The Scandinavians in Poland: a re-evaluation of perceptions of the Vikings
By Gregory Cattaneo
Brathair, Vol. 9:2 (2009)
Abstract: The present essay intends to analyse the perceptions of the Vikings in Poland following three levels. The Viking’s representations are first developed under the scope of contemporary Polish history and identity. Then through a quick historiographical and archaeological overview of the geopolitical situation of Viking Ag Poland. Finally, the Vikings are approached through the general imaginary, mostly presented by museum collectors and historical reconstructions in Poland.
Mentioning Poland in a publication dealing with Viking identities, diaspora and reception might be surprising. Even if Western scholars are becoming more acquainted with the Scandinavian presence in some Easter European countries like Russia, Poland is still looked upon as having a poor relation in Viking Age Studies. Poland does not appear in works presenting the Viking Oecumene. The eastern world of the Vikings is seen mainly as the road from the Varangians to the Greeks and the Baltic trade area. Even if the latter is directly connected to Poland through the towns of Wolin and Truso, it is rare to find comment on any link with the early medieval Polish state.
Nevertheless, Polish scholars are not impervious to debates about Viking identities. In 2004, the publication of Viking Rus, a synthesis on the Scandinavian presence in Eastern Europe during the Viking Age, by the Polish archaeologist Duczko moved the enthusiasm of both researchers and a wider audience in Poland. Since then the Vikings have turned into a fashionable subject, now accessible through books, museums, festivals and re-enactment.
This enthusiasm rises new questions for scholars who plan to study the Viking in Poland. We cannot ignore the fat that the historical situation of Poland has been closely tied up with that of other Slavonic countries but it might be interesting to see if the contemporary Polish historiography can be understood apart from the older Soviet historiography. If questions concerning the Viking Age in Russia find their roots in the so-called Norman debate, it is worth testing the hypothesis that Poland might defy this pattern. First we need to present the Normanist controversy in historiography and try to determine the extent to which the Polish historiography was concerned with it. With this broader context established, I will try to present a view of the Scandinavian presence in Poland during the Viking Age based both on historical and archaeological evidence.