History of Poland Part 5 Destruction of Poland by the Mongol/Tatars and Emergence of the Nation by Les Amer

Unification of Poland

The Piast dynasty was a line of kings and dukes who ruled Poland from its beginnings in 950, until the nation emerged as an independent state in 1370. The branches of the Piasts continued to rule Polish splinter duchies in Mazovia until 1526 and Silesia until 1675.

Piast was the legendary ancestor of those nobles. His name was first mentioned in the Chronicle of the Polish Dukes by Gallus Anonymous, which was written about 1113. Although the early dukes and kings considered themselves Piast descendants, the term “Piast Dynasty” was invented in the 17th century by the historians, who worked for a number of rulers who governed their duchies in Silesia. [1]

A sense of unity can be traced to the moment the Piast dynasty had begun to hold sway in Gniezno, in the middle of the 9th century and perhaps even before. It was Mieszko I, who translated that into political terms by effectively creating the Polish state. He and his successors established over eighty castle-towns by the end of the 11th century and endowed market towns with royal charters granting rights and protection. They encouraged the replacement of barter with their own coinage, and did what they could to ensure security necessary for development of international trade routes.

The Church was central to the spread of culture and education, and to the whole process of modernization, providing as it did, technical expertise, administration, and schooling for would-be priests and young noblemen. However, its religious impact was not as great. Pagan cults survived the official conversion of the country in 966, and the next two centuries witnessed several major revivals, during which churches were burnt and priests put to death. Poland’s lack of crusading zeal was partly due to its lack of overcrowding, which also allowed tolerance of large-scale immigration of Jews, Bohemians, and Germans. Poles also viewed the German Empire and Papacy with considerable mistrust.

Fragmentation of Poland

In 1138, Boleslaw III (the Wrymouth) began to shatter the precarious unity of Poland by dividing the state among his five sons, with the oldest of them as the senior. However, that seniority was quickly abolished and the provincial division (mid-11th century Poland) consisted of some twenty duchies.

The various branches of the royal family established local dynasties, in some cases subdividing the original five duchies of Wielkopolska, Mazovia-Kujavia, Małopolska, Sandomierz and Silesia into smaller estates in order to accommodate their offspring. [2] For some examples of that fragmentation, see Appendix A.

The cities were, literally, a law unto themselves. Most of them had been either founded by or endowed with special charters, which gave them a large measure of autonomy. As they grew, they attracted foreigners: Germans, Italians, Walloons [3] , Flemings [4] , and Jews, whose presence served to increase that independence.

To the historian, then 13th century Poland provided the unusual spectacle of an unsophisticated, even primitive society, which refused to obey the cultural and economic laws that would have permitted it to become absorbed into the powerful European mainstream. Poles were apparently determined to find their own course. However, subsequent events prevented that. In 1241, the Tatar hordes of Genghis Khan invaded Europe. [5]

Tatar Invasions

Tatars (ta´terz) were Turkic-speaking peoples, who lived primarily in Russia. They numbered about 5.5 million and converted to Islam as Sunni Muslims. The name was derived from Tata or Dada, a Mongolian tribe that inhabited present NE Mongolia in the 5th century. The word “Tatar” was first used to describe the people, who overran parts of Asia and Europe under Genghis Khan, the Mongol chief in the 13th century. The term was later extended to include almost any Asian nomadic invader. Before the 1920s, Russians used the name Tatar to designate the Azerbaijani Turks and several other tribes of the Caucasus region.

The original Tatars probably came from Eastern Central Asia, or Central Siberia. Unlike the Mongols, they spoke a Turkic language and were possibly akin to the Cumans or Kipchaks and the Pechenegs. They were nomads, who moved across the vast Asian and Russian steppes with their families and their herds of cattle and sheep. After the conquests by the Genghis Khan, the Mongol and Turkic elements merged, and the invaders became known as Tatars. The Mongol invasion, which was led by Batu Khan into Hungary and Germany in 1241, was also known as the Tatar invasion.

Batu Khan was a grandson of Genghis Khan. In 1235, Batu became commander of the Mongol army. He was assigned to the conquest of Europe. His chief general was Subutai. Batu crossed the Volga, sending part of his force to Bulgaria, but most of it to Russia. By 1240 he had Moscow and Kiev in his grasp. In the following two years, he conquered Hungary and Poland and invaded Germany. His recall to Karakorum in 1242 to participate in the election of a grand khan is sometimes said to have saved Europe from subjugation to the Mongols. After the wave of invasion receded eastward, the Tatars continued to dominate nearly all of Russia, Ukraine, and Siberia.

Batu died in 1252 while preparing additional military campaigns. The domain he established was known as the Kipchak khanate, which controlled most of Russia either directly or through exacting tribute from Russian princes. It was also known as the Golden Horde, because of the gorgeous tents in which the army camped. [6] The Golden Horde adopted Islam as its religion in the 14th century.

With terrible ease the Mongols overran and put to fire and sword the principalities of the Kievan Rus. They divided into two military forces. The larger army swept into Hungary, while the other ravaged Poland. They massacred the knights of Małopolska, sacked Craców, and rode westwards into Silesia. Happily for Western Europe, they then veered south to rejoin their brothers in Hungary. There, news reached them of the death of their Khan. They then abandoned their westward military advance and rode back to their homelands in Asia. Although the Mongols returned to Asia, the Tatars remained in Europe where they converted to Islam.

In 1259 the Tatars swept again through Poland, sacking Lublin, Sandomierz, Bytom, and Craców. They returned in 1287, again putting everything to fire and sword, with only the fortresses of Sandomierz and Craców holding out. In the space of a few decades, the entire region of eastern and southern Poland had been seriously depopulated and its cities burned to the ground. The horror of the Mongol devastation of Poland is commemorated to this day in the hourly trumpet-call from the tower of St. Mary’s Church in Craców. Details of the historical event are shown in Appendix B.

Tatar Invasions of Lithuania

Lithuania was also subjected to such Tatar raids. The Tatars of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania were also known as Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or just Lithuanian Tatars.

The Tatars arrived in Lithuania from the former territories that were conquered by the Golden Horde. Specifically the Tatars came from the Crimean Khanate, as well as the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan, polities (sovereign states), which emerged after the dissolution of the Golden Horde.

The principal migration of Tatars to Lithuania took place from the end of the 14th century to the end of the 17th century. The last wave of Tatar migration to Lithuania occurred after 1917, when Tatars left Russia because of Bolshevik terrorism.

By the end of the 18th century, the Tatar nobility was principally Polish speaking, but Tatar burghers and members of the lesser nobility adopted the Belarusian language. [7]

Aftermath of the Tatar Invasions

The Tatar invasions showed the leaders of the local duchies the vulnerability of a country divided. Although there was a community of interest, there had been no coordination of action, and regional militias were defeated one by one. In addition, the Church had an important influence on the local dukes. They were not as strong as the kings had been and they needed the support of local bishops to counter invasions by Bohemia and Germany. The dukes decided to abandon their hereditary royal ascendancy and instead to elect from among them an overlord, who would rule more effectively.

The dukes chose Henryk Probus of Silesia, and upon his death in 1290, the Craców throne was given to Przemysl II of Gniezno. Przemysl was actually crowned King of Poland in 1295, but was assassinated two years later by agents of Brandenburg. He was succeeded by a prince of the Mazovian line, Władysław the Short. Władysław became one of the greatest of Polish kings. By the time of his death in 1333, he managed to reunite the central provinces and to establish at least nominal control over a number of other areas.

Poland was sparsely settled in the 14th century and offered excellent opportunities for new immigrant families. Western Europeans, who had survived the multiple devastations of the minor ice age, the Hundred-Years War, and the Great Plague epidemic of 1348, were happy to leave Western Europe and immigrate to Poland.

The son of Władysław the Short was Kazimierz III, also known as Kazimierz the Great. Kazimierz III was able to carry through the process begun by his father and establish Poland’s sovereignty beyond question.

Modern Descendants of the Tatars

Today in Poland, the Tatars constitute one per cent of the population of the district of Płock. The Kazan Tatars speak a pure Turkish dialect. They are middle-sized, broad-shouldered and strong. Most of them have black eyes, a straight nose and salient cheekbones. Tatars are Muslims. Polygamy was practiced only by the wealthier classes, but is seldom practiced now. They live on the best terms with their Russian peasant neighbors and are excellent agriculturists, gardeners, and first-rate laborers, who have a good reputation for honesty. [8] The Tatar populace of Russia speaks its own language and desires to create a minority province known as Tatarstan.

Fragmentation of the Polish State

Ładislaus II, also known as Vladislaus II the Exile, was the High-Duke of Poland from 1138 to 1146. He was the oldest son of Boleslaus III and as such inherited and controlled the high-duke province of Craców and Gniezno and also his hereditary province of Silesia.

In 1136, Vladislaus II was driven into exile by his younger brothers and died in Germany in 1159. In 1163, the province of Silesia was granted to his sons by the Polish duke Boleslaus Kedzierzawy (the Curly). Subsequently, Silesia was divided among the descendants and successors. Eventually, there were 17 duchies. In 1675, the line died out. [A1]

Of the hereditary provinces given by Boleslaus III to his sons, Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) was given to Mieszko III, the third oldest son. Subsequently, Wielkopolska was divided among his descendants and successors.

In 1173, Mieszko was promoted to the throne of Craców and became a high-duke of Poland, but was soon expelled from Craców by his younger brother, Casimir the Just, and from Wielkopolska, by his son. Mieszko never resigned his rights and ambitions as monarch, and returned four times to Craców before he died in 1202. [A2]

The Story of the Bugle Call

In medieval Poland, there was a network of watchmen/buglers at various towers along the city walls, as well as at the St. Mary’s church tower. The signal was sent from the St Mary’s tower to coordinate the opening and closing of the various city gates; watchmen were also on the lookout for enemy invaders and fires, which they would announce by bugle call as well. The position of a watchman/bugler was a prestigious one, but it became increasingly symbolic. It was terminated at the end of the 18th century.

The tradition was re-introduced in 1810 with the melody heard today. Playing the bugle call from the St. Mary’s Church tower is an honorary duty awarded to members of the city’s fire department.

The melody is interrupted at the end of each repetition because of the following legend. In 1241, a lookout spotted an advancing army of invading Tatars. He signaled the danger by playing the call to arms. However, an advance soldier of the Tatar forces shot him with a bow-and-arrow, and the lookout fell dead to the ground from his tower before he finished the bugle call. Thus, the melody may be interpreted as a call to self-sacrifice in the cause of patriotic vigilance and independence. [B1]

    End Notes:
  • [1] From: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Piast Dynasty”
  • [2] From: History on Stamps: “The Rulers of Poland; Fragmentation”
  • [3] From: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. “The Walloons (Wallons in French) are French-speaking Belgians from Wallonias. They are one of the two major groups in Belgium, the other being the Dutch-speaking Flemish. The French-speaking inhabitants of Brussels do not generally see themselves as Walloons.“
  • [4] From: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. “Flemings (Dutch: Vlamingen) are inhabitants of Flanders, the northern half of Belgium. Their official language is Dutch. Flemings obviously share many things with the other main ethnic group in Belgium, the Walloons (and more in general French-speaking Belgians). Main differences lie in work ethics, attitudes towards the state (much less interventionist), in openness to other cultures, whereas Walloons are dominantly oriented towards the Francité and where the Dutch are more exclusively oriented towards Anglo-Saxon models.”
  • [5] From: The Polish Way, by Adam Zamoyski
  • [6] From: the Columbia Electronic Encyclo-pedia, 6th ed., Copyright 2004, Columbia University Press
  • [7] From: Selim Mirza-Juszenski Chazbijewicz (Szlachta Tatarska Rzeczpospolitej), Verbum Nobile #2 (1993), Sopot, Poland, Translated by Paul de Nowina-Konopka
  • [8] From: “Tatar Nobility in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth”
  • [A1] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Ladislaus the Exile of Poland”
  • [A2] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Mieszko III of Poland”
  • [B1] Piast Poland Historical Song: Hejnal, “The Bugle Call”