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Bohemia (now part of Czech Republic)

(From Encarta 2004 Encyclopedia)

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Bohemia (Czech. Cechy; German Böhmen), historical region of central Europe and former kingdom, forming roughly the westernmost two-thirds of what is now the Czech Republic. It is bounded by Poland on the north, the region of Moravia on the east, Austria on the south, and Germany on the west and northwest.


Bohemia is a plateau surrounded by lofty mountain ranges, namely, the Böhmerwald, the Erzgebirge, the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, and the Krkonoše. The principal rivers are the Elbe, known locally as the Labe, and its tributaries, the Vltava and the Ohře.


Agriculture, manufacturing, and mining are the basic economic pursuits. The chief crops are rye, hops, sugar beets, and wheat. The principal industries produce iron and steel, automobiles, chemicals, foodstuffs, machinery, and textiles. The main industrial centers are Prague, Plzeň, and Liberec. Bohemia has large deposits of coal; graphite, iron ore, silver, and uranium are also mined. Area, about 52,060 sq km (about 20,100 sq mi). See also Czechoslovakia.


The name Bohemia is derived from the Boii, a Celtic people who inhabited the area around the 5th century bc. The Boii were expelled by the Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe, about the beginning of the Christian era. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, Slavic settlers, and later the Avars, occupied Bohemia. During the 9th century Christianity was introduced to the region, which was then part of the Moravian Kingdom. The first Bohemian (Czech) dynasty, the Přemysl family, came to power in the 10th century. In 950 Bohemia was forced to recognize German supremacy and become part of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1310 to 1437 the country was ruled by kings of the house of Luxembourg. During the latter part of this period, the Hussites, a Bohemian religious group that in many ways prefigured the Protestants of the 16th century, rebelled against the authority of the Roman Catholic church. This led to foreign intervention and a long period of warfare (see Hussite Wars). The Bohemians were forced to accept a compromise agreement with the church in 1436. Most of the fundamental political and religious issues involved in the struggle remained unsolved, but the Hussite movement stimulated nationalist sentiments among the Bohemians, checking a previous trend toward Germanization.


A line of Hungarian kings ruled Bohemia between 1471 and 1526. During this period the religious situation was tense but quiet. In 1526 Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I of the Habsburg family was elected king of Hungary and Bohemia. Under Habsburg rule, which lasted until 1918, the history of Bohemia was merged with that of Austria. During the Reformation the Catholic Habsburgs were intolerant of the growing Protestant movement in Bohemia. An incident known as the Defenestration of Prague, when angry Czechs threw two representatives of the Habsburgs out a window, was the immediate cause of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The Battle of the White Mountain (1620) restored the Habsburgs and was followed by the merciless extirpation of Protestantism, the suppression of all national privileges, and the enforced use of German as the national language. The reforms of Joseph II (reigned 1765-90) stirred up a revival of nationalism in Bohemia; after 1848, when a nationalist rebellion was swiftly suppressed, a constant struggle followed for Czech autonomy within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With the collapse of that empire after World War I and the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Bohemia became a province of the new republic. Bohemia became part of the independent Czech Republic as of January 1, 1993.