History of Poland During the Middle Ages
By Anna Kowalska-Pietrzak
Poland: History, Culture and Society, ed. E. Bielawska-Batorowicz (Łódź, 2007)
Introduction: Poles are Slavs. Slavs belong to the Indo-European people also called Wends and Ands. Slavs’ ancestors came from Asia not later than the 1st millennium before Christ. They split into three groups: Eastern, Southern and Western Slavs. Poles, like Czechs, belong to Western Slavs. Slavs were described by ancient chroniclers, who wrote that they had very rigid customs. Husbands and wives had to be faithful, but each man could have several wives. Widows could die with their husbands (e.g. a widow could commit suicide by burning herself at the stake with her husband’s body). Slavs were friendly to prisoners of war, although they engaged in cruel wars. Generally, hospitality was characteristic of the Slavs. They liked eating, drinking and dancing. They believed in many gods. There were different gods for weather, families, fields and so on. Slavs worshiped them in holy forests or on hills. They worshiped nature too (e.g. trees or streams). Their world was full of ghosts and mystic powers.
In the early period of the Middle Ages, many tribes had lived on the lands which became the territory of the Polish state. They were living in Major Poland (in Polish called: Wielkopolska), in Silesia (Śląsk), in Minor Poland (Małopolska), in Masovia (Mazowsze), in Cuiavia (Kujawy) and in Pomerania (Pomorze). Another territory which was important in the history of medieval Poland was Prussia (Prusy).
The Vistulanians and the Polanians were the most important Polish tribes. The Vistulanians lived along the banks of the upper Vistula (in the territory of Minor Poland). It was a great tribe, which was subordinated to Bohemia in the 9th and 10th centuries. At that time the Polanians built their own state. They were living in Major Poland and they extended their authority and power over the other lands.