How the Medieval Jacobins of Bohemia Fought Against — and Terrified — Europe’s Aristocracy

On this day in 1420, a force of peasants and artisans won a famous victory at Vitkov Hill on the outskirts of Prague — the high point of Bohemia’s Hussite revolution. The Taborite rebels dreamed of social equality and terrified Europe’s rulers, but they were too far ahead of their time.

After the Battle of Vítkov Hill, Alphonse Mucha, 1923.

With the exception of England, perhaps, no country exhibited so rapid an economic development during the fourteenth century as Bohemia. In England, this was specially favored by the wool trade, and by successful predatory incursions into France; in Bohemia by its silver mines, in which that of Kuttenberg ranked foremast.

The rapid development of Bohemia’s power at that time depended chiefly on those mines. Thanks to Kuttenberg’s capacity of production, trade and industry, as well as the arts and sciences, flourished in Bohemia, above all in Prague, which was covered with splendid buildings and the seat of the first University of the German Empire. Nor did the Church go empty-handed.

Æneas Sylvius, later Pope Pius II, who was well informed concerning the possessions of the Church, writes in his History of the Bohemians: “I believe that in our age there was in all Europe no country in which so many and such magnificent and richly adorned places of worship were to be found as in Bohemia.” But the exceptional opulence of the Church in Bohemia only served to increase its spoliation by the Pope.

Together with the great antagonism between the papal Church and the bulk of the population, there existed an antagonism between traders and consumers, between masters and journeymen, between capitalists and those engaged in cottage industries; while that between the large landed proprietors and small tenants was continually becoming more acute.

The greater the strides made in economic development, the more intense all these antagonisms became, and the greater the embitterment between landlords and peasants. Conflicts were more easily excited between these two classes — conflicts which, in the majority of cases, were only local, but which in some cases erupted simultaneously throughout whole provinces and even whole countries, growing finally into regular wars.

The fortunes of war sometimes favored one side and sometimes the other. In general, however, it may be said that the peasantry of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had permanently bettered their position. In the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, serfdom had in fact ceased in Bohemia as well as in England, but attempts were not wanting among the landlords to re-inaugurate the system.

The discovery and working of the rich silver mines of Bohemia must have brought about a rise in the prices of all goods. It was inevitable that the different classes should be affected in various ways by this revolution. The greatest sufferers must have been those classes who received their incomes in money and did not have the power to increase those incomes proportionately to its decreased value. In the towns, these classes formed the lowest strata of the wage-earning population; in the country, they were the petty nobility.

Czechs and Germans

But above all these social antagonisms stood another still more potent — the national. In Bohemia, the hatred of Germany was combined with that felt for the papal Church. In the thirteenth century, Bohemia was economically far behind the times. After the opening of the Kuttenberg mines, the marvelous progress in industry, trade, art, and science had been made possible in Bohemia only by the fact that its rulers attracted German emigrants thither.

Kuttenberg was a purely German town, and so were the other mining towns. Numerous other towns had either been founded by Germans, or were so largely peopled by them, that the municipal authority fell into their hands, all the more readily as they represented the well-to-do classes. The petty craftsmen, the mass of day-laborers, and others of the lower urban population were native-born Czechs.

The University of Prague was also under German control. It was a self-governing institution, modeled after the University of Paris, and divided into four “nations,” each of which had a vote. The Bohemians, however, were always in a hopeless minority, as they were opposed by the Bavarian, Saxon, and Polish “nations,” the last being composed chiefly of Germans.

In those times, a university was a scientific and political power of the first rank and had an importance equal to that possessed by the press and universities combined in the present day. The buildings of the University of Prague formed a distinct quarter of the town, and the number of students amounted to many thousands.

There were also numerous establishments connected with the university, such as lands and buildings; and all this wealth and power was in the hands of the Germans. Bitterly did the Czech professors complain that they were forced to starve as country schoolmasters, while their German colleagues obtained all the fat appointments in the University.

To all this was added the fact that the Church had become an institution of spoliation for the benefit of the Germans. The monasteries were for the most part in the possession of the Germans, as well as the higher appointments of the secular clergy. Thus the animosity to the Church conspired with the hatred of the Germans in uniting the whole Czech nation in solid phalanx against those two spoilers.

Such was the atmosphere in which the movement against the Pope and the Germans had its birth, a movement which has received the name of the Hussite War from its most prominent literary advocate, Jan Hus.

Hus and the Hussites

In its beginnings, the Hussite movement borrowed the most weighty of its arguments and claims from Wycliffeism: as soon as the doctrines of the English reformer reached Bohemia, they were eagerly seized upon and propagated. But while Hus adhered closely to Wycliffe’s teachings, it would be a gross exaggeration to claim that those teachings produced the Hussite movement. They supplied the Hussites with arguments of the greatest value and influenced the formulation of their demands; but the cause, strength, and aim of the movement had their roots deep in circumstances which were wholly indigenous to Bohemia.

Wenceslas, the fourth Bohemian king of that name (1378–1419), sought as far as possible to suppress existing social antagonisms. Although he tried to subject the Church to his own control, he was forced to recognize the fact that Bohemia’s flourishing economic condition depended on Germans. While favoring the strivings of the Czechs, he did not wish the Germans to be injured thereby. The explosion came only when Bohemian affairs were interfered with by foreign powers.

Jan Hus, the most prominent literary representative of the anti-papal and anti-German movement, enjoyed the favor of Wenceslas. The University of Prague turned at first against Hus and John Wycliffe, whose doctrines Hus propagated, and pronounced forty-five of Wycliffe’s theses to be heretical. The quarrel of the university became more and more a national one, in which the Czechs and the friends of reform were in the minority.

Wenceslas finally intervened and gave three of the four university votes to the Bohemian “nation,” whereupon most German professors and students left the country. The university now declared for Hus and appointed him rector.

Hus then had to deal with the Archbishop of Prague, and with the Pope himself. Fiercer and fiercer grew the struggle, and wider and wider the gulf between Hus and the Church. The conflict became especially sharp when Pope John XXIII again made preparations for the sale of Indulgences, which took place in Prague in 1412. Hus raised the most violent opposition to this sale, as well as to the money-seeking Pope.

In 1414, the great Church Council assembled in Constance. Its mission was to reunite and reorganize the papal Church — a task which involved not only the setting aside of the three existing Popes and the installation of a new one, but also the suppression of Bohemian heresy. Wenceslas had been deprived of the imperial crown by the German Electors in 1400, and his brother Sigismund — emperor of Germany since 1410 and heir presumptive to the Bohemian throne — had a special interest in the suppression of Hussism.

Full of confidence, Hus set out on the journey to Constance, relying not on the letter of safe conduct given to him by Sigismund, but on his good cause. Like so many idealists before and after him, he saw only differences of opinion and misapprehension where there were really irreconcilable antagonisms. But he failed to convince the pious fathers.

After the council had vainly sought by threats and long imprisonment to induce Hus to recant, it condemned the reformer and his doctrines on July 6, 1415, and handed him over to the secular judges. Sigismund was sufficiently devoid of character to break his word, and Hus was sentenced to the stake. This reduced the Bohemians to the alternative of rebellion, or subjection to the Church and the Germans. They chose rebellion.

Standard and Object

According to the usual popular representation of history, the only question at issue during the gigantic struggles of the Hussite war was essentially whether or not the Holy Communion ought to be administered in both kinds. “Enlightened minds” never tire of pointing out, with much self-satisfaction, how narrow-minded the people of that time were, and how luminous, on the contrary, are the free thinkers of the present day.

This picture of the Hussite movement is about as well founded as a representation of the revolutionary conflicts of our times, in which it should be made to appear that the people of the nineteenth century attributed a superstitious importance to particular colors. What the various flags are to the nations of today, the chalice was to the Hussites. It was their standard, around which they rallied, and which they defended to the last; but it was not an object of strife.

The casting off of the fetters of the Catholic Church became universal after the execution of Jan Hus. The ice was broken, and the practical consequences of renouncing the Church soon ensued.

Masses of the lower population in Prague now began to rise from time to time, not merely in demonstrations, but sometimes to expel the secular clergy and monks, and plunder the churches and monasteries; the greatest gainers from these uprisings were the nobility. Not in vain had they become the most zealous advocates of Hussite doctrines.

Wenceslas was powerless in the face of the storm. In vain did Sigismund and the Pope endeavor to goad him into energetic measures against the rebels. The Bohemian king deemed it most prudent to act as if he saw nothing. Finally, Sigismund threatened his brother with war if he did not intervene.

The threat was effective: Wenceslas turned against the Hussites and tried to bring back the exiled clergy. Thereupon a tumult arose in Prague, during which the masses of the lower population, led by Jan Žižka, seized the town on July 30, 1419.

The king had fled before the threatening catastrophe to his stronghold in Wendelstein, and when the dire news was brought to him, he fell into the most ungovernable rage. This was the probable cause of the attack of apoplexy from which he died a few days afterward. Bohemia was left without a king, a prey to the Hussite heresy.

Prague, Kuttenberg, and Tabor

So long as the heresy in Bohemia was kept under by church and state, it displayed only its national and ecclesiastical characteristics. For the mass of the people, the national enemy and the clerical enemy were one and the same person, and a common hatred had united the different social strata.

Now that the enemy had been repelled, and the “pure Word of God” was triumphant, it soon became evident that this Word was viewed in the most diverse lights by the various classes, according to their respective interests. Hussism divided itself, in general, into two great parties, each of which had its center in a town, Prague or Tabor; while Kuttenberg became the headquarters for the scanty remnant of Catholicism.

Next to Prague, Kuttenberg was at that time the largest and most powerful town in Bohemia, and the German shareholders and laborers in its mines had every reason for remaining Catholic, as no one had more to lose by the success of the Hussites. Nowhere else, therefore, did the Catholics display so much fanaticism. They put to death every Hussite who fell into their power.

In addition to Kuttenberg, there were a few small towns in which the Germans had succeeded in maintaining themselves and which remained true to the Catholic cause. In the course of the Hussite wars, however, the greater number of these towns, and even Kuttenberg itself, fell into the hands of the Hussites.

Together with these few towns, a small fraction of the nobility still remained true to the old faith, partly because they hoped to fare better with the monarchical court, and partly through disgust for the democratic tendencies which were developing in Hussism.

The Utraquists

The majority of the nobility, however, held fast to the Hussite cause, induced to do so by the Church possessions they had seized. Their ideal government — especially among the higher ranks — was an aristocratic republic, with a mock king at its head. But no prince of any importance cared to put his head into the wasp’s nest.

The larger portion of the population of Prague sided with the aristocratic party. In a series of revolts in that town, the lower classes had taken the reins of government into their own hands. In addition to the council, there now existed the assembly of the entire commune, in which every man who carried on an independent business had a vote.

A new municipal aristocracy, however, soon came into existence. This powerful town naturally profited by the opportunity to seize the property of the Church. After the capture of Kuttenberg, the profits of its mines fell to the lot of the Praguers. Thus a new urban aristocracy was formed, composed of Czechs, which most unwillingly submitted to the domination of the “great assembly” of the town.

There was another reason still for the growth of aristocratic sympathies among craftsmen and even among the very lowest classes in Prague. Their industries and trade flourished, so long as the Court and the upper nobility dissipated what they squeezed out of the whole country. The Praguers consequently began to look upon a monarchy and a spoliating nobility as the necessary requisites of society. The democratic elements in the community continued to lose strength, while the aristocratic sentiment gained in power.

Prague as a friend to the democrats was always untrustworthy, while as their enemy it was most determined. In the second half of the Hussite wars, it was unceasingly opposed to them. The Praguers and nobility united in forming the so-called moderate party. This party went under the name of the Calixtines or Utraquists.

Žižka’s Army

Opposed to these was another movement, which, in its composition and general tendencies, may well be designated as democratic. It found its most numerous adherents among the peasantry in Bohemia, and formed by far the largest class of the population.

The Hussite revolution caused a violent outburst of antagonism between the peasantry and the lords of the soil. The confiscated lands of the Church were useless to the nobility without the people of the Church, who supplied rent and forced labor. These toilers, however, had not risen against the Church merely to exchange one master for another still harsher.

The peasants felt that if they did not succeed in making government by the nobility impossible, and in wholly destroying its power, they would be crushed by its unlimited mastery. A part of the petty citizens and proletarians of Prague sided with the peasants; but the number of their partisans was greater in the small towns.

The lower nobility at that time occupied an economic position between the peasantry and the higher nobility. The lower nobles, who were hardly more than large free farmers, had something to lose and something to gain on both sides. The liberation of the peasants threatened them with a further diminution of their income from rent and forced labor; but, on the other hand, the overthrow of the upper nobility would rid them of dangerous competitors and opponents.

Hence, the spoliation of the higher nobility must have been quite as much desired by the knights as by the peasants. Some of the inferior nobility made common cause with the aristocratic party, some with the democratic, while the larger part oscillated hither and thither.

Among the knights who remained true to the democratic party, the most prominent was Jan Žižka, who had fought as a mercenary against the Poles and Turks, and in the service of the English against the French. He placed his military experience at the disposal of the democrats and became their most feared and prominent leader.

But however firmly Žižka may have held to the democrats, he was their partisan only in his capacity as soldier and not as a politician. As a soldier, he was the organizer and leader of an army without its equal. As a politician, he stood midway between the democrats and Calixtines, like many other knights and a large part of the humbler citizens of Prague.

After Žižka’s death, his special adherents separated themselves from the democrats and formed a distinct middle party, calling itself “the Orphans.” The democrats, on the contrary, were named Taborites, after their political and military center, the communist town of Tabor. These communists were the vanguard of the democratic movement.

Christian Communism

In Bohemia, as elsewhere, the development of industry and trade necessarily produced a growth of communistic ideas. The inception and dissemination of these ideas must have been specially encouraged by the extension in the fourteenth century of woolen manufacture. The close connection of the woolen trade with communistic ideas is a remarkable fact which can be traced through the course of the Middle Ages.

The woolen craft in the towns of that time was the one in which the features of capitalism were first and most sharply developed. Capital was needed to carry it on, and hence the woolen worker either became a sweated workman, receiving the raw material from the dealer and delivering to him the manufactured article, or a cloth producer turned capitalist himself, employing a large number of journeymen.

It is a remarkable coincidence that the same industry became the very hearthstone of the social-revolutionary struggle of the Reformation period; that in every conflict with the municipal and state powers, the weavers fought in the front ranks, and that they were inclined to welcome any new departure which proclaimed war against the whole reigning order of society.

The declaration of war by the Church and the German Empire against Bohemia led to the overthrow of the traditional rules regulating property and society by the confiscation and robbery of the Church’s possessions. This was the golden moment for the communistic sects, who now openly declared themselves. Hitherto they had dragged on their existence in secrecy and without recognition; only now and then had the world heard of them through the treachery of some member.

The communists in Prague were too weak, or their opponents too strong, to allow for their free development, whereas in smaller towns, they had more scope. Communist preachers now proclaimed that the millennium had come. Prague was to be consumed by fire from heaven, but the elect would find protection and safety in other towns. Christ would descend in power and establish a kingdom in which there should be no masters or servants, no sin or penury, nor any other law than that given by the free spirit.

The Taborites

Tabor was founded in the neighborhood of the small town of Usti, on the Luznic River, famous for its gold washings. From the year 1415, communist agitators found protection and shelter in Tabor — principally, so the story goes, through the agency of Pytel, a rich cloth manufacturer and merchant. Communists streamed into Tabor from all sides in order to hold their meetings undisturbed. On July 22, 1419, no fewer than 42,000 people from Bohemia and Moravia took part in one of these assemblies. This indicated a remarkable dissemination of communistic ideas.

The fundamental principles of the Taborites are comprehensively set forth in a document drawn up by the University of Prague. Most of these points were of a theological nature, but two contained the germs of republicanism and communism:

In these days there shall be no king, ruler, or subject on the earth, and all burdens and taxes shall cease; no one shall force another to do anything, for all shall be equal brothers and sisters.

As in the town of Tabor there is no mine or thine, but all is held in common, so shall everything be common to all, and no one possess anything for himself alone. Whoever does so commits a deadly sin.

The Taborites concluded that it was no longer seemly to have a king, but that God Himself should be king over mankind, and the government be put in the hands of the people. All princes, nobles, and knights were to be uprooted as weeds and utterly exterminated. Burdens and taxes were to cease, and all laws of princes, nations, towns, and peasants to be abrogated as inventions of men and not of God. The purely ecclesiastical points include a call for the razing of all churches and the prohibition of Divine worship in a church.

It was natural that in its realization, communism should assume the forms handed down by tradition from primitive Christianity, and that it should accord with the existing conditions of production. Each community had a common box, to which everyone brought what he called his own. There were three such boxes, one each in the towns of Pisek, Tabor, and Wonian. The brothers and sisters sold all their possessions and laid them at the feet of the comptrollers.

The Needs of Production

However honest and unselfish the comptrollers might be, this kind of communism could not be carried on for any considerable length of time. Labor would become impossible if everyone were to sell his means of production, so that articles of consumption might be bought with money from the common treasury. We do not believe that this procedure was at any time universal among the Taborite communists. It is certain, in any event, that it was soon abandoned.

Practically, communism fashioned itself as follows: each family worked for itself in its own private house and field, with its own means of production, and kept for itself all that was necessary for its own wants. The superfluity alone belonged to the community.

This change did not come about without protest from the more zealous faction. The extremists demanded the introduction of pure communism and the abolition of the family. This is possible in two ways: through celibacy, or through the suspension of strict monogamy, i.e., by the so-called community in wives. Ultra-communists among the Taborites chose the latter form.

This avoidance of marriage was too much opposed to the moral views of a period when monogamy and separate family life were most imperatively demanded by the needs of society and of the existing methods of production. The abolition of marriage was, it is true, a logical consequence of the communism of the time; but this very fact shows that this communism was not in accordance with the wants of a society in which monogamy was a necessity. The bulk of the Taborites offered a most determined resistance to the efforts of the extreme party.

What use was made of the revenues of the common storehouses? In the early Christian community, the superfluity of one served to lessen the shortages of another. There was no occasion for this in Tabor, where an almost complete equality in the conditions of life existed among all members of the community. This equality was easily brought about by spoils from the Church and from the properties of opposing nobles and towns, which proved sufficient to enable each person to establish himself comfortably.

Bohemia’s Sans-Culottes

The Taborites did not need to spend anything on the care of the poor, but the wants of the clergy had to be supplied, as they had no priestly aristocracy with its own possessions. Any layman might become a priest. The members of that order were chosen from the community, and they in turn elected the bishops; but they were financially dependent on the community.

Their duties were to organize and manage the various institutions of the Brotherhood, and regulate the connection between the different communities, as well as their relations with the outside world. One of their chief vocations was the instruction of children. The Taborites set great store by a general and good popular education. This was one of their most striking characteristics, to be found nowhere else at that time.

Æneas Sylvius says:

The Italian priests may well be ashamed of themselves, for it is certain that not one among them has even once read the New Testament. Among the Taborites, on the contrary, you will find hardly one young woman who is not versed in both the Old and New Testament.

He remarks elsewhere: “That malignant race has only one good trait, their love of education.”

Their war system was, however, of much greater importance to them than their educational arrangements. This tiny community, which declared war so boldly against the whole existing order of society, could maintain its existence only so long as it remained unconquered in the field; and it enjoyed no peace — nor even a single truce — for it was in direct antagonism to the interests of the ruling powers.

On the other hand, the community was never able to gain a single decisive victory. It could defeat its enemies but not overthrow them; for the opinions of those enemies were in harmony with the existing conditions of production, while the communism of the Taborites was an artificial growth grafted on those conditions, and could never become the universal form of society at the time.

But if the perpetual war in which the Taborites were engaged redounded to their glory, it also led to their doom. Their entire organization was modeled for the purposes of war. They divided themselves into two groups: one remained at home and labored for the other, whose functions were exclusively military. With wife and child, they marched out against the foe, like the ancient Germans, whom they also emulated in savage ferocity and boldness.

From a military point of view, the organization of this war community is of great historical moment. It is customary to trace the origin of standing armies to Charles VII of France, who, in the mid-fifteenth century, maintained a permanent military force of fifteen mercenary companies. As a matter of fact, the first standing army was formed by the Taborites, who, moreover, had an advantage over the French in that they relied on a universal liability to war service, and not on paid levies. It was to this organization that they owed their great military superiority over their enemies.

The Taborite army was the first since the downfall of ancient Rome that was regularly organized and did not merely consist of a mass of untrained warriors. It was divided into bodies that were armed in various ways and well drilled in scientific maneuvers, all systematically controlled from a center and harmonizing with one another. The Taborites were also the first to employ artillery to good effect in the field, and, finally, to perfect the science of marching, their forced marches alone gaining them many a victory over the unwieldy armies of their opponents.

The military strength of the Taborites was enhanced by their enthusiasm and scorn of death. For them there was no compromise — no halting in the path once taken; they had only one choice: victory or death. Thus they became the most dreaded warriors of Europe, and through their military terrorism saved the Hussite revolution; as, in 1793, the sans-culottes, by their terrorism, saved the French bourgeois revolution of 1789.

Days of Victory, Seeds of Defeat

After the death of Wenceslas, the Calixtines — the nobility and Praguers — entered into negotiations with Sigismund. The Church, however, and her servant Sigismund, showed themselves to be quite as implacable as the Taborites, and the rupture resulted in a fight to the death, in which the Calixtines, the robbers of the Church, driven by necessity, fought on the side of the Taborites, but only half-heartedly.

After Pope Martin V had summoned Christendom against the Hussites, one plunder-loving army of the Cross after another was formed to stamp out the heresy. Yet in every one of the five Crusades between 1420 and 1431, the army of the Crusaders suffered an abject defeat. The fame of the invincibility of the Taborite hosts continued to increase, until finally — as in the cases of the fourth Crusade at Mies in 1427, and the fifth at Tauss in 1430 — large armies scattered merely at the news of the approach of the Hussites.

After the great day at Tauss, there no longer seemed to be an enemy capable of resisting the Taborites. No foreign army dared to attack them again, while at home, the power of their opponents — the nobility and a few towns — was vanishing ever more rapidly, and was threatened with complete destruction by the Taborite reign of terror.

It now became evident, however, how little military victories avail, if the aims of the conquerors are in contradiction to those of economic development. A complete military overthrow of the Taborites would naturally have been followed by their extinction. But even their victories gave rise to elements that led to their ruin. Their greatest triumph was immediately followed by their fall.

The greater the success of the Taborites, the more intolerable became the position of their foes in Bohemia (the Calixtines), to say nothing of the Catholics. The nobles were reduced to a condition of absolute insignificance, and would long before have willingly made peace with the Church, if they had not feared its greed and thirst for revenge.

Meanwhile, the Pope and emperor had been made more pliant by the Hussite victories. Their intrigues and conspiracies with the Calixtines had never entirely ceased, and after the triumph at Tauss were carried on more energetically than ever. An agreement was finally arrived at, by which the papal Church even consented to wink at the possession of Church property.

When the nobility felt themselves backed up by the emperor, and especially by the wealth and power of the Church, they began to pluck up heart for a war. The situation is well described by Æneas Sylvius in his History of Bohemia, although the role ascribed by him to Prokop — the most important of the Taborite leaders after Žižka’s death — is entirely unsubstantiated, since Prokop never possessed the unlimited power assigned to him by Sylvius:

The Bohemian barons often met together and admitted the error they had committed and the danger they had incurred in casting off the dominion of their king, only to wear the heavy yoke of Prokop. They pondered facts; and these told them that Prokop alone was master; that he ruled and governed the land as best pleased him, levying tolls, imposing taxes and contributions, dragging the people to war, leading the troops wherever he liked, robbing and murdering, tolerating no opposition to his commands, and treating the highest as well as the lowest like slaves and servants.

They saw that the Bohemians were the most unhappy people under heaven; that they were always in the field, living summer and winter in tents, lying on the hard ground, and forced to constant military service. The people were worn out with domestic and foreign wars, which kept them forever either fighting or anxiously awaiting a fight. The barons at length realized that it was time to shake off the cruel tyrant’s yoke under which, after overcoming other nations, they now groaned.


While the opponents of the Taborites were uniting, changes were afoot among the Taborites themselves that were much more threatening than the intrigues of their enemies. The communists of Tabor had always formed only a fraction of the democratic party bearing the name of Taborites, although they constituted the most energetic, implacable, and in every way most advanced portion, and by far the most capable in military affairs. The bulk of the adherents of that party were petty citizens of towns and peasants to whom the communistic program was a matter of indifference, but whose sufferings were being continually increased by the prolongation of the war.

Although victorious, the Bohemians were for a long time too weak to keep the enemy far from their lands. At the outset, they confined themselves to the defensive, and it was only at a comparatively late date — 1427 — that they were able to devastate foreign countries in the manner prescribed by the mode of war at that time, whose essential features were plunder and destruction — roughly the same features as attend the spread of European civilization in Africa today.

But offensive war in no way secured Bohemia from being ravaged by neighboring foreign enemies. Meanwhile, the civil war continued, and the country became more exhausted year by year; commerce, as well as agriculture and the handicrafts, suffered, and the nobility and wealthy Praguers, together with the humbler citizens and peasants from all parts, were sinking into ruin.

All classes of society experienced a profound weariness of war and a yearning for peace; and to the extent that the implacable Taborites appeared as the sole obstacle to peace, the number of their adherents dwindled away, and the voice of the people cried out against them.

In order to maintain its power in the land, the little band of Taborites was driven, therefore, to measures of increasing severity. The antagonism between them and the masses of the people grew more and more bitter, until at length the nobility were usually supported by the populace in their rising against the sect.

Internal Decay

Moreover, in the strict sense of the word, the Taborites were no longer the Taborites of old. Taborite communism was based upon the needs of the poor, and not on those of production. While the needs of the poor engendered the struggle for communism, those of production demanded the existence of private ownership. Hence, communism could never become the universal form of society in those days. The rapid growth of competence and even wealth among the Taborites, due to the spoils they had acquired, soon caused greed and envy to supplant the modes of thought essential to communism and brotherhood.

The incursion of foreign elements also hastened the downfall of the Taborites. The man who has committed himself to an idea so wholeheartedly that he is willing to risk his life in its defense will not readily prove untrue to it, even if he comes under conditions that tend to weaken its power over him. The original Taborites would have held fast to the faith, for whose cause they had endured so many persecutions and dangers.

But the many years of war must have fearfully thinned their ranks. From a military point of view, this loss was quickly made good from among the communist enthusiasts drawn from far and wide to whom Tabor had become a Mecca. Even the most distant nations, such as England, were represented in the town. Another increase which Tabor received was much more doubtful in its influence. The success of its armies had attracted many adventure-loving folk, to whom the Taborite ideal was a matter of indifference, but who longed for fame and still more for booty.

The bankrupt nobility had placed themselves in the service of this community for the same reason as the mercenaries, for the landlords had been able to maintain themselves only by becoming to a certain extent the vassals of the Taborites. As soon as the nobility rose against the sect and began to enlist mercenaries, to whom — thanks to the wealth of the Catholic Church — it was able to offer better conditions, treachery became rife in all nooks and corners of the Taborite armies.

On May 30, 1434, a decisive battle was fought at the village of Lipany, near Brod, in Bohemia. The forces of the nobility outnumbered those of the Taborites. For a long time, the fight swung back and forth, but at last, victory fell to the side of the nobility. This was due much less to their skill and bravery than to the treachery of the Taborite general, Jan Capek. A frightful slaughter ensued, with no quarter being given. This fearful defeat broke forever the strength of the Taborites.

“Each Lives for Himself Alone”

Tabor ceased to rule Bohemia. Democracy was overthrown, and the nobility, in union with the upper classes of trade, thereupon set about rearranging the exploitation of the country. After endless negotiations between the king and his “true subjects,” Sigismund was finally acknowledged as king in 1436. He had previously consented to a universal amnesty and, as far as the stolen property of the Church was concerned, had conceded to all nobles and town communes the right to dispose of it as they might think best.

The power of the Taborites, however, was not completely annihilated at the battle of Lipany. They continued the struggle a short time longer, but ever more feebly and ineffectually, until, in 1436, they were glad to obtain an agreement from Sigismund assuring them at least of the independence of their town.

Æneas Sylvius visited Tabor in 1451:

This people possess abundant and costly household effects and extraordinary wealth, as they have gathered into one place the spoils from many nations. They wished at one time to live in all things in conformity with the primitive Church and held all their possessions in common; each called the other brother, and what one lacked he received from the others. Now, however, each lives for himself alone.

According to his description, the military strength of the town had completely vanished, as well as its communism. But even the ruins of its revolutionary past still appeared dangerous to the rulers of Bohemia. One year after this visit, Georg von Podiebrad, the administrator of Bohemia, demanded the surrender of the whole body of Taborite priests.

After a delay of only three days, the town gave them up, those not “converted” being thrown into prison until their deaths. Thus the peculiar position of republican Tabor and every form of its independence came to an end. With the overthrow of Tabor, the last asylum of democracy in Bohemia was destroyed.

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Karl Kautsky (1854–1938) was one of the leading Marxist intellectuals of his day and the author of many historical works, including Forerunners of Modern Socialism and Foundations of Christianity.

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