A knight tried to stop a famine by urging the prince to turn away from silver
Greed drives rulers to become shortsighted tyrants. Bohemia was once filled with silver ore. Back in pagan times, Prince Křesomysl was in such a hurry to get all of it for himself that he encouraged round-the-clock working and expansion of the silver mines so he could have more lavish clothes and sparkling jewels.
Back in the semi-historical early days of Prague, the castle was at Vyšehrad, a high hilltop on the opposite side of the Vltava river from the current Castle.
As a result, the fields went untended and there was no grain to make bread. Members of his court warned him that bread was more important than silver, but their admonitions fell on deaf ears.
One of the minor nobility, Knight Horymír of Neumětely, became the most outspoken, demanding that the mines be shut at least long enough for there to be a harvest of whatever could be salvaged from the fields as grain stores were almost exhausted.
But even the miners, who until recently had been farmers, were against Horymír. They liked the higher status and increased wealth from mining, and failed to see the increasing threat of famine around the corner. One of the bigger mines was at Příbram, and the miners grew tired of the interference.
A mob went to Horymír’s estate at Neumětely to kill him, but found he was not at home. Still angered, they burned his fields and crops to make a statement that silver was more valuable than food.
Horymír had heard they were coming and managed to escape on his magic talking horse named Šemík. He rode at supernatural speed to Příbram and with the help of pagan spirits took his revenge by burning down the miners’ empty camp and filling the Březové Hory mine with rocks and slag.
Feeling it was unsafe to return to his homestead, he went to Vyšehrad and sought safety at the court. But the miners showed up there to complain the mine had been filled in and their homes destroyed, leaving out that they first attacked Horymír’s stronghold.
Horymír denied the whole affair, saying it would be impossible for one man to do all the damage he was accused of and make it to Vyšehrad in the time that the miners claimed it all happened. Šemík the talking horse kept his mouth shut.
Prince Křesomysl did not want it to seem that people could sabotage the silver mines and get away with it. He sentenced Horymír to death. The miners wanted him burned at the stake, but the prince opted for a simple beheading. As was custom since Horymír was nobility, he got a last wish. Horymír asked to be able to ride Šemík one more time. The gates to the fortress were locked and guards set up so Horymír couldn’t pull any tricks.
Horymír whispered to Šemík, who whispered back, winked and nodded. Rather than gallop in a circuit around the fortress, the horse leapt over the walls and went all the way across the river to land at Zlíchov Rock, where the impact of his footprints can still be seen.
The prince took this as a sign that he had been hasty in judgment. He reconsidered the issues and pardoned Horymír, and sought a balance between mining and farming so the Bohemian lands would no longer be at risk of famine.
But not all was happy. Šemík told his owner that the jump had been too much. He felt broken bones and other injuries that even magic couldn’t heal. The horse bid his master to ride slowly with him back to the estate at Neumětely and bury his body in front of the gate so he could always be on watch.
Šemík’s grave is there to this day.
Prince Křesomysl falls in between the legend of Libuše founding the city of Prague based on a vision, and the first historical leader Bořivoj I, who lived in the second half of the ninth century AD.
There were seven legendary leaders between Libuše’s husband, Přemysl the Ploughman, and Bořivoj I, who is regarded by historians as having really existed.
The seven princes are first mentioned in the Cosmas chronicle from the 12th century.
Křesomysl might come from the old Slavonic words “křesat,” meaning to strike a light, and the common suffix “mysl,” meaning mind or spirit. Literally “lighting mind.” Some scholars relate the names of the seven princes to days of the week, with Křesomysl being close to Thor or Jupiter, the gods of Thunder, for Thursday.
Horymír is a name that prefigures the character’s role in the story. A “horník” is a miner, while “hora” is a hill. “Mír” is a common name ending and means peace. Horymír brings peace to the mining hills.
Šemík comes from the old Germanic word “Schemig” or “Skemming,” meaning shrouded, or the Czech word “šemný,” which means tricky. The horse is a spirit or god hidden in animal form. Such magical horses can be found across mythologies.
The symbolic magic leap coincides with the prince’s mental leap from greed to compassion.
The tomb of Šemík in the town of Neumětely has a carved horse’s head that is centuries old. Since 1887, the stone has been protected by a copy of an ancient temple, built by Karel of Schwarzenberg. A Czech inscription is carved in the façade of the temple and says “In Neumětely, it is believed that here Šemík, the faithful horse of the Knight Horymír, is buried.”
In 1813, stray Russian soldiers tried to loot the grave but were fought off by local inhabitants around the time of the Battle of Kulm (Chlumec) in northern Bohemia, with French troops attacking Austrians, Russians and Prussians. It was part of the War of the Sixth Coalition.
Later in the 19th century, the grave was opened by estate administrators, and found to have neither a treasure nor the bones of a horse.
Zlíchov Rock has had the Church of Sts Philip and James since the 13th century. It was rebuilt in 1713. The sedimentary limestone outcropping has several indentations that, with a little imagination, look like large hoof prints. The church, even though it is rather small, can be seen from far away due to its elevation on a hill above the river.
Příbram was indeed a silver center, but the town is first mentioned in 1216, long after the supposed reign of Prince Křesomysl. Silver was an important commodity in Bohemian history, and the word “dollar” comes from the Bohemian silver coin tolar or thaler, made from silver mined in Joachimsthal (now Jáchymov).
Top photo: The Church of Sts Philip and James, seen from Vyšehrad with a zoom lens.