Poland and the Baltics

The eastern shores of the Baltic have had a complex history, weaving many sorts of folk and cultures together. Although the land is nearly impossible to defend adequately against invasion, it has managed to retain a number of survivals of early cultures and times, in part due to the unremitting resistance on the part of the inhabitants.

Currently, this has: the Byelohravati, Cracow, Czersk, Danzig, Deltuva, Dorpat, Ermland, Estonia, Finland, Gersik, Greater Poland, Ingria, Kainu, Kalisz, Kuiavia, Kukeinos, Kurland, Kvenland, Latgalia, Latvia, Lithuania, Mazovia, Memel, Osel, Plock, Poland, Pomerania, Pomerelia, Pomesania, Poznan, the Pruss, Prussia, Przemysl, Riga, Samland, Samogitia, Sandomir, Sieradz-Leczyca, Silesia, Sochaczew, Turku, Vyborg, Warsaw, and Wroclaw.


The BYELOHRAVATI (White Croats) A Croatian-speaking nation inhabiting parts of Bohemia, Slovakia and southern Poland. They had an independent principality for much of the Dark Ages. See also Dalmatian Croats (Yugoslav) and Pannonian Croats (Hungary) for Balkan groups of this people.

CRACOW, and the Duchy of LESSER POLAND An important city in southern Poland, a center of the Vistulan tribes and a recognized town from the 9th or 10th centuries.

CRACOW, Bishops and Archbishops The city has been the site of an important ecclesiastic see since the early Middle Ages. From 1443 to 1791 (and nominally until 1918), the Bishops were also secular authorities, being in possession of the Duchy of Siewierz. Cracow has always been at the forefront of Polish cultural life, and it has generally been at the head of the defence of Polish integrity and liberty as well

CZERSK In central Poland, a primary division of the Duchy of Mazovia.

DANZIG Now called Gdansk, this city is the primary port of Poland. First noted in 997, it achieved local autonomy in the 13th century. Granted as a Duchy to one of Napoleon's Marshals, it became a Free City between the World Wars. This area, the Danzig Corridor which gave Poland its access to the sea and thus isolated East Prussia from the rest of Germany, was the fuse that set off World War II. The City's most recent notoriety is as the home of the shipyard that spawned Solidarnosc, the trade union that ultimately toppled the communist government in Poland, and thus began the changes resulting in the end of the Cold War.

A small Lithuanian tribal state located in modern Ukmerge district, about 48 miles (78 km.) northwest of Vilnius, in east-central Lithuania.

DORPAT (mod. Tartu) A city in eastern Estonia, near Lake Peipus; the site of a Teutonic ecclesiastic establishment in the era of Baltic Crusades.

ERMLAND (Warmia) An historic region of East Prussia, extending far inland from the Baltic Sea. It was ceded to Poland in 1466 by the Teutonic Knights, passed to Prussia in 1772, and reverted to Poland after World War II.

ESTONIA Occupied by a people closely related to the Finns, this land has usually been fragmented between competing powers, though often enough one power is clearly paramount at any given time.

FINLAND Occupied by a non-Indo European people closely related to Estonians and very distantly related to Hungarians, Finland has always been a buffer zone between East and West.

GERSIK (Ger. Gerzike) A town (no longer in existence) in what is now Latvia on the right bank of Daugava, about 90 miles (150 km.) southeast of Riga. It was briefly a sub-Principality dependent upon Polotsk.

GREATER POLAND A Duchy in central Poland which formed a territorial district during the years of partition.

INGRIA (Inkeri, Ingermanland, Izhora) A region now in northwestern Russia, bounded by Estonia to the west, with the Gulf of Finland and the Neva River to the north. It has been a buffer zone from time immemorial for one competing empire or another.

KALISZ An ancient community in west-central Poland, 62 miles (100 km.) northeast of Wroclaw. There have been prehistoric relics found here, and Ptolemy notes the site (as Calisia) in his Geographos of the 2nd century CE. A partition Duchy during the Middle Ages, in recent years it has had a Bishopric sited here.

KUIAVIA Another partition Duchy during the centuries of Polish fragmentation.

KUKEINOS (Ger. Kukenois, modern Koknese) A town in modern Latvia 55 miles (90 km.) southeast of Riga, on the right bank of the Daugava. A very ephemeral sub-Principality of Polotsk at the end of the 12th century.

The southeastern corner of Latvia, bounded by the Daugava River to the south. The region is distinct from the rest of Latvia in that it is largely Roman Catholic, while the rest of the country is mostly Lutheran; it also contains a considerably higher population of Russians, Belarus, and Poles than elsewhere in Latvia - until the Holocaust, it was home to a considerable population of Jews as well.

LATVIA Much like Prussia, Latvia came into the purview of European civilization when it was occupied by a monastic order of Knights, the Swordbrothers. This order was annexed to the Teutonic Order, but continued to exist as a subsidiary. Like the Teutonic Order, the region was converted into a secular Duchy in the 16th century.

LITHUANIA The Lithuanians were among the last people in Europe to be Christianized, resisting acculturation under terrific pressures, largely from the Order of Teutonic Knights, which had established zones of occupation to both the north and south of the Lettish region. Despite this, they managed to extend their control over a vast area to the southeast and east, as the Mongols retreated. They were finally Christianized when their ruler Jogaila was offered the Polish crown in return for baptism, 1n 1386. Poland and Lithuania were associated with each other thereafter, in full union from 1569.

MAZOVIA A large Duchy in north-central Poland

MEMEL (Klaipeda) A city on the Lithuanian coast, at the entrance to Kurskaja Bay.

ÖSEL (Saaremaa) An island off the coast of western Estonia. The smaller island of Dagö (Hiiumaa), immediately to the north, and Wiek (Läänemaa) on the mainland to the east, have also been closely associated with this district.

PLOCK A town in central Poland, about 60 miles (95 km.) west-northwest of Warsaw.

POLAND A general survey of this vital land; at times one of the largest, best cultured, and most powerful in Europe. At his demise in 1138, Boleslaw III partitioned his Kingdom between his numerous sons. They in turn did the same, leading almost immediately to a large number of quarrelsome petty states. There was a complicated system known as the "Seniorate" in place, designed to select one among the local Princes as an overall leader; it proved almost entirely ineffective. Eventually, as is often the case in such circumstances, strong and shrewd local rulers contended for real mastery over their neighbors, and with the coronation of Wladyslaw III in 1320 as King of Poland, the state could once more be considered a single entity, although it would be another 200 years before absolutely all the provinces were brought to heel; some never were - Silesia was lost until 1945. What follows is a list of the Seniorate until 1320. Local states are listed elsewhere on this page, under their own names: see Czersk, Greater Poland, Kalisz, Kuiavia, Lesser Poland (Cracow), Mazovia, Plock, Sandomir, Silesia, Sochaczew, Warsaw. Here begins again a unified Poland. Wladyslaw III regained the Seniorate for the House of Piast, and by 1320, had gained enough power to make himself King of all Poland. In 1569, Poland was converted from a hereditary to an elective monarchy, and in fact the state was self-described as a rzeczpospolita, a republic. Nevertheless, the Chiefs of State retained the title of "King". Here follow the elective kings... Beginning in 1772, Polands neighbors (Prussia, Austria, and Russia), began annexing Polish lands, able to do so because Polish legislative calcification and general European indifference. There were three great seizures, in 1772, 1793, and the last one, in 1795, which entirely extinguished the nation. Various sops to Polish nationalism were effected; see Cracow and Warsaw. Nevertheless, the Polish State did not re-emerge until the end of World War I.

POMERANIA The Baltic coast from the island of Rügen in Germany, to the mouth of the Vistula in Gdansk Bay in Poland. It is centered somewhat on the mouth of the Oder, which forms the current German/Polish frontier. Inhabited by several groups of Slavic tribes, all closely related to one another and to the Polish people in general, the region was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Germany at an early date, but retained its Slavic character nevertheless. A Duchy was established during the Middle Ages, fragmented many times as was typical of German feudal states.  The lands to the east of the Oder were attached by the Teutonic Knights early in the 14th century, in most cases. See also Danzig for an early spin-off. Note also Kammin and Kolberg, ecclesiastic states in the region.

POMESANIA (Kwidzyn) A territorial Crusader Bishopric located in what is now northern Poland, based at the town whose modern name is Kwidzyn, 45 miles (72 km.) south of Gdansk.

POZNAN (Ger. Posen) A city in western Poland, 155 miles (250 km.) east of Berlin and 172 miles (276 km.) west of Warsaw. It was Poland's first capital, and site of Polands first cathedral.

Northern and northeastern Poland, and including Samland.

PRZEMYSL A town on the northern flank of the Carpathians in far southeastern Poland, 15 miles (24 km.) from the Ukrainian border and 62 miles (100 km.) west of L'vov. It was the capital of Galitzia 1054-1141, before the capital was transfered to Galich. Peremyshl was a sub-Principality (its Russian name was Peremyshl) within Galitzia, 1187-1228.

RIGA A major trade center for the Baltic region and capital of the modern republic of Latvia. Although dominated at various periods by Norse traders, Riga remained more or less independent until around 1200, when it was conquered by German knights and placed under the ecclesiastic and secular control of Bishop Albert. The Bishops of Riga were the overlords of several Livonian tribes in addition to the city itself, and maintained their power often at the expense of their neighbors and ostensible allies, the Livonian Order (see Latvia).

SAMLAND The districts between the Frisches Haff (Vislinskii Zaliv) and Kurisches Haff (Kurskii Zaliv) in northern East Prussia, with Kaliningrad (Königsberg) as the chief city. This coast and adjacent inland districts now comprise an isolated chip of Russian territory sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

SAMOGITIA (Zemaiciai) A region in northwestern Lithuania, along the Baltic coast. In the Middle Ages Samogitia enjoyed a very broad autonomy. The chief city here is the port at Klaipeda (formerly Memel).

SANDOMIR A town in southeastern Poland, on the left bank of the Vistula river, 93 miles (150 km.) northeast of Cracow. First mentioned in 1097, it developed significance as a major stopping point on trade routes between the Black Sea and the Baltic. During the Middle Ages, it was a Partition Duchy, unusual inasmuch as the title was absorbed by the Archbishops of Cracow.

SEMIGALLIA (Latv. Zemgale; Ger. Semgallen; Pol. Semigalia; Lith. Žiemgala; Livon. Zemgāl)
  Semigallia is an historic district stradling the border between Latvia and Lithuania. It consists of the Latvian city of Jelgava and the municipalities of Auce, Baldone, Dobele, Engure, Iecava, Jaunpils, Jelgava, Ozolnieki, Rundāle, Tērvete, Tukums and Vecumnieki.

SIERADZ-LECZYCA  A district encompassing two towns in central Poland: Sieradz, the larger, is 33 miles (53 km.) west-southwest of Lodz, Leczyca is 40 miles (64 km.) to the northeast and 25 miles (40 km.) north-northwest of Lodz.

SILESIA The mountainous southwestern quarter of Poland. The region became a partition Duchy during the era of fragmentation, but unlike other Polish districts, Silesia was absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire, and became a Germanized province up until the nearly the present day. The name of the province (Pol. Slaska, Ger. Schlesien) is derived from an ancient clan of the Teutonic Vandals who lived here in the 3rd and 4th centuries CE - the Silings.

SOCHACZEW In central Poland; a division of Mazovia.

TURKU In southwestern Finland, (Swedish Abo), it is the oldest city in Finland, and the seat of a Bishopric (Lutheran Archbishops from 1817). This list memorializes the Roman Catholic prelates (and from 1527 Lutheran), not for territorial considerations---the Bishops held little if any temporal authority, but because they exercised an enormous influence on affairs in the region.

VYBORG (Fin. Viipuri; Swe. Viborg; Ger. Wiburg) Town on the Karelian Isthmus, near St. Petersburg, just on the Russian side of the border with Finland. Historically the town's inhabitants were Karelians with a Norse ruling class; in 1944 the retreating Finnish army evacuated most of the ethnic Karelians and the town was repopulated with Russian settlers by the Soviet government.

WARSAW In central Poland, the largest city in the region. Fairly new by European standards, Warsaw itself is probably no older than the 13th century, although there have been a succession of small market towns on or near the site since the 10th century.

WROCLAW (Breslau) A Bishopric, and recently Archbishopric, in the largest city in Silesia. Human habitation here is of very old date - the site was a major stopping point on the Amber Road in late Classical times, being a crossroad between that trade route and the Black Sea-Rhineland route. The modern city was begun in the 900's, and fortified c. 1000. Passing to Bohemia in 1335, and from thence to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1526, it eventually became (1740) Prussian and then German territory before reverting back to Poland in 1945. For local secular rulers (Dukes), go to Schlesien-Breslau (Slaska-Wroclaw).