History Files

European Kingdoms

Central Europe



Poland occupies a large area of central Europe bordering the southern Baltic Sea. Its history is a long one, covering several Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures, the latter of which saw the settlement of Belgic groups who became collectively known as the Venedi, settling along the east bank of the Vistula. In the last two centuries BC Germanic settlement from Scandinavia formed minor (tribal) states on the southern Baltic coast and west bank of the Vistula. Of these, the Buri and Lugii occupied areas of southern Poland, the Burgundians and Goths were located centrally, while the Gepids and Rugii were on the northern coast. These states were fairly ephemeral, and once outward migration had depleted most of them, they were replaced by Slavic settlements that eventually coalesced into the early Polish states.

The movements of the Slavic peoples who became the Poles is highly uncertain. That they followed the Baltic peoples into the area seems likely, and that they settled alongside some of them also seems likely, as does their assimilation of the Venedi on the Vistula. In the Middle Ages, Slavic peoples came to dominate Poland, and as the West Slavic Polish tribes emerged, they formed petty kingdoms that were unified in the tenth century, when Poland emerged into history at the same time as it accepted Christianity.

(Additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008).)

9000s BC

FeatureBy this date, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Prussia are settled by proto-Baltic hunter-gather tribes which all share the same cultural traces. They belong to two groups, one being the regionally-dominant Baltic Kunda culture, which is a development of the earlier Swiderian culture located to the south. The other is the Magdalen-Ahrensburg culture located in north-western Germany and Denmark, which probably enriches the Kunda culture.

Map of Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea about 9000 BC
The Baltic Ice Lake on Poland's northern border was entirely cut off from the Atlantic Ocean until the ice began to recede and rising water levels broke through around 8200 BC

Traditional scholarly belief has these hunter-gatherers migrating from the southern Baltics and further east, but a more recent idea suggests that while this is correct for the Baltics, Finland and northern Scandinavia are also first inhabited via the sweeping grass plains of Doggerland (now under the North Sea). Settlements at Eiguliai and Puvotsiai among others testify to the fact that hunter-gathers are present in Lithuania from as early as the eleventh millennium.

c.8200 BC

The waters of the ice-damned Baltic Ice Lake penetrate the region of the Billingen Mountains to form a link with the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the Yoldia Sea drops rapidly, by about thirty metres. This retreat is so sudden, and probably has such a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area, that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe.

8000 - 7100 BC

The Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer in the Baltics. Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bears, beavers, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south.

7100 - 5800 BC

The Boreal period sees the climate continue to warm and become drier. Pine forests decrease, allowing deciduous trees to gain a firmer foothold and become prevalent. The animal population thrives, with red deer, roe deer, and hares increasing considerably.

5800 - 2800 BC

The Atlantic period is characterised by a climate that is warmer than that of the present day. New species migrate into the Baltic region, including Baltic aurochs and wild boar, which inhabit forests of broad-leaved trees. Water chestnuts grow in the many lakes, and the bountiful life draws hunter-gatherers into the area. The warmness fails towards the end of this period, causing the disappearance of aurochs, wild horses, and water chestnuts.

c.3000 BC

The Comb Ceramic culture reaches Prussia, Latvia, Estonia and Finland as new peoples arrive from the east, almost certainly the Finno-Ugric tribes who form the later core of Finland and Estonia (Estonians, Finns, Livs, Karelians, Wots, Weps, and Ingrians). The early Neolithic culture seems to form on the basis of the previous Mesolithic cultures, but uses a greater variety of bone, antler and stone implements, and employs boring, drilling, and abrading skills. The Mesolithic Nemunas culture of southern Lithuania is replaced by the Neolithic Nemunas culture.

c.2500 BC

The Corded Ware culture (or Boat Axe culture) arrives in southern Finland, along the coastal regions, as well as in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, western Russia, Poland, northern Germany, Denmark, and southern Sweden. These new, probably early Indo-European, arrivals also have some domesticated animals and bring agriculture with them, although they continue to exist alongside universally-practised hunter-gather activities for some time. Both of these groups - foragers and farmers - form the proto-Baltic ancestors of the later Latvians and Lithuanians.

Lusatian Culture / Lausitz Culture (Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age)
c.1300 - 500 BC

The Late Bronze Age Lusatian culture incorporated elements of the second millennium Trzciniec culture and also served as a replacement for the eastern edges of Unetice culture. It covered all of modern Poland with extensions into modern Czechia and Slovakia, north-western Ukraine, and areas of central eastern Germany and eastern Pomerania. The border with what would later be East Prussia marked its farthest eastwards extent where it abutted Baltic culture.

In broad terms, the Lusatian (sometimes Lausatian) was an eastwards extension of the Urnfield culture, part of the Central European great cultural realm of Marija Gimbutas, and it shared roughly the same time span of existence. While the Urnfield developed into the Hallstatt of the early Celts, the Lusatian evolved directly into the subsequent Pomeranian culture, perhaps more directly influenced by the pervasive Scythian cultural intrusions of the eighth to sixth centuries BC. This brought Ponto-Caucasian oriental influences into direct contact with the previous Chernogorovka and Novocherkassk cultural elements of the Cimmerians and drove them into Romania, Hungary, and Moravia as they expanded their territory.

MapThe ethnic composition of the Lusatian people is questionable, but they would have pre-dated the arrival of Germanics into the region (view the map via the link, right, to see the presumed disposition of Germanic groups in relation to the people of the Lusatian). The historical region from which the culture gets its name is Lusatia, situated roughly in the centre of the earlier cultural region. Today it sits astride the border between Germany and Poland, split down the middle in 1945 by the Soviet conquerors of East Germany. The name derives from a Slavic word to describe swampy land which was coined by the Sorbs, a Slavic minority in eastern Germany.

(Additional information from External Link: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

c.900 BC

For the earlier phase of the Lusatian, the dead are largely cremated and their remains placed in urns for burial. Now begins a phase of inhumation burials, especially notable in Upper Silesia, which may reflect influence from the Urnfield culture. Cremation burials continue in other Lusatian areas.

Lusatian cremation urns
Cremation urns of the Kashubian Group, part of the Lusatian culture, which was the predominant method of disposing of the dead during the entire culture period

c.800 - 600 BC

This is the period of Scythian expansion from the Black Sea area into Central Europe. These steppe horsemen who appear in Romania, Hungary, and Moravia must be proto-Scythians, the successors of the south Russian Srubna culture of the Bronze Age who had constantly been pushing towards the west. They introduce eastern types of horse gear, oriental animal art, timber graves, and inhumation rites. Before entering Central Europe, they conquer the Cimmerians on the northern shores of the Black Sea and in the northern Caucasus, driving them out and dominating the northern Black Sea region.

There they acquire much of the Caucasian and Cimmerian cultural legacy and mix them with their own Ponto-Caucasian cultural elements. These oriental influences appreciably change the material culture of Central Europe. The Baltic and Germanic cultures in Northern Europe remain untouched by the Scythian incursions, but the new cultural elements reached them through continuous commercial relations with Central Europe.

c.600 - 500 BC

The Lusatian culture still persists in the first centuries of the Early Iron Age. The amber trade is not cut off and the Lusatians continue to be mediators between the Baltic and Germanic amber gatherers and the Hallstatt culture in the eastern Alpine area and, beginning in the seventh century, the Etruscans in Italy. Novelties such as bronze horse-gear comprising bridle-bits, cheek-pieces and ornamental plates, as well as the initial iron objects, are transmitted into the Baltic area by the Lusatians. However, the continuous Scythian raids eventually sap the energy out of the Lusatian and finally it buckles, to be replaced in the north by the Pomeranian culture.

Pomeranian Culture / Pomeralian Face-Urn Culture (Iron Age)
c.650 - 200 BC
Incorporating the Bell Grave Culture & Lampshade Grave Culture

The Iron Age Pomeranian culture evolved out of the preceding Lusatian culture around the middle of the seventh century BC. It occupied much the same territory as the Lusatian, but without the extension into eastern Germany and with a reach that eventually went further southwards. It is often linked to the Nordic Bronze Age, which appeared late in Scandinavia in comparison to the Continental European Bronze Age. It has also been linked (by Shchukin amongst others) to the Bastarnae, but that theory has fallen out of favour more recently. The border with what would later be East Prussia marked its farthest eastwards extent, with it abutting the culture of the western Baltic tribes beyond that although western Baltic tribes also played a part in the Face-Urn culture themselves.

As its alternative name suggests, the culture's prominent feature was the creation of burial urns with highly naturalistic and individual faces (the House Urn culture of central Germany was similar in some respects). Initially only vaguely-marked faces, by the fifth century BC they attained a classical shape. These 'face urns' were often deposited in stone cists (small stone 'coffins' or ossuaries). They also had lids made in the shape of various forms of hat and various scenes were incised onto their bodywork, such as chariot races, hunting, or riders. Brooches of the Certosa type (native to northern Italy) and necklaces of multiple bronze rings are typical examples of their metalwork.

The aforementioned southwards extension of this culture saw the Pomeranian absorb territory which had previously been part of the Wysoko and Milograd cultures. This brought changes to the Pomeranian itself. The fashionable face urns gradually lost their human features and developed into much more simplified versions. Only the depiction of a bead necklace around the neck and the sun symbol on the lid remained from the previously rich decoration with ornaments and symbolic scenes. In grave pits these simplified pear-shaped urns were covered with a large pot or sometimes with two or three pots stored one above the other. In view of this custom, some archaeologists have referred to the later Pomeranian as the Bell Grave culture or Lampshade Grave culture.

The Pomeranians cultivated cereal crops, with rye being added to these northern harvests for the first time. Imports from the south were generally lower, even though Greece and Italy both enjoyed blossoming cultures in this period. Warfare seems unlikely as an adequate reason as the region produced less hill forts now than the preceding Lusatians had done. Pomeranian culture was probably influenced by the Germanic groups of southern Scandinavia, at least in part, while a theory based on recent DNA evidence suggests the emergence of a pre-Slavic/Germanic mix which culturally influenced the later Western Slavs. Possibly this mix can be linked to the eighth century AD Dragovit, 'king of the Veleti' (Venedi), a form of northern or eastern Celt. The Pomeranian Face-Urn culture was eventually superseded by the Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Rome and the Barbarians in Central and Eastern Europe, 1st Century BC-1st Century AD: The End of the La Tene Period, M B Shchukin (BAR, 1989), and from External Link: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

c.500 BC

Despite Scythian raids which leave tell-tale archaeological signs such as spent arrowheads, the Pomeranian culture gradually begins to spread southwards, entering regions that had formerly been part of the Lusatian culture. It also permeates former Wysoko and Milograd culture regions, and in Masovia and Poland this mixture leads to the development of a group that produces bell-shaped burials, known as the Glockengräbergruppe.

Pomeranian jars
A Pomeranian/Face-Urn culture tomb chest constructed at a time of greater metallurgy skills but with weaker ceramic skills when compared to the previous Lusatian culture

c.400 BC

From around this period onwards various peoples pass through the region over the next eight hundred years, leaving their mark as they go. This starts with Celts of the La Tène who arrive in Bohemia and southern Poland, the northern limit of their expansion. This expansion is led by the Boii tribe which makes Bohemia its home for the next three centuries, but the same expansion also stops the Pomeranian Face-Urn culture from expanding any further south. Western and southern Poland have also been disrupted by Scythian raids, but these suddenly drop off around 400 BC, leaving the Face-Urn culture free to expand instead across the entire Vistula basin and to reach the upper Dniester in Ukraine, thereby bypassing the La Tène Celts.

By the time the Boii are being taken over by Germanic leaders in 8-6 BC, the Face-Urn has already faded. This may also be due in part to the appearance of fresh Germanic settlers on the southern Baltic coast around the same time, led by the Goths. The Baltic tribes remain mostly in the north-eastern corner of what is now Poland and especially in modern Kaliningrad, although they too are forced to retreat somewhat in the face of the Gothic settlement. Eventually the Face-Urn is replaced by the Oxhöft culture in northern Poland and the Przeworsk in the southern and central areas.

Oxhöft / Oksywie Culture & Przeworsk Culture (Iron Age)
c.200 - 1 BC & c.200 BC - AD 200

The Oxhöft culture appeared in the first half of the second century BC, succeeding the previous Pomeranian culture in modern northern Poland, mainly around the mouths of the Oder and Vistula. The Polish version of the name is Oksywie after the village in which the first archaeology for this period was discovered. New arrivals in the form of a migration seem to have created the culture, or brought elements of it with them. These people were probably either Scandinavians, or from the western-neighbouring Jastorf culture. The Rugii and Lemovii tribes are both included as contributors to this culture.

In central and southern Poland, the Przeworsk culture appeared at the same time. It was in part a continuation of the Pomeranian culture of the north, suggesting some southwards migration during the creation of the Oxhöft, but it also bore significant influence from the La Tène and Jastorf cultures. The Przeworsk is linked by some scholars to the migration and arrival of the Vandali (and others), although this alone may be too simplistic a way of interpreting the evidence.

East Germanic tribes migrated into Eastern Europe from Scandinavia (or more probably the Cimbric Peninsula). This much is known because they were present there over the next few centuries. Precisely when they migrated and from precisely where is open to a good deal of debate, but a period during the second century BC seems most likely. There is no archaeological evidence of a Scandinavian origin for the Przeworsk culture, but there is some evidence of an undetermined connection between north-western Europe (Jutland, Holstein, Mecklenburg) and central Poland, western Ukraine, and Moldova at the crossover from Early Pre-Roman Iron Age into the late period, during the second half of the third century BC. The nature of this connection is still the subject of study by a good many scholars from many northern and Eastern European countries, but it would seem to offer tentative support to a migration of early Germanic tribes from Jutland and surrounding environs.

(Additional information by Jes Martens and Edward Dawson.)

c.120 BC

Although there is no documentary evidence, it is generally accepted that the Vandali originate in southern Sweden or the Jutland peninsula. Around this time they migrate across the Baltic, arriving on the Pomeranian shores of what later becomes Poland, and soon settle in Silesia. This settlement may well result in the creation of the Przeworsk culture, and this follows them southwards in the third century when they migrate again.

Crossing the Rhine
The Vandali probably started in southern Scandinavia, before migrating into northern Poland, and then shifting southwards to form, or perhaps found, the Przeworsk culture

c.8 - 6 BC

Various Germanic tribes can be located within the area of the Przeworsk at this time, including the Lugii and Vandali, along with the Venedi. The Burgundians are also linked to the region prior to their migration. Arguments have existed for some time over whether the Przeworsk is the result of Germanic, proto-Slavic, or Celtic influence. The truth is probably that all three contribute. The Lugii especially are known to cross the boundary between Germanic and Celtic, while little is known of the proto-Slavs except that they first emerge between southern Poland and western Ukraine. Both Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures are replaced by the Willenberg culture.

Willenberg / Wielbark Culture (Iron Age)
c.AD 50 - 200

The Willenberg culture appeared relatively suddenly in the mid-first century AD, initially occupying a sort of no-man's land between the preceding Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures along the southern Baltic coast, the latter being sited in central and southern Poland. The new culture was located in the regions of eastern Pomeranian and northern Poland around the lower Vistula, but it quickly spread outwards. This was a Scandinavian culture which followed Germanic tribes as they migrated southwards from their original homelands in southern Sweden and Norway. The Willenberg eventually absorbed both the Oxhöft and Przeworsk cultures.

Willenberg (modern Wielbark) was a village in the territory of the Teutonic Knights between its initial conquest from the Old Prussians until 1466. Then it became part of the kingdom of Poland up until the First Partition of Poland in 1772. It was gained by Prussia and remained German until 1945. Today it is part of Poland again, but during its late German period, in 1873, a cemetery was uncovered by early archaeologists which contained 3,000 burials. These were attributed to the Goths and the Gepids, and they marked a clear break with, and replacement of, the Oxhöft culture.

c.AD 50 - 150

The generally peaceful arrival of Germanic peoples on the southern Baltic shores in the first and second centuries AD has a great impact on the Baltic population there, resulting in them moving towards eastern Lithuania. In all probability, due to the ethnic affinity of these peoples, peaceful relations are established. The appearance of various new groups of pottery testifies to the further merging of these ethnic groupings. The Scandinavian Willenberg culture which follows the line of the Vistula south from Pomerania replaces the native Oxhöft culture and is the earliest archaeological evidence for the Goths. To the north of the Goths are the Gepids and Scirii, with the Venedi to the east, the Burgundiones and Lugii to the south, and the Suevi and Rugii to the west.

Willenberg bracelet
This silver bracelet dates from the Group III burials (of a total of five groups)

c.AD 150 - 200

Perhaps due to pressure from the Baltic tribes (although overpopulation is also claimed), the Goths gradually renew their migration, now moving slowly southwards from the Oder and Vistula, heading on a path that will eventually take them into Ukraine. They take Willenberg culture with them, leaving traces along much of the Vistula in the later stages of the culture's existence. Once they reach Ukraine, their Willenberg culture merges with the indigenous Zarubintsy culture to form the Chernyakhiv culture.

By now Willenberg culture has also expanded outwards from its heartland along both banks of the lower Vistula to include first the northern Polish and Pomeranian coast to the west, and then turning southwards just short of the Oder to cover the north-western Polish regions. Elements of the Willenberg remains in these regions, along with many Germanic settlements. Together these form the Vidivarii.

Vidivarii / Vidivarian Culture (Iron Age)
c.AD 200 - 500

According to the sixth century Byzantine historian, Jordanes, the various Germanic tribes that had formed the preceding Willenberg culture, and which migrated southwards during the second century AD, left behind elements who remained in their adopted homeland. These fragments of tribes included the Gepids, Goths, Rugii, Scirii, and the Belgic (eastern) Venedi, and essentially they banded together. They were named the Vidivarii by Jordanes, who called them a melting pot of tribes who lived around the Vistula. Although they continued the Willenberg culture, differences were apparent, possibly due to outside influences such as the Balts of Lithuania, and Vidivarian culture is sometimes seen as a late continuance of the Willenberg rather than a smooth progression.

In support of Jordanes' naming of this culture and his description of them as a melting pot is a breakdown of the name. It is formed of two elements, these being 'wid', meaning 'far' (cognate with the English word 'wide',) and 'var/uar', meaning 'men', the Celtic word 'wiros' borrowed into Germanic. The new tribe or culture was formed from fragments of other tribes and its name seems to mean 'the men from far or wide travel', in the sense of men from all over the place, which makes sense if you look at their history of moving around.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, and from Getica, Jordanes, from History and Geography in Late Antiquity, Andrew H Merrills (2005), and from Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, Mayke De Jong, Frans Theuws, & Carine van Rhijn (2001).)


Under pressure from migrating Slavic groups, Western Balts begin to take over lands vacated by the Vidivarii in the east, up to the mouth of the Vistula. These Balts prosper in the sixth and seventh centuries, based as they are on an important trade route between the Baltic coast and the Black Sea. However, as the Old Prussians, they suffer badly in the thirteenth century.

Mouth of the Vistula
The Szkarpawa and Nogat rivers feed into the Vistula Lagoon, part of Vidivarii territory in the third and fourth centuries AD with Western Balts closing on the eastern side


From this point there appears to be a sudden appearance of large amounts of Roman coins in the region closest to the coastline, from Greater Poland to Pomerania, which is where the majority of the remaining East Germanics live. The suggestion is that with the breakdown of the Hunnic empire which releases its various subject Germanic tribes, elements of those tribes take the opportunity to return to their southern Baltic homeland of three centuries beforehand. To get there they pass through Silesia and Lusatia, regions that have been almost completely abandoned during the Hunnic invasion phase, as people migrated westwards to get away from the threat. From about 400 onwards, these areas are devoid of fresh layers of archaeology where it relates to human habitation.


By this time, West Slavic tribes are migrating into southern and central parts of later Poland, which they gradually dominate, slowly decreasing the land available to the Vidivarii. Nevertheless, the Vidivarii groups survive and retain a distinct cultural identity into the sixth century around the lower Vistula, and even later in Pomerania. To their south, focussed on Greater Poland, the Western Polans begin to migrate into the region, forming tribal settlements that grow into small tribal kingdoms.

Western Polans (Slavs)
5th Century AD - AD 962
Incorporating the Lendians, Polans, Slezans, & Vistulans

The Polans were a West Slavic tribe, also known as Polanes, or Polanians. By the eight century AD they were occupying the Warta river basin in the Greater Poland region. They were neighboured to the east by the Masovians (who formed the later eastern central Polish region of Mazovia), to the south-east by the Vistulans (in Lesser Poland) and then the Lendians (in East Lesser Poland, not far from Lviv in Ukraine), to the south by the Slezans (Silesians), to the west by the Sorbs, and to the north by the Pomeranians. There were also Balts in the north-east, and the Venedi along the Vistula, and all of these were either later incorporated into the Polish state, or retreated to Lithuania, or were conquered and largely obliterated by the Teutonic Knights.

The Polan tribe's name appears to originate with the Slavic word for field, 'polje', which defines a wide flat plain in an area of karst, or soluble bedrock such as limestone. They were part of the Lechtic language group of West Slavs which occupied much of eastern and Central Europe, including Poland, eastern Germany, Bohemia and Moravia. They are not to be confused with the Eastern Polans who occupied territory near Kiev and who participated in the creation of the Rus.

Legendarily, the Polans first formed a state of some kind in the mid-sixth century, under Lech, brother of the equally legendary Czech and Rus, 'founders' of Bohemia and the Rus respectively. Population pressures on the Pontic steppe had been growing, with the invasion of the Huns in the late fourth century providing possibly the first major impetus for Slavic migration northwards to escape. Invasions by the Avars in the early sixth century and then the creation of the Bulgar empire in the early seventh century did the rest. Slav migration by then was in full swing, heading northwards and putting pressure in the Baltic peoples who occupied a large swathe of this territory. The West Slavic tribes largely avoided them by heading further west, while the East Slavic tribes veered off to the east. As for Lech, the dates shown for this early 'duke of Poland' and his immediate, unverifiable successors are rough approximations, and their names are given a lilac backing. In general, where events given below are dated they can be treated as historical fact or general estimates worked out from archaeological evidence, while events without dates relate to traditional, legendary storytelling.

The 'Lechtic' frame of reference used for the West Slav language group is largely assumed to be based on the legendary Lech mentioned above. Sometimes used in history as a name to describe Poland itself, especially by peoples to the east and south of Poland, Lechia is more likely a remembrance of the Lendian tribe of East Poland. The Old Norse knew this region as Laesir. Also linked to the Lendian name (or to Lech) is a mythical super-state by the name of the 'Kingdom of Lechia', claimed as existing since at least 700 BC, being in contact with the early Roman emperors, and perhaps extending all the way eastwards to the far edge of Siberia. Unfortunately for its supporters it is a complete fantasy.

(Additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from Geography, Ptolemy, from The Earliest Icelandic Chronicle of the Norwegian Kings (1030-1157), Theodore Murdock Andersson & Kari Ellen Gade Morkinskinna, and from External Link: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

5th century

Pushed to migrate northwards by the Hunnic empire, Slavs first enter central Poland towards the later part of the century, filling the void left by the greater part of the departed East Germanic tribes in regions such as Galicia, Lusatia and Silesia. Masuria is also reoccupied, by the West Baltic tribe of the Galindians, after parts of it have been abandoned by the Vidivarii and their preceding Willenberg culture ancestors. Parts of the Galindians establish the regionally significant Olsztyn group, which includes horse burials along with its dead, and a large array of sophisticated bronze, silver and gold items gained through extensive trade in all directions. These Slav populations are still neighboured to the north by surviving Vidivarii populations.

6th century

The West Slavs of Poland gradually subjugate the remaining Germanic populations in the north of the region. It is in the early part of this century that isolated remains from cultures influenced by Rome last appear, mostly the remnants of Germanic tribes that have traded directly or obliquely with the former empire. Germanic populations survive in Pomerania.

Lech, Czech and Rus
The legendary brothers, Lech, Czech and Rus, were the eponymous founders of the Polish, Czech and Russian nations, shown here in Viktor Vasnetsov's 'Warriors', 1898

The Polans occupy the central region of Greater Poland, and during this century a dominant kingship appears to emerge. Its early rulers are legendary, probably created by later generations to confirm the royal family's ancient pedigree (these names are shown with a shaded background). The figures from Popiel onwards would seem to represent real rulers.

Lech / Lechus I

Eponymous mid-sixth century founder of the Poles.

Lech is the legendary mid-sixth century figure to whom the title of duke is first given. From him the country derives the name Lechia, by which it is apparently still known in the tenth century (especially in states to the east and south), and which remains in use much later with the Tartars. His people are called Polechia, or the children of Lech. He is credited with founding Gnesa and Posna.



The legendary Viscimir is the probable successor to Lech, although it is also claimed that Lech's son rules after him, or that the most eligible noble is selected (which could easily be Viscimir himself, perhaps after a successional conflict with Lech's son). Viscimir is credited with conquering vast amounts of territory, including the heart of Denmark, although he is not mentioned at all by Danish chroniclers.

Cracus / Gracus I

Wealthy noble selected to rule. Founded Cracow.

Cracus / Gracus II

Eldest son. Elected to rule, but soon murdered by his brother.

8th century

By this century, small Slavic states are beginning to emerge, and these coalesce and expand over the course of the next century. Western Balts also occupy regions of Poland, mostly around the lower Vistula. Two tribes named by Ptolemy in the mid-second century, the Galindai and Soudinoi, survive as the Galindians (in Masuria and the northern fringes of Mazovia) and the Sudovians or Yotvingians into the eleventh century, before being absorbed into Poland. These Western Balts are survived by their kinfolk, the later Old Prussians. Yotvingian territory is largely absorbed into what is now the Polish Podlaskie Voivodeship, although outlying parts now fall within the borders of Lithuania and part of Hrodna province of Belarus.

c.700 - ?

Lech II (the Fratricide)

Brother. Deposed when his crime was discovered.

fl c.750

Wenda / Venda / Vanda

Daughter. A 'Virgin Queen'. Committed suicide.

Wenda successfully defends her country from an invading Teutonic prince named Rudiger who is demanding her hand in marriage. Upon his defeat he falls on his sword, and Wenda is soon overcome with gloom and depression at the loss of such a noble figure. She attends a sacrifice to the gods and immediately throws herself from the bridge into the Vistula. The surrounding country is apparently named Vandalia in her honour, although the name is actually used well before this date (a remembrance of Vandali occupation in this region, perhaps). A period of division and internecine strife follows.

? - c.760

Lesko I

Premislaus, a 'private soldier'. Died without an heir.

c.760 - 810

Lesko II

A former peasant, and a good and strong ruler.

c.810 - 815

Lesko III


fl c.830

Popiel I / Pepelek / Pompilius / Osserich

Son. Founded Cruswitz.

The (legendary) Popielids rule the Polans during the first half of the ninth century. The last of them is the cruel Popiel II, who is ousted from power owing to his poor rule of the Polans and Goplans, including his failure to defend the land from Viking attacks. He is replaced by Piast, whose name suggests that his family had previously been stewards or mayors of the palace. Like their Frankish counterparts, the Carolingian mayors, the Piasts seize control.

fl c.830 - c.842

Popiel (II)

Son. Last of the Popielid rulers of the Polans.


The earliest of the Piasts known in any source is Chościsko. He is mentioned in the first Polish Chronicle, Cronicae et gesta ducum sive principum Polonorum (The Deeds of the Princes of Poland) by Gallus Anonymus. It dates to the early twelfth century and is therefore a far from reliable source, although Anonymus may have access to earlier material which has not survived. Chościsko's son is Piast, who is the first of the early Piast rulers of the tribes of the Polans and Goplans. He and the subsequent three princes of early Poland are of dubious certainty. However, it is they, or their historical counterparts, who begin the process of uniting the other West Slavic tribes in the region into a single state. The village of Giecz is the main centre of this early Polish state.

c.842 - 860

Piast Kolodziej (the Wheelwright)

Son of Chościsko. Former mayor of the 'palace'?

860 - 892

Siemowit / Ziemowit


892 - 921

Lesko / Leszek / Lestko IV



Although Leszek's existence is debatable, the tribes within later Poland become known as the Lestkowici during this period. Either his name is a fiction to provide an origin for the Lestkowici, or they confirm his historical existence.

921 - 962

Siemomysl / Zeinomislaus

Son. Died c.960 or 962.


Gniezno becomes one of the main fortresses of the early Piasts. It is possible that Siemomysl begins the subjugation of the Masovians. This is completed either by him or by his successor.

Map of Germany AD 962
Germany in AD 962 may have had its new emperor to govern the territories shown within the dark black line, but it was still a patchwork of competing interests and power bases, most notably in the five great stem duchies, many of which were attempting to expand their own territories outside the empire, creating the various march or border regions to the east (competing against Polish interests) and south (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The successor of Siemomysl is his son, Mjeczislas, or Mieszko, the first documented ruler of the Polans. He is also the figure responsible for uniting several of the West Slavic tribes of the region, including the Masovians and Pomeranians, and he forms a duchy that is quickly elevated to a kingdom of Poland.

Duchy & Kingdom of Poland (Piast)
AD 962 - 1370

MapThe rule of the (legendary) Prince Piast in Great Poland began began a process of unification in the West Slavic region that would become modern Poland. Under the Piasts of the Polans tribe of Slavs, first a duchy and then a kingdom were formed. Mieszko Piast became the first documented ruler of Poland when he accepted Christianity into the newly created state in 966. At this time, the Polish state encompassed territory similar to that of modern Poland, but without many of the northern regions which were still tribal. Mieszko was also termed 'King of the Wends', the name for West Slavs. His son, Boleslaw I (born circa 966), temporarily extended the Polish realm over Lusatia, Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia.

Poland was declared a kingdom on at least two occasions by its great princes, and the throne was occupied for a time by Bohemian kings on a third occasion, but for the most part, the great princes ruled as dukes of Poland in between periods of confusion and counter-claims for the ducal throne. To clearly differentiate between them, kings are shown in green. From 964, there were two capitals, at Gniezno and Poznan.

(Additional information by Krzysiek Popończyk, and from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America).)

962 - 992

Mjeczislas / Mieszko I Piast

Son. First documented prince of Poland. Dynasty founder.


Having formed a unified Polish state which includes Mazovia and Pomerania, Mieszko I accepts baptism, followed by the building of churches and the establishment of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. He sees baptism as a way of strengthening his hold on power, with the active support he can expect from the bishops, as well as it being a unifying force for the Polish people.

The Baptism of Poland by Jan Matejko
The Baptism of Poland, by Jan Matejko in 1888-1889, portrays a romanticised version of the acceptance of Christianity by King Mieszko on behalf of his people in 966


Galicia is mentioned by Nestor, who describes the passage of Volodymyr of the Rus in 981 as he enters into Poland and claims this region for his own. This would seem to be the Lyakhs whom the Russian Primary Chronicle states that he defeats, taking their towns of Peremyshl, Cherven, and others, all of which are subject to the Rus (at least until 1018).


The next target for Volodymyr of the Rus is the Radimichs. He meets them River Pishchan' and overcomes them. The Radimichs are counted as a division of the Lyakhs (possibly to be identified as Poles). They had migrated eastwards to settle in regions which lay alongside the Rus lands, and now they are forced to pay tribute to the Rus.

992 - 1024

Boleslaw I Chobry (the Brave)

Son. Succeeded 25 May. Elevated to king in 1024.


The period in which Boleslaw succeeds to the ducal throne is a confused one. Some sources claim that his step-mother and brothers act as his regents for a short time (no longer than 992-995), while others state that in traditional Piast fashion the new ruler sees them as potential rivals and banishes all three of them almost immediately after gaining power. Either way, he is undisputed ruler of Poland in 992 (Greater Poland, Galicia, Mazovia, Kuiavia, and parts of Pomerania, forming something close to the modern Polish territory), as Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, requests his military aid later that year.



Step-mother. Regent or rival?



Half-brother of Boleslaw. Regent or rival?



Half-brother of Boleslaw. Regent or rival?

992 - 995


In Pomerania.


St Adalbert of Prague, sent by the Pope into Prussian lands to convert the pagans, is escorted by soldiers granted to him by Boleslaw. Adalbert is executed for sacrilege, and Boleslaw begins a series of unsuccessful attempts at conquering the Prussians.


On 7 to 15 March the Congress of Gniezno (the capital of Poland) is held. The German Emperor Otto III establishes an archbishopric in Gniezno with three new bishoprics in Krakow (Cracow) for Little Poland, Wroclaw for Silesia, and Kolobrzeg for Pomerania, plus the reaffirmation of the old bishopric in Poznan.

Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia
Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia had been home to many people before the creation of the kingdom of Poland, from the Celtic Naharvali tribe to the Germanic Vandali, and then early Slav immigrants


Upon Otto III's death, Boleslaw takes over Lusatia and the march of Meissen, border territory between Poland and Thuringia.

1003 - 1004

Boleslaw becomes duke of Bohemia (although this conflicts with the Bohemian list of rulers). The title brings with it Moravia and Slovakia.


A peace treaty is signed in Budziszyn with Emperor Heinrich II (Henry II the Saint) - ratifying Poland's control over Lusatia and Meissen (as well as Galicia). In the same year, Germany and Hungary support an expedition against Kiev, and Boleslaw defeats his son-in-law's enemy there, taking over 'Grody Czerwieńskie'. This is possibly the Cherven towns which include the town of Peremyshl of the Lyachs which had been conquered by St Vladimir the Great of the Rus in 981.

1024 - 1025

FeatureBoleslaw declares the Polish kingdom on 25 December 1024, with the blessing of Pope John XIX, and is crowned on 18 April 1025 in Gniezno. The capital remains divided between Gniezno and Poznan.

1024 - 1025

Boleslaw I the Brave

King. Died 17 June, just two months after his coronation.

1025 - 1031

Mieszko II Lambert

King. Son. Crowned on 25 December.

1031 - 1032


Prince of Poland, probably in Krakow or Silesia, Oct-Spring.

1031 - 1032


Sub-prince, probably in Krakow or Silesia, Oct-Spring.


Mieszko II Lambert

Restored, spring to Jul only.


Poland is partitioned three ways, with Otto probably gaining Silesia or Krakow, Dytryk (Deitrich) probably in Pomerania, and Mieszko II probably in Great Poland, Mazovia, and Kuiavia. Kiev gains Galicia.

1033 - 1034

Mieszko II Lambert

Restored, until 10/11 May 1034.

1034 - 1038

The rule of Poland becomes confusing and may cease entirely between these dates, leaving no overall authority coordinating the minor duchies. One name is mentioned as a ruler in this period, that of Boleslaw Zapomniany, but his existence is doubtful. He could be a later addition simply to plug the gap and show a continuous monarchy. The mention of Kazimierz may be a sign of his first attempt to restore a unified Polish crown.


Boleslaw Zapomniany



Kazimierz I / Casimir I the Restorer

1038 - 1039?

Boleslaw Zapomniany



The Polish 'state' collapses into anarchy. The Pagan Rebellion involves many minor princes, none of whose names or territories are known, except for Mieclaw of Mazovia. In summer 1039, Kazimierz I Karol Odnowiciel, 'the Restorer', gains control of Greater Poland and Kuiavia, gaining with it the title of prince of Poland.

During the period of anarchy, Duke Brestislav I of Bohemia captures, plunders and destroys the cities Gniezno and nearby Poznan in 1038. As a result, Kazimierz I moves the Polish capital to Krakow.

1039 - 1058

Kazimierz I / Casimir I the Restorer

Prince of Poland.

1039 - 1050

Kazimierz I gains control of Krakow and Lesser Poland, and makes Krakow his new capital. In 1040 or 1041 he gains control of Mazovia, and in 1047, Silesia, although perhaps only fully here in 1050.

1058 - 1076

Boleslaw II Smialy / Szczodry (the Bold)

1058 - 1065


Possibly sub-prince in Kuiavia, Sieradz, and Leczyca.

1076 - 1079

A renewed Polish kingdom is declared on 25 December 1076. However, just three years later, it is reduced once more to a duchy upon the expulsion of Boleslaw II. The bewildering array of subsequent claimants to be the senior ruler of Poland during this period makes it very hard to judge just who holds authority in the country.

1076 - 1079

Boleslaw II Smialy / Szczodry (the Bold)

King. Formerly duke of Poland. Restored Gniezno .Expelled.

1079 - 1080

Archbishop Petrus Leczyc

Regent from June onwards.

1079 - 1102

Wladyslaw I Herman

Brother of Boleslaw II. Prince of Poland. Abdicated.


The capital is moved to Plock, which is retained until 1138.

Plock Cathedral
The bishopric in Płock was founded about 1075, but the present cathedral was built after 1129, replacing one that existed by 1102



Duke of Bohemia and pretender to the Polish throne.

1086 - 1089


Wladyslaw's co-ruler. Died 1089.

1093 - 1096


Illegitimate son of Wladyslaw I. Co-ruler.

1097 - 1102


Co-ruler for the second time.

1097 - 1102

Boleslaw III Krzywousty

Son of Wladyslaw I & Judith of Bohemia. Co-ruler.

1102 - 1138

Boleslaw III Krzywousty

Senior prince, Greater Poland, Silesia, & Lesser Poland.

1107 - 1108


Co-ruler for third time, in Greater Poland, Kuiavia & Mazovia.


Boleslaw III gains overall control in areas of Pomerania.


On 28 October, Poland is divided into several principalities: Great Poland, Mazovia, Kujavia, Silesia, and Sandomierz. Little Poland is reserved for the senior Polish prince in Krakow, who is nominal overlord for all the principalities until 1180. Further subdivisions occur throughout the next two centuries.

1138 - 1146

Wladyslaw II Wygnaniec (the Exile)

Senior prince of Poland, and duke of Silesia.

1141 - 1146

Boleslaw IV, duke of Mazovia, rebels against Wladyslaw II between 1141-1143, and again from 1144-1146, securing the position of senior prince for himself.

1146 - 1173

Boleslaw IV Kedzierzawy (the Curly)

Senior prince & duke of Mazovia.


Boleslaw IV attacks the Prussians with the aid of Russian troops, but is unable to conquer them.

1173 - 1177

Mieszko III Stary (the Old)

Duke of Greater Poland.

1173 - 1177

Henryk Kietlicz

Provincial governor for Mieszko III.

1177 - 1191

Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy (the Just)


Mieszko III Stary (the Old)




A governor for Mieszko.

1191 - 1194

Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy (the Just)


1194 - 1198

Leszek I Bialy (the White)

1194 - 1198



1194 - 1198



1194 - 1198


Regent and bishop of Cracow.


Mieszko III Stary opposes Leszek I as senior prince. It takes a further three years before he is restored.

1198 - 1199?

Mieszko III Stary (the Old)

Restored for a second time.


Leszek I Bialy (the White)

Restored in opposition to Mieszko III.



Restored as regent.



Restored as regent.



Bishop of Cracow. Restored as regent.

1198/99 - 1202

Mieszko III Stary (the Old)

Restored for a third time. Also duke of Greater Poland.


Mieszko III is briefly expelled before being restored (for a fourth time), but again, in 1202, he is replaced by his constant rival.


Leszek I Bialy (the White)

Restored for a second time.

1202 - 1206?

Wladyslaw III Laskonogi (Spindleskanks)

Duke of Greater Poland.

1206 - 1210

Leszek I Bialy (the White)

Restored for a third time.

1209 - 1222

Under Prince Konrad I of Mazovia, attempts to conquer the Prussians are intensified, with large battles and crusades taking place in 1209, 1219, 1220, and 1222.

Prince Konrad of Mazovia
Prince Konrad of Mazovia challenged continually for control of Poland, finally achieving his purpose in 1241. He was also responsible for inviting the Teutonic Knights into Prussia

1210 - 1211

Mieszko Platonogi

Duke of Silesia. Died 1211.

1211 - 1227

Leszek I Bialy (the White)

Restored for a fourth time. The last senior prince.


The position of senior prince is abandoned. The prince of Krakow now holds nominal control of Poland.

1227 - 1228

Boleslaw V Wstydliwy (the Chaste)

Son of Leszek I.

1227 - 1228


Mother and regent.

1228 - 1231

Wladyslaw III Laskonogi (Spindleskanks)

Restored. Now prince of Greater Poland.

1228 - 1229

Henryk I Brodaty (Bearded) of Silesia

Provincial governor for Wladyslaw III.


Prince Konrad I of Mazovia invites the Teutonic Knights to settle in the Lower Vistula on the border with the Prussians, who have been ravaging Mazovia, which straddles the Vistula between the heartland of Poland and Prussia (and occasionally includes the Prussian region of Chełmno). The Order attempts to Christianise the pagan Prussians and form its own military-religious state (known as the Ordenstaat) which it governs for the next three hundred years.


Konrad I Mazowiecki

Prince of Mazovia. in opposition to Wladyslaw III.

1229 - 1230/31

Marek Gryfita

Provincial governor for Wladyslaw III.

1229 - 1241

Prince Konrad of Mazovia opposes Wladyslaw III in 1229 and 1231, and then his successor, Henryk I, in 1233. Only in 1241 is he successful in becoming the senior ruler in Poland.


Teodor (Czader) Gryfita

Provincial governor for Wladyslaw III.


Konrad I Mazowiecki

Prince of Mazovia. in opposition to Wladyslaw III.

1231 - 1238

Henryk I Brodaty (the Bearded) of Silesia

Previously a provincial governor (1228).


Konrad I Mazowiecki

Prince of Mazovia. in opposition to Henryk I.

1238 - 1241

Henryk II Pobozny (the Pious)



Boleslaw (II) Rogatka

Between Apr-Jul only.


Klemens z Ruszczy Gryfita

Provincial governor for Boleslaw (II).

1241 - 1242

The Mongols of Batu Khan's Golden Horde, aided by Subedei, turn their attention to Poland and Hungary. Both are conquered, with European defeats at Liegnitz and the River Sajo (the Battle of Mohi). Austria, Dalmatia, and Moravia also fall under Mongol domination, and the tide seems unstoppable. However, the death of Ogedei Khan causes the Mongols to withdraw, with Batu Khan intent on securing his conquests in the lands of the Rus.

1241 - 1243

Konrad I Mazowiecki

Prince of Mazovia.

1243 - 1279

Boleslaw V Wstydliwy (the Chaste)


1279 - 1288

Leszek II Czarny (the Black)


Konrad (II) Czerski


1288 - 1288/89

Boleslaw (II) Plocki

From Oct 1288 to the end of 1288 or start of 1289.

1288 - 1289

Henryk IV Prawy (Probus)



Wladyslaw restores the fragmented Polish monarchy. As such he is often numbered as the first Wladyslaw by later historians, ignoring the first three, while others include them, numbering this Wladyslaw as the fourth. Both sets of numbering are shown here from this point forwards.

In 1289, Wladyslaw gains power for the first time, albeit briefly. Between April and 13 October 1292 he is a pretender, and is styled 'Heir of Krakow' from January 1293. From 10 March 1296, this changes to 'Duke of the Polish Kingdom'. He is pretender to Krakow until 18 November 1297 and in 1305 gains the throne again, for just two months. Two further periods of rule follow, in 1306-1311 and 1312-1320, until finally, in 1320, he is proclaimed king.


Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek (the Short)

Feb-Oct only.

1289 - 1290

Henryk IV Prawy (Probus)

second time

1290 - 1296

The capital is moved briefly back to Plock until 1296, when Poznan takes over.

1291 - 1300

Waclaw II

Wenceslas II of Bohemia (1283-1305).

1292 - 1296

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek (the Short)

Pretender, styled 'Heir of Krakow'.

1293 - 1294

Kazimierz (II) Leczycki

Pretender, styled 'Heir of Krakow'.

1296 - 1297

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek (the Short)

Pretender, styled 'Duke of the Polish Kingdom'.


Waclaw is crowned king of Poland.

1300 - 1305

Waclaw II


1301 - 1309

Henryk I (III) Glogowczyk

Pretender, styled 'Heir of the Polish Kingdom'.


Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek

Restored, Jun-Jul only.

1305 - 1306

Waclaw III

Restored. Assassinated.

1306 - 1311

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek

Restored for a second time.


Boleslaw I

Rebelled, Apr-Jun only. Died 1313.

1312 - 1320

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek

Restored for a third time.


On 20 January, all of Poland (except for Silesia, Pomerania, and Mazovia) is reunited into the Polish kingdom with the coronation of Wladyslaw.

1320 - 1333

Wladyslaw I Lokietek


1333 - 1370

Kasimierz / Casimir III Wielki (the Great)

King. The last Piast.


Galicia (and all of Red Ruthenia) is finally reclaimed by Kasimierz III when the kingdom is partitioned by him and Lithuania. The region remains tied to the Polish crown until 1772.


Kasimierz dies leaving only female issue and a grandson - Louis the Great of Hungary. The succession has already been agreed in advance, so Louis is able to claim the throne.

Kingdom of Poland (Anjou-Hungary)
AD 1370 - 1386

Upon the extinction of the Piast main line, kingship became elective, but de facto the Diet selected kings in hereditary order until 1572. In practise, during the fifteen years of Hungarian rule, power was held by the mother of Louis the Great, Elizabeth of Poland, the dowager queen of Hungary until her death in 1380. Elizabeth was the daughter of Wladyslaw I (IV) of the Piast dynasty, which is how her son was able to establish his claim to the throne.

Something that had emerged from around the tenth century onwards was a sense of relative liberalism in Poland. The state had ensured a stable period of religious tolerism and social autonomy which had encouraged the settlement within the kingdom of a sizable Jewish population. This increased along with the kingdom's borders, especially during the Poland-Lithuania commonwealth period. Poland became the European centre of Jewish culture, while England and Spain were expelling their own Jews (in 1290 and 1492 respectively).

1370 - 1382

Louis / Ludwik I Wegierski (the Great)

King of Hungary (1342-1382).

1370 - 1377

Elzbieta / Elizabeth of Bosnia

Wife and regent, with a break between 1375-1376.

1377 - 1378

Wladyslaw Opolczyk

Regent, winter 1377-28 Mar 1378.

1378 - 1380

Elzbieta / Elizabeth of Bosnia

Regent, 28 Mar 1378-29 Dec 1380.

1380 - 1382

Zawisza Kurozweki

Regent, 29 Dec 1380-12 Jan 1382. Bishop of Krakow. Died 1382.

1380 - 1382

Dobislaw z Krakow

Acting regent, 29 Dec 1380-11 Sep 1382.

1380 - 1382

Sendziwog Szubin z Kalisz

Acting regent, 29 Dec 1380-11 Sep 1382.

1382 - 1383

Zygmunt Luksemburski (of Luxembourg)

Elector Sigismund of Brandenburg, pretender, 12 Jan- Oct?

1382 - 1384

Dobislaw z Krakow

Regent, 11 Sep 1382-16 Oct 1384.

1382 - 1384

Sendziwog Szubin z Kalisz

Joint regent, 11 Sep 1382-16 Oct 1384.

1383 - 1384

Siemowit (IV)

Pretender, 28 Mar 1383 – 6 Oct 1384.


Jadwiga is the daughter of Louis the Great, but she is also the granddaughter of Wladyslaw I (IV), and thereby a Piast descendant on the female side. When her father dies, she is crowned 'king of Poland'.

Louis I of Hungary
Louis I of Hungary was a Piast descendent on his mother's side, and therefore a rightful claimant to the Polish throne

1383 - 1386

Jadwiga of Anjou

Dau of Louis the Great. m Wladyslaw V Jagiello.


The Union of Kreva is agreed. It later becomes a personal union between Lithuania and Poland, when Jogaila has to marry Queen Jadwiga, and accept Catholic Christianity.

Kingdom of Poland (Jagiellan)
AD 1386 - 1569

The Union of Kreva (Krewo) was agreed by Grand Prince Jogaila of Lithuania as the only certain way to halt the crusading attacks on his country by Poland, the Teutonic Knights and Moscow. The union included the offer of the Polish throne in return for the Christianisation of the Lithuanians (and also in part because this would diminish the power of the Teutonic Knights), and in 1386 Jogaila became king of Poland under the name Wladyslaw Jagiello. His marriage to Queen Jadwiga sealed the union between the two countries, beginning four hundred years of Polish-Lithuanian cooperation.

Wladyslaw I (IV) restored the fragmented Piast Polish monarchy and as such he is often numbered as the first Wladyslaw by later historians, ignoring the first three, while others include them, numbering this Wladyslaw as the fourth. Both sets of numbering are shown here for all subsequent Wladyslaws.

1386 - 1434

Wladyslaw II (V) Jagiello / Jogaila

Grand duke of Lithuania. Founder of Jagiellan dynasty.

1386 - 1399

Jadwiga of Anjou

Ruled kingdom jointly with her husband.


Vytautas is successful in gaining Jogaila's concession of power in Lithuania, and rules the country as great prince, while Jogaila concentrates on his Polish domains.


The Teutonic Knights of East Prussia are crushed at the Battle of Tannenberg by Polish and Lithuanian forces under Jogaila's leadership, halting the eastward expansion of the Knights. After this defeat, the Livonian Order begins to weaken and disintegrate.

1429 - 1430

At the assembly of eastern and Central European leaders, held in Lutsk, Ukraine, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund von Luxembourg offers Lithuania a crown. In 1430, protests are made by the Polish Royal Council in their efforts to deny Lithuania crown status. Poland refuses passage to the emperor's envoys and their offering of a crown to Lithuania. The coronation of Vytautas in Vilnius fails and he dies very soon afterwards.

1434 - 1444

Wladyslaw III (VI) / Vlaidslav I Jagiello

Wladyslav VI of Hungary (1440-1444).

1444 - 1446

There is an interregnum in the rule of the country until Grand Duke Casimir of Lithuania gains the throne of Poland as Casimir IV, as well as retaining command of the grand duchy. The union of two thrones is renewed on a personal basis (except between 1492-1501).

1446 - 1492

Kazimierz / Casimir IV

Grand duke of Lithuania (1440-1492).

1454 - 1466

As a Lithuanian, Kazimierz is well aware of the part that the Teutonic Knights have played in continued attacks against his homeland up until the start of the fifteenth century, and perhaps this now partly motivates him in pursuing the Thirteen Year War against them. Ostensibly the reason for the war is the domination of Prussia, which Poland is determined to control. During the war, Poland takes Pomerania and Danzig (modern Gdansk), and the Knights end up as their vassals.


From within the duchy of Mazovia, Belz, Gostynin, and Rawa are annexed by Poland. Further Mazovian territories follow over the course of the next half century or so.


The Lithuanian Jagiello dynasty gains control of Bohemia in the form of Ladislas II. His successor is a member of the same dynasty.

1492 - 1501

John / Jan I Albert



Fryderyk Jagiellonczyk

Jun-Oct. Archbishop of Gniezno, & interrex (senate chairman).

1501 - 1506


Brother. Also grand duke of Lithuania.


The Constitution of 31 May eliminates royal legislative powers.

1507 - 1548

Zygmunt I Stary (the Old) / Sigismund I

Brother. Also grand duke of Lithuania.


The monastic state of the Teutonic Knights is secularised during the Protestant Reformation and replaced with a duchy in East Prussia. The last great master of the Teutonic Knights agrees to resign his position, convert to Lutheran Protestantism, and submit to Polish suzerainty in order to govern his new state, which becomes the first Protestant state in Europe.


Following a devastating defeat at the Battle of Mohács and the death of Louis, the Jagiellos lose Hungary and Bohemia to the Habsburgs. The defeat effectively destroys the dynasty's dream of effecting the 'Jaigello dynasty idea' wherein Lithuania, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary are drawn together in union. The dream lives on in a more modest form for some years but is never realised.

1548 - 1569

Zygmunt II / Sigismund II Augustus

Son. Also grand duke of Lithuania.


The Livonian Knights are dissolved and the Polish-Lithuanian king gains all of their lands: the southern regions of Estonia and the rest of Old Livonia. North Estonia surrenders voluntarily to the Swedes.


Duke John of Finland has opposed the reign of his half-brother, Eric XIV of Sweden. For this he is imprisoned in this year, only to be subsequently released, probably due to Eric's increasing insanity. John rejoins the opposition and deposes Eric, becoming king himself in 1568. Princess Catherine, daughter of Zygmunt I Stary (the Old), becomes queen consort of Sweden and grand princess of Finland.


The union of Poland and Lithuania, the Lublin Union, already existing in fact if not name for over a century, is formalised. Sigismund becomes king of Poland-Lithuania.

Kingdom of Poland & Lithuania / The Commonwealth
AD 1569 - 1795

The Union of Lublin (or the Accord of Lublin), was a formal joining together of Poland and Lithuania, Ruthenia (a Latinisation of 'Rus', the Lithuanian-controlled Slavic lands to the east, which now form parts of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, with minor extensions into Poland and Slovakia), plus Livonia, Polotsk, and Samogitia. It was ratified on 4 July 1569 by Sigismund II Augustus, establishing the Commonwealth of Poland (or more technically, the United Commonwealth of the Two Nations, Rzeczpospolita, or Rech Pospolitaya). Sigismund became ruler of a united Poland and Lithuania, although the form of the union was more that of a federal state, with a jointly elected leader who would be crowned in Krakow. The state would have a joint senate and unified international politics. Lithuanian landowners received the right to own land in Poland, and vice versa. Both states preserved their own treasuries, state officials, separate armies, and military hierarchy.

(Additional information from The Formation of Muscovy 1304-1613, Robert O Crummey.)

1569 - 1572

Sigismund II Augustus

King of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania.


With the death of Sigismund II, the power to elect the king moves from the Diet to the nobility in its entirety. The election of a king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania is carried out jointly, but the management of any interregnum is still a separate matter.

The death of Sigismund II
The death of Sigismund II Augustus, the last hereditary Lithuanian ruler of Poland as depicted by Jan Matejko, which signalled the end of Lithuania's independence from Poland

1572 - 1576

The kingdom occupies the principality of Transylvania.

1573 - 1574

Henry of Valois

Non-dynastic. King of France (1574-1589). Left Poland 1574.

1575 - 1586

Stefan / Stephen Bathory


1582 - 1583

An armistice agreement is concluded between Russian czar Ivan the Terrible and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom proclaiming Livonia a possession of the latter. In 1583, Russia concludes a similar agreement with Sweden, acknowledging its supreme power in North Estonia, ending the Livonian Wars.


The duchy of Courland has officially remained a possession of the Danes until now, when it is sold to Poland-Lithuania.

1587 - 1632

Zygmunt III / Sigismund III Vasa

Son of King John III of Sweden. Also king of Sweden (1592-1604).


Sigismund III inherits the Swedish throne from his late father, but his inflexible politics and passionate Catholicism causes opposition from the Swedish Protestant population, forcing the king to return to Poland. He does not relinquish his claim to the throne, however, which leads to conflict.

1599 - 1604

In the absence of Sigismund III, the Swedish Diet elects his uncle, Karl, duke of Södermanland, to be the new ruler. In 1604 he is crowned, but by then hostilities are already underway between Sweden and Poland-Lithuania. The First Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629) sees Swedish troops assembled in Tallinn in order to attack Livonia, but instead the army suffers significant losses at Cesis and Koknes, in spite of the fact that Poland-Lithuania's main forces are fighting the Ottomans. The Swedes are driven out of Livonia in 1601. Further attacks on Riga in 1604 and Courland in 1605 also fail.

1605 - 1618

The Polish-Muscovite War is triggered (also known as the Polish-Russian War or, in Poland, the Dimitriads). It forms an eastwards extension of the ongoing struggle of wills with Sweden, as both sides make the most of the dynastic problems of the Russian czarate that are known internally as 'The Times of Troubles'. The fighting is not continuous, and the sides switch constantly as objectives and opportunities evolve. The Russians themselves spend a good deal of the conflict fighting one another, both with and without Swedish or Polish allies, and the aristocracy of the Polish commonwealth also lead their own private or mercenary armies against targets of their choosing as they attempt to expand into czarate territory.

The war is not formally declared by Poland until 1609, with Sweden's formal involvement taking place as part of the Ingrian War (1610-1617). With Sweden seemingly allied more closely to Russia, Sigismund is invited to 'capture' Moscow and Smolensk in 1610 by the Seven Boyars (seven nobles who had only just deposed Czar Vasili VI). His son, Wladyislaw, is elected czar of the Russias by the Seven Boyars but he does not take up his position due to opposition by Sigismund. Resistance by the population of Moscow eventually forces the invading army out, but the fighting rumbles on until 1618, when an armistice is agreed in the village of Deulino.


Poland-Lithuania defeats a major attempt by the Ottoman empire to enter and conquer its territory when former elder of Samogitia, Jonas Karolis Kotkevicius, holds the fortress of Chocim in the path of the advancing 200,000-strong Turkish army. The first snows of winter force the Ottomans to withdraw in defeat.


The First Polish-Swedish War ends with the Treaty of Altmark. The kingdom tacitly accepts the loss of most of its Livonian territories to Sweden. The remainder, the eastern part of Livonia, named Latgallia, remains in Polish hands as Inflantia or the Inflanty Voivodeship (the principality of Livonia).

Poland is also forced to temporarily cede the port cities of Braunsberg (Braniewo in Ermland), Elbing (Elblag), Memel (Klaipeda), and Pillau (Baltiysk). The territory is termed Swedish Prussia, but it is regained in 1635.

1632 - 1648

Wladyslaw IV (VII)

Son. Titular czar of Russia (1610-1612).

1648 - 1668

John Kazimierz / Jan II Casimir

Lost partial control of the kingdom to Sweden.

1654 - 1655

Poland is dragged into the Russo-Polish War over the control of Ukraine, in the Polish Commonwealth's far eastern territories. Russian troops seize the most important centres of the Lithuanian grand duchy - Smolensk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Minsk - and for the first time in Lithuanian history Vilnius is occupied, followed shortly afterwards by Kaunas and Grodno. The king is exiled between September and November in 1655.

1655 - 1660

Seeing a golden opportunity following the Russian capture of large areas of Lithuania in 1654, Swedish troops enter the duchy of Courland, triggering the Second Polish-Swedish War. Karl X of Sweden declares himself 'Protector of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth'. The occupation period ends when Livonia is officially ceded to Sweden following Poland-Lithuania's signing of the Treaty of Oliva.

1655 - 1660

Karol X Gustaw / Karl X Gustaf

King of Sweden. Opposed John Kazimierz.

1669 - 1673

Michal Korybut / Michael Wisniowiecki

1672 - 1699

Podolia is occupied by the Ottoman empire. During this period, regional Ottoman governors are appointed to administer the territory, although the life expectancy of each holder of the post is relatively short.

1674 - 1696

John / Jan III Sobieski


Latgallia is formally made a province of the commonwealth, and is administered as part of Lithuania while remaining a common possession of both nations.


John III and Charles V of Lorraine lift the siege of the Austrian capital of Vienna on 12 September, ending Ottoman expansion in Europe by drawing a metaphorical line in the sand.

1697 - 1704

Poland is joined with Saxony in personal union under Augustus II. It is a union that establishes a precedent that is followed when the grand duchy of Warsaw is established in 1806.

1697 - 1706

Augustus II the Strong

Frederick Augustus I of Saxony.

1700 - 1710

Sweden finds itself attacked by Russia, Poland, and Denmark in the Great Northern War (alternatively entitled the Second Northern War) which lasts until 1721. Sweden's expansion at the end of the Livonian Wars had antagonised several states, notably those on the receiving end of defeats such as Russia and Denmark. The latter state takes the opportunity presented by the death of Charles XI of Sweden to organise an anti-Swedish coalition.

In 1702 Sweden moves fast to try and knock Saxony and Poland out of the war by occupying large areas of Poland. However, victory falls to Russia, Poland, and Denmark in 1721, when the Treaty of Nystad effectively terminates the Swedish Scandinavian empire.

1704 - 1709

Stanislas Lesczynski

1709 - 1733

The personal union between Saxony and Poland is renewed on 8 August 1709 when Augustus II regains the throne.

1709 - 1733

August II Mocny / Augustus II the Strong


Stanislas Lesczynski

Became duke of Lorraine (1737-1763).

1733 - 1735

The Polish War of Succession erupts, with Stanislas Lesczynski being supported by his son-in-law, Louis XV of France and Philip V of Spain. France grabs Lorraine, fearing that its pro-Habsburg bias will see it used as a base from which to attack France itself. The fighting ceases in 1735 and is concluded by the Treaty of Vienna in 1738. It stipulates that Stanislaw Lesczinski will receive Lorraine in settlement for being deposed as Poland's king, while Duke Francis of Lorraine receives the grand duchy of Tuscany in compensation for the loss of his family's ancient lands.

1733 - 1763

Augustus III

Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. Son of Augustus II.

1764 - 1795

Stanislas August Poniatowski

Last king of Poland.

1768 - 1769

The Russo-Turkish War is part of Catherine the Great's move to secure the conquest of territory on Russia's southern borders. Following the repression of revolts in Poland, Russia becomes involved in chasing rebels across the southern border into Ottoman territory. The Ottomans imprison captured Russian forces, effectively declaring war and distracting Russia from its desire to control Poland.

1769 - 1770

Austria occupies the county of Zips (or Spisz in Polish) which is an area which has been settled by Germans. In the following year, Austria annexes the county.


The First Partition of Poland-Lithuania takes place on 5 August, removing large swathes of the commonwealth from Polish control. Royal Prussia together with Warmia and parts of Great Poland (Wielkopolska) are taken by Prussia (as West Prussia). Parts of Little Poland (Malopolska) and Red Ruthenia (Rus Czerwona) are taken by Austria, which forms the kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria. Polish Livonia (Latgallia) and Lithuania are taken by Russia.

Allenstien's Old Town
The city of Olsztyn (or Allenstein in German) was seized by Prussia in the 1772 partition of Poland-Lithuania, but Russia and Austria also seized their own prizes


On 3 May, the constitution gives formal sanction to the union with Lithuania, removing the process of electing kings and making the crown hereditary again under the Saxon dynasty.


The Second Partition of Poland-Lithuania is carried out on 23 January. Great Poland and parts of Mazovia go to Prussia while Russia gains Podolia (which is attached to Ukraine), Volhynia, and more of Lithuania.

From 1791, Russia has operated an area known as the Pale of Settlement. Initially this had been small, but it increases greatly from 1793 and the Second Partition. By the mid-nineteenth century it incorporates modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. Having formerly been citizens of the defunct commonwealth, the Jewish population of the 'Pale' is restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper.


Between March and September, the Polish fight a rebellion termed the 'war of independence' against Russian hegemony, led by Tadeusz Kosciusko.


FeatureThe Third Partition of Poland-Lithuania is enacted on 7 January. It removes both states entirely from the map. Russia grabs the rest of Lithuania and almost all of Belarus as well as replacing the duchy of Courland with a governorship. Prussia takes the rest of Mazovia (as New East Prussia) and Warsaw, while Austria gains Krakow and Little Poland, which are added to Galicia & Lodomeria.

1795 - 1806

Neither Poland nor Lithuania exist as identifiable states until 1806, when Napoleon I of France liberates Prussia's Polish territory and forms an Imperial satellite state. It is directly administered as part of the kingdom of Saxony.

Grand Duchy of Warsaw
AD 1806 - 1814

The success of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France in several battles against Austria, Russia, and Prussia greatly encouraged the Poles to hope that he would be their saviour in throwing off occupation and recreating an independent Polish state, or at least an autonomous state that was a vassal of France. What they actually got was a lot less than this, as Napoleon was reluctant to create a fully-fledged state. Instead, he opted for the compromise duchy of Warsaw which was formed from territory formerly occupied by Prussia. The duchy was created in personal union with Saxony, reviving the eighteenth century relationship between the two countries, meaning that the king of Saxony was also grand duke of Warsaw. The captured territory of Galicia & Lodomeria continued to exist as an Austrian possession.

1806 - 1813

Frederick Augustus (III)

King of Saxony (1763-1827).


Western Galicia is ceded from Galicia & Lodomeria to the grand duchy, but previous annexations of Polish territory remain within the Austrian empire.

1813 - 1814

In March 1813, the grand duchy is occupied by Russia while the allies continue to push the French army ever further westwards. The Battle of Leipzig in Saxony in October of the same year frees Germany from French influence, setting up a climax to the war in 1814. The Congress of Poland is formed by the victorious powers at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and Polish territory is effectively re-partitioned.

French defend against Prussians. Leipzig 1813
French grenadiers of the line defend against an attack by Prussian infantry in the three-day Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, dubbed the 'Battle of the Nations' due to the number of states involved, in this 1914 painting by Richard Knötel

Polish Kingdom / Congress Poland
AD 1815 - 1918

The Polish lands under Russian control between 1815-1916 were collected into what became known as the 'Polish Kingdom'. Nominally it was in personal union with Russia, but in reality it occupied a subordinate position, as established by the Congress of Vienna. Due to this it is often referred to by scholars as 'Congress Poland', with the Russian czar as head of state. Warsaw and western Galicia also fell under Russian control.

The 'Free, Independent, and Strictly Neutral City of Krakow with its Territory', often styled the Krakow Republic, fell under the 'protection' of Austria, Prussia, and Russia. It was administered by a government senate and absorbed by Austria in 1846, after which it was termed a grand duchy, with the Austrian emperor himself holding the title.

(Additional information from External Link: The November Uprising - what were the Poles fighting for and why? (Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs).)

1815 - 1831

Congress Poland remains a subordinate territory of the Russian czar until the period between 25 January to 26 September 1831. During this period, the First (November) Insurrection is sparked by growing discontent at Russian rule in large areas of Poland.

Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831
The Polish kingdom of Poland was created as a result of agreement between the partitioning powers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, rather than being the sovereign decision of the Polish people themselves, so there was always going to be resistance against a Russian king of the Poles - which led to the outbreak of open warfare in 1830


Józef Grzegorz Chlopicki

Dictator in rebellion against Russia, Dec.


Józef Gabriel Lubowski

Marshal of the Diet of the rebellion, Dec.

1830 - 1831

Józef Grzegorz Chlopicki

Restored dictator in rebellion against Russia, Dec-Jan.


Count Wladyslaw Tomasz Ostrowski

President of the national government of the rebellion, Jan.


Count Wladyslaw Tomasz Ostrowski

Marshal of the Diet of the rebellion, Jan.


Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski

President of the Senate of the rebellion, Jan-Aug.


Jan Stefan Krukowiecki

President of the Senate of the rebellion, Aug-Sep.


Bonawentura Niemojowski

President of the Senate of the rebellion, Sep.


Russian control is restored on 26 September 1831 after a great deal of hard fighting by the Poles during the First Insurrection or Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831. Many Polish soldiers involved in the uprising chose to seek protection in Prussia, where they are disarmed and not particularly welcome. When Russia offers the Polish troops an amnesty, Prussian treatment of the rapidly dwindling number of surviving Poles becomes increasingly harsh. Eventually, the surviving 212 Poles are placed on board a ship at Gdansk and deported. The ship is bound for the USA, but a storm forces it to seek shelter in Portsmouth in Britain. The Poles settle, mainly in London where they form the country's first Polish community (Lennard Goodman, a judge on the BBC tv show, Strictly Come Dancing, is descended from one of their number).

On 22 February 1832, the New Statute (the constitution of the insurrection) abolishes the last remnants of autonomy, and the area becomes known simply as Vistula Country (Privislyansky kray). The czar remains the head of the Polish state, but general control is exercised through the representatives, or viceroys.

1831 - 1856

Ivan Fyodorovich Paskevich

First representative (namestnik) or viceroy. Prince of Warsaw.

1856 - 1861

Mikhail Dmitriyevich Gorchakov

Died 1861.


Nikolay Onufrievich Sukhozanet

Acting viceroy.

1861 - 1862

Count Karl Karlovich Lambert


Nikolay Onufrievich Sukhozanet

Acting viceroy for the second time, for Lambert.

1861 - 1862

Count Aleksey Nikolayevich Lüders

1862 - 1863

Grand Duke Konstatin N Romanov


The period between 22 January 1863 to April 1865 witnesses the 'Second (January) Insurrection', or January Uprising. The uprising takes place across much of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic Provinces, Latgallia, and Livonia. Following this, Congress Poland is administered as an integral part of Russia.

1863 - 1874

Friedrich Wilhelm Rembert Graf von Berg

Acting viceroy until Oct 1863, then viceroy thereafter.


The position of viceroy is terminated. Governors-general are appointed to control the newly-established Warsaw Military District.

Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph
Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph enters his possession, the Grand Duchy of Krakow, in 1880

1874 - 1880

Paul Demetrius Graf von Kotzebue

First governor-general of the Warsaw Military District.

1880 - 1883

Pytor Pavlovich Albedinsky

Former governor of Vilnius. Died in office.


The first modern-era wave of Jewish migrations back to Palestine begins with an event known as the First Aliyah. The Jews are fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, most notably in the territories of the Russian empire under Alexander III and his imposition of anti-liberalisation reforms. These may be partially the result of the January Uprising of 1863 (see above).

Russia operates an area known as the Pale of Settlement, largely territory to the west which has been acquired from the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Today this forms Russia's western border region, and from 1791-1793 it has incorporated modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. The Jewish population of the 'Pale' are restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper and are now being discouraged from remaining in the western border regions of the empire.

1883 - 1894

Iosif Vladimirovich Romeyko-Gourko

1894 - 1896

Count Pavel Andreyevich Shuvalov

1897 - 1900

Prince Aleksandr K Bagration-Imeretinsky

1900 - 1905

Mikhail Ivanovich Chertkov

1903 - 1914

The Second Aliyah to Palestine is triggered in 1903 by an anti-Jewish riot in the city of Kishinev (modern Chişinău), the capital of the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), part of the Russian empire. Something like 40,000 Jews settle in Palestine, although only half remain permanently. Many others, evicted from their settlements in the 'Pale' head towards western Poland or America (something that is dramatically highlighted, if with a touch of artistic licence, in the film musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971. which has its final scenes set in 1905).


Konstantin Klavdievich Maksimovich


1905 - 1914

Georgy Antonovich Skalon


Yakov Grigoryevich Zhilinskiy

Acting governor-general.

1914 - 1915

Prince Pavel Nikolayevich Yengalychev

In exile from Aug 1915.

1914 - 1915

Russia supports its allies by joining the First World War against Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. However, the Russian army advancing into Eastern Europe is routed by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenberg, and loses Russian Poland. German and Austrian governors are appointed to the region (shown here in green and red respectively).

1915 - 1918

Hans Hartwig von Beseler

German governor-general in Warsaw.

1915 - 1916

Erich Freiherr von Diller

Austria-Hungarian governor-general in Lublin.

1916 - 1917

Karl von Kuk

1916 - 1917

Poland is granted autonomy by the occupying powers on 5 November 1916, and the situation is confirmed by the 1917 Brest-Litovsk treaty, which gives much of Eastern Europe to Germany. On 14 January 1917 a Polish kingdom is declared which includes Galicia. Also known as the Regency Kingdom of Poland, it exists only on paper and is superseded by the republic of Poland in 1918.

Galicia during the First World War
Galicia was incorporated into the Eastern Front during the First World War

1917 - 1918

Stanislaw Maria Graf Szeptycki


Anton Liposcak



On 6 November 1918 a Polish state is declared. With Germany close to collapse and Austria-Hungary dismantling itself, on 7 November, the Habsburg Poles unite with the former Russian and German-ruled Poles to declare a free and independent Poland.

Polish Republics
AD 1918 - 1991

The kingdom of Poland & Lithuania had been partitioned by Austria, Prussia, and Russia in the eighteenth century. Polish lands largely remained that way until the collapse of all three great powers at the end of the First World War, although the Russian section did at least gain a degree of local governance in the form of Congress Poland. After having suffered over a century of division and occupation, the Polish people united to declare a free and independent Poland on 7 November 1918, incorporating Galicia & Lodomeria and Pomerania into the new state.

However, in a Europe that was riven by post-First World War territorial and civil wars, this was not a stable and secure Poland. It had to fight off German irregular troops in the west, and had to fight for its life against Bolshevik Russian troops in the east during the Russo-Polish War, as it tried to push its borders as far east as historical claims would allow. In the end, those borders went too far. Under the terms of the 1921 settlement, White Russia, or Belarus, was partitioned between the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic and Poland. Poland itself was burdened with a collection of minorities, mostly Ukrainian, which reduced the Polish majority to just sixty per cent. Furthermore, East Prussia was still in German hands, but Poland now cut it off from direct land access.

The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 not only triggered the Second World War, it also eventually resulted in Soviet occupation in 1944-1945 as the German forces were pushed back. In the territorial settlements that followed, Poland benefited from the addition of the southern half of former East Prussia to its territory, including the regions of Pomesania, Culm, and Warmia, once the seats of medieval bishops. Poland's western border was also extended farther west, to the Oder-Neisse line, but its eastern border was greatly compressed, losing it a vast swathe of eastern territory to Byelorussia, most of Galicia to Ukraine, and Vilnius to Lithuania. As a result, Poland's total territory fell by twenty per cent and the country remained an occupied satellite state of the Soviet empire, known as the 'People's Republic of Poland'.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Karl-Heinz Gabbey, from God's Playground, Norman Davies (Columbia University Press, 1979), from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Links: Józef Piłsudski (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and The Life and Ideology of Józef Piłsudski (San José State University Department of Economics), and PWN Encyclopaedia (in Polish).)


The Second Polish Republic (or Second Commonwealth) is formed on 7 November with the declaration of a free and independent state in the face of the collapsing great powers that had previously occupied it between them. Austria, Germany, and Russia are in no state to argue. Polish general and nationalist figure Józef Piłsudski is asked to take control of the new state, which also includes Galicia & Lodomeria (now almost entirely within Ukraine, except for its westernmost edge).

Polish-Lithuanian War
A parade of Polish uhlans at Sejny, a town in Poland today, but initially Lithuanian (after 1915), which swapped hands several times in the Polish-Lithuanian War of 1919-1920

Byelorussia experiences its first attempt at creating its own state out of the post-war chaos, known as the Belarusian People's Republic (BPR) amongst other names. The Lemko-Rusyn republic that is formed in western Galicia tries to link up with Russia, while eastern parts of Galicia are claimed as the West Ukrainian People's Republic, and the competing claims lead to war between Poland, Russia, and Ukraine.

1918 - 1922

Marshal Józef Piłsudski

Chief of state over ten prime ministers.


The Russo-Polish War is ignited between Poland and Ukraine on one side and Soviet Russia on the other over the creation of the Second Polish Republic and the somewhat uncertain borders on its eastern flank. Józef Piłsudski considers this the best opportunity to restore Poland to its former greatness, and he leads his troops into both Lithuania's Vilnius (part of the fairly brief Polish-Lithuanian War) and Kiev, occupying a welcoming western Ukraine (part of the former Polish Commonwealth). The latter move also sees Byelorussia occupied and its independent republican government extinguished.

1920 - 1921

The short-lived Galitzian Socialist Soviet Republic is declared at Ternopol in eastern Galicia, and the Polish-Lithuanian War is briefly fought over control of Vilnius. With Poland the victor, the short-lived 'Republic of Central Lithuania' is formed (later to be transformed into a Polish voivodeship). Red Army pressure causes the Poles to fall back temporarily, but Piłsudski leads his forces to a notable victory against the Russians at the Battle of Warsaw.

As the Poles again advance, a ceasefire is agreed with the Soviets in October 1920 and Vilnius is regained (to be held until 1939). The Peace of Riga is signed on 18 March 1921, which formally divides disputed territory between the Soviets and Poles, with the area that forms modern Belarus effectively split in half. Galicia remains within the new Poland (modern western Ukraine), including the now-suppressed Lemko-Rusyn republic, and the easternmost parts of Lithuania also remain part of Poland.

Signatories to the Peace of Riga in 1921
The new Bolshevik Russian state and the leading figures of post-First Wolrd War Poland sign the Peace of Riga which agreed their shared borders for the next twenty years

1922 - 1926

Elections are held for the post of president, with Gabriel Narutowicz winning. He holds onto the post for all of five days before he is assassinated while attending an art exhibition. His successor is Stanisław Wojciechowski, who remains in the post until he is ousted in 1926.


Marshal Józef Piłsudski is at the head of the May Coup d'Etat (12-14 May 1926) which removes the president from office. While he declines the post of president himself, he effectively remains the power behind the 'throne' for the rest of his life.

1926 - 1935

Marshal Józef Piłsudski

'President-elect' and de facto supreme authority. Died.


Following the death of Józef Piłsudski, his 'Sanacja' movement (Sanation in English), which has put national interests ahead of parliamentary democracy since 14 May 1926, begins to flounder. With no clear path to follow, it breaks up into three rival factions, but the movement in general remains in control of Poland until 1939. The minority populations within the republic are hit by a fresh wave of repression.

1939 - 1940

The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September is the trigger for the Second World War. With both France and Britain pledged to support Poland, both countries have no option but to declare war on 3 September, although nothing can be done to alleviate Poland's suffering at the hands of the invaders. As part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviets invade Poland from the east on 17 September, and they annexe western Ukraine and west Byelorussia on 28 September.

German troops enter Poland on 1 September 1939
Nazi-led German troops are shown here progressing in good order through a Polish town on the first day of the invasion, 1 September 1939

On 6 October the last Polish troops surrender, but thousands of Poles both military and civilian escape the country to form Polish units with the Allied powers, including Polish Navy vessels that serve in the Atlantic and fighter pilots who help defend Britain during the Battle of Britain (and creating social links that last right up to Polish inclusion in the European Union in 2004). The German-occupied zone of Poland, which includes Danzig, Pozen, Silesia, and West Prussia, is partially annexed to Germany. Six days later, the remaining sections of Poland are formed into the 'General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories' which, on 31 July 1940, is re-titled the General Government.


Germany takes over the Soviet-occupied areas on 21 June 1941. These are divided between the General Government and the Reichskommissariat Ostland and Ukraine. On 1 August, eastern Galicia is added to the General Government. Much of Minsk in Byelorussia is destroyed by the subsequent warfare between Germany and the USSR.

1943 - 1944

The Warsaw Uprising ignites after German soldiers begin the 'liquidation' of the Jewish ghetto. On 1 August 1944, the Polish resistance launches Operation Tempest, partly in response to this, but also to try and secure control of the country against communist elements. The Allies in the west are unable to provide military aid, and the Soviets deliberately withhold it as Stalin is keen on securing Warsaw for his expanded communist empire. The uprising fails after some hard fighting and Warsaw is subjected to planned destruction by the Nazis.


The last German troops surrender on 17 January in the face of the relentless Soviet advance. The conclusion of the Second World War sees Poland benefit from the addition of the southern half of the former East Prussia to its territory, including the regions of Pomesania, Culm, and Warmia, once the seats of medieval bishops. The northern half of East Prussia is annexed to Russia as the district of Kaliningrad. Poland's western border is shifted further west, to the Oder-Neisse line, but it loses a vast swathe of eastern territory to Byelorussia, most of Galicia to Ukraine, and Vilnius to Lithuania.

As a result, Poland's total territory falls by twenty per cent. Many ethnic Poles remain in Vilnius (Lithuania) or Minsk (Byelorussia) to become citizens of those countries, while others move west to remain within Poland's rearranged borders. Poland itself remains an occupied satellite state of the Soviet Russian empire, and is now known as the 'People's Republic of Poland'.

The ruins of Warsaw
The ruins of Warsaw at the end of the Second World War took decades to rebuild, mostly with the Soviet-era concrete which is still visible today


The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.


Former German eastern territories, including Hinterpommern (eastern Pomeriana), do not officially become Polish territory until Chancellor Willi Brand's Social Democratic government of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) now recognises the loss (Willi Brand's 1970 Warsaw speech to the Polish people is available online). The Soviet-dominated East German government which is not recognised by the former western Allies - Britain, France, and the United States - has already recognised Poland's hegemony of Pommern (under duress in 1949) when the Soviet Union had established the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), better known as the former East Germany.

1980 - 1981

The 'Solidarity' trade union is formed during a period of increasingly turbulent labour unrest. Lech Wałęsa, a shipyard electrician, becomes Solidarity's leader and the opposition's main figure (and later the country's first democratically-elected president). Martial law is imposed on Poland the following year, but the influence of Solidarity begins to chip away at the influence and authority of the pro-Soviet government.


As expected, or at least hoped for, the influence of the Communist party in Poland has been steadily eroded over the past decade. Free and fair elections that are held in the summer of 1989 usher in Eastern Europe's first post-communist government. The new Polish state is called the Third Polish Republic, and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa becomes its first president.

The Solidarity movement in Poland
The Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s forced the first cracks in communist rule, which led fairly quickly to independence


Thanks to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, on Christmas Day 1991 Communist USSR President Gorbachev announces the termination of the Soviet Communist State. The Soviet Republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Former East Prussia, or Kaliningrad as it now is, remains directly part of Russia, and is now an isolated enclave on Poland's north-eastern border.

Modern Poland
AD 1991 - Present Day

The modern republic of Poland which formed out of the various post-First World War conflicts and was then further redefined after the Second World War - both on a fairly heavy scale - is located in eastern Central Europe, with the Baltic Sea forming its northern edge. The country is bordered to the north-east by Kaliningrad and Lithuania, to the east by Belarus, to the south-east by Ukraine, to the south by Slovakia and Czechia, and to the west by Germany.

The old Polish state had been partitioned by Austria, Prussia, and Russia in the eighteenth century. It was not until the end of the First World War that the Polish people could unite to declare a free and independent Poland, on 7 November 1918. With various territorial and civil wars raging across vast areas of Eastern Europe, the Poles had to fight off German irregular troops in the west and Bolshevik Russian troops in the east as they attempted to solidify and even expand their borders. Under the terms of the 1921 settlement Poland's eastern border cut through what is now Belarus, with the rest of the territory it had sought going mainly to the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Poland also gained a variety of minorities in its recreated and expanded state, mostly Ukrainian.

The Nazi German invasion of republican Poland on 1 September 1939 not only triggered the Second World War, it also eventually resulted in Soviet occupation in 1944-1945 as the German forces were pushed back. Poland benefited from the addition of the southern half of former East Prussia to its territory, including the regions of Pomesania, Culm, and Warmia, once the seats of medieval bishops. Poland's western border, though, was drawn farther west, to the Oder-Neisse line. Its eastern border was also moved westwards, losing it a vast swathe of eastern territory to Byelorussia, most of Galicia to Ukraine, and Vilnius to Lithuania. As a result, Poland's total territory fell by twenty per cent and the country remained an occupied satellite state of the Soviet Russian empire, known as the 'People's Republic of Poland'.

On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare its renewed independence from the now-decaying Soviet Union. The following year the declaration became fact as Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus finally regained their independence. Thanks to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, on Christmas Day 1991 Communist USSR President Gorbachev announced the termination of the Soviet Communist state. The Soviet republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Since independence, Poland has embraced western culture and technology but in a somewhat uneasy relationship. Still recovering in many ways from the twentieth century, it has a deep undercurrent of conservatism that wants to push against the country's newfound trends. The recent re-emergence of right-wing populism (a trend that is not unique to Poland) has seen some steps being taken to turn back the clock, placing the country in the European Union's bad books on occasion. Culturally and architecturally, Warsaw remains the country's capital but is largely a vast collection of post-war concrete constructions that are only more recently being upgraded or replaced. The Second World War left it heavily damaged, and Soviet planned building filled in the vast gaps between surviving buildings. The centre of Krakow, however, is widely acknowledged as one of Europe's greatest surviving examples of a medieval city. The heart of Poland's second city was included on the first list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Karl-Heinz Gabbey, from God's Playground, Norman Davies (Columbia University Press, 1979), from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Links: Józef Piłsudski (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and The Life and Ideology of Józef Piłsudski (San José State University Department of Economics), and PWN Encyclopaedia (in Polish), and Poland Fascinating Facts (The Telegraph), and Poland: a country getting to grips with being normal at last (The Guardian), and BBC Poland Profile - Timeline, and Elections held in 1993 (POLAND Parliamentary Chamber: Sejm).)


Poland enjoys its first parliamentary elections since the fall of communism and the formation of the country's 'Third Republic'. A large number of fragmented political parties contest the elections and a coalition government is the result. Even the Polish Beer Lovers' Party gains sixteen seats in parliament. In the same year Soviet troops begin to leave the country.

Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa emerged as a leading figure during the drive for Polish independence, earning the approval and admiration of the nation, but his attempts at leading an independent Poland were somewhat less successful


The Sejm (the Polish 'Diet') is prematurely dissolved on 31 May 1993. Fresh elections see reformed communists enter into a coalition government with the Democratic Left Alliance. They pledge to continue market reforms.


A decade after achieving democratic government, and the subsequent years of turning a planned Soviet economy into a successful free market economy, Poland joins Nato. It has already been part of the Nato 'Partnership for Peace' programme since 1994.


Along with a large selection of former Soviet-occupied Eastern European states, Poland becomes a member of the European Union. The relaxation of borders across Europe leads initially to a large number of people migrating to the west, and Britain especially gains a large Polish population, possibly in part thanks to wartime links.


In April, the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and many other senior officials are killed in a plane crash while on their way to a ceremony in Russia to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Katyn massacre during the Second World War. In July of the same year, parliament's speaker and acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski of the centre-right Civic Platform, defeats former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the second round of fresh presidential elections.

2013 - 2014

In 2013 Moscow reacts to Ukraine's domestic turmoil by sending troops to annexe Crimea while stoking separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine. The international reaction does nothing to change the situation, and Crimea remains in Russian hands. However, the minds of various countries which had previously been occupied by Soviet Russia after the Second World War are very much focussed by the act. Of them, Poland knows only too well the cost that can be paid by not keeping an eye on Russian actions. In 2014 it asks Nato to station ten thousand troops on its territory as a visible mark of the alliance's resolve to defend all its members.

Krakow Town Hall
The magnificent town hall building in Krakow is only one of many medieval splendours to have survived into the twenty-first century despite Poland's turbulent history


In May the 'Conservative Law and Justice' candidate, Andrzej Duda, beats centrist incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski in the presidential election. That October the Eurosceptic, conservative 'Law and Justice' party becomes the first to win an overall majority in Polish democratic elections. President Duda approves a controversial December 2015 reform which makes it harder for the constitutional court to make majority rulings, despite large-scale protests and European Union concerns at the implications for the oversight of government decisions as Poland veers towards the right of the political spectrum.

2016 - 2019

Despite the right-leaning forces now in control of the country, the president remains as a useful counterbalance and a check against the more contentious desires of parliament. In addition, the government itself seems unwilling to act too provocatively against popular opinion when it vetoes a 2016 private member's bill which is intended almost to entirely ban abortion.

In 2017, President Duda vetoes controversial laws that are intended to give the government extensive power over the judiciary. A change of prime minister that December - albeit still from the Law and Justice party - perhaps sees a weakening of the most influential right-leaning efforts. In 2019 the Law and Justice party maintains its position in the lower house of parliament after general elections, but loses control of the Senate to centre and centre-left parties.