In the late 800s King Svatopluk had founded the Greater Moravian Empire. It included Bohemia, the southern part of modern Poland and the western part of modern Hungary. King Svatopluk governed with a strong hand, a stubborn will and a wise head and successfully defended his empire against enemies who wished to conquer it.
But in time Svatopluk grew old and sick and worried about the future of his country. One day he sent for his three sons. They came to his bedside. He said to them, "My sons, my strength is failing. I may not live very long. So I have sent for you to say what is in my mind. I got an empire. Soon it is you who will have to defend it and keep it united. We have enemies, and their constant aim is to destroy it. Therefore protect our empire."
Svatopluk was silent then for a moment. He motioned for a servant to come to his bedside and spoke to him in a low voice. The servant went out of the room, while Svatopluk's three sons stood and wondered. In a few minutes the servant returned with three long flexible sticks and placed them in the hands of the king.
The three sons looked at the sticks uncertainly. King Svatopluk smiled and said. "As you may see, these sticks are thin and can be bent easily by the pressure of the hands."
He then gave the sticks back to the servant and instructed him to bind them together. The servant bound them round and round with a cord, till they resembled one single stick instead of three.
Svatopluk took the bundle of sticks from his servant and handed it to his sons. He said, "I want you each, in turn, to try to break this bundle of sticks."
Each son, in his turn, took the sticks and tried to break them. They failed to break them, and also found it almost impossible to bend them..
"This shows," the king said, "that if you remain bound together in peace and common purpose, you will be strong and not lightly broken."
He then ordered the servant to unbind the sticks and give one to each of the sons. The young men took their individual sticks and the king said, "Now let me see you break the sticks you hold in your hands."
Each of the sons broke his stick in two without any difficulty.
"This shows," Svatopluk said, "that if you do not work together, you will be weaker and will be broken."
"Sons," the king went on. "You quarrel among yourselves. If you go on to live in this way, you will lose the lands that are your inheritance. Only if you are united will our empire survive. This is my final warning. Go in in harmony and common purpose, and you may not be defeated. Let neither corruption from within nor attacks from without break your strong alliance."
This was King Svatophik's advice to his sons. Some days after that he died.
But they soon forgot their father's advice. They continued to quarrel and one by one they were conquered and broken. Invaders came from the East and the West, split up the empire and ruled over the people.
From the Czechoslovak region - The theme of being able to break sticks singly but not when they are bound together appears frequently in Western folklore. In this case the theme is that "In [sound] unity there is strength."