Poland - History
Poland has had an agrarian history that can be dated back 7500 years.
Poland’s place has varied over the times from a huge state in central Europe the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, to no formal recognition at all.
Poland regained its independence in 1918.
From the 10th century, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the Poles to Christianity. In the 1300s the basis for the new dominant Kingdom of Poland was established.
By the 18th century democracy had gradually declined into anarchy, making the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention and ultimately ceased to exist in 1795.
Following the reestablishment of its independence the Second Polish Republic was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War.
The late 1980s saw the establishment of Solidarity, a reform movement, that caused a peaceful transition from a communist state to a capitalist democracy, which resulted in the creation of the Polish state today.
The Stone Age era in Poland lasted five hundred thousand years and involved three different human species. The Stone Age cultures ranged from early human groups with primitive tools to advanced agricultural societies using sophisticated stone tools, building fortified settlements and developing copper metallurgy.
Bronze Age cultures in Poland begin around 2400/2300 BC. The Iron Age commences ca. 750/700 BC.
From about 400 BC many Germanic tribes moved from present-day Poland in the southern and eastern directions, while other remained. As the Roman Empire was nearing its collapse and the nomadic peoples invading from the east destroyed, damaged or destabilized the various Germanic cultures and societies, the Germanic people left eastern and central Europe for the safer and wealthier southern and western parts of the continent. The northeast corner of modern Poland's territory was and remained populated by Baltic tribes.
After the departure of the Germanic tribes around the 5th century some half century after these territories were vacated by Germanic tribes. Slavic peoples inhabited the area living from cultivation of crops and were generally farmers, but also engaged in hunting and gathering.
From the early part of the 10th century the Polans became a force behind the historic processes that gave rise to the Polish state.
The 10th century, saw territory expansion resulting in a territory about the size of Poland as it is today. Bolesław Chrobry (ruled 992-1025) continued his father's policy of alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. Conflicts with Germany ended in 1018 with the Peace of Bautzen accord, on favorable for Bolesław terms. In the context of the 1018 Kiev expedition Bolesław took over the western part of Red Ruthenia. In 1025, shortly before his death, Bolesław I the Brave crowned himself, and became the first king of Poland.
Bolesław II the Bold, also known as the Generous (ruled 1058-1079), developed Polish military strength further, waging several foreign campaigns between 1058 and 1077.
Bolesław III the Wrymouth (ruled 1102-1138) became the Duke of Poland by defeating his half-brother in 1106-1107.
The 13th century brought changes in the structure of the Polish society and political system. In mid 13th century Bolesław II the Bald granted Lubusz Land to the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which made possible the creation of the Neumark and had far reaching negative consequences for the integrity of the western border. Western Farther Pomerania broke its political ties with Poland in the second half of the 12th century and from 1231 became a fief of the Margraviate, which in 1307 extended its Pomeranian possessions even further east. Pomerelia or Gdańsk Pomerania had been independent of the Polish dukes from 1227.
The civil strife and foreign invasions, such as the Mongol invasions in 1241, 1259 and 1287, weakened and depopulated the many small Polish principalities, as the country became progressively more split. This period weakened the rulers and established a permanent trend in Polish history, whereby the rights and role of the nobility were being expanded at the monarch's expense.
In 1226 Konrad I of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Prussian people. The Teutonic Order quickly overstepped the authority and moved beyond the area granted them by conrad. In the following decades they conquered large areas along the Baltic Sea coast and established their monastic state.
The 14th century unified Kingdom of Poland of the last two rulers of the Piast dynasty, Władysław the Elbow-high and his son Casimir the Great, Poland experienced a period of accelerated economic development and increasing prosperity during this period. Kazimierz the Great considerably strengthened the country's position in both foreign and domestic affairs
With the death of Casimir the Great the period of hereditary (Piast) monarchy in Poland ended. The land owners and nobles did not want a strong monarchy; a constitutional monarchy was established between 1370 and 1493.
Many large scale building projects were undertaken in the 14th century, in particular during Casimir's reign. These included Gothic churches, castles, urban fortifications and homes of wealthy city residents.
Between 1386 and 1572 Poland and Lithuania were ruled by a succession of constitutional monarchs of the Jagiellon dynasty. The Jagiellon Era is often regarded as a period of maximum political power, great prosperity, and in its later stage, the Golden Age of Polish culture.
The Great War of 1409-1411, precipitated by the Lithuanian uprising in the Order controlled Samogitia, included the Battle of Grunwald, where the Polish and Lithuanian-Rus' armies completely defeated the Teutonic Knights. The offensive that followed lost its impact with the ineffective siege of Malbork. The failure to take the fortress and eliminate the Teutonic (later Prussian) state had for Poland dire historic consequences in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1438 the Czech anti-Habsburg opposition, mainly Hussite factions, offered the Czech crown to Jagiełło's younger son Casimir. The idea, accepted in Poland over Oleśnicki's objections, resulted in two unsuccessful Polish military expeditions to Bohemia.
After Vytautas' death in 1430 Lithuania became embroiled in internal wars and conflicts with Poland.
Toward the end of Jagiełło's life, Poland was practically governed by a magnate oligarchy led by Oleśnicki.
The Grand Duke of Lithuania, was crowned in 1447 on becoming King of Poland Casimir also freed himself from the control the Lithuanian oligarchy had imposed on him.
The southern and eastern outskirts of Poland and Lithuania became threatened by Turkish invasions beginning in the late 15th century. King John Albert in 1497 made an attempt to resolve the Turkish problem militarily, but his efforts were unsuccessful as he was unable to secure effective participation in the war by his brothers, King Ladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary and Alexander, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and because of the resistance on the part of Stephen the Great, the ruler of Moldavia. More Ottoman Empire instigated destructive Tatar raids took place in 1498, 1499 and 1500. John Albert's diplomatic peace efforts that followed were finalized after the king's death in 1503, resulting in a territorial compromise and an unstable truce.
The 16th century saw development of mining and metallurgy and technical progress took place in various commercial applications.
During the 16th century prosperous patrician families of merchants, bankers, or industrial investors, many of German origin, still conducted large-scale business operations in Europe. Calvinism in mid 16th century gained many followers among both szlachta and the magnates, especially in Lesser Poland and Lithuania.
The act of the Warsaw Confederation, which took place during the convocation sejm of 1573, provided guarantees, at least for the nobility, of religious freedom and peace.
The Polish "Golden Age", the 16th century, is most often identified with the rise of the culture of Polish Renaissance.
Despite the favorable economic development, the military potential of 16th century Poland was modest in relation to the challenges and threats coming from several directions, which included the Ottoman Empire, the Teutonic state, the Habsburgs, and Muscovy.
In the 16th century the Grand Duchy of Moscow continued activities aimed at unifying the old Rus' lands still under Lithuanian rule. Under Vasili III Moscow fought a war with Lithuania and Poland between 1512 and 1522, during which in 1514 the Russians took Smolensk. The same year the Polish-Lithuanian rescue expedition stopped their further advances, and an armistice took effect in 1522. Another round of fighting took place during 1534-1537, followed by over two decades of peace.
To prevent Poland from extending military aid to Hungary, Suleiman had a Tatar-Turkish force raid southeastern Poland-Lithuania in 1524. The Hungarian army was defeated in 1526 at the Battle of Mohács, where young Louis II Jagiellon, the son of Vladislas II, was killed.
The 1526 death of Janusz III of Masovia, the last of the Masovian Piast dukes line (a remnant of the fragmentation period divisions), enabled Sigismund I to finalize the incorporation of Masovia into the Crown in 1529.
From the early 16th century the Pokuttya border region was contested by Poland and Moldavia. A peace with Moldavia took effect in 1538 and Pokuttya remained Polish. An "eternal peace" with the Ottoman Empire was negotiated by Poland in 1533 to secure frontier areas.
Other states wishing the Livonian Baltic access responded with partitioning of the Livonian state, which triggered the lengthy Livonian War, fought between 1558 and 1583. Ivan IV of Russia took Dorpat and Narva in 1558, and soon the Danes and Swedes had occupied other parts of the country. The Baltic region policies of the last Jagiellon king and his advisors were the most mature of the 16th century Poland's strategic programs. The outcome of the efforts in that area was to a considerable extent successful for the Commonwealth. The conclusion of the above wars took place during the reign of King Stefan Batory.
It took Sigismunt II's unilateral declaration of the incorporation into the Polish Crown of substantial disputed border regions, including much of Ukraine, to make the Lithuanian magnates rejoin the process, and participate in the swearing of the act of the Union of Lublin on July 1, 1569. Lithuania for the near future was becoming more secure on the eastern front. It's increasingly Polonized nobility made in the coming centuries great contributions to the Commonwealth's culture, but at the cost of Lithuanian national development.
Rzeczpospolita in 1569; the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, having lost lands to the Russian state and to Lithuania's partner Poland, is much smaller than a hundred years earlier.
The increasingly uniform and polonized (in case of ethnic minorities) szlachta of the Commonwealth for the most part returned to the Roman Catholic religion, or if already Catholic remained Catholic, in the course of the 17th century.
The changes that took place during the 17the century defined the character of Polish Catholicism for centuries to come.
With the coming of the Polish Enlightenment in the second half of the 18th century, the movement for reform and revitalization of the country made important gains, culminating in the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, the first modern codified constitution on the European continent. However the reforms, which transformed the Commonwealth into a constitutional monarchy, before the Commonwealth could fully implement and benefit from its reforms, it was invaded in 1792 by Russia aided by the local anti-reform alliance of conservative nobility known as the Targowica Confederation. The ensuing war was not lost, as the Polish army conducted a mostly defensive campaign, but the King surrendered and the pro-Russian Targowica took over.
In the wake of the 1792 war and the Second Partition a new conspiracy came into being. Among its leaders were both the civilian personalities of the reform movement and military officers of the previous war. The Kościuszko Rising erupted in March of 1794. When it too became extinguished, the three partitioning powers executed the final, or Third Partition, and the Commonwealth ceased to exist.
Polish independence ended in a series of Partitions (1772, 1793 and 1795) undertaken by Russia, Prussia and Austria.
By the end of World War I Poland had seen the defeat or retreat of all three occupying powers.
Polish independence was eventually proclaimed on November 3, 1918 and later confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
From the mid 1920s to mid 1930s the Polish government was under the control of Józef Piłsudski, the politically-moderate war hero who had engineered the defeat of the Soviet forces. Polish independence had boosted the development of culture. In 1939, under constant threat from Germany, Poland entered into a full military alliance with Britain and France. In August, Germany and Russia signed a secret agreement concerning the future of Poland, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
On September 1, 1939 Hitler ordered his troops into Poland. Poland had signed a pact with Britain and France and the two western powers soon declared a war on Germany, but remained rather inactive and extended no aid to the attacked country. On September 17 the Soviet troops moved in and took control of most of the areas of eastern Poland having significant Ukrainian and Belarusian populations under the terms of the German-Soviet agreement. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Poland was completely occupied by German troops.
In July 1944 the Soviet Red Army and the Peoples' Army of Poland controlled by the Soviets entered Poland, defeated the Germans (losing 600,000 of their soldiers), and established a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" in Lublin.
During the war about 6 million Polish citizens were killed by the Germans.
The Soviet government retained most of the territories captured as a result of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939 (now western Ukraine, western Belarus and the area around Vilnius), compensating Poland with parts of Silesia, Pomerania and southern East Prussia, along with Gdańsk, which were granted to Poland.
In June 1945, following the February Yalta Conference, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed; the US recognized it the next month. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the Communist Party. The communists then established a regime entirely under their domination. The Polish government in exile existed until 1990, although its influence was degraded.
On August 31, 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, led by an electrician named Lech Wałęsa, signed a 21-point agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecin and in Silesia. The key provision of these agreements was the guarantee of the workers’ right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. After the Gdańsk agreement was signed, a new national union movement "Solidarity" swept Poland.
In late 1980s the government was forced to negotiate with Solidarity in the Polish Roundtable Negotiations. The Polish legislative elections in 1989 became one of the important events marking the fall of communism in Poland.
In the early 1990s, Poland made great progress towards achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Wałęsa was elected President for a 5-year term. In December Wałęsa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.
Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991.
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