The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization

Francis Dvornik


12. The Downfall of Poland and Bohemia: Westernization of Their Culture


  1. Boleslas III, Poland’s last hope

  2. The consequences of the division of Poland into duchies

  3. German progress in Pomerania and German colonists in Poland

  4. The Teutonic Order and Poland; the margraves of Brandenburg

  5. Disintegration of Bohemia into imperial principalities

  6. Přemysl Ottokar I restores Bohemian prestige

  7. Social and political development in Bohemia

  8. Bohemia’s cultural progress

  9. Polands social differentiation and political evolution

10. Polish civilization, literature and art





The effects of the economic transformation of Germany during the twelfth century on the fate of the Slavic lands between the Elbe and the Oder and on the Baltic do not complete the picture. This process did not stop at the Oder. Overpopulation and economic changes were its motive forces, and the duke of Saxony and the margraves knew well how to exploit its momentum for their own purposes. Very soon, German colonists were to cross the Neisse, the Oder and the Bohemian Forest in order to establish new peasant settlements and thriving towns among two other Slavic peoples — the Poles and the Czechs.


This development was brought about by different factors. First of all, Poland and Bohemia at that time had not reached a point in the growth of their populations where their inhabitants were forced to seek new arable lands. On the other hand, their princes soon perceived the economic advantages accruing to them by the influx of colonists and the establishment of towns and they were eager to welcome foreign peasants and artisans. The political ascendancy of Germany, of course, was an important factor in this evolution, the more so because both Poland and Bohemia were experiencing political decadence, which almost





resulted — particularly in Poland’s case — in the disintegration of the state. It was this which also greatly helped the Germans to obtain their stranglehold over the Slav lands on the Elbe and eventually to establish themselves firmly in Pomerania.


At the beginning of the twelfth century there were some signs that the decline of Poland might be arrested. The country was led by a courageous ruler in the person of Boleslas III, called Wrymouth (1102-1138), who had all the qualities of Boleslas the Great. When the Emperor Henry V (1106-1125) asked him to follow the example of his predecessor, Władysław (Ladislas) Herman (1079-1102), and to recognize the Emperor’s overlordship, Boleslas professed his readiness to support the imperial program, but only to the extent to which it operated in the western states. He declared himself willing to help the Emperor in his task of protecting the Church and propagating the faith; but warned him to keep out of internal Polish affairs. The Emperor then played off Bohemia and Boleslas’s brother Zbigniew against Poland and invaded that country. Boleslas and his troops met the threat valiantly and the Emperor’s plans miscarried. The first Polish chronicler, called Anonymus Gallus, comments upon this campaign in a pungent vein and his account ends on a note of grim humor: “The Emperor decided to withdraw and carried away no tribute but his own dead.”


The reign of this gallant Polish prince augured well also for the Slavs on the Baltic. Just before the German princes had started their victorious drive against the Obodrites and the Veletians, Boleslas III succeeded in reuniting Pomerania and Poland. However, he left Western Pomerania under its native princes as his vassals and this proved to be a most dangerous concession. He then made a new effort to christianize the Pomeranians. With the help of St. Otto, Bishop of Bamberg, he succeeded in converting Pomerania to Christianity, insisting hopefully on the proviso that the newly converted land was not to be included in the German Reichskirche, but was to come under the jurisdiction of the Polish Church. Had Boleslas III seen his plans through, there might have been a prospect of saving at least a portion of





Baltic and Polabian Slavdom; but Germanic influence was already too strong and in order to save Pomerania for Poland, Boleslas had to agree to a compromise — the creation of the independent missionary diocese of Wollin [1] and the inclusion of Pomerania and the Slavic island of Rügen as German fiefs in the Empire (1135). This was the first step towards the German absorption of Pomerania. It inevitably recalls a similar occasion when Mieszko I, about to gather the Pomeranians under his authority, had to consent to an analogous compromise with the Emperor s representative, Count Gero. Ever since the first days of its unification, Germany had harbored the secret design of securing a hold on the Baltic Sea as the best way of guaranteeing safe expansion.





Setting his face against any further imperial interference in Poland’s domestic affairs for the purpose of reducing it to the level of Bohemia, Boleslas III divided his realm among his four sons, stipulating that the senior member of the Piast dynasty should always occupy the rank of premier duke and ruler of Poland with Cracow as his capital. With the best of intentions, this great Pole thus opened the door to the period of the division of Poland into duchies, the most bewildering period in the country’s history, and one whose intricacies are still a nightmare to every student of Poland s past. The country remained divided into several hereditary dukedoms — Great Poland with Gniezno (Gnesen), Little Poland with Cracow, Mazo via, Sandomierz and Silesia — which were again often subdivided into smaller territories given to the members of the reigning families.


Great harm was done to the ideal of Polish unity, as every duchy had its own interests to look after to the detriment of the country as a whole. Moreover, soon after Boleslas Ill’s death the dignity of the premier duke became an object of conflict among the members of the dynasty. Thus the emperors had all the opportunity they needed for making mischief. In 1146 Conrad



1. It was transferred to Kamin in 1188.





failed to take a firm hold over Poland when he intervened in favor of his brother-in-law Władysław (Ladislas), the eldest son of Boleslas III, who was expelled from Cracow and from his duchy of Silesia by his brother Boleslas IV. Frederick Barbarossa, however, almost reduced Poland to the level of Bohemia, and in 1157 Boleslas IV, the Curly Haired (1146-1173), the premier duke of Poland, had the humiliation of being forced to promise regular attendance at the Emperor s court, participation in the Italian campaign and the payment of a large sum of money in return for the honor of becoming one of the imperial dignitaries as a sword bearer and of joining his Czech colleague who was proud to officiate at imperial banquets as a cupbearer (Mundschenk).


The order of succession to the “seniorate” established by Boleslas III was again neglected after the death of Boleslas IV. His legitimate successor, Mieszko III, called “The Old” (1173-1177), although an able ruler, became unpopular because of his strong monarchical tendencies and lost Cracow to Casimir II the Just (1177-1194), the youngest and probably posthumous son of Boleslas III. Thanks to the support of the aristocracy and the higher clergy Casimir was able to keep Cracow in spite of several attempts made by his older brother to recover the lost possession. A new principle — that of hereditary succession to the “seniorate” — was introduced by Casimir II. Thanks again to the support of the aristocracy, after Casimirs death his son Leszek, called “the White” (1194-1227), became premier duke and kept the Duchy of Cracow as his heritage. In spite of the efforts of Casimir the Just — who united Little Poland with Mazovia and Kujavja — and of his successors to form a solid political group around Cracow, the division of Polish territory among the different branches of the Piast dynasty went on, to the great disadvantage of the Polish nation. All this weakened Poland’s resistance to the penetration of German influences into the country.


But the turn of Fortune’s wheel saved Poland from being incorporated in the Empire. The Italian question was absorbing the





Emperor’s attention, and although the forces of the Empire were not sufficient for sustained and simultaneous pressure in south and east, the great Hohenstaufens were dreaming of another renovation of the Roman Empire. It soon became evident that their dreams were inspired less by the ideals of Charlemagne and Otto I — not to mention Otto III — than by the ambition to rival the Caesars and their centralized Roman monarchy. Henry VI and Frederick II did not look so much to the northeast where Christianity needed their help, as to the southeast where abundant riches and a great historical inheritance excited their greed. They failed, however, to reckon with the Papacy, whose prestige throughout Western Europe had grown considerably. The Papacy was not prepared to tolerate prevarication which fell so far short even of Henry IV s ideals. Once again, in the need of the Popes to find political and ideological allies against a dangerous rival, Poland found its opportunity. The Pope used his good offices frequently during the twelfth century to mediate between the Polish dukes and to keep a valuable eastern ally on good terms; and as a warning to the Germans to keep their hands off Poland, Innocent III (1207) and Innocent IV (1253) both declared that that country was directly dependent upon the Roman See. The ecclesiastical organization of all the Polish duchies under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Gniezno and Peters Pence, a special tax which Poland had paid to the Apostolic See since the days of Casimir I, served to remind every Pole, irrespective of which duchy he belonged to, of his country’s common purpose, interests and unity. It was because of this that when the Duke of Silesia, Henry IV (Probus), had succeeded in imposing his rule on Little Poland with Cracow, he applied as a matter of course to the pope for the royal crown. His sudden death in 1290 put an end to his plans.





But the division of Poland had results which were to harm not only that country but the Slavic peoples of Central Europe as





well. The worst feature of Boleslas Ills scheme was that instead of attaching Pomerania to the neighboring Duchy of Greater Poland, he allotted it to the senior duke, and as the senior duke’s territory was not always contiguous to Pomerania, he was unable to assist that country at times when his help was most needed, nor was he disposed to take the same interest in it as he took in his own duchy and the immediately adjacent lands. To Poland’s lasting detriment Western Pomerania — although it retained its Slavic character and was ruled by princes of a Piast branch — drifted into the sphere of German influence and was made a principality of the Empire in 1181. Poland’s attempt to link Eastern Pomerania to itself was equally unsuccessful. Swięntopełk, the best ruler that country ever had, refused to take orders from Poland, and the Senior Duke Leszek the White, who appealed to the sword, perished by it in 1227. Eastern Pomerania’s independence was but another step towards the loss by Poland of the whole of Pomerania.


Poland’s dismemberment into duchies ruled by different branches of the Piast dynasty and bound together only by the declining authority of the senior duke soon lulled the Poles into disregarding the danger which threatened from Germany — that same danger which had been so valiantly warded off by Boleslas the Great, Mieszko II, Boleslas II and Boleslas III. The more distant duchies, especially Mazovia and Kujavja, safely ensconced behind a protecting screen of other Polish duchies and Slavic territories, whose rulers were bent on their eastern expansion, were absolutely blind to the danger.


The emperors’ inability to give their full attention to the eastward drive somehow facilitated this process of disintegration. A concentrated and consciously directed attempt at expansion might well have roused the Poles to the menace and forced them to unite in the face of common danger, for anti-imperial embers were still smoldering throughout the land. But as the German margraves acted on their own responsibility as independent princes, the Poles thought little of the threat and allowed matters to drift.





To make things worse, the Piasts who governed Silesia invoked the aid of the Germans to enforce their authority over the Duchy against the pretensions of other Piasts, with the result that after the German-educated sons of Władysław (Ladislas), the eldest son of Boleslas III, had come to power in 1173, German influence and sympathies had free access to the territory. Frederick Barbarossa knew what he was doing when he forced Boleslas IV to establish them definitely in that Duchy. Silesia was a borderland of Germany and the margraviates of Meissen and Lusatia established in old White Serbia were in German hands, a circumstance which made things very easy for the Germans. Presently, the dukes started imitating the margraves of the Slavic territories by encouraging German colonists to settle. The famous song Nach dem Osten wollen wir reisen (We Will Wander Towards the East), which the twelfth-century German colonists adopted as a sort of national anthem, began to echo on the Polish plains.


The Silesian dukes, of course, profited greatly from the colonial movement. Their wealth and prestige grew immensely. The new situation is best illustrated by reference to the achievements of Henry I the Bearded, Duke of Breslau, who secured Cracow in 1229. Within a few years, half of Great Poland was in his possession. Although he was under strong German cultural influence, this Duke aimed at nothing less than a revival of the Polish kingdom, his son, Henry II the Pious, being the one whom he expected to fulfil his plans. Allied with the Papacy against the Emperor Frederick II and supported at home by the clergy, Henry II was well on the way to realizing his father’s dream when an unforeseen catastrophe intervened. The Mongols, after destroying Kiev, invaded Poland. The Duke with his small army of Polish and German knights tried to halt the invaders and perished with the flower of his force at the battle of Lignica (1241) and only the fact that the Mongols turned aside to ravish Hungary saved the rest of Poland and Germany.







It must be understood that all these happenings in Silesia meant little to the Poles of the more remote duchies. The classical illustration of their ignorance of what was brewing was the arrival of the Teutonic Order on the borders of Prussia (1228) at the invitation of Conrad, Duke of Mazovia. The Hungarians had shown greater discernment. When Bela I called the Knights to his assistance against the Cumans, the successors of the Pechenegs who were invading the Balkan peninsula, he soon discovered that they were making attempts to create a German enclave in Transylvania and Wallachia and expelled them unceremoniously from the country. But heedless of the experience of Hungary, Conrad invited the Teutonic Knights to settle in Chełmno, the easternmost Polish province, to pacify and convert the Baltic Prussians. It would be difficult to find, even at that period, a more flagrant instance of cunning, bad faith, trickery and truculence than was exhibited in the relations of the Order with Conrad of Mazovia and the Prussians. From the outset, the Knights were determined to establish a German State in the East. Their plan had the approval of Frederick II, who declared in advance that any land they might acquire would be a part of the Empire. This was quite contrary to the intentions of the Duke, who had been led to understand that both the Knights and their conquests would be feudally dependent upon his Duchy.


In the forty years between 1230 and 1270, the Knights, with the assistance of a number of “crusaders”, subdued the whole territory which is modern East Prussia; but here too Christianization amounted to colonization. The country was packed with German immigrants, for the remnants of the native population refused obstinately to have anything to do with a faith which was forced on them by the sword. These were the beginnings of the greatness and glory of Prussia. Though the purpose for which the Knights had been called was achieved, they did not rest content with their gains, but cast envious eyes towards the mouth of the Vistula, where Danzig lay. This time, they overreached





themselves and Swięntopełk of Eastern Pomerania gave them a lesson which they badly needed.


Another danger threatened Poland from the west. The margraves of Brandenburg, who were also covetous of Eastern Pomerania, had the cunning to capture the strategic outpost of Lubusz, on the confluence of the Warta and the Oder, with the intention of using it as a springboard for further moves forward. After the death of Swięntopełk, they crossed the Warta and helped themselves to a slice of the country they coveted. Fortunately, Mestwin II of Eastern Pomerania saw the trap which was being prepared, and in 1294 he made a present of his territory to Přemysl (Přemyslaw) II, the Duke of Greater Poland. The situation was eased for the Poles, and in order to show his firm purpose, Přemysl II had himself crowned King of Poland. This was too much for the margraves to swallow. Never fastidious in their methods, they instigated his assassination in 1296 and thus secured the removal of a dangerous rival. With no formidable opponent left in Poland the way lay open for the margraves for further penetration into the Slavic East.





Bohemia also went through a period of political decadence in the twelfth century. Here again the main reasons for it were the growth of German power under Frederick Barbarossa, and the jealousies which were generated among the members of the reigning family by an unsatisfactory law of succession. According to the order established in 1054 by Břetislav I, the oldest member of the reigning house was to be the sovereign of the State and had to exercise undivided rule over Bohemia. The younger princes were to receive lands in Moravia. Shortly after its introduction, this order was changed by Břetislav II (1092-1110) in favor of his brother Bořivoj, and protracted civil wars ensued. Thus the emperors were presented with a series of opportunities for interfering in the affairs of Bohemia. Lothair went so far as to declare that no prince had the right to ascend the throne of





Bohemia before receiving the country as a fief from the German king. Soběslav (1125-1140) successfully opposed this claim; but by granting the Czech dukes the dignity of being hereditary cupbearers, Conrad III tied them still more closely to Germany. In their pride at having a certain influence upon the elections of German kings, the Czech dukes were induced to take a more lively interest in German affairs and to imitate their German colleagues.


The consequences of this development were soon evident. The Duke Vladislav II (1140-1173), who established his right to rule the country with German help, became a faithful follower of Conrad III, whom he had accompanied on his Crusade. For the help which he gave to Frederick Barbarossa on his Italian campaign, Vladislav II received Upper Lusatia as a fief, together with the title of King. [1]


Although this title was meant to be hereditary, new wars for the succession broke out in 1173 after Vladislav’s abdication and retirement to the monastery of Strahov, and it fell into disuse. Frederick Barbarossa took such cunning advantage of the jealousies of the princes and their quarrels that the Přemyslides themselves were scarcely aware of the disintegration of their realm into three imperial principalities, the Duchy of Bohemia, the Margraviate of Moravia and the Bishopric of Prague — with a fourth in the making, the Bishopric of Olomouc. Only the timely deaths of Barbarossa (1152-1190) and of his successor Henry VI (1190-1197) saved the Czechs from the fate which was imperceptibly overtaking the Slavs between the Elbe and the Oder.





It was in the year of Henry Vis death that the Czechs had the good fortune to acquire a most able ruler in the person of Přemysl Ottokar I (1197-1230), a man who showed himself to be remarkably



1. The relations between Vladislav II and the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus are examined in a short study by F. Dvornik in Sborník Bidlův (Prague, 1928, pp. 58-70: “Manuel I Komnenos a Vladislav II, král český,” in Czech with a résumé in French).





skilful in exploiting the struggle for the imperial succession in such a way as to serve his own country’s ends. He secured the confirmation of his own royal hereditary title by the two rivals for the title of imperial dignity — Philip, Duke of Swabia, and Otto of Brunswick, son of Henry the Lion. The latter was supported by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), who also recognized the Czech rulers royal title. Přemysl Ottokar’s clever manoeuvres were finally crowned in 1212, when the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II (1211-1250) confirmed his royal privileges in a special letter bearing the seal which Frederick used as King of Sicily. This document, called the Golden Sicilian Bull, regulated the relations between Bohemia and the Empire, setting them on a new and firm basis. The internal independence of the Bohemian kingdom was assured and its boundaries decreed inviolable. The Bohemian kings obligation to provide 300 men for the emperors Italian coronation expedition could be redeemed by a nominal payment of 300 marks, and the king’s attendance at the Reichstag was expected only when it was held in one of three cities near the Czech border — Nuremberg, Babenberg or Merseburg. Bohemia was saved.





From the eleventh century onwards, the fate of the Czechs, the Slovaks and the Poles was definitely and intimately linked with the fate of Western Europe and it was from that quarter that all the patterns originated which inspired and influenced their social, religious, literary and cultural progress. In this respect, the Czechs had the advantage not only of geographical situation — which, however, had caused them to be dependent upon the Holy Roman Empire — but also of the Old Slavonic literary tradition, which was far from forgotten and which helped them greatly to develop their own language and literary activity. For these reasons the progress of medieval civilization on the Western pattern was more remarkable in Bohemia than in Poland. From the thirteenth century onwards, and especially in the literary field, the Czechs were able to provide some precious inspiration to the Poles.





In their political and social evolution the Czechs were handicapped during the eleventh and twelfth centuries by the old Slav principle that the country was a kind of appanage of the reigning house, all of whose members ought to have a share in its government. This principle led to the division of the country into small principalities and it has been shown how the rivalry of the Přemyslide princes was about to cause the disintegration of the Dukedom and to place all the separate dukes in a position of dependence upon the emperor. Fortunately, this fate was averted at the last moment. The circumstance that the members of the Přemyslide dynasty were not numerous and that the branches of the family in the different appanages slowly died out (between 1200 and 1204) saved Bohemia from sharing the fate of Poland and of Kievan Russia. The place of Bohemia in the Empire was finally defined and the autonomous status of the Kingdom confirmed by the Sicilian Golden Bull. The hereditary character of the Czech succession was made clear, although the principle of primogeniture, not without some control, was introduced only at a later date. [1]


The power of the duke was primitively regarded as absolute and he was not obliged to share it with anybody. He nominated the officers of his court and the governors of the provinces, which were probably formed on the basis of the unification of the Czech tribes in the ninth and tenth centuries. The duke alone controlled their administration and all his officers were selected from among his own retinue. The provinces were administered from castles which were the residences of the governors appointed by the duke. The provincial governor commanded the castle garrison and also any body of troops raised by levy in the province in the event of war. At court, various offices were introduced later on the Western pattern.


The origins of the Czech aristocracy were also influenced by Western — especially German — usage. Under primitive conditions,



1. It was made definite in 1341. It was necessary even then, however, that the heir’s rights should be confirmed by the nation and acknowledged by the emperor.





the people were divided into freemen and bondmen. Some individuals among the freemen became conspicuous in virtue of their wealth or because they were in the immediate service of the prince and thus above the level of the common people. The Czech name for aristocracy — šlechta — indicates the German influence on the rise of this class, just as the Polish word szlachta does, both words having been formed from the Old High German slahta (modern German Geschlecht), meaning “race.” Moreover, time brought a distinction between the high aristocracy and the low aristocracy, the latter being that class of freemen who were able to do their military service on horseback. After the German custom, the princes and the high aristocracy started making use of bondmen to perform various duties at their courts and households.


The influence of the high aristocracy in the administration of the State developed on the same lines as it had followed in Germany and the rest of Western Europe. The high aristocracy and, to some extent, the high clergy, were the first to organize themselves into a distinct class claiming some of the princes sovereign rights. This transformation was achieved in the period from the middle of the twelfth century to the beginning of the fourteenth century. From the second half of the twelfth century onwards, for example, the high aristocracy had sufficient influence to intervene, sometimes effectively, in questions concerning the succession to the throne.


This situation prepared the further evolution of Bohemia’s constitution. From the beginning of the thirteenth century on, the Czech State can be described as dualistic, because political power was vested not only in the prince, but also in the privileged classes, referred to as the Nation. A striking illustration of this development is given by the fact that, from that time onwards, the class described as the higher aristocracy used its own seal, which was impressed upon state documents alongside the royal seal.


The lower aristocracy did not enjoy such a privileged position. As a class it was established rather late, that is, only in the fourteenth





century, when the cities had formed their organization and begun their successful claim for political rights as a special burgher class.





In purely cultural matters, Bohemia made great progress from the twelfth century onwards and for this the clergy were mainly responsible. The first wave of Western influence upon the religious affairs of Bohemia showed itself in a growing hostility to the use of the Slavonic language in the liturgy. But although Latin prevailed, other Church reforms introduced by Gregory VII —celibacy of the priesthood and a stem clerical discipline — were accepted only after a very hard struggle during the second half of the twelfth century. The Bishop of Olomouc, the learned and zealous Zdík, was the main promoter of these reforms.


The Westernization of Czech Christianity was further promoted through the intermediary of new Benedictine foundations — Opatovice (c. 1086), Postoloprty (end of Xlth cent.), Kladruby (c. 1115), and Rajhrad, Hradiště, Třebíč in Moravia — and of the new Premonstratensian and Cistercian orders. The main Premonstratensian foundations were those of Strahov (1142) and of Doksanv (for nuns), and those of the Cistercians were Sedlec, near Kutná Hora (1142), and Velehrad (1205). Some Benedictine foundations were also given to the new orders. These orders brought into the country new agricultural methods and their foundations became important centers of education and links with the rest of the cultural West — France and Germany. In 1159 the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem were settled in Prague.


The chapters of canons also became important centers of cultural life. Besides the chapter at the cathedral church, the one of Vyšehrad in Prague was founded in the eleventh century. About the same time chapters were founded in Olomouc, in Stará Boleslav (in memory of St. Wenceslas, who was martyred





there), and in Litoměřice. The chapters of Mělník, near Prague, and of Sadská came into being at the beginning of the twelfth century.


Also during this so-called Romanesque period remarkable progress was made in the arts in Bohemia, though Czech production limited itself to copying patterns and motifs from the West and trying to adapt them to Czech taste. It has been seen how Czech religious architecture had developed from the early Christian and Byzantine provincial styles endowed with certain Romanesque features into a characteristic style of church design — rotundas with one apse. This spread to Hungary, Poland and Germany, and many new churches of this type were built in Bohemia in this period. The church of St. George in Prague, rebuilt in 1142, is the most remarkable monument of Romanesque art in Bohemia.


In sculpture and painting, Bohemia followed mainly German patterns. The Abbot of Sázava, Božetěch, is said to have been an original sculptor. Unfortunately only fragments are left of most of the sculptured decorations of churches. The most original work of the twelfth century is the tympanum at St. James near Kutná Hora. It is surpassed only by the tympanum of the church of St. George in Prague. Also, considerable progress was made by Czech artists in minor arts such as illumination of manuscripts and miniature painting. Four productions of this kind from the eleventh century deserve a special mention: the codices of Vyšehrad, of St. Guy (Vít) in Prague, of Cracow, and of Gniezno, the last two of Czech origin. From the twelfth century some Psalters — for example, those of Mělník, of Vyšehrad, and of Ostrov — testify to the high standard the minor arts had achieved in Bohemia.


Czech literary development from the eleventh century onwards was also strongly influenced by Western traditions coming not only from Germany but also from France. The first Czech chronicle was written in Latin by Cosmas, Dean of the Chapter of Prague (about 1045-1125), who had studied at Liège in Belgium. Cosmas was a great Czech patriot, although hostile to the Slavonic





liturgy, and a married man to boot. His Chronicle was continued by many, including a canon of Vyšehrad, covering the years from 1126 to 1142, a monk of Sázava those from 1126 to 1162, Canon Vincentius those from 1140 to 1167, and Abbot Jarloch the years 1167 to 1198. All these chronicles are important sources for the history of this period. Canon Vincentius was a devoted adviser of King Vladislav II and well acquainted with life at the court of Frederick Barbarossa, and Abbot Jarloch gave a detailed description of the deeds performed by the Czechs during the siege of Milan by the imperial army.


All these chroniclers, Cosmas in particular, show vast knowledge of classical lore and of contemporary literary production in Western Europe and this is an indication that the education of the Czech intellectual élite was on the same level as in Western countries.


Writing in Czech progressed slowly. From the eleventh and twelfth centuries there are only some Czech and Old Slavonic glosses in gospels and in compositions written in Latin, namely the homilies used in the Abbey of Opatovice, the Latin manuscript of Jeremiah’s Prophecies in Olomouc, and the Mater Verborum, a kind of contemporary encyclopedia. There may possibly have existed some hymns and songs in Czech. The composition of the first strophe of the oldest version of St. Wenceslas’ hymn and of the prayer “Hail Mary” in Czech verse may be attributed to this period.


When compared with the literary production of Moravia during the ninth century and that of Bohemia during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the literary harvest of the twelfth century was rather scanty. One of the reasons for this is the suppression of Old Slavonic in the liturgy and in literature. The Czechs abandoned the literary language which was common to all Slavs, and the creation of a Czech literary language required some time.


The prominent promoter of this new course was the first Czech chronicler Cosmas. He ignored in his work the cultural achievements of the Slavonic period in Czech history, although he seems to have known its literary productions and to have made use of





information contained therein. In spite of that, the Annals of the Benedictine Abbey of Hradiště in Moravia, written about 1150, still echo the old tradition, and the second writer to continue the Chronicle of Cosmas, an anonymous monk of Sázava, comes back to it. He copied the oldest Latin legend of St. Ludmila and used an Old Slavonic legend of St. Procopius, founder of Sázava, in his biography of the Saint. This tendency grew and found expression in 1204 when Přemysl Ottokar I obtained from the Pope, together with the confirmation of his royal title, the official canonization of St. Procopius, with whose name the Old Slavonic tradition in Czech lands was so intimately connected. The Slavonic liturgy and literature could not, however, be reinstated.


By the wholesale liturgical replacement of Slavonic by Latin, the Church lost a very effective means of educating its faithful through a liturgy which could be generally followed because it was performed in a language easily understood by everybody. This circumstance was also partly responsible for the survival of many pagan usages among the simple people. On the other hand, of course, with the loss of the Old Slavonic liturgy, Bohemia was definitely drawn into the orbit of Western Latin civilization.





The social and political evolution of medieval Poland presents some features of similarity with developments in Bohemia; but in other respects it differs considerably from anything which was achieved in this period by other Central European nations. As in Bohemia, the power of the duke was absolute, once the unification of the tribes had been effected by the Piast dynasty. The great Piasts, from Mieszko I to Boleslas III the Wrymouth, created a monarchic system which gave evidence of great strength and vigor, blended with intelligence.


In the social sphere, primitive Poland knew neither aristocracy nor feudalism. All members of the clans were free, with the exception of prisoners-of-war and slaves. Class distinction, however, showed itself at an early date. It was natural that the elders of





the clans (starosta) should begin to regard themselves as being superior to the rest of the people. All freemen were potential soldiers; but the princes maintained their own retinues and Mieszko is said to have had 3,000 in his standing army. The members of these retinues or cadres were not only warriors and commanders of freemen in the field, but also governors of the duke’s fortified castles, which were the centers of political administration in the country.


In this way, there began slowly to emerge a class of privileged men, distinguished by their wealth, which was derived from the booty of war or from gifts from their liege-lord, or by the prominent position which the ruler called upon them to occupy. The number of the privileged grew considerably during the period of the disintegration of Poland into separate duchies, as each duke had his own court and his own retinue; for the necessity of defending the frontier and waging war called for a plentiful supply of knightly warriors who were better trained than the ordinary freemen. The dukes used to reward them for their services by gifts of land and they soon began to regard themselves as different from the people. This is how the class of the lower nobility originated. The peasants were attached to the noble families or to ecclesiastical institutions. A fairly sharp division into classes — magnates, knights and the people, still freemen in principle — began to become more clearly marked.


Besides the magnates, who were the intimates of the princes and his main advisers, the high clergy soon won an important position in the state. They were the educated class. It was they who looked after the duke’s correspondence with other rulers and who composed his legal documents and juridical pronouncements. The clergy were also the first to secure important privileges and guarantees against encroachments by the state. This was achieved at the Assembly of Łęczyca (1180), convoked by Casimir the Just, who was anxious to secure from the higher aristocracy and the higher clergy sanction for the revolutionary change of his fathers statute. In consideration for the privileges which he then granted, Casimir carried his point that the Duchy of Cracow





and the “seniorate” should henceforth be hereditary in his dynasty.


These privileges were later extended, thanks to the efforts of Henry Kiętlicz, Archbishop of Gniezno (1199-1219), the foremost protagonist in Poland of canonical reform in the spirit of Gregor)’ VII. It was due to the beneficial influence which the Church exercised in Poland as the main defender of the national unity amid dynastic partition that its high dignitaries were able to maintain their position as a privileged class.


Although the change in Boleslas Ill’s statute made at Łęczyca was sanctioned also by the Pope and by the Emperor, it was rejected by the other branches of the Piast dynasty. The dynastic struggles which issued from this situation gave the higher aristocracy the welcome opportunity of acquiring more influence in the state. The first occasion presented itself after Casimir s death, during the struggles between his son Leszek the White and Leszek’s uncle Mieszko the Old.





In purely cultural respects, Poland also made great progress from the eleventh century onwards. Again the clergy were in the van of this progress, although the education of native priests to succeed foreign missionaries was slow. Progress in Christian practice was also rather laborious after the first outburst of enthusiasm during the reign of Boleslas the Great, which was, of course, dominated by the memory of two great saints: St. Adalbert and St. Bruno of Querfurt. Benedictines, and later Premonstratensians, Cistercians and Franciscans, became important links between Poland and the cultured West. As has already been mentioned, the Church reforms of Gregory VII were accepted in Poland much later than they were in Bohemia — definitively only in the first half of the thirteenth century.


In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Poland swarmed with foreign priests, coming not only from Germany but also from France, Belgium and Italy. This is illustrated by the fact that the





first Polish historian was an anonymous ecclesiastic, called Gallus because he is believed to have been a Frenchman or a Walloon. He lived in Poland between 1110 and 1135 and in his Chronicle, written in Latin, he preserved many Polish legends. He was fond of quoting the classics, particularly Sallust — an indication that he had read widely. [1] His work was continued by two bishops of Cracow — Matthew Choleva and Vincent Kadłubek, the work of the latter being particularly popular. He was educated in Paris and died in 1223 as a Cistercian, these two details being an illustration of the general situation among the better educated clergy in Poland at that period. His work, tracing Polish history from the legendary period up to 1200, is important for the study of the reign of Casimir the Just, in whose favor he is much biased.


Besides the chronicles, the Latin legends of St. Adalbert were very popular in Poland. Bruno of Querfurt, a friend of Boleslas the Great, wrote a biography of Adalbert of which there are two editions. An account of Adalbert’s passion was written by a German priest who had lived in Poland, and a third legend was written by a native priest in Poland. More hagiographical works were composed in Poland in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the thirteenth century the first definitive edition was set down of the Polish hymn in honor of Our Lady in Bogurodzica. This is of much older origin and the first part may be attributed to St. Adalbert.


The new foundations of the Benedictines and the abbeys of the new Cistercian and Premonstratensian orders became the centers of cultural progress in Poland. The Benedictines achieved great merit for the rechristianization of the country under Casimir the Restorer. A later tradition attributes to him the foundation of the Abbey at Tyniec near Cracow and of that at Leubus in Silesia. Boleslas II founded the abbey at Mogilno near Gniezno and that at Lubin near Poznań. [2]



1. Cf. the most recent monograph by M. Plezia, Kronika Galla, published by the Polish Academy (S. II, vol. XLVI), Cracow, 1947.


2. On the activity of the Benedictines in Poland see the monograph by P. David, Les Bénédictins de l’Ordre de Cluny dans la Pologne médiévale (Paris, 1939).





Boleslas II also re-established the episcopal foundations erected in 1000, adding to them Płock in Mazovia. St. Norbert, the Archbishop of Magdeburg, made a last attempt in 1133 at subordinating all Polish bishoprics to the jurisdiction of his metropolis. His request was granted by Innocent II, but as the bishops of Poland paid no attention to the decision, the papal bull remained a dead letter and it was annulled in 1136.


Under Boleslas III Benedictines were established at Łysa Góra and in Breslau. Cistercians from France and Germany erected abbeys in the twelfth century in the following places: Jędrzejów (1140), Łekno and Ląd (about 1150), Leubus (1150), Sulejów (1176), Wąchock (1179), Oliva in Pomerania (about 1178), Koprzywnica (1185). The Premonstratensians appeared in Poland before 1140, founding abbeys at Kalisz, Brzesk and Witów. But their activity was not so widespread nor so popular as that of the Cistercians. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem were established in Zagość (c. 1165) and in Poznan (Posen) in 1184, and the Templars at Opatów.


Chapters of canons, set up in all episcopal cities, were also important cultural centers. Their libraries were enriched by the acquisition of many manuscripts of French, Belgian and German origin, especially under Casimir the Restorer and Władysław Herman.


With Casimir the Restorer begins also the development of Polish medieval architecture and art. Cracow, the first center of Polish Christianity during the Great Moravian period of its history, could boast a new cruciform stone church, that of SS. Felix and Adauctus, built in the style which was in vogue in Cologne whence Casimir had brought Benedictine missionaries. The same prince constructed the oldest Polish basilica, that of St. Leonard, in Cracow on the Wawel, his place of residence. Only a few ruins remain of what was an imposing Romanesque edifice, with three naves, apses and two towers. Only a small part is preserved of the Romanesque church of St. John the Evangelist, built in Mogilno under Boleslas II. Unfortunately the first Romanesque cathedral of Gniezno, finished in 1097, has disappeared almost





completely. It had two naves with apses and two towers. This style, probably imported from Hildesheim and Merseburg, became the pattern of Polish cathedrals constructed during the twelfth century in Poznań and Cracow.


Płock was another important centre of arts in the twelfth century. Its Romanesque cathedral, finished in 1144, combined church architecture with fortification. The church of Łęczyca near Płock, from the same period, is partly preserved. Different types of Romanesque architecture are presented by the cathedral of Breslau (Wrocław) and the churches of Czerwińsk, of St. John in Prandocin, of St. Andrew in Cracow and of St. Nicholas in Wysocicze. Numerous small Romanesque churches were built in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, some of them on the pattern of small rotundas with apses, a style imported into Poland from Bohemia.


When the reform movement of Cluny had reached Poland, the style of Cluny was also adopted by the reformed Polish abbeys. The first church of this kind was that of SS. Peter and Paul in Kruszwica. Many churches are said to have been built in the twelfth century by Peter Włast, Count of Breslau, a great benefactor of the Benedictines and of regular canons whom he brought to Poland from France. French Romanesque patterns were also imitated by the architects who built the churches founded by him. The best example of this kind was the church of St. Vincent near Breslau, finished in 1148. At the end of the twelfth century and during the first half of the thirteenth Polish architecture shows some new tendencies. The churches of Our Lady in Strzelno and in Inowracław were built partly in stone and partly in brick but the church of St. John in Poznań (1187) was built completely in brick. The Cistercians naturally brought their own artistic traditions to Poland and their abbeys and churches were all built in the traditional Cistercian style, imposing in its simplicity.


In decorative arts Poland produced some good work during this period. The churches were decorated with a preference for relief sculptures of fantastic beasts and plants. Only fragments of this kind of decoration are preserved. The tympanum of the





church in Łęczyca — Madonna with angels — deserves special mention. The best specimens of decorative art were produced by the artists who decorated the church of St. Vincent near Breslau. Good sculptured portraits of the founder, Peter Wlast, and of some of his contemporaries are preserved. In general, some tympanums from the churches founded by Peter and still preserved demonstrate that Polish sculpture reached its highest quality in Silesia.


A masterpiece of Polish Romanesque decorative art is the bronze door of the cathedral of Gniezno by an unknown artist. Its plastic decorations were executed in the years 1129 to 1137 and represent scenes from the life of St. Adalbert.


A Polish counterpart of the Czech Božetěch was the master Leopard. Some think that he might be the artist who produced the bronze door of Gniezno. The plastic decorations on the doors of the cathedral at Płock also deserve to be mentioned. They were probably executed, however, not by German but by French craftsmen.


In the minor arts, the Poles did not produce anything very remarkable in this period. The libraries of the dukes, chapters and abbeys could, however, boast many beautifully illuminated manuscripts, imported from Germany, France and Bohemia. Only in the thirteenth century were some examples of Polish minor arts produced under the inspiration of the traditions brought by the Cistercians, for example, the Book of Eight Prophets, the Psalter of Trzebnic, both now in Warsaw, and the Gradual of the Sisters of St. Claire, now in Cracow.


It is interesting to note that although Poland was a neighbor of Russia and thus open to Eastern, especially. Byzantine, influences, the Poles were not as much affected by these as might have been expected. Some traces of Russian influence can, however, be noted. Byzantine jewelry seems to have found admirers in Poland, but in other respects the Poles looked for inspiration only to the Latin West. At the end of the twelfth century, Poland, like Bohemia, was definitely included in the sphere of Western Latin civilization.


It should, however, be stressed that both countries, and especially





Poland, tried to be in direct contact with French civilization. In this respect the relations of Poland with Liège and with some other Belgian centers are particularly interesting. There are some indications that Polish merchants were in lively contact with the Flemish cities in the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. [1] This gives ground for the view that many incentives in the cultural development of Poland in this period came directly from Flanders and the French-speaking centers. The role of Cologne and the Rhineland — mentioned above — in Polish history at this period should not be forgotten either.


It is important to note how the Poles tried to keep in direct touch with French and Belgian cultural centers, and to avoid the mediation of eastern Germany, which was less developed at that time than Belgium and France.



1. For details and bibliographical indications, see the short monograph by J. Sobieski, Jean de Pologne à Louvain (1253) (Bruxelles, 1950), pp. 9-32. Cf. also the short study by C. Osieczkowska, "Connections between Medieval Art of Poland, Bohemia, Belgium, and France,” published in the Bulletin of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America II (October, 1943), no. I, pp. 163-167.


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