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History of Poland Part 1 - Medieval Age

by EasternEuropeans.co.uk
History of Poland Part 1 - Medieval Age
Poland during the Middle Ages would have had The Holy Roman Empire on one border, and Prussia, Lithuania, White Russia, Hungary, Ukraine on her other borders or surrounding her. The people who inhabited Poland in the Middle Ages lived in settled areas that were centered on castles that were able to protect themselves and their peasants. Surrounding the castles were farms. Most Poles at the time were workers of fields or farms. During the Middle Ages, the main cities of Poland were Warzawa, Sandomierz, Lublin, and Krakow.
One could know from what area a fellow Pole was from by his name. For example, if a Pole was from Sandomierz their last names were Jan. They would also add the occupation of the Pole from Jan and his name might be JanSmith. The last prefix of a Poles name would also tell you if he was male or female and if he were married.
The social classes of Poles during the Middle Ages were basically two, the szlachta and the peasants. The szlachta were the upper classes. The class comprised the top 10% of the population and were not szlachta because they were rich or powerful, although most were, but because they were of the upper classes by birth and were known as Pan for lord or Pani for lady. Szlachta belonged to clans or what they called rods. The tying obligation of all szlachta was the king. Some szlachta were more powerful than others but they all were able to vote. There votes elected the king. Basically, the szlachta were the educated class and they also served various functions in the king's court like keeper of the records.
The peasant class were also allowed to own land. Those that rented their land were ruled by what was called The German Law. Many of the szlachta sold their lands to the peasants or rented their lands and followed the process called The German Law. During the Middle Ages, Poland was a rich agricultural country valued for its grain. The fact that 90% of Poland was agricultural made their culture develop around crops. Even their heraldry was done using herbs. Simple coats were used in the earliest times by branding the herb on coats or arms to identify the rod or clan.
The Poles were much like their neighboring Slavic neighbors that bordered them on the west and on the south. During the height of the Christianizing of the Poles in the 1100 and 1200's, the Poles spent most of their time growing grain and fighting with them. Some of Poland remained pagan even after the Teuton Knights had conquered most of Poland. The Order of The Teuton Knights lasted until 1525 AD when it was ended. The Poles might have been an agricultural area, but that did not prevent their Pans from keeping armed cavalry and the famous Hussars or the winged hussars were known for frightening their foes by putting feather head gears on their horses that sounded like wings when they went to battle.
Poland did not have a written language until 1500 AD. Before that all of their court documents were written in Latin. The Middle Ages in Poland meant knowing Latin and speaking it if you were one of the ruling class or if you travelled in Poland. Another interesting note about the Christianization of the Poles was their edict protecting Jews in Poland. That might have had something to do with their constant fighting with both pagans and Christians. The conversion of the Poles to Christianity and finally to Catholicism did little to change the basic Polish nature of loyalty to their feudal system and to the agricultural culture that was evince in all of their daily living habits even to their heavy clothing and to their heavy foods meant for tackling the strenuous life of a farming community.

Read Part 2- History of Poland - World wars 1 and 2 


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