Poland in the Early Middle Ages


Poland in the Early Middle Ages

According to the currently predominant opinion, the Slavic tribes were not indigenous to the lands that were to become Poland [This is the so-called allochthonic theory; according to the autochthonic theory the opposite is true] , but their first waves settled the area of the upper Vistula River and elsewhere in southeastern Poland and southern Masovia, coming from the upper and middle regions of the Dnieper River [For genetic evidence see Krzysztof Rębała et al. "Y-STR variation among Slavs: evidence for the Slavic homeland in the middle Dnieper basin", in "Journal of Human Genetics" (Springer Japan), May 2007] (the West Slavs would have come primarily from the more western early Slavic branch called the "Sclaveni" by Jordanes in "Getica", the eastern branch being the "Antes" ["Though their names are now dispersed amid various clans and places, yet they are chiefly called Sclaveni and Antes"; transl. by Charles Christopher Mierow, Princeton University Press 1908, from the University of Calgary web site] ), beginning in the second half of 5th centuryKaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 337] , some half century after these territories were vacated by Germanic tribesKaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 327-330 and specifically 346] . This discontinuity (a period during which human settlements on most Polish lands were absent or rare) makes the moment of appearance of the Slavs in Poland at the outset of the Middle Ages distinct and clear.

From there the new population dispersed north and west during the course of 6th century. They lived from cultivation of crops and were generally farmers, but also engaged in hunting and gathering. Their migration was probably caused by the pursuit of fertile soils and persistent attacks on eastern and central Europe by waves of people and armies from the east, such as the Huns, Avars and Magyars. This westward movement of Slavic people was facilitated in part by the previous withdrawal of Germanic people and their own migration toward the safer and more attractive areas of western and southern Europe.

A number of such Polish tribes formed small states beginning in 8th century, some of which coalesced later into larger ones. Among those were the Vistulans ("Wiślanie") in southern Poland with Kraków and Wiślica as their main centers (major building of fortified centers and other developments in their country took place in 9th century; they have been the focus of much speculation), but later the Polans ("Polanie", lit. "people of the fields") turned out to be of momentous historic importance. The tribal states built many gords - fortified structures with earth and wood walls and embankments, from 7th century on. Some of them were developed and inhabited, other had a very large empty area and may had served primarily as refuges in times of trouble. The Polans settled in the flatlands around Giecz, Poznań and Gniezno that eventually became the foundation and early center of Poland, lending their name to the country. They went through a period of accelerated building of fortified settlements and territorial expansion beginning in the first half of 10th century, and the Polish state developed from their tribal entity in the second half of it.

Early Slavic peoples

The origins of the Slavic peoples, who arrived on Polish lands at the outset of the Middle Ages, archeologically as the Prague culture, go back to the Kiev culture, which formed beginning early in 3rd century CE, and which is genetically connected to the so-called Post-Zarubintsy cultural horizon (Rakhny-Ljutez-Pochep)Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 334] , and itself was one of the later Post-Zarubintsy culture groupsKaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 232, 351] . In the opposite time direction such ethnogenetic relationship"Slavs and the Early Slav Culture" by Michał Parczewski, Novelguide web site] is quite apparent between the large Kiev culture population and the early (6th-7th century) Slavic settlements in the Oder and Vistula basins, but lacking between these and the older local cultures there"U źródeł Polski", p. 125-126, Michał Parczewski] , that expired rather rapidly beginning in the 400-450 CE period.

The Zarubintsy culture circle, in existence roughly from 200 BC to 150 CE, extended along the middle and upper Dnieper and its tributary the Pripyat River, but also left traces of settlements in parts of Polesie and the upper Bug River basin. The main distinguished local groups were the Polesie group, the Middle Dnieper group and the Upper Dnieper group. The Zarubintsy culture developed from the Milograd culture (which could possibly had been a seat of the early hypothetical Indo-European, Proto-Balto-Slavic society; such common ancestry is presumed for linguistic reasons) in the northern part of its range and from the local Scythian populations in the more southern part. The Polesie group's origin was also influenced by the Pomeranian and Jastorf cultures. The Zarubintsy culture and its beginnings were moderately affected by La Tène culture and the Black Sea area (trade with the Greek cities provided imported items) centers of civilization in the earlier stages, but not much by Roman influence later on, and accordingly its economic development was lagging behind that of other early Roman period cultures. Cremation of bodies was practiced, with the human remains and burial gifts including metal decorations, small in number and limited in variety, placed in pits.Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 191, 212, 228-230, 232, 281]

Originating from the Post-Zarubintsy cultures and often considered the oldest Slavic culture, the Kiev culture functioned during the later Roman periods (end of 2nd through mid 5th century) north of the vast Chernyakhov culture territories, within the basins of the upper and middle Dnieper, Desna and Seym rivers. The cultural model of the Kiev paleo-ethnological phenomenon is identical or highly compatible with that of the 6th century Slavic societies, including the settlements on the lands of today's Poland. The Kiev culture is known mostly from settlements sites; the burial sites, involving pit graves, are few and poorly equipped. Not many metal objects have been found, despite the known native production of iron and processing of other metals, including enamel coating technology. Clay vessels were made without the potter's wheel. The Kiev culture represented an intermediate level of development, between that of the cultures of the Central European Barbaricum, and the forest zone societies of the eastern part of the continent. The Kiev culture consisted of four local formations: The Middle Dnieper group, the Desna group, the Upper Dnieper group and the Dnieper-Don group. The general model of the Kiev culture is like that of the early Slavic cultures that were to follow and must had originated mainly from the Kiev groups, but evolved probably over a larger territory, stretching west to the base of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, and from a broader Post-Zarubintsy foundation. The Kiev culture and related groups expanded considerably after 375 CE, when the Ostrogothic state [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 243] , and more broadly speaking the Chernyakhov culture [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 277, 303] were destroyed by the Huns [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski p. 334. At about the time of the collapse of the Hun empire the Kiev culture ends its existence and the Kolochin, Penkovka and Prague-Korchak cultures are already well-established, so the Slavic expansion and differentiation had to take place in part within the Hun dominated areas] . This process was facilitated further and gained pace, involving at that time the Kiev's descendant cultures, when the Hun confederation itself broke down in mid 5th century. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 281, 302, 303, 334, 351] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 126, Michał Parczewski]

The eastern cradle of the Slavs is also directly confirmed by a written source. The anonymous author known as the Cosmographer of Ravenna (7th/8th century) names Scythia (he mentions vast areas of eastern Europe), as the place where "where the generations of the Sclaveni had their beginnings". ["U źródeł Polski", p. 126, Michał Parczewski] Scythia, "stretching far and spreading wide" in the eastern and southern directions, had at the west end, as seen at the time of Jordanes' writing (first half to mid 6th century) or earlier, "the Germans and the river Vistula". Jordanes places the Slavs in Scythia as well."Getica", Transl. by Charles Christopher Mierow, Princeton University Press 1908, from the University of Calgary web site]

The final process of the differentiation of the cultures recognized as early Slavic, the Kolochin culture (over the Kiev culture's territory), the Penkovka culture and the Prague-Korchak culture took place during the end of 4th and in 5th century CE, probably with small participation of some elements from the Chernyakhov culture and the Dacian Carpathian Kurgans culture, as not all of the previous inhabitants had left the area and some groups were assimilated (the Slavs took over much of those cultures' territories). The Prague culture (responsible for most of the growth in 6th and 7th centuries, by which time it also encompassed the middle Danube and middle Elbe basins), developed over the western part of the Slavic expansion, within the basins of the middle Dnieper, Pripyat, upper Dniester, up to the Carpathian Mountains and in southeastern Poland, that is the upper and middle Vistula basin (very likely corresponding to Jordanes' Sclaveni, whose area extended west to the Vistula sources). The Penkovka culture people inhabited the southeastern part, from Seversky Donets to the lower Danube (including the region where the Antes would be), and the Kolochin culture was located north of the more eastern area of the Penkovka culture (the upper Dnieper and Desna basins). The Korchak type designates the eastern part of the Prague-Korchak culture, which because of its western expansion is somewhat less directly dependent on the mother Kiev culture than its two sister cultures. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 327, 334, 351] The early 6th century Slavic settlements covered an area three times the size of the Kiev culture region some hundred years earlier.

In Poland the earliest archeological sites considered Slavic include a limited number of 6th century settlements and a few isolated burial sites. The material obtained there consists mostly of simple, manually formed ceramics, typical of the entire early Slavic area. It is on the basis of the different varieties of these basic clay pots and infrequent decorations that the three cultures are distinguished. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 333, 334] The largest of the earliest Slavic (Prague culture) settlement sites in Poland that have been subjected to systematic research is located in Bachórz, Rzeszów County and dated the second half of 5th through 7th centuries. It consisted of 12 nearly square, partially dug out houses, each covering the area of 6.2 to 19.8 (14.0 on the average) square meters. A stone furnace was usually placed in one of the corners, which is typical for Slavic homesteads of that period, but clay ovens and centrally located hearths are also found. 45 younger, different type dwellings (7/8th to 9/10th century) have also been discovered in the vicinity. [The web site of the Institute of Archeology, Jagiellonian University - "Bachórz"] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 124, Michał Parczewski]

Characteristic of all early Slavic cultures are poorly developed handicraft and limited resources of their communities. There were no major iron production centers, but metal founding techniques were known; among metal objects occasionally found are iron knives and hooks, as well as bronze decorative items (7th century finds in Haćki, Bielsk Podlaski County, a site of one of the earliest fortified settlements). The inventories of the typical, rather small, open settlements include normally also various clay (including weights used for weaving), stone and horn utensils. The developments arranged as clusters of cabins along river or stream valleys, but above their flood levels, were usually irregular, and typically faced south. The wooden frame or pillar supported square houses covered with a straw roof had each side 2.5 to 4.5 meters long. Fertile lowlands were sought, but also forested areas with diversified plant and animal environment to provide additional sustenance. The settlements were self-sufficient - the early Slavs functioned without significant long-distance trade. The potter's wheel was being used from the turn of 6th century on. Some villages larger than a few homes have been investigated in the Kraków-Nowa Huta region (6th to 9th century, for example cottages from about 625), where, on the left bank of the Vistula, in the direction of Igołomia a complex of 11 settlements has been located. The original furnishings of Slavic huts are difficult to determine, because equipment was often made of perishable materials such as wood, leather or fabrics. Free standing clay dome stoves for bread baking were found on some locations. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 334-337] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 123-126, Michał Parczewski] Another large 6th-9th century settlement complex existed in the vicinity of Głogów in Silesia"Słowianie nad Bzurą" by Marek Dulinicz and Felix Biermann, "Archeologia Żywa", issue 1 (16) 2001] .

Like others for many centuries in this part of the world, the Slavic people cremated their dead. The burials were usually single, the graves grouped in small cemeteries, with the ashes placed in simple urns more often than in ground indentations. The number of burial sites found is small in relation to the known settlement density. The food production economy was based on millet and wheat cultivation, cattle breeding (swine, sheep and goats to a lesser extend), hunting, fishing and gathering. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 337]

As the Slavs were arriving from the east beginning in the second half of 5th century, the earliest settlers reached southeastern Poland, that is the San River basin, then the upper Vistula regions including the Kraków area and Nowy Sącz Valley. Single early sites are also known around Sandomierz, Lublin, in Masovia and Upper Silesia. Somewhat younger settlements concentrations were discovered in Lower Silesia. In 6th century the above areas were settled. At the end of this century, or in early 7th century the Slavic newcomers reached Western Pomerania (according to Theophylact Simocatta, the Slavs captured in 592 at Constantinople named the Baltic Sea coastal area as the place they came from [Polish Wikipedia article "Historia Polski (do 1138)"] ).

As of that time and in the following decades this region, plus some of the Greater Poland, Lower Silesia and some areas west of the middle and lower Oder River make up the Sukow-Dziedzice group. Originating partially from the Prague culture and considered its younger stage, it shows significant idiosyncrasies, as no graves or (typical for the rest of the Slavic world) rectangular dwellings set partially below the ground level were found within its span. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 337] .

This particular pattern of expansion into the lands of Poland and then Germany (another, more southern 6th century route took the Prague culture Slavs through Slovakia, Moravia and Bohemia [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 327, 337-338] ) was a part of the great Slavic migration, which took many of them (during this 5th - 7th century period) from the lands of their origin to the various countries of central and southeastern Europe. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 337-338] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 126-127, Michał Parczewski] In particular the Slavs reached the eastern Alps, populated the Elbe basin, and the Danube basin, from where they moved south to occupy the Balkans as far as Peloponnese.

Besides the above mentioned (Poland in Antiquity) Baltic Veneti, ancient and medieval authors speak of East European, or Slavic Venethi. It can be inferred from Tacitus' description in "Germania" that his "Venethi" lived possibly around the middle Dnieper basin [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 259, 350] , which in his times would correspond to the Proto-Slavic Zarubintsy cultural sphere. Jordanes, to whom the Venethi meant his contemporary Slavs, wrote of past fighting between the Ostrogoths and the Venethi, which took place during the third quarter of 4th century in today's Ukraine ["U źródeł Polski", p. 102, Tadeusz Makiewicz] . At that time the Venethi would therefore mean the Kiev culture people. The Venethi says Jordanes, who "now rage in war far and wide, in punishment for our sins", were at that time made obedient to the Gothic king Hermanaric's command. Jordanes' 6th century description of the "populous race of the Venethi" range includes the regions near the left (northern) ridge of the Carpathian Mountains and stretching from there "almost endlessly" east, while in the western direction reaching the sources of the Vistula. More specifically he designates the area between the Vistula and the lower Danube as the country of the Sclaveni. "They have swamps and forests for their cities" ["hi paludes silvasque pro civitatibus habent"] , he adds sarcastically. The "bravest of these peoples", the Antes, settled the lands between the Dniester and the Dnieper rivers. The Venethi were the third Slavic branch of an unspecified location (the more distant from Jordanes' vantage and more ancestral in relation to the other two, the Kolochin culture is the likely possibility), as well as the overall designation for the totality of the Slavic peoples, who "though off-shoots from one stock, have now three names". Procopius in "De Bello Gothico" located the "countless Antes tribes" even further east, beyond the Dnieper. Together with the Sclaveni they spoke the same language, of an "unheard of barbarity". According to him the Heruli nation traveled in 512 across all of the Sclaveni peoples territories, and then west of there through a large expanse of unpopulated lands (the Slavs were about to settle the western and northern parts of Poland in the decades to follow). All of the above is in good accordance with the findings of today's archeology. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 250, 329, 330, 333, 350, 352] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 122, 123, 126, Michał Parczewski]

Byzantine writers had the Slavs in low regard for the simple life they lived and supposedly also limited combat abilities, but in fact they were already in early 6th century a threat to the Danubian boundaries of the Empire, where they waged plundering expeditions. Procopius, the anonymous author of "Strategikon" known as Pseudo-Maurice and Theophylact Simocatta wrote at some length on how to deal with the Slavs militarily, which suggests that they had become a formidable adversary. John of Ephesus actually goes as far as saying (the eightieths decade of 6th century), that the Slavs had learned to conduct war better than the Byzantine army (!). The Balkan Peninsula was indeed soon overrun by the Slavic invaders, during the first half of 7th century, under Emperor Heraclius"At the Source of the Slavic World", Michał Parczewski] .

The authors provide various details on the character, lifestyle and living conditions, social structure and economic activities of the early Slavic people, some of which are confirmed by the archeological discoveries as far as in Poland, as the Slavic communities were quite similar all over their range. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 122-127, Michał Parczewski] Their uniform Old Slavic language remained in use until, depending on the region, 9th to 12th century. For example the Greek missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius from Thessaloniki, where "everybody fluently spoke Slavic", when sent in 863 by the Byzantine ruler to distant Moravia, were expected to be able to communicate there without any difficulty. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 124, 126, Michał Parczewski]

In 6th century the Turkish speaking Avars moved into the middle Danube area. Twice (562 and 566-567) the Avars had undertaken military expeditions against the Franks and their routes went through the Polish lands. While the exact nature of their relations with the Slavs there is not known (the nomad envoys bribed Slavic chiefs from the lands they did not control, including Pomerania, to secure their participation in Avar raids), the Avars had some presence or contacts in Poland also in 7th and 8th centuries, where they left artifacts in the Kraków-Nowa Huta region and elsewhere, including a bronze belt decoration [From the turn of 7th century, used to date the mound itself. "U źródeł Polski", p. 141, Zofia Kurnatowska] found in the Krakus Mound. [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 338-339] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 128-129, Michał Parczewski] [This article reflects the contemporary point of view of the Polish and East European archeologies. Many of the concepts presented were originally formulated by Kazimierz Godłowski of the Jagiellonian University. The idea of eastern origin of the Slavs was raised before him by J. Rozwadowski, K. Moszyński, H. Ułaszyn, H. Łowmiański (J. Wyrozumski - "Historia Polski do roku 1505", p. 47, 63).]

Polish tribes

With the major population shifts completed, 8th century brought a measure of stability to the Slavic people settled in Poland. About one million people actively developed and utilized no more than 20-25% of the land, the rest being forest. Normal settlements, with the exception of a few fortified and cult places, were limited to lowland areas, below 350 meters above the sea level. Most villages built without artificial defensive structures were located within valley areas of natural bodies of water. The Slavs were very familiar with the water environment and used it as natural defense.

The living and economic activity structures were either distributed rather randomly, or arranged in rows or around a central empty lot. The larger settlements could have over a dozen homesteads and be occupied by 50 to 80 residents, but more typically there were just several homes with no more that 30 inhabitants. From 7th century on the previously common semisubterranean dwellings were being replaced by buildings located over most of their areas or wholly above the surface (pits were dug for storage and other uses), but still consisted of just one room. As the Germanic people before, the Slavs were leaving no man's land regions between developed areas, and especially along tribal "borders", for separation from strangers and to avoid conflicts.

The Polish tribes did however leave remnants of more imposing structures - fortified settlements and other reinforced enclosures of the gord (Polish "gród") [gród (pron. grood) or gord - a Slavic or pre-Slavic fortified settlement or other area built with wood as the primary component] type. Those were being established on naturally suitable, defense enhancing sites beginning in late 6th or 7th century (Szeligi near Płock and Haćki are the early examples [Kaczanowski, Kozłowski, p. 339] ), with a large scale building effort taking place in 8th century. The gords were differently designed and of various sizes, from small to impressively massive. Ditches, walls, palisades and embankments were used to strengthen the perimeter, which involved an often complicated earthwork, wood and stone construction. Gords of the tribal period were irregularly distributed across the country, could cover an area from 0.1 to 25 hectares, have a simple or multi-segment architecture, and be protected by fortifications of different types. Some were permanently occupied by a substantial number of people or by a chief and his cohort of armed men, while other were utilized as refuges to protect the local population in case of an external danger. The gords eventually (beginning in 9th century) became nuclei of future urban developments, attracting, especially in strategic locations, tradesmen of all kinds. Gords erected in 8th century have been investigated for instance in Międzyświeć (Cieszyn County, Gołęszyce tribe) and Naszacowice (Nowy Sącz County), which was destroyed and rebuilt four times, with the final reconstruction after 989.

A monumental (over 3 hectares) and technically complex border protection area gord was built around 770-780 in Trzcinica near Jasło, on the site of an old Bronze Age era stronghold, probably the seat of a local ruler and his garrison. Thousands of relics were found there including a 600 pieces silver treasure. The gord was set afire several times and ultimately destroyed during the first half of 11th century. [Muzeum Podkarpackie (Sub-Carpathian Museum) in Krosno web site, Jan Gancarski. The Trzcinica site is being restored and developed as The Carpathian Troy Open-Air Archaeological Museum]

This larger scale gord building activity, from mid 8th century on, was a manifestation of the emergence of tribal organisms, a new civilizational quality, representing rather efficient proto-political organizations and social structures on a new level. They were based on these fortifications, defensive objects, of which the mid 8th century and later so-called Vistulan gords in Lesser Poland are a good example. The threat coming from the Avar state in Pannonia could had provided the original motivation for the organizing and the construction projects [Wyrozumski, p. 47] .

The Slavs in Poland, from 8th century on increasingly often organized in so-called great tribes, either through voluntary or forced association, were primarily agricultural people. Fields were cultivated, as well as, within settlements, nearby gardens. Plowing was done using oxen and wooden, iron reinforced plows. Forest burning was used to increase the arable area, but also provided fertilizer, as the ashes lasted in that capacity for several seasons. Rotation of crops was practiced as well as the winter/spring crop system. After several seasons of exploitation the land was being left idle to regain fertility. Wheat, millet and rye were most important; other cultivated plant species included oat, barley, pea, broad bean, lentil, flax, hemp, as well as apple, pear, plum, peach and cherry trees in fruit orchards. Beginning in 8th century, swine gradually became economically more important than cattle; sheep, goats, horses, dogs, cats, chickens, geese and ducks were also kept. The Slavic agricultural practices are known from archeological research (which also shows progressive over time increases in arable area and resulting deforestation ["U źródeł Polski", p. 148, Zofia Kurnatowska] ), but also from written reports provided by Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, a 10th century Jewish traveler. An anonymous Arab writer from the turn of 9th century mentions that the Slavic people made an alcoholic beverage out of honey and their celebrations were accompanied by music played on the lute, tambourines and wind instruments. Gathering, hunting and fishing were still essential as sources of food and materials, such as hide or fur. The forest was also exploited as a source of building materials such as wood, wild forest bees were kept there, and as a place of refuge [Wyrozumski, p. 49] . The population was, until 9th century, separated from the main centers of civilization, self-sufficient with primitive, local community and household based manufacturing. Specialized craftsmen (of rather mediocre qualifications) existed only in the fields of iron extraction from ore and processing, and pottery; the few more luxurious items were being imported. From 7th century on modestly decorated ceramics was made with the potter's wheel. 7th-9th century collections of objects have been found in Bonikowo and Bruszczewo, Kościan County (iron spurs, knives, clay containers with some ornamentation) and in Kraków-Nowa Huta region (weapons and utensils in Pleszów and Mogiła, where the most substantial of iron treasures was located), among other places. Slavic warriors were traditionally armed with spears, bows and wooden shields; occasionally seen later axes and still later swords are of the types popular throughout 7th-9th century Europe. Independent of distant powers the Slavic tribes in Poland lived a relatively undisturbed life, but at the cost of some civilizational backwardness.

A qualitative change took place in 9th century, when the Polish lands were crossed again by long-distance trade routes, with Pomerania becoming a part of the Baltic trade zone, while Lesser Poland participated in exchange centered in the Danubian countries. Oriental silver jewelry and Arab coins, often cut into pieces, "grzywna" iron coin equivalents (of the type used in Great Moravia) in the Upper Vistula basin and even linen cloths served as currency.

The basic social unit was the nuclear family, consisting of parents and their children, which had to fit in a dwelling area of several to 25 square meters. The big family, a patriarchal, multi-generational group of related families, kin or clan, was of declining during the discussed period importance. A larger group was needed in the past for forest clearing and burning undertakings, when farming communities had to shift from location to location; in the mature - settled phase of agriculture, a family was sufficient to take care of their arable land [Jerzy Wyrozumski - "Historia Polski do roku 1505", p. 73] . A concept of agricultural land ownership was gradually developing, being at this point a matter of family, not individual prerogative. Several or more of clan territories were grouped into a neighborhood association, or "opole", which established a rudimentary self-government. Such community was the owner of forested land, pastures, bodies of water and within it the first organizing around common projects and related development of political power took place. A big and resourceful opole could become, by extending its possessions, a proto-state entity vaguely referred to as the tribe [Wyrozumski, p. 50, concerning land ownership and evolution of "opole"] . The tribe was the top level of this structure, containing several opoles and controlling a region of several hundred up to about 1500 square kilometers, where internal relationships were arbitrated and external defense organized. A general assembly of all tribesmen present took care of the most pressing of issues (Thietmar of Merseburg wrote in early 11th century of the Veleti, Polabian Slavs, that their assembly kept deliberating till everybody agreed), but this so-called "war democracy" was gradually being replaced by a government system in which the tribal elders and rulers had the upper hand. This may had been necessary to facilitate the coalescing of tribes into great tribes, some of which under favorable conditions would later become tribal states. The communal and tribal democracy, with self-imposed contributions by the community members, survived in small entities and local territorial subunits the longest; on a larger scale it was being replaced by the rule of able leaders and then dominant families, ultimately leading inevitably to hereditary transition of supreme power, mandatory taxation, service etc [Wyrozumski, p. 50-52] . When social and economic evolution reached this level, the concentration of power was facilitated and made possible to sustain by parallel development of a professional military force (called at this stage "drużyna") at the ruler's or chief's disposal [Jerzy Wyrozumski - "Historia Polski do roku 1505", p. 66] .

The burial customs, at least in southern Poland, included raising kurgans. The urn with the ashes was placed on the mound or on a post thrust into the ground. In that position few such urns survived, which may be why Slavic burial sites in Poland are rare. All dead, regardless of social status, were cremated and afforded a burial, according to Arab testimonies (one from the end of 9th century and another one from about 930). A Slavic funeral feast practice was also mentioned earlier by Theophylact Simocatta. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 125, 133, Michał Parczewski]

According to Procopius the Slavs believed in one god, creator of lightning and master of the entire universe, to whom all sacrificial animals (sometimes people) were offered. The highest god was called Svarog throughout the Slavic area, as other gods were worshiped too in different regions at different times, often with local names [Wyrozumski, p. 56] . Natural objects such as rivers, groves or mountains were also celebrated, as well as nymphs, demons, ancestral and other spirits, who were all venerated and bought off with offering rituals, which also involved augury. Such beliefs and practices were later continued, developed further and individualized by the many Slavic tribes. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 125, Michał Parczewski] ["U źródeł Polski", p. 134, Stanisław Rosik]

The Slavs erected sanctuaries, created statues and other sculptures including the four-faced Svetovid (one 9th century specimen from the Zbruch River in today's Ukraine, found in 1848, is on display at the Archeological Museum in Kraków), whose carvings symbolize various aspects of the Slavic cosmology model. Many of the sacred locations and objects were identified outside of Poland, in northeastern Germany or Ukraine. In Poland religious activity sites have been investigated in northwestern Pomerania, including Szczecin, where a three-headed deity once stood and the Wolin island, where 9th-11th century cult figurines were found. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 134-135, Stanisław Rosik] Archeologically confirmed cult places and figures have also been researched at a number of other locations [Wyrozumski, p. 54-59] .

The Magyars were at first still another wave of nomadic invaders. Of the Finno-Ugric languages family, coming from northwestern Siberia, they migrated south and west, occupying from the end of 9th century the Pannonian Basin. From there, until the second half of 10th century, when they were forced to settle, they raided and pillaged vast areas of Europe, including Poland. A Hungarian warrior's grave (first half of 10th century), saber and ornamental elements have been found in Przemyśl area. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 128-133, Michał Parczewski]

9th century

The first Slavic state-like entity, the so-called Samo's Realm of King Samo, originally a Frankish trader, was close to Poland (in Bohemia and Moravia) and existed during the 623-658 period. Samo became a Slavic leader by successfully helping the Slavs defend themselves against the Avar assailants. What Samo led was probably a loose alliance of tribes and it fell apart after his death. Slavic Carantania, centered on Krnski Grad (now Karnburg in Austria), was more of a real state, developed possibly from one part of the disintegrating Samo's kingdom, but lasted under a native dynasty throughout 8th century and became Christianized.

Larger scale state-generating processes and in more remote (in relation to Byzantium) Slavic areas took place in 9th century. Great Moravia became established in early 9th century south of today's Poland, but eventually encroached on and included also the Silesia and very likely Lesser Poland regions. The glory of the Great Moravian empire became fully apparent in light of archeological discoveries, of which lavishly equipped burials are especially spectacular. Such finds however do not extend to the peripheral (for Great Moravia) areas of southern Poland. The great territorial expansion of Great Moravia took place during the reign of Svatopluk I, at the end of 9th century. Beyond the original Moravia and western Slovakia the Great Moravian state incorporated then also, to various degrees, Bohemia, Pannonia and the above mentioned regions of Poland. In 906 Great Moravia, weakened by an internal crisis and Magyar invasions, ceased to exist.

In 831 Mojmir I was baptized and his Moravian state became a part of the Bavarian Passau diocese. Aiming to achieve ecclesiastical as well as political independence from East Frankish influence, his successor Rastislav asked the Byzantine emperor Michael III for missionaries. As a result Cyril and Methodius arrived in Moravia in 863 and commenced missionary activities among the Slavic people there. To further their goals the brothers developed a written Slavic liturgical language - the Old Church Slavonic, using the Glagolitic alphabet created by them. Into this language they translated the Bible and other church texts, thus establishing a foundation for the later Slavic Eastern Orthodox churches.

The fall of Great Moravia made room for the expansion of the Czech or Bohemian state, which likewise incorporated some of the Polish lands. The founder of the Přemyslid dynasty, Prince Borivoj was baptized by Methodius during the later part of 9th century and settled in Prague. His grandson Prince Wenceslaus, the future Czech martyr and patron saint, was killed, probably in 935, by his brother Boleslaus. Boleslaus I solidified the power of the Prague princes and most likely dominated the Lesser Poland's Vistulans and Lendians tribes and at least parts of Silesia.

In 9th century the Polish lands were still on the peripheries in relation to the major powers and events of medieval Europe, but a measure of civilizational progress did take place, as evidenced by the number of gords built, kurgans raised and movable equipment used. The tribal elites must had been influenced by the relative closeness of the Carolingian Empire. [Wyrozumski, p. 52-54] Poland was populated by many tribes of various sizes. The names of some of them are known from written sources, especially the Latin language document written in mid 9th century by the anonymous Bavarian Geographer. During this period typically smaller tribal structures were disintegrating, larger ones were being established in their place [Wyrozumski, p. 48] .

Characteristic of the turn of 9th century was an intensification of gord building activity. The gords were the centers of social and political life, tribal leaders and elders had their headquarters in their protected environment, some of the tribal general assemblies took place inside them. Religious cult locations were commonly located in the vicinity, while the gords themselves were frequently visited by traders and artisans.

In terms of economic and general civilizational achievement the most advanced region was Western Pomerania, characterized also by the most extensive contacts with the external world, and accordingly, cultural richness and diversity. Western Pomerania was a favorite destination for traders and other entrepreneurs from distant lands, some of whom were establishing local manufacturing and trade centers; those were usually accompanied by nearby gords inhabited by the local elite. Some of such industrial area / gord complexes gave rise to early towns - urban centers, such as Wolin or Szczecin. The Bavarian Geographer mentioned two tribes, the Wolinians ("Uelunzani") and Pyrzyczans ("Prissani") in the area, each with 70 towns. Despite the high civilizational advancement, except for the Wolin city-state, no statehood structures developed in Western Pomerania. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 136-140, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The Wolin settlement was established on the island of the same name in 8th century. Located at the mouth of the Oder River, from the beginning was involved with long distance Baltic Sea trade. The settlement, later a city, was pagan, multiethnic, and readily kept accepting newcomers, especially craftsmen and other professionals, from all over the world. Being located on a major intercontinental sea route, it soon became a big European industrial and trade power. Writing in 11th century Adam of Bremen saw Wolin as one of the largest European cities, inhabited by honest, good-natured and hospitable Slavic people, together with other nationalities, from the Greeks to barbarians, including the Saxons, as long as they didn't demonstrate their Christianity too openly.

Wolin was a central seat of the Wolinians tribe, who possessed, besides the island, a broad stretch of the mainland, with the tribal boundaries protected by a string of gords. The city's peak of prosperity occurred around and after year 900, when a new seaport was built (the municipal complex had now four of them) and the metropolitan area was secured by walls and embankments. The archeological findings there include a great variety of imported (even from the Far East) and locally manufactured products and raw materials; amber and precious metals figure prominently, as jewelry was one of the mainstay economic activities of the Wolinian elite.

Also a military power engaged in a struggle with the Piasts, after 967 Wolin became a part of the Mieszko's state, but was lost by his son Bolesław early in 11th century. Afterwards its importance gradually diminished, until it was destroyed by the Danes in 1173. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 142-143, Władysław Filipowiak]

Truso was another Baltic seaport and trade emporium known from the reworking of the Orosius' universal history by Alfred the Great. King Alfred included a description of the voyage undertaken around 890 by Wulfstan from the Danish port of Hedeby to Truso located near the mouth of the Vistula. Wulfstan gave a rather detailed description of the location of Truso, within the land of the Aesti, yet right close to the Slavic areas across (west of) the Vistula. Because of the volatile topography of the Vistula estuary region the location went through substantial changes and was difficult to recognize; consequently attempts to physically locate Truso were unsuccessful until 1982. ["Truso" by Marek Jagodziński of the Archeological-Historical Museum in Elbląg, from Pradzieje.pl web site]

Truso was discovered at Janów Pomorski, near (as it was long suspected) Elbląg. Established as a seaport by the Vikings and Danish traders at the end of 8th century in the Prussian border area previously already explored by the Scandinavians, it lasted as a major city and commercial center until early 11th century, when it was destroyed and by which time it was replaced in that capacity by Gdańsk. The settlement covered an area of 20 hectares and consisted of a two dock seaport, the craft-trade portion, and the peripheral residential development, all protected by a wood and earth bulwark separating it from the mainland. The port-trade and craftsmen zones were themselves separated by a fire control ditch with water flowing through it. There were several rows of houses including long Viking hall structures, waterside warehouses, market areas and wooden beam covered streets. Numerous relics were found, including weights used also as currency units, coins from English to Arab and workshops processing metal, jewelry or large quantities of amber. Remnants of long Viking boats were also found, the whole complex being a testimony to Viking preoccupation with commerce, the mainstay of their activities around the Baltic Sea region. The multi-ethnic Truso had extensive trade contacts not only with distant lands and Scandinavia, but also the Slavic areas located to the south and west of it, from where ceramics and other products were transported along the Vistula in river crafts. Ironically, Truso's sudden destruction by fire and subsequent disappearance was apparently a result of a Viking raid. ["Truso - zaginiony port" by Andrzej Markert from "Sprawy nauki" web site] ["Truso - emporium Wikingów" an interview with Marek Jagodziński by Arkadiusz Szaraniec from "Travel Polska" web site. The area is being developed as an outdoor replica of the settlement]

The other big story of this period concerns the somewhat enigmatic Wiślanie, or Vistulans (Bavarian Geographer's "Vuislane") tribe. It is believed that the Vistulans of western Lesser Poland, mentioned in several contemporary written sources, already a large tribal union in the first half of 9th century [Wyrozumski, p. 66-67] , were evolving in the second half of that century toward a supertribal state, until their efforts were terminated by the more powerful neighbors from the south. Vistulan's main town Kraków, with its Wawel gord, was located along a major "international" trade route. The main Vistulans-related archeological find (in addition to the 8th century [Wyrozumski, p. 52] Krakus, Wanda and other large burial mounds and the remnants of a number of gords) is the late 9th century valuable treasure of iron ax shaped grzywnas, well-known as currency units in Great Moravia. They were discovered in 1979 in a wooden chest, below the basement of a medieval house on Kanonicza Street, near the Vistula and the Wawel Hill. The total weight of the iron material is 3630 kilograms and the individual bars of various sizes (4212 of them) were bound in bundles, which suggests that the package was being readied for transportation. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 140-141, Zofia Kurnatowska]

According to Constantine VII, in 6th century a White Croat state with the capital in Kraków existed around the Upper Vistula region and in northern Bohemia. In 7th century seven Croat tribes supposedly left the area for the Balkans, asked by Emperor Heraclius to help defend the imperial borders. There is however no archeological corroboration for this story, as the known gord in Kraków was built in 8th century.

Vistulan gords, built from mid 8th century on, had typically very large area, often over 10 hectares. About 30 big ones are known [Janusz Roszko - "Pogański książę silny wielce", Iskry, Warszawa 1970, p. 379] . The largest one, in Stradów, Kazimierza Wielka County, had an area of 25 hectares and walls or embankments up 18 meters high, but parts of this giant structure were probably built later. The gords were often located along the northern slope of the western Carpathian Mountains, on hills or hillsides. The buildings inside the walls were sparsely located or altogether absent, so for the most part the gords' role was other than that of settlements or administrative centers.

A large (2.5 hectares) gord was built at the turn of 8th century in Zawada Lanckorońska, Tarnów County, and rebuilt after 868. A treasure found there contains various Great Moravian type decorations dated from the late 9th century through mid 10th century. The treasure was hidden and the gord destroyed by fire during the second half of that century ["U źródeł Polski", p. 164, Zofia Kurnatowska] .

The large mounds, up to 50 meters in diameter, are found not only in Kraków, but also in Przemyśl and Sandomierz among other places (about 20 total [Janusz Roszko - "Pogański książę silny wielce", Iskry, Warszawa 1970, p. 13] ). They were probably funeral locations of rulers or chiefs, with the actual burial site, on the top of the mound, long lost. Besides the mounds-kurgans, the degree of the Wawel gord development and the grzywna treasure point to Kraków as the main center of Vistulan power (in the past Wiślica was also suspected of that role).

The most important Vistulans related written reference comes from the "The Life of Saint Methodius", also known as "The Pannonian Legend", written by Methodius' disciples most likely right after his death (885) [Wyrozumski, p. 66] . The fragment speaks of a very powerful pagan prince, residing in the Vistulan country, who reviled the Christians and caused them great harm. He was warned by St. Methodius' emissaries speaking on the missionary's behalf (who himself may had been acting as Svatopluk's agent here), advised to reform and voluntarily accept baptism in his own homeland. Otherwise, it was predicted, he would be forced to do so in a foreign land, and, the story goes, that's what eventually happened. This passage is widely interpreted as the indication that the Vistulans were invaded and overrun by the army of Great Moravia and their pagan prince captured. It would have to happen during Methodius' second stay in Moravia, between 873 and 885, and during Svatopluk's reign.

A further elaboration on this story is possibly found in the chronicle of Wincenty Kadłubek, written some three centuries later. The chronicler talks of a past Polish war with the army of Alexander the Great (!). The countless enemy soldiers thrust their way into Poland, and the King himself, having previously subjugated the Pannonians, entered through Moravia like through the back door, victoriously unfolded the wings of his forces, conquered the Kraków area lands and Silesia, leveling in process the ancient city walls. Obviously at some point during the intervening period, or by the chronicler himself, the glitter of the Svatopluk's army became confused with that of the emperor-warrior of another place and time. A dozen or more southern Lesser Poland gords attacked and destroyed at the end of 9th century lends some archeological credence to this version of events.

East of the Vistulans, eastern Lesser Poland was the territory of the Lendians (Lędzianie, Bavarian Geographer's "Lendizi") tribe. In mid 10th century Constantine VII wrote their name as "Lendzaneoi" [Wyrozumski, p. 48] . The Lendians had to be a very substantial tribe, since the names for Poland in the Lithuanian and Hungarian languages and for the Poles in medieval Ruthenian all begin with the letter "L", being derived from their tribe's name"U źródeł Polski", p. 147, Zofia Kurnatowska] . After the fall of Great Moravia the Magyars controlled at least partially the territory of the Lendians.

The Vistulans were probably also subjected to their rides, as an additional layer of embankments was in many cases added to the gord fortifications in the early part of 10th century. In early or mid 10th century the Vistulan entity, like Silesia, was incorporated by Boleslaus I of Bohemia into the Czech state [Wyrozumski, p. 48] . This association turned out to be beneficial in terms of economic development, because Kraków was an important station on the Prague - Kiev trade route. The first known Christian church structures were erected on the Wawel Hill. Later in 10th century, under uncertain circumstances but in a peaceful way (the gord network suffered no damage on this occasion), the Vistulans became a part of the Piast Polish state. [Polish Wikipedia article on the Wiślanie tribe]

10th century developments in Greater Poland; Mieszko's state

This period brought a notable development in settlement stability on Polish lands. Short-lived prehistoric settlements gradually gave way to villages on fixed sites. The number of villages grew with time, but their sites rarely shifted. The population distribution patterns established from that century on are evident on today's landscape"Archaeological Investigations" by Tadeusz Poklewski-Koziełł, "Archeologia Żywa" (Living Archeology), special English issue 2005] . 9th and 10th century sources make no mention of the Polans (Polanie) tribe. The closest thing would be the huge (400 gords) "Glopeani" tribe of the Bavarian Geographer, whose name seems to be derived from that of Lake Gopło, but archeological investigations cannot confirm any such scale of settlement activity in Lake Gopło area. What the research does indicate is the presence of several distinct tribes in 9th century Greater Poland, one around the upper and middle Obra River basin, one in the lower Obra basin, and another one west of the Warta River. There was the Gniezno area tribe, whose settlements were concentrated around the regional cult center - the Lech Hill of today's Gniezno. Throughout 9th century the Greater Poland tribes did not constitute a uniform entity or whole in the cultural, or settlement pattern sense. The centrally located Gniezno Land was at that time rather isolated from external influences, such as from the highly developed Moravian-Czech or Baltic Sea centers. Such separation (also from the more expansive powers) was probably a positive factor, facilitating at this stage the efforts of a lineage of leaders from an elder clan of one of the tribes there, known as the Piast House, which resulted in the early part of 10th century in the establishment of an embryonic state. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 141, Zofia Kurnatowska]

What was later to be called Gniezno state, also known as Mieszko's state, was expanded at the expense of the subdued tribes in Mieszko's grandfather and father times, and in particular by Mieszko himself. Writing around 965 or 966 Ibrahim ibn Yaqub described the country of Mieszko, "the king of the North" [Ibrahim ibn Yaqub wrote of four (Slavic) kings: The king of Bulgaria, Boleslaus the king of Prague, Bohemia and Kraków, Mieszko the king of the North, and Nako (of the Obotrites) the king of the West; Wyrozumski, p. 77] , as the most wide-ranging of the Slavic lands. Mieszko, the ruler of the Slavs, was also mentioned as such at that time by Widukind of Corvey in his "Res gestae saxonicae". In its mature form this state included the West Slavic lands between the Oder and Bug rivers and between the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian Mountains, including the economically crucial mouth areas of the Vistula and Oder rivers, as well as Lesser Poland and Silesia."U źródeł Polski", p. 144, Marek Derwich] "U źródeł Polski", p. 146, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The Polans (tribal) name appears in writing for the first time around year 1000, like the country's name Poland (Latinized as Polonia). "Polanie" was possibly the name given later to the inhabitants of Greater Poland, originating from unknown (by name) tribes, which were instrumental in bringing about the establishment of the Polish state; one such tribe had to constitute the immediate power base of Mieszko's predecessors, if not Mieszko himself.

In early 12th century chronicler Gallus Anonymus wrote down or invented a dynastic legend of the House of Piasts. The story gives, amid miraculous details, the names of the supposed ancestors of the royal family, beginning with a man named Chościsko, the father of the central figure Piast, who was a humble farmer living in Gniezno, married to Rzepka. The male heads of the Piast clan following after him were, according to Gallus, Siemowit, Lestek, Siemomysł and Mieszko I, the first "Piast" known with historic certainty.

Gallus expressed his own misgivings concerning the trustworthiness of the royal story he passed on (he qualified it with words like "oblivion", "error" and "idolatry"), but the sequence of the last three names of Mieszko's predecessors he considered reliable [Wyrozumski, p. 69-70] .

The results of archeological studies of the Greater Poland's 9th and 10th century gords are at odds with the timing of this story. There was no Gniezno settlement in 9th century; there was a pagan cult site there beginning with the turn of 9th century. The Gniezno gord was built around year 940, possibly because the location, being of great spiritual importance to the tribal community, would rally the local population around the building and defense effort. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 146-147, Zofia Kurnatowska]

Under the old tribal system, the tribal assembly elected a chief in case of an external threat, to lead the defense effort, and it was a temporarily granted authority. The Piast clan was able to replace it in Gniezno area with its own hereditary rule over the tribe that inhabited it, which was in line with the trends of the times, and allowed them to create the state that they controlled. Greater Poland during the first half of 10th century was not particularly densely populated or economically developed, lagging behind such regions as Pomerania, Silesia and Lesser Poland. It was favored by the above mentioned geographic isolation, central location among the culturally similar tribes and extensive network of suitable for transportation rivers. What made the ultimate difference however could be the exceptional individualities of the Piast family members, who were able to take advantage of the arising opportunities. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 147-148, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The development of the Piast state can be traced to some degree by following the disappearance of the old tribal gords (many of them were built in Greater Poland during the later part of 9th century and soon thereafter), destroyed by the advancing Gniezno tribe people. For example the gords in Spławie, Września County and in Daleszyn, Gostyń County, both built soon after 899, were attacked and taken over by the Piast state forces, the first one burned during the initial period of the armed expansion. The old gords were often rebuilt and enlarged or replaced, beginning in the first decades of 10th century, by new, large and massively reinforced Piast gords. Gords of this type were erected or reconstructed from earlier ones initially in the tribe's native Gniezno Land and then elsewhere in central Greater Poland, in Grzybowo near Września (920-930) ["U źródeł Polski", p. 226. Tables and summary chronology at the end of the book (Adam Żurek, Wojciech Mrozowicz) used throughout the article] , Ostrów Lednicki, Giecz, Gniezno, Bnin in Poznań County, Ląd in Słupca County and in Poznań (Ostrów Tumski). Connected by water communication lines, in mid 10th century the powerful gords served as the main concentrations of forces of the emerging state. In parallel with the gord building activity (920-950) the Piasts undertook military expansion, crossing Warta and moving towards the end of this period south and west within the Oder River basin (the entire network of tribal gords between the Obra and Barycz rivers was eliminated, among other places ["My nie z Gniezna, ale z Giecza" by Piotr Bojarski, Gazeta Wyborcza July 2, 2007] ), often resettling the conquered populations to central Greater Poland, partially depopulating previously well-developed regions. At the end of this stage of the Piast state formation new Piast gords were built in the (north) Noteć River area and other outlying areas of the annexed lands, for example in Santok and Śrem around 970. During the following decade the job of unifying the core of the early Piast state was finished - besides Greater Poland with Kujawy it included also much of central Poland. Masovia and parts of Pomerania found themselves increasingly under the Piast influence, while the southbound expansion was for the time being stalled, because large portions of Lesser Poland and Silesia were controlled by the Czech state. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 148-149, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The expanding Piast state developed a professional military force. According to Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, Mieszko collected taxes in the form of weights used for trading and spent those taxes as monthly pay for his warriors. He had three thousands of heavily armored mounted soldiers alone, whose quality according to Ibrahim was very impressive. Mieszko provided for all their equipment and needs, even military pay for their children regardless of their gender, from the moment they were born. This force was supported by a much greater number of foot fighters ["U źródeł Polski", p. 193-194, Zofia Kurnatowska, Marek Derwich] . Numerous armaments were found in the Piast gords, many of them of foreign, e.g. Frankish or Scandinavian origin. Mercenaries from these regions, as well as German and Norman knights, constituted a significant element of Mieszko's elite fighting guard. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 149-150, Zofia Kurnatowska]

To sustain this military machine and to meet other state expenses large amounts of revenue were necessary. Greater Poland had some natural resources used for trade such as fur, hide, honey and wax, but those surely did not provide enough income. According to Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, Prague in Bohemia, a city built of stone, was the main center for the exchange of trading commodities in this part of Europe. The Slavic traders brought here from Kraków tin, salt, amber and other products they had and most importantly slaves; Muslim, Jewish, Hungarian and other traders were the buyers. "The Life of St. Adalbert", written at the end of 10th century by John Canaparius, lists the fate of many Christian slaves, sold in Prague "for the wretched gold", as the main curse of the time (dragging of shackled slaves is shown as one of the scenes on the bronze 12th century Gniezno Doors). It may well be that the territorial expansion financed itself, and partially the expanding state, by being the source of loot, of which the captured local people were the most valuable part. The scale of the human trade practice is however arguable, because much of the population from the defeated tribes was resettled for agricultural work or in the near-gord settlements, where they could serve the victors in various capacities and thus contribute to the economic and demographic potential of the state. Considerable increase of population density was characteristic of the newly established states in eastern and central Europe. The slave trade not being enough, the Piast state had to look for other options for generating revenue. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 150, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The answer lies in the Piast tendency to subdue Pomerania with its Baltic Sea shores, an especially persistent effort during the Mieszko's rule. The area was the site of wealthy trade emporiums, frequently visited by traders, especially from the east, west and north. Controlling in particular the rich seaports of Western Pomerania situated on long distance trade routes, such as Wolin, Szczecin and Kołobrzeg, would be very profitable. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 150-151, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The Piast state reached the mouth of the Vistula first. Based on the investigations of the gords erected along the middle and lower Vistula, it appears that the lower Vistula waterway was under the Piast control from about mid 10th century. A powerful gord built in Gdańsk, under Mieszko at the latest, solidified the Piast rule over Eastern Pomerania. Western Pomerania turned out to be a more difficult issue to deal with. The mouth of the Oder River was firmly controlled by the Wolinians tribe, who employed highly trained mercenary Viking combat units"Mieczem i sakiewką" from Polityka.pl by Agnieszka Krzemińska, quoting Mateusz Bogucki] and were allied with the Veleti. "The Veleti are fighting Mieszko", reported Ibrahim ibn Yaqub, "and their military might is great". Widukind wrote about the events of 963, involving the person of the Saxon Graf Wichmann, an adventurer exiled from his country. According to Widukind, "Wichmann went to the barbarians (probably the Veleti or the Wolinians) and leading them twice defeated Mieszko, killed his brother and acquired a great deal of spoils". As the German state was at that time getting increasingly involved in its eastbound expansion, Thietmar also claims that Mieszko with his people became in 963, together with other Slavic entities such as the Lusatians, subjects of the Holy Roman Emperor, forced into that role by the powerful Margrave Gero of the Saxon Eastern March."U źródeł Polski", p. 151, Zofia Kurnatowska]

Such series of military reverses and detrimental relationships, which also involved the Czech Přemyslids allied with the Veleti, compelled Mieszko to seek the support of the German Emperor Otto I. This must had worked out, since Widukind then described Mieszko as "a friend of the Emperor". A pact was negotiated and finalized no later than in 965. The price Mieszko had to pay for the imperial protection was becoming the Emperor's vassal, paying him tribute from the lands up to the Warta River, and, very likely, making a promise of accepting Christianity.

The baptism and the attendant processes did not take place through Mieszko's German connections though. Installing in Poland the Christian Church in its western Latin Rite [There is a minority opinion according to which Poland (or just southern Poland) was initially Christianized in the Slavic rite by followers of Cyril and Methodius and for a while the two branches coexisted in competition with each other. The arguments and speculations pointing in that direction were collected by Janusz Roszko in "Pogański książę silny wielce" (A pagan duke of great might), Iskry, Warszawa 1970] brought Mieszko's country into the realm of the ancient Mediterranean culture, but was done in response to the immediate practical concerns. Of these the preeminent was the increasing pressure of the eastbound expansion (between the Elbe and the Oder rivers) of the German state and its plans to control the parallel expansion of the Church through the archdiocese in Magdeburg, the establishment of which was finalized in 968. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 154, Zofia Kurnatowska]

Mieszko at that time was in process of fixing the uneasy so far, mainly because of the Czech cooperation with the Veleti, relationship with the Bohemian state of Boleslaus I. Already in 964 the two parties arrived at an agreement on that and other issues [Polish Wikipedia article on Boleslaus I of Bohemia, quoting J.A. Sobiesiak's book "Bolesław II Przemyślida"] . In 965 Mieszko married Boleslaus' daughter Doubravka. Mieszko's chosen Christian princess Dobrawa, as she is called in Polish, a woman possibly in her twenties [Polish Wikipedia article on Dobrawa, quoting Prof. Jerzy Strzelczyk] , was a devout Christian and Mieszko's own conversion had to be a part of the deal. This act in fact followed in 966 and initialized the Christianization of Greater Poland, a region so far, unlike Lesser Poland and Silesia, not exposed to Christian influence. In 968 an independent missionary bishopric, reporting directly to the Pope was established, with Jordan installed as the first bishop. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 154-155, Zofia Kurnatowska]

The scope of the Christianization mission in its early phase was quite limited geographically and the few relics that have survived come from Gniezno Land. Stone churches and baptisteries were discovered within the Ostrów Lednicki and Poznań gords, a chapel in Gniezno. Poznań was also the site of the first cathedral, the bishopric seat of Jordan and Bishop Unger, who followed him. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 156, Zofia Kurnatowska]

Newer research points out to some other intriguing possibilities regarding the early origins of the Polish state in Greater Poland. There are indications that the processes that led to the establishment of the Piast state began during the 890-910 period. During these years a tremendous civilizational advancement took place in central Greater Poland, as the unearthed products of all kinds are better made and more luxurious. The timing coincides with the breakdown of the Great Moravian state caused by the Magyar invasions. Before and after its 905-907 fall, fearing for their lives many Great Moravian people had to escape. According to the notes made by Constantine VII, they found refuge in the neighboring countries. Decorations found in Sołacz graves in Poznań have their counterparts in burial sites around Nitra in Slovakia. In Nitra area also there was in medieval times a well-known clan named Poznan. It could be that the Poznań town was established by the Nitran refugees, and more generally, the immigrants from Great Moravia contributed to the sudden awakening of the otherwise remote and isolated Piast lands."Polski mogło nie być" (There could have been no Poland) - an interview with the historian Tomasz Jasiński by Piotr Bojarski, Gazeta Wyborcza July 7, 2007]

Early expansion of the Gniezno Land tribe began very likely under Mieszko's grandfather Lestek, the probable real founder of the Piast state. Widukind's chronicle speaks of Mieszko ruling the Slavic nation called "Licicaviki", which was what Widukind made out of "Lestkowicy", the people of Lestko, or Lestek. Lestek was also reflected in the sagas of the Normans, who are believed by some to had played a role in Poland's origins (there is an accumulation of 930-1000 period treasures attributed to them). Siemomysł and then Mieszko continued after Lestek, whose tradition was alive within the Piast court when Bolesław III Wrymouth gave this name to one of his sons and Gallus Anonymous wrote his chronicle. The "Lechici" term popular later, synonymous with "Poles" (derived also from the Lendians tribal name), like the legend of Lech, may also had been inspired by Mieszko's grandfather [Wyrozumski, p. 75] .

There is some disagreement as to the early seat of the ruling clan. Traditionally Gniezno was seen in that role, but the gord in Gniezno didn't even exist until about 940. The relics (including a great concentration of silver treasures) found in Giecz, where the original gord was built some 80 years earlier, later turned into a powerful Piast stronghold, point to that location. Others see early capitals in the old gords of Grzybowo, Kalisz (located away from Gniezno Land) or Poznań. Older than Gniezno Poznań, where the first cathedral church, a monumental structure, was erected, was likely the original Mieszko's court site in the earlier years of his reign. The events of 974-978, when Mieszko, like his brother-in-law Boleslaus II of Bohemia, supported Henry II in his rebellion against Otto II, created a threat of the Emperor's retribution (ineffective, as it turned out) and probably motivated Mieszko to move the government to the safer, because of its more eastern location, Gniezno (the growing importance of Gniezno was reflected in the addition around 980 of the new southern part to the original two segments of the gord). This geographical advantage continued in the years to come, so in the "Dagome iudex" document written 991/992 before Mieszko's death, Mieszko's state is called "Civitas Gnesnensis", or Gniezno State (badly misspelled by the cleric, who produced the existing summary).

The enormous effort of the estimated population of 100 to 150 thousands of residents of the Gniezno region, who were involved in building or modernizing Gniezno and several other main Piast gords (all of the local supply of oak timber was exhausted), was made in response to a perceived deadly threat, not just to help them pursue regional conquests. After 935, when the Gniezno people were probably already led by Mieszko's father Siemomysł, the Czechs conquered Silesia and soon moved also against Germany. The fear of desecration of their tribal cult center by the advancing Czechs could had mobilized the community. Also a Polabian Slavs uprising was suppressed around 940 by Germany under Otto I and the eastbound moving Saxons must had added to the sense of danger at that time (unless the Piast state was already allied with Otto, helping restrain the Polabians). When the situation stabilized, the Piast state consolidated and the huge gords turned out handy for facilitating their own expansion, led at this stage by Siemomysł.

Fighting the Veleti from the beginning of Mieszko's rule led to a natural at this point alliance of his state with Germany. As the Polish state was expanding westbound, the German state was expanding eastbound. The victory achieved in September of 967, when Wichmann, leading this time according to Widukind the forces of the Wolinians was killed and Mieszko had his revenge (additional mounted units were provided by Mieszko's father-in-law Boleslaus), was recognized by the Emperor as the turning point in the struggle to contain the Polabian Slavs, which distracted him from pursuing his Italian policies. This new status allowed Mieszko to successfully pursue the efforts leading to obtaining by his country an independent bishopric even before the Czechs, who had a vastly longer tradition of Christianity behind them. This victory, as well as successful fighting with Margrave Hodo that followed in 972 (the Battle of Cedynia), allowed Mieszko to complete the conquest of Pomerania as far west as the lower Oder River vicinity, including the rich and powerful Wolin, which however remained autonomous and pagan. Szczecin was the other major center of that region and Kołobrzeg, where a strong gord was built around 985, was probably the actual center of Piast power there.

A presence of Scandinavian colonies was established in Kołobrzeg area, composed of entire communities as evidenced by the burials of women, which had to do with the Viking involvement in Baltic area trade and Kołobrzeg's role as a trade emporium.

In the west Lubusz Land was also under Mieszko's control and another important gord was built in Włocławek much further east. Masovia was still more loosely associated with the Piast state, while the Sandomierz region was for a while their southern outpost. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 157, 161-162, Zofia Kurnatowska]

Dendrological studies, which form an important bases of wooden settlement dating, show the construction of powerful Piast gords in western Silesia region along the Oder River (Głogów, Wrocław and Opole) in 985 at the latest. The alliance with the Czechs was by that time over (Dobrawa died in 977, leaving two children Bolesław and Świętosława), Mieszko allied with Germany fought the Přemyslids and took over that part of Silesia and then also eastern Lesser Poland, the Lendian lands. In 989 Kraków with the rest of Lesser Poland was taken over (autonomous under the Czech rule, the region also enjoyed a special status within the Piast state ["U źródeł Polski", p. 164, Zofia Kurnatowska] ) and in 990 eastern Silesia, which completed the Piast takeover of southern Poland. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 162-163, Zofia Kurnatowska]

Silver treasures, common in the Scandinavian countries, are found also in Slavic areas including Poland, especially northern Poland. Silver objects, coins and decorations, often cut into pieces, are believed to had served as currency units, brought in by Jewish and Arab traders, but locally more as accumulations of wealth and symbols of prestige. The process of hiding or depositing them, besides protecting them from danger, is believed to represent a cult ritual.

The silver treasures, sometimes wrapped in a cloth and weighing up to several kilograms, were placed in clay containers. The oldest ones, from the end of 8th century through the turn of 9th century contain Arab dirhem coins; German, English, Czech and Hungarian currency occurs from mid 10th century and Polish coins from the turn of 10th century. Besides the coins, fine (but damaged through cutting) ornaments are present as well as silver "pancakes", that is pieces of melted silver, and more rarely, complete undamaged jewelry and other products.

A treasure located in Góra Strękowa, Białystok County, hidden after 901, includes dirhem coins minted between 764 and 901 and Slavic decorations made in southern Ruthenia, showing Byzantine influence. This find is a manifestation of a 10th century trade route running all the way from Central Asia, through Byzantium, Kiev, the Dnieper and Pripyat rivers basins and Masovia, to the Baltic Sea shores. Such treasures most likely belonged to members of the emerging elites. ["U źródeł Polski", p. 152-153, Zofia Kurnatowska (silver treasures)]

See also

* Prehistory of Poland (until 966)
* Stone Age Poland
* Bronze and Iron Age Poland
* Poland in Antiquity

References and notes

:General:
* Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, "U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038)" (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2002, ISBN 83-7023-954-4
* Piotr Kaczanowski, Janusz Krzysztof Kozłowski - "Najdawniejsze dzieje ziem polskich (do VII w.)" (Oldest history of Polish lands (till 7th century)), Fogra, Kraków 1998, ISBN 83-85719-34-2
* Jerzy Wyrozumski - "Dzieje Polski piastowskiej" (VIII w. - 1370) (History of Piast Poland (8th century - 1370)), Fogra, Kraków 1999, ISBN 83-85719-38-5:Inline:


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