III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 4. Eastern Europe, 1000–1300 > c. Poland
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
c. Poland
The Polish kingdom emerged in the 10th century, the result of the unification of some six tribes under the Polani, who were ruled by the members of the semimythical family of Piast. From the outset the Poles were obliged to fight against the encroachment of the Germans from the west, the Prussians from the north, the Bohemians from the south, and the Hungarians, also from the south.  1
c. 960–92
MIESZKO I, of the house of Piast, the first ruler for whom written evidence survives. He conquered the territory between the Oder and the Warthe Rivers, but was defeated by Markgraf Gero and obliged to recognize German suzerainty (973).  2
Mieszko was converted to Christianity by Bohemian missionaries, probably for political reasons, to deprive the Germans of any further excuse for aggression. The acceptance of Latin Christianity meant the connection of Poland, like Bohemia and Hungary, with Roman-European culture.  3
BOLESLAV I (Chrobry, the Brave). He ascended the throne at 25 and was the real organizer of the Polish state. An energetic but at times treacherous and cruel ruler, he built up an efficient military machine, laid the basis for an administrative system (comitescastellaniBurggrafen, with civil and military powers), organized the Church (establishment of Benedictine monasteries). Politically his aim appears to have been the union of all western Slavs under his rule. He conquered eastern Pomerania and gained access to the Baltic (992–94), added Silesia, Moravia, and Kraków to his domain (999), and induced Otto III to erect an independent archbishopric of Gnesen (1000). On the death of Otto, he took advantage of the confusion in Germany to occupy Lusatia and Meissen, and in 1003 made himself duke of Bohemia. The new emperor, Henry II, carried on long wars against Boleslav and ultimately forced the abandonment of Bohemia and Lusatia (1005). But in the Treaty of Bautzen (1018), Boleslav was given Lusatia as an imperial fief, and just before his death he was able to make himself king of Poland (1025).  4
MIESZKO II, whose reign marked the culmination of feudal separatism. The Poles, like the other Slavs, divided their domain among the various sons of a deceased king, thus creating endless dynastic conflict and ample opportunity for intervention by neighboring rulers. During Mieszko's reign, most of the territorial gains of Boleslav were lost: St. Stephen of Hungary conquered Slovakia (1027); Betislav of Bohemia took Moravia (1031); Yaroslav of Russia acquired Ruthenia (1031); Canute of Denmark took Pomerania (1031). In 1032 the Emperor Conrad actually divided Poland between Mieszko and two of his relatives.  5
A period of violent dynastic struggle and general insurrection, including a pagan reaction (burning of monasteries, massacre of the clergy) and a peasant uprising against the landlords. Meanwhile Betislav of Bohemia seized Silesia (1038).  6
CASIMIR I (the Restorer), who succeeded, with the aid of the Emperor Henry III, in reconquering his domain, reestablishing Christianity, and restoring order. Silesia was recovered (1054). In return Casimir was obliged to give up the royal title (becoming merely a grand duke) and to make numerous concessions to the nobility and clergy, thus initiating a baneful practice.  7
BOLESLAV II (the Bold), one of the great medieval Polish rulers. In the great struggle between the emperor and the pope, he consistently supported the latter, as a counterweight to German influence. At the same time, he did his utmost to throw off the pressure of the nobility. In his countless campaigns, he reconquered upper Slovakia (1061–63) and marched as far as Kiev to put his relative on the Russian throne (1069). In 1076 he reassumed the royal crown, with the pope's approval. But his entire policy estranged the nobility, which ultimately drove him from his throne.  8
Vladislav I (Ladislas), an indolent and unwarlike ruler, brother of Boleslav. He resigned the royal title and attempted to secure peace by supporting the Emperor Henry IV, as well as by courting the nobility and clergy.  9
BOLESLAV III (Wry-mouth), who acquired the throne after a violent struggle with his brother Zbigniew. He was one of the greatest Polish kings; he defeated the Pomeranians (battle of Naklo, 1109) and, by the incorporation of Pomerania (1119–23), reestablished access to the sea. At the same time, he defeated the Emperor Henry V (1109, battle of Hundsfeld, near Breslau, now Wrocaw) and checked the German advance, but his campaigns in Hungary (1132–35) had no permanent results.  10
Boleslav completed the organization of the state, in which the great landlords (nobiles, or magnates) and gentry (milites, knights, or szlachta) had become well-defined social classes, the peasantry having steadily lost ground in the periods of confusion. The Church was reorganized under the archbishop of Gnesen, by the papal legate Walo. To avoid dispute, Boleslav fixed the royal succession by seniority. Poland was divided into five principalities (Silesia, Great Poland, Masovia, Sandomir, Kraków) for his sons; Kraków was established as the capital, and was to go, with the title of grand duke, to the eldest member of the house of Piast. In actual fact, this arrangement by no means eliminated the dynastic competition but introduced a long period of disruption, during which the nobility and clergy waxed ever more powerful and the ducal or royal power became insignificant. Only the weakness of the neighboring states saved Poland from destruction.  11
Boleslav IV, an ineffectual ruler, during whose reign the Germans, under Albert the Bear and Henry the Lion, supported by Waldemar of Denmark, drove back the Poles from the entire territory along the Baltic and west of the Vistula (1147). Emperor Frederick Barbarossa intervened and forced the submission of Boleslav (1157).  12
Mieszko III, a brutal and despotic prince who antagonized the nobility and was soon driven out by them.  13
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.