The first inhabitants
The territory of present-day Slovenia was inhabited already in the Paleolithic Era. The oldest proof is the cave Potočka jama na Olševi in the valley Savinjska dolina; the most remarkable evidence of habitation inside this cave was the discovery of a needle made of bone. A bone with drilled holes discovered in the subterranean cavern Divja baba is considered to be the oldest flute in Europe. The so-called Lake-Dwellers of the Ljubljana Wetlands (barje) had an indigenous culture. Into the shallow swamps they drove piles, atop which houses were erected. They used wooden dugouts (hollowed out logs) for hunting, access, and defense. The oldest wooden wheel on earth, fashioned between 3,350 and 3,199 B.C. was uncovered at the edge of Ljubljana Wetlands in 2003. Artifacts from the Bronze and Iron ages are more plentiful. The bronze vessel known as the Vaška situla [from Vače] bears testimony to the grave of some 5th century B.C. person of note. The graves of princes at Novo Mesto, the excavations in Posočje and the fortifications above Vir pri Stični also date to the Iron Age. In the 3rd century B.C. the Celtic hordes subjugated the inhabitants of the Iron Age culture. But the Celts never established their own country. The Nordic kingdom with its seat at Gosposvetsko polje [Saalfeld] was in actuality a feudal state. The Celts surpassed all other tribes in the forging of wrought-iron, which enabled them to create a strong army of knights in suits of armor and helmets. They also introduced into Slovenian lands their sepulchral culture, long swords, many sorts of jewelry, and also their magical “supernatural” world. Over the next 500 years the Romans left their strong marks in Slovenia. The first cities, which have lasted to the present day and age, developed along these Roman roads: Emona (Ljubljana), Celeia (Celje), Poetovia (Ptuj), and many others. In actuality, Roman history about Slovenian lands became the history of current Slovenian cities. This urbanization was of course helped by a blossoming economy, stability of government, and the construction of a network of roads. The necropolises at Šempeter in the Savinsjka dolina valley indicate that wealthier Romans, lovers of leisure and art, lived here at one time. In the 6th century A.D., Slavic hordes travelled along these same Roman roads to lay claim to Slovenian lands.
“On the Sunny Side of the Alps” Today’s Republic of Slovenia is bordered on the north by Austria, on the west by Italy and by 46.6 km of the Adriatic Sea, on the south by Croatia, and on the northeast by Hungary. The physical area of the country encompasses 20,273 km2. The Maribor-Koper highway, completed in 2004, making almost a perfect diagonal line across Slovenia from northeast to southwest, is 233 km long, while a diagonal from northwest to southeast (from Jesenice to the Croatian border) is only 205 km long. This “Land on the sunny side of the Alps” is often called “the green treasure of Europe” because forests cover more than 50% of its area. To poets and writers, Slovenia is “a ring on Europe’s finger” (Valentin Vodnik), “an image of Paradise” (France Prešeren), “Paradise below Mt. Triglav” and “a land that God blessed with both hands, where a happy people will dwell” (Ivan Cankar), and also “an oyster, saddled with a painful malady at the bottom of the sea, that compressed all its agony into a pearl” (Onton Župančič). Such a small area marks the confluence of four different races and cultures: Slavic, Germanic, Roman, and Turkish-Tatar (Hungarian). It is a land along whose borders four languages are spoken. It is a predominantly Catholic country, with tiny pockets of Lutherans and Calvinists, Jews, and even Muslims in recent times. There are also a few settlements of Gypsies. A tiny percentage of the population list themselves as non-believers, agnostics, or skeptics; there are also a few atheists, mostly a legacy of the communist regime. Geographically, Slovenia has four different types of terrain: Alpine, Dinaric, Pannonian, and Littoral (Coastal). The highest mountain, Triglav (2,864m) and the famous glacier lakes of Bled and Bohinj are in the Alpine terrain, where 28 peaks exceed 2,500m in height. This sector also has the highest waterfall in Slovenia, Čedca na Jezerskem (130m). The Dinaric, or southeastern, sector contains the lake with the largest surface area, the appearing-disappearing karst lake Cerkniško jezero; this sector also contains the famous underground caves, more than 6,500 in number, of which the most famous is the Postojna Cavern; however the Škocjan cavern is the only Slovenian natural point of interest, which UNESCO has placed on its list of world treasures. A part of this terrain contains Kočevski rog, where virgin forests are still visible. To the northeast appear hills that lead to the spacious Hungarian steppe, to the Pannonia land mass, which has along its rim 16 health spas (the thermal springs at Čatež) and mineral springs (Radenci, Rogaška Slatina). To the west unfolds the Littoral (Primorska) terrain with its own characteristics: climate, distinctive architecture and settlements, indigenous trees and fruits. It ends at the northern Adriatic islands and their seaside cities. Each of these four land masses also has its own climate: mountain, mid- European continental, Pannonian, and coastal Adriatic. In just a few hours you can travel from solid ice at Triglav to seaside beaches, a mere 120km apart by air. In Slovenia, the sloping land also creates watersheds: the Soča River in the west flows into the Adriatic Sea; all the other rivers – most notable the Drava and the Sava – are tributaries of the Danube River that eventually empties into the Black Sea. Slovenia also has distinctive flora and fauna (ex. Alpine edelweiss, or očnica), gold-horned mountain goats (kozorog), elk, bears, wild boars, wolves, and the world-renowned blind subterranean “man fish”.1 In Slovenia you can find high-altitude mountain pastures, low-level hills with vineyards, and seaside Mediterranean gardens with palm trees and tropic fruits (Vipava). The distance from the Adriatic Sea to the capital city, Ljubljana is only 75km by air, and to its second-largest city to the north, Maribor, only slightly more than 150km. From atop Mt. Triglav the naked eye can capture the entire extent of the Slovenian domain: from the sea to the mountains of Styria. Because the land is predominantly mountainous, Slovenia is strewn with hilltops, and atop almost each knoll stands a church however small; 2,800 per a recent tally, or one per 710 inhabitants today! Many castles grace the landscape. Many traces of the colonizations by the Venetians, Celts, Romans, and ancient Slavs have been preserved. Numerous settlements are tastefully scattered through the country sides: 180 with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, around 80 small cities, and 12 cities with more than 12,000 inhabitants. The majority of cities are small. Even Ljubljana, the largest city and its capital, has only around 300,000 inhabitants, and thereby ranks among the smallest capitals in Europe.
Slovenia is also a land of crossroads. She was crossed by all pre-Roman roads (ex. the Jantar [Amber] Route to the Baltics) and by the Roman roads across the Ljubljana Basin (or Gap), known already to the Romans as the gateway to the Balkans and to Central Europe. The waves of barbarian hordes (Huns, Goths) also rolled through here into Italy. The Slovenian Alps were crossed by both Caesar (hence, the Julian Alps) and Napoleon. All railway transversals cut through Slovenia, going from west to east and north, and the reverse: Trieste-Villach-Vienna; Trieste-Gorizia-Jesenice-Ture; Trieste-Zidani most-Vienna-Warsaw; the famous “Orient Express” London-Paris-Ljubljana-Beograd-Istanbul. Presently situated outside the borders of Slovenia, but adjacent to it, is Trieste, an Italian enclave on Slovenian terrain, a port for Central Europe that had always been coveted by the Italy and Germany. In days of yore, all commercial goods had to pass through Slovenia, from Central Europe to the Balkans and from the Balkans to Trieste, in its day and age the largest “Central European port for the landlocked countries” (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary), a title that the Slovenian port city of Koper is trying to win at present. Slovenia has a well-developed lumber industry, whose products are predominantly furniture and cellulose. Almost all its mines, including the pure silver mines in Idrija, lie deserted today from exploitation. Its steel and iron industry is vibrant. Slovenia makes parts and assembles automobiles, trucks, motorbikes, refrigerators, and other household appliances such as telephones, air conditioners, and computers. It has also preserved the famous crafts trades (embroidering, knitting, weaving; wood artifacts, et. al.). The horse-breeding farm and riding school at Lipica is world famous. One of the chief sources of income is the widespread tourist business, made possible by a well-developed infrastructure and an ample supply of qualified personnel. In mid-2005, the average annual income per capita was approximately 10,100 Euros.
Settlements and First States
Slovenians never had their own kings or famous warlords or rich castles. Slovenian history is the history of a simple people, a small race, whose fate was always in the hands of others. Hence, events in Slovenia did not have any special influence on the European cultural stage, even though Slovenians were always a part of this stage. But this people, though small in number, did prove their hardy will to keep their identity and thereby soon developed into a nationality, despite their feudal servitude during the Middle Ages and despite their almost complete subservience as of the 16th century to the Habsburgs in the inland areas and to the Venetians along the coastal areas. The term “remnant” in the biblical sense can also be applied to the Slovenians: they are almost the only ones of the Old Slavs who retained this primal word in their race’s name; however, the area where its language predominates today, which extends even beyond the borders of present-day Slovenia, is still but a fragment of its ancient territory, which was approximately three times larger than it is today. The Lombards, who had settled on the Hungarian plains, on Easter Monday in the year 569 decided to push into Italy, which shared its border with them along the Soča River; by agreement, they permitted the Avars and the Slovenes to settle their lands, which “will remain forever in their ownership if the Lombards do not return in two centuries.” The Lombards did not return, but of this Avar-Slovenian population, only the Slovenians began to inch towards the west, settling down in the former Lombard regions, then spreading along the valleys northward across Danube River and as far as Vienna. In the last century several hypotheses have arisen as to the origin of the Slovenians. However, then as now, the most common opinion among Slovenian historians is that the Slovenians came from beyond the Carpathian Mountains. Of course, neither Slovenian history nor the history of Slovenians began with their settling in the Eastern Alps. However the historical importance of this settling is the fact that it gave the land, on which Slovenians live today, a distinct linguistic identity which this region still holds to this day, even though the land area has shrunk considerably. The settling by the Slavs began primarily in the final decades of the 6th century and ended in the beginning of the 9th century. The tract covered by today’s Eastern-Tyrol and Carinthia was already called the land of the Slavs at the end of the 6th century. The Slovenians here had their own duke, Valuk, and were living in a demarcated Slav region (“Marca Vinedorum”), but they were under the lordship of the Avars, who in 595 defeated the Bavarians. This Avar territory extended westward as far as present-day Northern Italy, and had its hub in the Pannonia plains. An Avar invasion around the year 623 triggered the resistance of Slavic tribes north of the Danube, at the head of whose ranks stepped a Frankish merchant Samo, who became the ruler of the first known Slav state; centered in Czech and Moravian territory, it extended as far as the Karavanke Mountains to the south. Avar power was weakened for 4 decades after their unsuccessful siege of Constantinople, so the Slavs on the lands of latter-day Karantania joined Samo’s alliance. After Samo’s death (658), the Avars regained their power over the greater part of Slav central Europe, but not over Valuk’s Slovenians. Karantania (or Korotan) preserved its independence almost to the middle of the 8th century. The Karantanians, ruled by Count Borut at the time, were being mortally threatened by the Avars, and asked the Bavarians for help. The latter did come to their aid and the Avars were defeated, however the Karantanians were made subjects of the Frankish kings. To guarantee fealty, Karantanian hostages, among them Borut’s son Gorazd and nephew Hotimir, were taken away to Bavaria, where they accepted the Christian faith. Until the year 820, the Karantanians had some sort of indirect democracy, in which the feudal freeholders [counts] elected their own duke and then ceremoniously enthroned him on the Duke’s Rock [Knežji kamen; a.k.a Duke’s Chair, Duke’s Throne], which lay on a field in front of the church Gospa Sveta v Krki (today’s Maria Saal, Austria). One of the counts, dressed in peasant’s garb, sat on a pedestal, which was a fragment from an ancient Roman column, and questioned the people about the duke: Will he be a just judge? Will he strive for the welfare of the country? Is he a free man? Will he protect widows and orphans? The people responded in approbation to the questions. After the elected prince promised to fulfill all this, he handed over to the count-peasant an ox and a mare that he had brought along as payment for the right to rule. The serf then alighted from the Rock, the people gathered around the prince and led him three times around the stone throne, as they sang: “Honor and glory to God the Almighty, who created heaven and earth and gave our country a count and lord of our own choosing. Kyrie eleison…” The last prince, or rather duke, that was thus enthroned, and in the Slovenian language at that, was the Habsburg Ernest the Iron [officially: Ernest, Duke of Inner Austria] in 1414. In this pre-feudal organization “we can see the oldest legal Slovenian governmental creation ever known to us” (B. Grafenauer).7 The contractual character of this installation at the Duke’s Rock at the plains of Gospa Sveta dates even back to pagan times. The ceremonial rite in front of the duke’s throne that was added later has German and feudal roots. Nevertheless, this ancient Slovenian concept about democracy made its way into the fundamental principle among world democracies: power is granted to rulers by the people!
In 838, the German king granted to Prince Pribina the administration of a portion of Lower Pannonia, where the Zala River empties into Balaton Lake. Until his death (861), Pribina supported the Christianization efforts of the Salzburg archdiocese. However, at the request of the Moravian prince Rastislav, in the year 863 the Byzantine Emperor Michael the Third sent the brothers Constantine (Cyril) and Methodius as missionaries to the Slavs. Pope Hadrian II wanted to settle the religious situation in Pannonia, for which he had to receive an assurance from Pribina’s successor, Count Kocelj, that he would support an independent administration with Slavic liturgy. Kocelj did in fact break with the German priests and established Slavic liturgy. Methodius became Archbishop of Greater Moravia and Lower Pannonia. After the Moravian Count Svetopol and the Germans were reconciled in the year 874, the Germans seized Lower Pannonia and deposed Count Kocelj, which marked the end of the last independent Slovenian duchy. Kocelj’s accomplishment was that “in that fateful moment after the death of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, he saved their Slavic printed and spiritual work; he saved their priceless spiritual heritage.” (Prof. Grivec)