the 20th century) we will now focus on older military history: the Napoleonic Wars, Seven Years War, Thirty Years Was, medieval wars, and even the presence of the Roman legions on the actual territory of the Czech Republic.

As mentioned before, the actual territory of the Czech Republic has seen wars, including the starting 1618–1620 campaign of the Thirty Years War and the battle of White Mountain in 1620, decisive encounters between Austria and Prussia during the Seven Years War 1756–1763, and the defeat of Frederic the Great at Kolin in 1757, Napoleon’s most famous victory – Austerlitz (Slavkov) in 1805, and also one of his less known victories – the battle of Znaim (Znojmo) in 1809, and the defeat at Kulm (Chlumec) in 1813. It is impossible to list every and all places of interest in a short article. We offer a selektion of subjects and museums, and we’ll get back on the subject occasionally in the future.

See also: The Czech military history and museums

Let’s start with ancient Roman presence on the territory of the Czech Republic. Roman Legions built forts and camps in Moravia during the Marcomannic Wars (AD 166–180) led by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180) against the Germanic Marcomanni, Quadi, the Sarmatian Iazyges and other barbarian tribes along both sides of the river Danube, the Roman northeastern border. The most important Roman position in Moravia was the castra in Mušov, 86 km to the north of the antique Vindobona (today Vienna). From here the Romans controlled crossings of the river Thaya (Dyje), and were able to manage a large region inhabited by the Marcomanni. They made expeditions to the North, deep into the territory of the various barbarian tribes, and recent archeological excavations confirmed Roman presence in Brno, and a trench of a temporary Roman camp from the period of the Marcomannic Wars has been discovered as far as near Olomouc in Central Moravia.

The exhibition "The Romans and Germans in the Region Under Pálava" by the Regional Museum in Mikulov is located in the cellars of the chateau of Mikulov, and shows the life in Moravia in the first centuries, based on archaeological findings.

The Middle Ages offer a wide variety of subjects. There are dozens of castles and forts, many of them managed by the National Heritage Institute, a state-funded organisation under the Culture Ministry of the Czech Republic. In most of them the visitors can discover displayed items from the different medieval periods, arms, armour, siege equipment, etc. Many historical towns offer rich museums which cover the regional history.

A very interesting museum is located in Plzeň: the West Bohemia Museum which offers a permanent exhibition entitled Pilsen Municipal Armoury. It displays firearms from the turn of the 14th century till the Thirty-Year War period. Cold weapons and armours are also displayed, the armoury counts among the best preserved armouries of the European medieval towns.

One of the most well known and attractive periods being that of the Hussite Wars (1419–1434). In Tábor, town founded in Southern Bohemia by the radical Hussites in spring of 1420 and named after the biblical Mount Tabor, there is the Hussite Museum which offers the Hussites Exposition and a visit to the medieval underground corridors. The exposition takes the visitor through ten halls, explaining the Hussite revolution from it’s origins to the evolution of historical memory and myths of Hussitism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Tábor offers also another place for anyone interested not only in Hussite military history: the Housův Mill. During summer holidays and on other occasions you can try on knight's armour, try archery and crossbow shooting, swordplay, a knight simulator, a soft foam battle, mintage, slingshot and axe throwing or Hussite skittles and you can also attend a performance of acrobats, dancers, knights and other professional artists. Throughout the year you can also visit a rich filmmaking armoury.

Visitors of Prague should not avoid the Marold Panorama located in the Exhibition Grounds in Holešovice. A remarkable work painted by the Czech artist Luděk Marold between 1897 and 1898 – a panoramic painting of the Battle of Lipany, which took place on 30th May 1434, the last major engagement of the Hussite Revolution in which the radical Hussite Army was defeated by the moderate Hussites. The battle is also depicted by a permanent exhibition proposed by the Podlipanské Museum in Český Brod.

The Thirty Years War not only started on the actual territory of the Czech Republic with the Bohemian revolt in 1618–1620, uprising of the Bohemian estates, mostly protestant and hussites, against the catholic rule of the Habsburgs, a revolt over denied religious freedom. Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia have seen many campaigns during the long period of 1618–1648, especially during the Swedish War (1630–1635) and the French intervention (1635–1648). In 1631 Prague was sacked by the Swedish and Saxons troops, Bohemia has seen one of the bloodiest battles of the Thirty Years War, the battle of Jankau (Jankov) in march 1645, a Swedish victory over the Imperials with more than 9 thousand killed and wounded soldiers. In the same year Brno vigorously resisted a siege by the Swedish general Torstenson. And just like the War started in Bohemia, Prague has also seen the last action of the Thirty Years War between 25th July and 1st November 1648, followed by the Swedish retreat forced by the signing of the Peace of Westphalia.

Jankow 1645 project

For the museums generally the same information provided for the Mid Ages applies for the Thirty Years War. There are often temporary exhibitions held in different places dedicated either to the general history of the war or to some particular or regional aspect. A part of the permanent exhibition in the Spilberk Castle in Brno is dedicated to the siege of 1645.

Even during the 18th century the Czech Lands witnessed major military operations, including especially the three Silesian Wars (1740–1742, 1744–1745, as part of the War of the Austrian Succession following coronation of Maria Theresa, and 1756–1763 as one of the theaters of the Seven Years War) between Prussia and the Habsbourg Monarchy, over Prussia’s claims in Silesia. Prussia’s success resulted in increasing Prussian influence in the German speaking Europe, culminating eventually by the German unification a century later.

A part of the permanent exhibition of the Museum of the Kolín Region is dedicated to the Battle of Kolín, an important Austrian victory fought on 18th June 1757 between 44,000 Austrians under Leopold von Daun and 32,000 Prussians under Frederick the Great.

Kolín 1757 re-enactment

In the Czech Republic there are three regions where the Napoleonic Wars left a significant trace. The most important being the battlefield of Austerlitz, place to Napoleon’s most important victory won on 2nd December 1805 against the Russian and Austrian armies led by the Emperors Alexander and Francis, which gave the battle it’s nickname of the „Battle of the Three Emperors“. But there is more. The region of Znaim (nowadays Znojmo, Southern Moravia) is a place of the last battle of the 1809 campaign, and the Kulm battlefield (nowadays Chlumec near Usti nad Labem, Northern Bohemia) saw a major defeat of the French forces in summer of 1813.

The battle of Austerlitz belongs to the most important moments of the world military history, the emperor of the French Napoleon I has decided within a few hours the outcome of the campaign of 1805 and the war of the 3rd Coalition. The defeated russian emperor Alexander I and his army has left the central Europe; the war between France and Russia would however continue untill 1807, the battle of Friedland and the Tilsit peace treaty. The austrian emperor Francis I has accepted the conditions of armistice signed on the 6th december 1805 at the Austerlitz castle and later also the conditions of the severe Presburg peace (Bratislava, Slovakia) treaty signed on the 26th December. The severity of these conditions and Napoleon’s rising influence in Germany have led in three years to another conflict between Austria and France, the war of 1809, culminating in Moravia again, by the battle of Znaim (10th – 11th July 1809). A most interesting engagement which is rather forgotten by the general history of Napoleonic Wars which puts accent on Napoleon’s victory at Wagram. Beyond any doubt, the final victory was ensured at Znaim, by notable actions of the future marshall Marmont. The peace treaty was signed only on 14th October in Schoenbrunn and brought another heavy stroke to Austrian politics and economy.

Austerlitz 2016 re-enactment

In late August 1813 the engagement between a part of Napoleon’s army under general Vandamme and the Allies retreating from Dresden took place near Chlumec and Přestanov. Vandamme engaged a strong Russian corps, and after the arrival of Prussian troops under general Kleist into his rear he had found himself in hopeless situation and surrendered. The battle was part of the 1813 fall campaign concluded in October by the „Battle of the Nations“ at Leipzig.

The obvious center of commemoration of Napoleonic history in the Czech Republic is the battlefield of Austerlitz, covered with monuments, including the Peace Monument (or the Cairn of Peace) on the Pratzen Heights erected in 1910–1912. Four sculptures of shieldbearers in the corners of the monument symbolize the heroes of the French, Austrian, and Russian armies, whose soldiers fought in the battle, as well as Moravians, local population who suffered from this conflict.

Behind the Monument there is a museum dedicated to the history of the battle managed by the Muzeum Brněnska (Museum of the Brno Region) which displays arms, uniforms (reproductions), equipment, maps, and several interesting animations. In Slavkov u Brna (Austerlitz) the chateau offers a permanent exhibition which does not cover the napoleonic military history, and a temporary exhibition entitled „Austerlitz – small town with great history“ which, saddly, deforms the history of the 1805 war by a large number of mistakes and bad quality exhibits.

All three napoleonic battlefields offer good tourist and educational trails which link the existing monuments and places of interest.

As we said in the previous article, these older periods of the Czech military history are covered by the permanent exhibition by the Military History Institute „The Imperial Armory“, held in the attic of the Schwarzenberg Palace near the Prague Castle, which offers a unique collection of weapons, both firearms and melee weapons, military and hunting, armours, uniforms, head-gears, banners and more, dating from the 15th to the mid-19th century, and featuring over 550 items, and is certainly worth of visiting.

Nearly all of the above mentioned places regulary see military re-enactment and commemorative events and programs. The re-enactment is very popular in the Czech Republic and covers virtually all historical periods, from the ancient Rome to WW2 and beyond (there are clubs re-enacting the Czechloslovak Peoples Army of the 2nd half of the 20th Century). We would bring an overview of the most important events held annually, in one of our future articles.

Illustrative re-enactment photos courtesy of Michaela Wecker Photography

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