This book had its genesis six years ago, when I first taught a graduate course on East Central Europe in the Middle Ages at the University of Florida. I was distressed by the limited choices of books that may be assigned to graduate students interested in the medieval history of the region. Overview textbooks and monographs on Western Europe predominated, with only some of them concerned with the eastern part of the Continent, and then only partially or marginally. That made it difficult for students to get any sense of the history of the region between ca. 500 and ca. 1300. I tried to address this limitation by assigning articles and chapters in collections of studies. Initially, the studies I identified were written by scholars from the region, but over time, as the field of medieval history changed, and my own reading expanded, I discovered studies that spoke to the interest that at least some English-speaking scholars had in the topic. The result of that journey is the companion offered here, which is meant to provide the state of the art at the end of the second decade of the 21st century.
I have had a great deal of help as this book has evolved. First, my students at the University of Florida have used, discussed, and dissected many sections of this book in the form of lectures, and their comments and questions have sharpened my appreciation of points of view that are not necessarily those of East European scholars. Moreover, some of my graduate students offered numerous suggestions for possible points of comparison with Western Europe, and helpful critiques of those attempts at a comparative approach, which have so far involved the history of Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. Matthew Koval stands out for special thanks. A number of colleagues have also directed me to sources that I have included here, and I want to thank Jonathan Shepard, Victor Spinei, and Ivan Biliarsky in particular. Others have offered helpful comments and criticism on some or all the chapters of this book. This is a better book for the criticism offered by Christopher Raffensperger, Dušan Zupka, David Kalhous, and Aleks Pluskowski.
I am grateful to all those who have kindly provided photographs of key sites or works of art, or have helped me procure them: Ivan Biliarsky, Mateusz Bogucki, Tibor Bóka, Ádám Bollók, Andrzej Buko, Petăr Dimitrov, Jelena Erdeljan, Pavel Georgiev, Ivo Hadzhimizhev, Jaroslav Jiřík, Evgenia Komatarova-Balinova, Greg Leighton, Radu Lupescu, Jiří Macháček, Dana Marcu, Marek Meško, Răzvan Pop, Konstantin Rudenko, Jos Schaeken, Victor Spinei, Béla Zsolt Szakács, Bartek Szmoniewski, and Trpimir Vedriš. I owe a special debt of gratitude to the “Sts. Cyril and Methodius” National Library in Sofia, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, the Pliska Citadel Museum, the Southern Moravia Museum in Znojmo, the Jósa András Museum in Nyíregyháza, and the Lidové noviny Publishing House in Prague.
The preparation of a companion on the medieval history of such a large part of the European continent is a tortuous undertaking, and the support and encouragement of a number of people have made all the difference. I am deeply obliged to Kate Hammond, my editor at Brill, for her patience and faith in this project, which she, in fact, has initiated.