Poland History


There is a legend about the three forefathers of Slavonic nations. There were three brothers Lech, Czech and Rus who wandered with their kin tribes away from the original Slavonic settlements in the present area of Ukraine (between the Vistula and the Dnepr rivers). Rus moved to the east while the other two wandered with their people westwards. Lech stayed in the lowlands and established his town near a white eagle’s nest (the white eagle is the country’s coat of arms). Czech went more to the south.

Slavonic tribes came to Poland in the 6th century AD. The first town of the Polan tribe was Gniezno, along with Poznan, the oldest capital of Poland. It was there, where the first royal dynasty resided, the Piasts, who drew their pedigree from the mythical Piast, a wheelwright who founded a dynasty that ruled until 1370. The Polan tribe dwelled in the western areas of today’s Poland, in Wielkopolska, whereas Krakow was the central settlement of the Wislan tribe.

966 Mieszko I, (a member of the Piast dynasty, the creator of the Polish state) was baptised at the occasion of his marriage to the Czech princess Doubrava. What follows was the christening of the previously pagan country.

997 Bishop Adalbert dies. St Adalbert – the bishop of Prague decided to bring to Christianity to pagan Prussians living in Northern Poland. He founded Gdansk although he was later killed on that mission. His remains were transferred to Gniezno. Adalbert became the first Polish saint and three years later the first archbishopric was established in Gniezno.

1025 Boleslaw the Brave was crowned as the first Polish king, this mighty ruler deposed Otto III (Roman Emperor) to become the lord of all Slavonic people. The two monarchs met at the famous Gniezno summit in 1000. Boleslaw died one year after his coronation ceremony.

1038 – 1050 Poznan and Gniezno were ravaged during a punitive trip of a Czech prince wishing to obtain the relics of St. Adalbert in Gniezno. Then the royal court under Kazimierz the Restorer moved to Krakow.

1109 Boleslaw the Wrymouth gained successive victories against German troops. He managed to incorporate large parts of Silesia and Pomerania. His political program of dominating western provinces was repeated as late as post WWII in a campaign to regain the “originally” Polish areas.

1226 Mazovian Prince Conrad invited the Order of Teutonic Knights to Northern Poland in order to gain their help against the adamantly pagan Prussians (a Baltic tribe). The knights were not very successful during the Crusades and it was in Poland (and the Kaliningrad enclave), where their dominions flourished. Teutonic Knights become later a dangerous challenge for the equally expansive Polish state.

1241 The Mongols invaded Poland (after destroying Kiev and Russia) and did most damage to the southern parts of the country, they were finally stopped in Silesia.

1333 Casimir the Great (III) came to the throne and started the golden era of the Polish Middle Ages: Wawel Castle was largely rebuilt and Krakow University founded in 1364.

1386 To face the threat from the Teutonic knights, Polish and Lithuanian dynasties united in Creva. Both independent states were ruled by one monarch coming from the Jagiellonian dynasty of Lithuania, they made their capital Krakow.

1410 One of the biggest medieval battles was fought at Grunwald (Tannenberg), where the joint Polish and Lithuanian forces stopped the aspirations of the Teutonic Knights.

1466 The treaty of Torun (Thorn) between Poland and the Teutonic Knights was signed and sworn, and Poland at last dominates Prussia and the City of Gdansk (Danzig).



1525 The Teutonic Order is secularised and became the vassal of Poland. One century later the Polish king grants the Brandenburg dukes the right to accede in Prussia, which led to the establishment of an enormous Prussian power two centuries later.

1543 The Copernican Revolution. Polish scholar Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik) published De Revolutionibus, he proposed the heliocentric theory, that the Earth rotates on an axis, and goes round the sun once in a year. In the 16th century it was still widely accepted that the Earth was the centre of the universe. The heliocentric theory was later proved by Galileo Galilei.

1550 (approx) Gdansk has more than 30,000 inhabitants, Krakow has 15,000 inhabitants and Poznan 5,000. Wroclaw (Breslau) has 20,000 but Silesia belonged to the Czech Crown at that time. Warsaw was still only a small capital of the Mazovia province. The majority of foreign trade was done via Free Town of Gdansk and around 70% of Polish exports constituted of grains (rye) and 30% cattle and furs. Only Gdansk produces furniture, clocks, ovens and valuable products.

1569 Lublin: The Polish Kingdom and the Great Duchy of Lithuania are connected into one union. The Ukraine was also a part of Poland. The union made Poland the largest country in Europe.

1587 Sigismund III Vasa (Zygmunt III), son of John III Vasa (King of Sweden), elected King of Poland, moved the Parliament and the court to Warsaw to bring himself closer to Sweden and to the centre of the kingdom.

1610 Battle of Klutsjino (Klusin) – The Russian Tsar was overthrown by Poles. Wladyslaw – son of Sigismund, was crowned Tsar in Moscow – the zenith of Polish power. This was followed by a series of wars against the Ukrainian Cossacks, the Swedes and the Turks. 90 % of state’s financial resources were spent on warfare.

1652 The Liberum Veto introduced – a manifestation of the great freedoms, which were enjoyed by the Polish nobility. One vote could obstacle the enactment of any bill in the Polish Parliament. The Political system fiound itself in a prolonged crisis causing Poland to experiment with the republican form of government. Eight per cent of population were often impoverished nobility and it is estimated that 120,000 noblemen had no land or property.

1655 The Beginning of the Swedish Wars (the so called “Deluge”). Charles X (Karol X) takes Warsaw and Krakow. Warsaw was captured and recaptured several times and 80% of its population was killed. Czestochowa took a miraculous resistance and finally Peace was restored in Oliwa in 1660.

1683 The legendary Battle of Vienna (the second siege of Vienna). Polish King John III (Jan III. Sobieski) managed to crush the Turks (Kara Mustafa), save the beleaguered city, and finally kill off the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

1721 The end of the Great Northern War, which was fought against Sweden. Although Sweden was defeated, Poland became dependent on Russia.

1764 Stanislaus Poniatowski (Stanisław Poniatowski) elected King of Poland. He was an enlightened ruler trying in vain to halt the collapse of the country.

1772 The first partition of Poland: the border areas were divided among Russia, Prussia and Austria.



1791 The New Constitution was (May 3) granted by King Stanislaus Poniatowski. It was second achievement of such kind. Immediately after the American constitution, the throne was made hereditary, and the liberum veto abolished.

1794 The Kosciuszko rebellion: Tadeusz Kosciusko had tough fights against Russians and Prussians. The following year Warsaw and Krakow were lost to Russia and Austria. This is known as the Third Partition of Poland, Poland was wiped off the map.

1807 Napoleon Bonaparte’s first invasion of Poland. Poles saw hope in Napoleon and supported him during his attack on Russia. Napoleon becomes enamored to Maria Walewska in Warsaw. A year afterwards a semi-independent Duchy of Warsaw proclaimed

1810 Fryderyk Chopin, the best known Polish piano composer, was born in Zelazowa Wola. After 1830 he had to spend last eighteen years of his life in exile.

1815 After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo came the period of the “Holy Alliance” between Russia, Prussia and Austria. This association aimed to eliminate any radical movements. Tsar Alexander I granted Poland a constitution and the so-called Warsaw Kingdom governed by Russia. Galicia (the area around Krakow) was independent (until 1846) and then becomes a part of the Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian) monarchy.

1824 Adam Mickiewicz – the most famous Polish poet was exiled and never returned back to Poland, (he died 1855 in Crimea).

1830 The November Insurrection in Poland – an armed revolt against Russian rule quenched as late as in September 1831.

1848 Warsaw connected with Vienna by rail. The end of serfdom in the Austrian part of Poland, also happened in the same year.

1863 January Uprising in Poland against Russia – continuation of the adamant feeling towards Russification.

1893 The Polish National League was formed in Warsaw.



1914 First World War begins. Most fights take place on the eastern front fought on the territory of the future Poland (Galicia).

1918 In November Poland was proclaimed as an independent country. Marshall Józef Pilsudski becomes “chief of the state”. The young state has unstable boundaries and a series of wars, unrest and uprisings with neighbouring countries, Bolshevik Ukraine, Germany, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia takes place as there was a general trend to make countries as big as possible (historical and national principles). In 1920, the “Warsaw miracle” took place, as the Polish army stopped the advance of the Bolshevik army into central Europe. Poland gains big territories in the east. Later it occupies Vilnius (Wilno) and halves the Austrian part of Silesia (the other half acceded to Czechoslovakia).

1921 The Modern Polish constitution was formed. Poland was a republic (until 1926), the national bank reformed, mining was developed in Silesia and the construction of the first Polish port in Gdynia took place. The country was unstable though. The first President, Narutowicz, was assassinated in Warsaw one year later. To introduce order, Józef Pilsudski organizes q coup in 1926.

1939 September 1st, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi’s begin bombing Westerplatte, Gdansk and WW II begins. The Soviet Union invades eastern Poland on September 17. Within one month Poland defeated. These happenings are a consequence of the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23rd.T the pact stipulated non-aggression between Germany and the USSR.

1943 The Warsaw Ghetto uprising (April 19th): It was the Heroic, yet hopeless action of Jews besieged in the small Warsaw ghetto. It followed mass transports of Jews from Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka and Auschwitz concentration camps. Out of 450.000 people, which had originally been squeezed into the small ghetto’s area a mere 300 survived. The ghetto area was turned into complete rubble.

1944 The Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupants breaks out on August 1st – The city fought back for two months until all resistance is violently suppressed two and a half moths later. In an act of revenge, the whole city is then systematically destroyed and completely flattened.

1945 Poland finally liberated by the Russian Red Army, the exiled government returns from London, but the country finds itself gradually under the Soviet dominance. Following the Potsdam agreement the borders change significantly – the whole country moves geographically 300 -500 kilometres to the west. Originally Polish areas in the east are incorporated into the USSR and their inhabitants settle originally German cities in the West: Wroclaw (Breslau), Gdansk (Danzig) and Szczecin (Stettin).

1955 The Warsaw Pact was signed with a goal to compete with NATO. It comprised of the USSR and also Eastern Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. Albania was a member just for a short time. The huge Palace of Culture (Stalin’s apologetic gift to Poland) was completed at the same time.

1956 Mass anti-Soviet riots in Poznan. The era of socialist revisionism begins and the truth about Stalin’s action’s revealed.

1967 Rolling Stones play at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.

1978 The Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla is elected as Pope John Paul II, becoming the first non-Italian pope since the 15th century. His pontificate is marked by attempts to bring the church closer to people, apostolic pilgrimages and respect to life.

1980 A small strike in Gdansk spreads to the whole country. The Solidarity (Solidarnosc) trade-union movement began in the Gdansk shipyards. The movement has both political and economic goals and amazingly gained 10 million members almost immediately. Its leader, was a young electrician, Lech Walesa, who later received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

1981 December 13th: Martial Law was declared by Communist President General Wojciech Jaruzelski. A Curfew was introduced and the army exercises control over the country. The strong suppressive check on public and social life in Poland begins. Communist dignitaries explain later that it was necessary because the Soviet Union could invade the country just like what happened in Czechoslovakia (The Prague Spring) in 1968.

1989 “Round table” negotiations took place and the communist party is forced to allow free elections. The elections end with an overwhelming victory of the non-communist Solidarity Party headed by Lech Walesa and Taduesz Mazowiecki. All new MPs are Solidarity’s candidates, and Mazowiecki becomes the first Non-Communist Prime Minister since the end of World War II. A year later Lech Walesa is elected President of Poland. He survived only one term and was defeated by former communist party representative Aleksander Kwasniewski. The former communists re-invented themselves as the SLD (Social Democrats). Kwasniewski was a highly popular President and remained in power for the maximum length of time allowed by the constitution. He is due to stand down in November 2005.

1991 The Warsaw Pact dissolved, and The Cold War is officially ended.

1998 Poland accepted into NATO and it begins the process of moving west.

2004 May 1st. Poland joins the European Union, along with nine other candidate countries. It is difficult to foresee what the European future be like for Poland. Whatever Europe may be, Poland has always played (and often suffered) a visible part in its history and deserves to participate on this common project. The majority of European population is in its favor and let us hope that this ambitious project will prove successful and beneficial for the world.

2005 April 2nd. Poland, and indeed the whole world suffers a huge loss when Polish Pope Jean Paul II dies in the Vatican, Rome. During late 2004 and his death, The Pope had suffered a number of illnesses, but vowed to continue his papacy. Until his death, The Pope had continued to touch the lives of millions worldwide, also reaching to those who weren’t catholic and showing them his love and faith in life. The world showed its grief in the final ours of this remarkable mans life as millions of people worldwide sat by TVs and radios waiting for news breaking only to say a prayer. Such a remarkable man was Pope Jean Paul II that new Pope Benedict XVI has already moved to make the Polish Pope a Saint.
2005 In 2005 October: Lech Kaczynski, centre-right politician, a former mayor of Warsaw defeated Donald Tusk who was a candidate of liberals, during presidential elections.


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