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The two swords: using the symbol of the battle of Grunwald (1410) in the 19th and 20th century Poland

Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko (1878)

The two swords: using the symbol of the battle of Grunwald (1410) in the 19th and 20th century Poland

By Maciej Michalski

Meetings with emotions. Human past between anthropology and history, ed. Przemysław Wiszewski (Wrocław, 2008)

Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko (1878)

Introduction: In June 2006, when the FIFA World Cup was performed in Germany, the Polish football team played a match versus the German team in Dortmund. Football fans of both teams were dressed in the national flags’ colours of their countries, but some of the Polish fans put on T-shirts special message with two swords, it said on the T-shirts: ‘Grunwald 1410’, ‘Dortmund 2006’. The connotations between the medieval battle and the contemporary football match were clear. The fans seemed to say we shall win the match in the same way as our ancestors defeated the Teutonic Order knights; the only difference was that in Dortmund the Germans won. But the symptomatic fact is that the most expressive and distinctive example of the confrontation between Poles and Germans was just the Grunwald battle; probably it is the only historical event which is so well-known by the majority Polish society. It is well-known, however, not by its medieval connotations but by its 19th and 20th century context.

Historical motivation of current social and political events can be found at every step. It is common practice in the context of both chronological and geographical horizon. This does not mean, however, that the operations of this type have a uniform intensity in all communities and in all historical epochs. Polish historian Marcin Kula said that there are communities and there are periods which are especially sensitive to history.

Indeed it would be difficult to find an event in the Polish history which imprinted more influence on common social imagination or the actions of modern Polish social and political leaders that would be comparable to the battle of Grunwald. Building a Grunwald legend had already begun the very next day after the skirmish of the Teutonic Order’s army by Polish and Lithuanian knights. According to the research, this fragment of mediaeval history in Polish and German tradition has been filled up with different content, dependent on current social and political events. An intensifi­cation of this process could be observed especially in the period of the last 200 years.

Click here to read this article from Adam Mickiewicz University

Click here to read more about the Battle of Grunwald

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