Until about 800 AD Slovak history is relatively scant and its main protagonists are anonymous, with the exception of the Frankish merchant Samo who established an empire on the territory of present-day Slovakia which lasted only for the period of his reign (623 – 658).
More well-known historical figures began to appear later, during the period of the Great Moravian Empire. National mythology presents this period as the golden age of the Slovak nation (though the modern nation did not begin to emerge for another millennium).
Svätopluk (ruled 870 – 894)
Perhaps the most important sovereign of the Great Moravian Empire. National mythology portays him as a wise ruler, whose death brought an end to the golden age of the Empire.
Cyril and Methodius
Two monks from Thessaloniki who are believed to have brought Christianity to what is now Slovakia in 863. Their contribution was not only the religion they brought to the pagan Slavs: they also designed and codified the Old Slavic language and script (hlaholika).
King Stephen I (ruled 1000 – 1038)
After the fall of the Great Moravian Empire Slovakia gradually became part of the Hungarian Empire, formally established by Stephen I, who is also regarded as a saint by the Catholic church. His kingdom was multicultural and remained so until well into the mid-1840s. His message was that a country where people have only one set of traditions and speak only one language is weak and fragile.
Matej Bel (1684 – 1749)
Slovak encyclopaedist, philosopher and the pioneer of the Enlightenment in Slovakia. In his time, he was among the most important scientists of his day and is regarded as the founder of modern geography in what was then Hungary.
Maria Theresa (1717 – 1780)
One of the first enlightened emperors, the Austrian archduchess, Hungarian queen and the only woman to rule the Czech lands, introduced many reforms in all areas of the empire’s life.
Adam František Kollár (1718 – 1783)
This philosopher, librarian, and historian, also called ‘the Slovak Socrates’ served as the advisor to ministers and to Queen Maria Theresa. He was behind the school reform she introduced.
Joseph II (1741 – 1790)
The son of Maria Theresa during whose reign the age of Enlightenment continued. He abolished serfdom in the Habsburg empire and issued the Tolerance Patent, which did away with the monopoly of the Catholic Church and legalised protestant religions.
Anton Bernolák (1762 – 1813)
A Catholic priest, he created the first comprehensive grammar of the Slovak language. It was based on the vernacular, primarily the dialect around Trnava, but never won acceptance among all Slovaks.
Ľudovít Štúr (1815 – 1856)
The leader of the first Slovak national movement, who in 1843 codified the Slovak language in a form very close to the one now used and who also served as a deputy in the Hungarian assembly. He became an icon of the whole Romanticist generation and the fight for the independence of Slovaks from Hungary.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850 – 1937)
The son of a Slovak, he became president of the first Czechoslovak Republic, established after WWI.
Milan Rastislav Štefánik (1880 – 1919)
He studied astronomy in France, but during WWI worked as the leader of the Czecho-Slovak legions in Serbia, Romania, Russia and Italy which fought on the side of the Allies. He was one of the founding members of the National Council in Paris and after the war served as Czechoslovak minister of war.
Jozef Tiso (1887 – 1947)
One of the most controversial characters in Slovak history, he was president of the Nazi-allied Slovak republic during WWII under which thousands of Slovak Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps in Poland and Germany.
Klement Gottwald (1896 – 1953)
The first communist president of Czechoslovakia, who oversaw Stalinist repression, including purges and show trials.
Alexander Dubček (1921 – 1992)
The communist leader who proposed “socialism with a human face” and led the Prague Spring movement. This brief period of liberalisation was followed by the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the persecution of Dubček and his followers.
Gustáv Husák (1913 – 1991)
In the ‘normalisation’ years following the occupation of Czechoslovakia, Dubček was succeeded by Husák, who remained leader of the Communist Party and president of the country until the fall of the regime in 1989.
Václav Havel (born 1936)
One of the most eminent Czech dissidents, who after the revolution in 1989 became the first president of the newly democratic Czechoslovakia, until its dissolution in at the end of 1992.
Michal Kováč (born 1930)
The first president of independent Slovakia, from 1993 until 1998.
His successors were Rudolf Schuster (in office 1999 – 2004) and the current president, Ivan Gašparovič (since 2004).