the name Poland derives from the group of Poles who
cultivated the land - pole. They lived in the Warta Valley,
which afterwards became known as the Greater Poland. Their
chiefs belonged to the Piast dynasty - a legendary ancestor
- and lived in Gniezno Castle.
In the 10th century, the Poles subjugated the
surrounding peoples. Mieszko I (960-992) was Duke of Piast
and founded the First Polish Empire when he joined the
various tribes together under a common state structure. He
was christened and baptized in 966.
Up to the 12th century, Poland was a monarchy based on
succession. The Duke and a group of nobles dominated the
central power and had an army of professional soldiers. The
poorest social group in the country and at the same time the
most numerous were the free peasants who were mobilized in
emergency situations and had to pay taxes.
Poland's main problems were relations with the Germanic
Empire and the papacy. Facing the empire's expansion,
Mieszko accepted submission to the recognition of his
supremacy. In return, he asked for protection from the Pope
and in the year 1000 he formed the first Polish
ecclesiastical center. From this point on, a Roman Catholic
church was a central element of the political structure of
the Polish state. Up to the 12th century, the country
fluctuated between periods of independence and annexation,
until the state finally began to disintegrate.
During the feudal period, Poland was divided into a
number of dukes under Piast as well as about 20 princes.
With the weakening of the power of the central and the
dukes, the autonomy of the nobility and the church
increased. At the same time, the population was
characterized by considerable growth. The influx of German
immigrants created a new ethnic situation in the country,
which until then had been dominated by the slaves. From the
13th century, the population of the city was increasingly
made up of Germans and Jews. The immigrants brought their
legal models, capital and craft and agricultural techniques.
During Kasimir the Great (1333-70), Poland developed into
a testamentary monarchy in which the king came to play a
mediating role between nobility, church, bourgeoisie and
peasants. The state ceased to be personal property and from
1399 the king was elected. Through the royal marriage was
concluded Poland in 1386 together with Lithuania, although
there was established a form of state that respected both
states characteristics. In 1409, the Teutonic Order
attempted to slow the Polish-Lithuanian expansion, but was
defeated by the Grunwald. The Torun peace in 1411 did not
resolve the conflict, though the power of the order was
After a new victory over the Teutons, Poland regained in
1466 Pomerania, Gdansk, Malbork, Elblag, Chelmo and Warmi.
Because of its role in the war, Pomerania gained autonomy
and the cities gained a number of privileges. This ushered
in a thriving economic and cultural period.
In the 15th century the Polish and Lithuanian parliament
formed two chambers. The Chamber of Deputies consisted of
representatives of the nobility, while the Senate was a
Council of State headed by the King. The two states,
parliament and foreign policy, had the king as unifying
force, while the administration, the judiciary, the economy
and the military were divided between the two states.
The Golden Age of the 16th century is also known in
Polish history as the Republic of the Nobility, in that the
king had to consult the nobility before he could print taxes
or declare war. The power of bourgeoisie and peasants was
reduced in favor of the nobility and the church, and this
changed the structures of the original monarchy.
In 1573, the Jagellón dynasty went extinct. Parliament,
therefore, introduced the king's election and introduced
religious tolerance, which was exceptional in a Europe
marked by religious wars. King Stefan Bathory (1576-1586)
renounced the post of chief judge and the nobility began to
elect his tribunals. International development throughout
the 17th century was not in Poland or Lithuania's favor.
Sweden fought with Poland over the rule of the Baltic and
Russia came into conflict with Lithuania. The plans of
Turkey and Austria in Central Europe also put pressure on
In the lower part of the Dnieper, on the border with
Ukraine, they formed free peasants and impoverished noble
Cossack regiments - warriors living off their prey. In 1648,
the Cossacks and the Ukrainian peasants initiated a national
uprising. The king tried unsuccessfully to reach an
agreement with the rebels, whose victories weakened the
Polish state. The Cossacks subsequently allied with Turkey
and Russia. In 1654, Poland was invaded by Russian troops.
The following year, the rest of the country was occupied by
Swedish troops. Jan Kasimir fled to Silesia, Poland, getting
help from Austria, while farmers in the interior of the
country organized for the first time large-scale armed
The Swedes and Turks were thrown out of the country and
the Cossacks defeated. The Russians retained Smolensk,
Ukraine, the left bank of the Dnieper and Kiev. The wars
ravaged the country, caused the population to decline and
weakened state power. In 1772, Russia, Prussia and Austria
agreed to divide the Polish territory. In 1791 an attempt
was made to reunite the state with the adoption of a new
constitution, but in 1793 Russia carried out a comprehensive
invasion and the country was divided again. In 1794 the
Poles made a popular revolt, but it was crushed and the
following year the country was divided again. The Polish
state disappeared from the map while the population
consolidated its national identity.