History of Poland

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History of Poland


History of Poland is traditionally started with duke (What is correct English word for this ? English has just too many words for "ksiaze") Mieszko I and his country that generations later turned into Poland. But there was no such thing as Polish nation at that time, only bunch of Slavic tribes, speaking different dialects, and not having much in common. Southern of these tribes had probably more to do with that-day Czechs than Polans (Mieszko's home tribe). Nothern of these tribes spoke different language - Pomeranian, and had really little to do with Polan tribe. Some historicians even question whether Mieszko was Slavic and suggest that he was Scandinavian. There is some evidence to support this claim - in earliest written document about Mieszko (Dagome Iudex), he appears under Scandinavian name Dago, and some Scandinavian-looking military equipement was found in Poland that is dated at approximately life of Mieszko. Whether Mieszko was Slavic (Polan) or Scandinavian is still subject of debate between historians. (See summary of arguments at Scandinavian origins of Mieszko I)

Mieszko became duke of some of Polish tribes around 960 and got christened and married to Czech princess Dobrava in 966. From this time Poland is under stronger or weaker influence of Roman Catholic Church. During Contrreformation, when all neighbours of Poland had different religions (Protestant Swedes and Germans, Orthodox Russians and Ukrainians, Islamic Turcs, not to mention lot of Jews living in Poland at that time), it became popular to say that Polish means Catholic, and lot of Polish-Catholic propaganda appeared. For example it was being told that Poland was a forefrond of Christianity and civilization eastward. That was simply untrue, as many Russian tribes and cities became Christian long time before Polish, and difference in level of civilization between West and East didn't exist in Middle Ages.

Noblemen (Szlachta) of Poland started to identify themselfes with the country around 13th century (during Rozbicie dzielnicowe epoch). Masses didn't identify with Poland until 18th, 19th and 20th century.

On numerous occasions existence of Poland as country was endangered by expansion of its neighbours. First, in 10th and 11th century of Czechs and Germans. Later, in 17th century and afterwards, by Swedes, Russians, Prussians and Austrians.

After 1795 Poland as a country disappeared, to be revived as Principality of Warsaw under French rule in 1707. After Congress of View this became splitted into Kingdom of Poland (ruled by Russian czar), Great Principality of Poznan (ruled by Prussians) and Republic of Cracow (ruled by Austrians).

After Powstanie Listopadowe in 1830, Kingdom of Poland was merged with Russia, and Poland ceased to exist until World War I, when some Polish government allied with Germany was created. After World War I and war against Soviets, Poland became independent country. Poland lost its independence after German and Soviet attack in 1939. It became revived as Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa under Russian control and in shifted borders in 1945. It regained independence in 1989 (althrough some people claim that PRL was "independent enough" country).

Poland is nowadays member of NATO and confederated member (How it's really called in English) of European Union. It seeks for full membership in EU.

Many people say that "Polish people stand strengthened in times of oppression and hardship", but that is rather a proverb than something that has good historical basis.

The Middle Ages

The early history of Poland begins in the 10th century A.D.

Little is known about the origins of tribes that later formed Poland. It is inferred that West Slav tribes came into lands between the Oder and Vistula River from areas of the upper and middle regions of the Dnieper River.
The Slav tribes lived from cultivation of crops and were generally farmers. Their tribal structure probably likened the one of Germans, because they lived side by side. The cause for their migration was probably seeking of more fertile soils. In many regions they were taking over lands from Germans in other areas they sucessfully fought with German tribes for supremacy.

There were several tribes : Vistulanians, Obodritians, Lendians, Goplans and others but the most prominent turned out to be Polanians (Polans or in Polish Polanie).

The Polanians first mentioned in the 10th century, were up until then a part of the Czech (Czech and Lech). Other tribes were the Vistulanians, Goplans. The Polanians tribes came into Silesia at the Oder river, where the German kings and emperors had given land liens, land in fief to the Moravian and Bohemian dukes. In the 960's the German emperor Otto I the Great gave the ducal title to a Polanians leader Mieszko I and gave him land lien (land on loan) to rule over. Mieszko I, born circa 930, and his son Boleslaw I Chrobry pledged allegiance to the emperors. Some territories they ruled as margraves of the empire.

The German kings or emperors kept attackers at bay by marrying their daughters, granddaughters, nieces off to the most fiercest attackers, thereby having a former enemy become a family member on their side. This was the case with Mieszko and his son Boleslaw. Boleslaw I once coverted, took it as a green light to go out and conquer land of all the neighbors in the name of christianisation. One attempt was foiled, when Boleslaw's soldiers came in A.D. 997 north to the Baltic Sea in order to take over Prussia. During the massive expansion attempts of the Polanians into the neigbouring territories they consequently pushed away Popielid dynasty.

Lands under Duke Mieszko's rule as vassal of the emperor and as margrave encompassed the following regions: Greater Poland, probably Lesser Poland, surely Silesia, Eastern Pomerania and Western Pomerania. The lands totalled to about 250,000 km2 in area, with population of about 1 million people.

Mieszko I married Dobrava, daughter of Bohemian Duke Boleslav I and was baptised into the Roman branch of Christianity in 966 AD.

This event started widespread conversion to Christianity within Mieszko I realms and was also a fact of political significance. It marked the beginning of Poland as part of the Christian western world. Moreover he also allied with the Czech to try to keep the German land conquered or received as lien for themselfs. He was christianed by a Czech clergy and married to a Bohemian princess (widow Dubrawka von Boehmen).

In 967 the Polish ruler defeated German Count Wichman and his allies. In 972 at the Battle of Cedynia, Mieszko defeated Hodo of the Eastern Marche, which enabled him to take over West Pomerania , as margrave of the emperor. Mieszko I died in 972 and left his son and successor - Boleslaw I Chrobry a strong and thriving dukedom.

Boleslaw continued the work of his father. He was able to preserve the unity of the country by expelling Ode (Mieszko I second wife) and her sons. At the Congress of Gniezno (1000) he was able to persuade Emperor Otto III (980-1002) to give his permission to set up a first Polish archbishopric.

After the untimely death of Otto III in 1002 at the age of 22, Boleslaw I conquered the imperial March of Meissen and also Lausitz (Latin Lusatia, Polish Luzyce), thereby trying to wrest imperial territory for himself during the disputes over the throne -- he and his father had both backed Henry the Quarrelsome against Otto earlier, and he accepted the accession of Henry II of Saxony, the earlier Henry's son. Boleslaw I Chrobry conquered and made himself duke of Bohemia 1003-1004, but it was regained, he defeated the Russians and stormed Kiev in 1018.

He was forced to give the pledge of allegiance by the next emperor Henry II again, for the lands he held in fief. Henry died in 1024. A year later in 1025, shortly before his death, Boleslaw was crowned.

This event marked the full political and territorial independance of the Polish State. The future Polish rulers did not pledge allegiance to any of the neighbouring states or empires) ???

Boleslaw III the Wrymouthed, Krzywousty(1058-1138) pledged allegiance to emperor Lothar v. Supplinburg of Saxony(1075-1137). 1157 Boleslaus the Curly (1125-1173) paid homage to emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

The rule of the Piast Dynasty

Mieszko II was crowned in 1025 after his fathers death. The many landlords, however, feared the single rule of the monarch. This situation led to conflicts in the country, in which Mieszko's brothers turned against him. Henry II forces attacked the country and Mieszko had to abdicate in 1031. What followed were years of chaos and conflict. The reign of Casimir I of Poland (1037-1058) was a short period of stability. Casimir unified the country, and was succeded by Boleslaw II, who took advantage of the conflict between emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory VI and made himself king in 1076. The landlords rebelled yet again and Boleslaw II had to abdicate in 1079. His brother Wladislaw Hermann took over the throne and also had to abdicate in 1102, giving the power to his sons Zbigniew and Boleslaw who reigned simultaneosly.

It was Boleslaw who united the country in 1106 and defended it against the Holy Roman Empire later on. He became known as Boleslaw III Krzywousty. He managed to again conquer all the previously conquered territories, held for a short time, including Pomerania. Before his death in 1138 he split up the power in country between his sons so that they could reign silmutaneously as princes in different parts of the country. This lead to many conflicts, which divided the country in the following years.

It was not until the late 13th century when the tendency to unify the country arose once again. From 1278 onwardsPrzemysl II regained control over vast areas of the former kingdom. He was finally crowned in 1295 only to be assassinated a year later. After his death Wladyslaw IV became the leader of the unification movement. Despite many defeats he managed to establish his power by 1314 with the help of Hungarian forces. He was made king in 1320. He was succeeded by his son Casimir in 1333, who continued the work of his father. During his reign the country expanded its power over neighbouring areas. Many new castles were built and existing townships fortified. Thus he became known as Casimir the Great.

The Piast rulers of Poland died out in 1370. (There were still Piast rulers in Silesia and Mazovia)

The Grand Dukes of Lithuania, the Jagiello family dynasty took over the reign as Kings of Poland.

The Vasa dynastic family of Sweden next ruled as Kings of Poland.

This huge gap awaits completion.

Partitions 1773-1795

Under Partitions 1795-1807

Principaliy of Warsaw 1807-1815

Under Partitions 1815-1830

November Uprising 1830-1831

Under Partitions 1831-1863

January Uprising 1863-1864

Under Partitions 1864-1914

World War I 1914-1918

The Second Republic 1918-1939

World War II 1939-1945

People's Republic of Poland 1945-1989

The Third Republic 1989 and later

In the 1970's and 1980's the whole system in Poland was deeper and deeper in the crisis and was beginning to crumble as was the whole Eastern block with the USSR as the fading superpower. With the advent of "perestroika" in Soviet Union that was started by Mikhail Gorbachev the change of the political system that had been unimaginable was becoming reality.
There were fears that the shift of power from centralized one-party system system led by the ommnipotent Politburo to democracy might turn into bloody revolution.
Luckily it wasn't the case. There were on both sides, the Communist Party and the democratic opposition, peacefully-minded reformer groups that prevailed. Solidarity that was from the outset no-violence organisation believed in negotiations and was backed by the Catholic Church that clearly managed to cool down some militant opposition fractions.
In 1989, in so-called "roundtable talks", an agreement was worked out between the Communist leaders and Solidarity delegates. The roundtable agreement established the basis for a new political system based on a division of power between president and parliament and embodied in a provisional constitution adopted in 1992. At first, the presidency was entrusted to the head of the previous Communist regime, General Wojciech Jaruzelski. Then in December 1990, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was elected president with nearly 75 percent of the vote.
In 1999, Poland became a member of NATO.

Let's leave all the propaganda behind and move on to :
Gathering scientific evidence and bibliography page.
See also : History of Poland timeline, Rulers of Poland