Located in central Europe, Poland has a history that stretches back more than 3000 years. Starting from the myths of the medieval tribes to the advent of Christianity to the kings all across the Golden Age of Poland, history is a very eventful one. There are also chapters of expansionism, which led to its consolidation as one of the most extensive powers on the continent down to its partitioning, involvement in the World Wars, the era of USSR-driven communism, and eventually, the return of democracy.
The place that is now Poland is believed to start its prehistory from the initial appearance of Homo species to the creation of the Polish state over half a million years. The most prominent feature of Poland’s prehistoric era is the Biskupin fortified settlement built based on the Lusatian culture.
Some of the tribes that lived in different parts of Poland right up to the Iron Age included the Germanic, Scythian, Roman, Vlach, Sarmatian, Celtic, Avar and Baltic peoples. Over time the place became more dominated by the West Slavic tribes, which later evolved to become the Lechitic Polish tribes.
Piast Period – 10th century to 14th century
Poland was created as a state during the time of rulers of the Piast dynasty which held sway from the 10th to 14th centuries. Records indicate that the Polish state commenced with Duke Miesko I’s reign from around 960 until his demise in 992. He would become a Christian in 966 when he married Princess Doubravka from Bohemia. It is believed that this event was the commencement of the Polish statehood.
Jagiellonian Dynasty (1385 to 1572)
In the year 1386, Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania became a Catholic and went ahead to marry Queen Jadwiga of Poland, which allowed him to become the King of Poland. He would reign as Wladyslaw II Jagiello until his demise in 1434. This marriage formed the basis of the Polish-Lithuanian union, which was controlled by the Jagiellonian dynasty.
It was in the year 1569 that the Union of Lublin created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The commonwealth was a federal structure that was a lot more integrated than the prior political arrangement between Lithuania and Poland.
The control of the commonwealth was done by the nobility, who used a system of local assemblies and central parliament. However, this system was led by elected kings like Henry III of France who was made the first elected king of Poland in 1573. This system would remain intact until its decline from 1648 to 1764.
Partitioning and the Second Polish Republic (1795 – 1939)
Even though there was no sovereign Poland between 1795 and 1918, the concept of full Polish independence always remained throughout the years. There were even forces that launched uprisings and other armed confrontations against the partitioning rulers.
Following the defeat of Prussia, the Duchy of Warsaw, a semi-autonomous Polish state was established by Napoleon in 1807. Napoleon’s defeat meant the creation of a new political system at the Congress of Vienna conducted in 1814 and 1815. Adam Czartoryski became the voice of Polish nationalism. Eventually, in 1815 there was a replacement of the Duchy of Warsaw with a new Kingdom of Poland that was christened Congress Poland.
Trouble erupted with an uprising in November 1830 when Polish patriots engaged in a full-scale conflict with Russia while going against Poland’s partitioning. When the Russian army defeated them in 1831, many Polish combatants and other activists fled and resettled in Western Europe. This was referred to as the Great Emigration. Other movements calling for nationalism and socialism would remain active all through the 1870s and 1890s until the Revolution of 1905 in Russian Poland. People like Jozef Pilsudski and Roman Dmowski became very prominent voices for the Polish people.
World War I and II
The start of World War I in the Polish areas was an opportunity for the Poles who wanted nothing but their independence. It is interesting to know that the three big empires that had partitioned Poland (Austria, Russia, and Germany) were all liquidated by World War I. Even though Warsaw fell to the German forces in August 1915, the Poles never gave up. Almost half of million Poles died fighting in the war, but Poland’s calls never stopped. It reached a climax in late 1918 following the collapse of the Austrian army which meant the liberation of Polish cities like Krakow and Cieszyn.
Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939 during the Second World War. Poland had been in a long-standing alliance with France and a recent one with Britain. These allies of Poland then declared war on Germany, but that did not stop the invasion of Poland. To make things worse for the Poles, the Soviet Union also invaded their land barely two weeks after Hitler ordered his own. Poles later suffered greatly under the control of Nazi forces and were targeted for extermination too, just like the Jews.
Polish People’s Republic (1945 – 1989)
A Polish provisional government of national unity was created in June 1945 due to the outcome of the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The government got recognition from the United States and other nations but it was clear the Soviet Union was a dominant player.
The Polish People’s Republic was created under the control of the Communist-leaning Polish United Workers Party, and from 1948 to 1955; the country was under Stalinist regime. This period was to become one of the most oppressive phases of Polish history.
Third Polish Republic (1989 to today)
The 1970s and 1980s were periods of revolts from workers, and the Polish protests of 1970 remain one of the most serious ones. People like Lech Walesa led workers on several strikes and calls for reforms. Workers eventually formed a massive national union organization that they called Solidarity.
The authorities had no choice but to pay attention to the calls for reforms, and by April 1989 there was a Polish Round Table Agreement that promised extensive reforms. Elections were held in 1989 and 1993 and by 1999 Poland had joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This signified that Poland was free from the influence of the Soviet axis.
Today Poland has distinguished itself as a prosperous nation. It has a developed market, and it is one of the largest economies in the European Union. It is also a high-income nation and ranks very highly on the Human Development Index. From a country that started from the ravages of tribal conflicts, the Republic of Poland has indeed come a long way.