The first preserved evidence of settlement of Slovakia dates to the end of the Palaeolithic period, approximately 250 thousand years ago. It is a very long period of time whose climate was characterised by alternate glacial and interglacial periods. The skull of a Neanderthal found in Ganovce and the statue of Venus found in Moravany date from this period. In approximately 5000–4000 BC, the first farmers appeared, as evidenced by stone axes, wedges and vessels found in Domica cave.

In the Bronze Age, many different cultures were present in Slovakia. The archaeological remains found include numerous bronze hooks, carriages with wheels made of bent frames, and traces of wood shelters built without nails.

Iron Age technology probably came to Slovakia from Anatolia or Italy. Iron, lead, gold and salt mining started to develop in Slovakia. The potter's wheel appeared here for the first time.

Arrival of the Celts

In the late 4th century BC the first ethnic group known by name – the Celts – came to Slovakia in several waves. Written mentions of their presence were preserved in Roman sources.

The Celts built a number of fortified settlements – oppida. Some of them, e.g. the Bratislava oppidum, have been proven to be permanently settled since then. However most of the Celts lived in smaller settlements, built wood houses, and put iron locks on their doors. The Celts were skilful artisans - blacksmiths, potters, coiners, farmers and traders. They maintained close contacts with the Greek and Roman civilisations that significantly influenced their culture.

Roman inscription on the castle rock in Trencin, 178-179 AD

In the 1st century BC the Daks came to the territory of present-day Slovakia, which caused the integration of the Celtic and the Dak population and cultures. However, in 10 BC the Romans defeated the Daks and shifted the borders of the Roman Empire to the central Danube. The Dak population disappeared from Slovakia during the 1st century AD. The remove of the majority of the Celts was completed by the conquests of Germanic tribes from the northwest. The Celts kept their positions in northern Slovakia until the 2nd century AD.

In the late 4th century the Roman Empire was in deep decline. Nations began to migrate, contributing to the fall of the Roman Empire. A large portion of the original population of Slovakia abandoned the country or was defeated by the newcomers. Many tribes such as the Visigoths, Ostrogots, Longobards, and Gepidi moved through the territory of Slovakia due to attacks of the nomadic Avars. These tribes built their population centre in close proximity to Slovakia – between the rivers Tisza and Danube.

Arrival of the Slavs

Among the tribes that moved through the country in many waves in that period were the Slavs. The first waves came to our territory during the 5th and 6th centuries. New migrants often stayed and lived among the original population. In that period the Slavs only colonised around 10% of the territory, while the rest was still a wild landscape. They grew barley, millet, wheat, poppy, and flax. They lived on agriculture and raising livestock. They were skilful artisans – especially jewellers and potters. The Slavs living in the west came into contact with the Frankish Empire. As the Slavs initially were not involved in any great battles, very few written references were preserved from this period.

In the middle of the 6th century, the Avar tribes invaded the Danube basin. Under their influence the Slavs ceased to burn their dead and instead started to bury them.

Samo's Empire

In the 6th century, the Slavs were subjugated by the nomadic Avar tribes, which resulted in a number of revolts. The Frankish merchant Samo participated in one of these revolts. Because of his bravery and military capabilities, he was later elected by the Slavs as king of a tribal alliance called Samo's Empire (623-658). After Samo's death in 658, the Slavic tribal alliance broke up.

Glagolitic alphabet
St. Cyril and Methodius

Great Moravia

In the 8th century the process of reunification of the Slav tribes began. In the first half of the 9th century, two new entities were founded - the Moravian Principality (headed by Mojmír I) and the Nitra Principality (headed by Pribina). In 833 Mojmír I expelled Pribina from the Nitra Principality and unified the two principalities into Great Moravia. Pribina settled at Balaton lake, where he built Blatnograd castle.

The growing influence of the Great Moravian Empire induced resistance from the East Frankish Empire. In 861, in an effort to liberate the country from East Frankish influence, the ruler Rastislav requested that pope Nicolas I send him a bishop and priests to teach his clergy, but he failed. In 863, he addressed the same request to the Byzantine emperor Michael III, who sent religious teachers headed by St. Constantine and Methodius to Moravia.

Immediately after their arrival in Moravia, Constantine (who accepted the monastic name of Cyril before his death) and Methodius founded the first Slavic school (the Great Moravian school, where they taught Slavic clergy), established the Slavic script (Glagolitic), introduced Old Slavonic into religious ceremonies, and brought translated liturgical and biblical texts that they had previously prepared. Their mission to Great Moravia is an important stage in the history of the Slavs and Slovaks.

Precise information about the decline of Great Moravia was not preserved. After the attacks of nomadic Hungarian tribes headed by Arpád in 906 and 907, Great Moravia probably lost its influence and gradually disintegrated, and the territory of Slovakia was integrated into the newly emerging Hungary.

Slovakia in Hungary

In 1000 Stefan I, who completed the process of the formation of Hungary, became the first Hungarian king. The territory of Slovakia became part of the Kingdom of Hungary for nearly one thousand years. In the 16th century the Turkish threat emerged and in 1521, the Ottoman empire launched a campaign in Hungary. King Louis II of Jagel underestimated the threat and on 29 August 1526, the Hungarian army was defeated in a battle near Mohacs. The king himself fell in battle, drowned in the waves of the Danube. The defeat in the battle gave the Turks rule of Hungary for the next 175 years. The Turks were only defeated in 1683, near Vienna. Starting in that year, the Turks were gradually expelled from Hungary, with the process finally ending 1685.

In 1740 Maria Theresia, known for her reforms, acceded to the throne. She reformed the army and founded centres of manufacture, including some in Slovakia (Šaštín, Halič, Holíč). In agriculture, she supported the cultivation of new crops. She reformed the judiciary, mitigated several sentences and introduced the rule that all citizens were formally equal before the court. Her educational reforms (Ratio educationis) included the introduction of compulsory school attendance and laying the foundations of a more developed educational system.

Her son Joseph II continued the reforms in Hungary. In 1781 he issued the "Patent of Toleration", extending certain religious freedoms to Protestants and other non-Catholic faiths. In 1785 he abolished the self-government of past regimes and replaced it with ten state districts. He transferred many central Hungarian offices from Slovakia to Buda, and abolished serfdom in Hungary (in Bohemia in 1781).

Mária Terézia
Ľudovít Štúr

Slovak national revival

The process of the formation of the Slovak nation took a difficult course (oppression by the Hungarian aristocracy, Hungarian nationalism, and repression in Slovakia). The intelligentsia, and in particular priests, became defenders of Slovak rights. One of their main objectives was the codification of literary Slovak.

The first attempt at the codification of Slovak was made by the Catholic priest Jozef Ignác Bajza, who wrote the first novel in Slovak, "René mládenca príhody a skúsenosti" [Rene - Events and experiences of a young man], published in 1783. However, its linguistic form was not yet stabilised, so his proposal didn't catch on.

The intelligentsia was then divided into Catholics and Protestants. The Catholics asked that Slovaks have their own language, whereas the Protestants promoted biblical Czech and the unity of the Czechs and the Slovaks, and refused the codification of literary Slovak.

The Catholic priest Anton Bernolák codified literary Slovak (called Bernolak's Slovak) based on the West Slovak dialect in 1787.

Another successful codifier was Ľudovít Štúr. In early 1843, Štúr familiarised his close friends with the idea of unification of Slovak Catholics and Protestants through a uniform literary language. He chose the Central Slovak dialect as the basis of his unified language, mainly because it was widespread, authentic, and comprehensible. On 11 July 1843 Ľ. Štúr, J. M. Hurban and M. M. Hodža met at the parish house of J. M. Hurban in Hlboké, where they agreed on the procedure for introducing Slovak into practice.

Slovakia after the decline of Hungary

On 28 October 1918, Slovakia became part of Czechoslovakia. Several Slovak figures contributed to the unification, especially M.R. Štefánik. As a diplomat in service to France, he helped T. G. Masaryk and E. Beneš to establish contacts with representatives of the Allied powers. He actively organised the foundation of the Czechoslovak Legions, which resulted in the creation of a disciplined and capable army, called the Czechoslovak Legions. Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk was elected the first President of the country on 14 November 1918. Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia until 1939, when the first Slovak Republic was established.

After World War II Czechoslovakia was restored and came into the sphere of influence of the USSR. On 11 July 1960 a new constitution enshrining the victory of socialism in Czechoslovakia was adopted. The name of the Czechoslovak Republic (CSR) was changed to the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR), and the socialist state was officially declared. A change of regime as well as a change in foreign policy only occurred in November 1989, with the Velvet Revolution. Czechoslovakia again became a democratic state oriented to the West. In the spring of 1990 a constitutional act was adopted, which changed the name of the state to the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic (CSFR), was passed. In June 1990, the first free elections took place in CSFR. Shortly after the Slovak National Council adopted the document Declaration of Sovereignty of the Slovak Republic, on 17 July 1992, in a meeting in Bratislava, the winners of the Czech and Slovak elections agreed on the division of the country.

The Constitution of the Slovak Republic was adopted on 1 September 1992 and signed on 3 September 1992, followed by the peaceful division of CSFR, and the division of the country into the present Slovak Republic and Czech Republic on 1 January 1993. After 75 years of the existence of a common state of Czechs and Slovaks, the Slovak Republic was established. Its first president was Michal Kováč.

Milan Rastislav Štefánik

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