Unknown revolution: Archaeology and the beginnings of the Polish state

Unknown revolution: Archaeology and the beginnings of the Polish state

By Andrzej Buko

East Central and Eastern Europe in the Early Middle Ages, edited by Florin Curta (The University of Michigan Press, 2005)

Introduction: According to the legend of the Piast dynasty recorded in the first Polish Chronicle, that of the twelfth-century monk known as Gallus Anonymus, the origins of the Polish state could be traced back to the ancestors of Mieszko, the first Polish ruler known from historical sources. Many historians regard as particularly important “those matters which were recorded by faithful memory,” as the chronicler himself put it.

As a consequence, despite the lack of any written sources concerning Poland prior to the conversion to Christianity in 966, the period between the late eighth and the early tenth century was traditionally viewed as the last formative stage leading to the rise of the Polish medieval state. According to such views, the development of early urban centers and the rise of the state followed the same evolutionary scheme. The state was the end result of internal social, economic, and cultural changes, as well as of a process of political consolidation of regional tribal communities between the seventh and the ninth centuries. Similarly, urban centers grew from tribal centers into strongholds and administrative centers of the early Piast state.

There was, however, little support for the idea that the rise of both the Piast state and the early urban centers coincided with the earliest Piast rulers known from historical sources. Such coincidences recalled the event history condemned by Braudel’s longue durée, in itself an outgrowth of the structuralist approach to history.

Archaeological research of the last decade produced, however, a significant body of evidence pertaining to the rise of the Polish medieval state. The use of such dating techniques as dendrochronology allowed much refinement of previous textbook conclusions. This has in turn raised new questions about the history of the early Piast state. In this paper, I intend to summarize the discussion opened by this body of archaeological evidence and to suggest some possible solutions

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