Survival at the frontier of Holy War: political expansion, crusading, commerce and the medieval colonizing settlement at Biała Gora, North Poland
By Sawicki, Z., Pluskowski, A., Brown, A., Badura, M., Shillito, L.M., Makowiecki, D., ZabilskaKunek, M. and Seetah, K.
European Journal of Archaeology, Volume 18, Number 2, 2015
The term ‘colonisation’ is routinely used by archaeologists and historians working with medieval societies in the Baltic Sea region. This refers to the establishment of settlements following the movement of people into landscapes, previously unoccupied by these distinct ethno-political groups.
In the southern Baltic, episodes of colonisation were accompanied by processes of military conquest, political subjugation and religious conversion. The most striking symbol of this process surviving today is the red brick castle at Malbork in north Poland (formerly Marienburg in Prussia). The largest fortified structure constructed in medieval Europe, it represents the end point of an extended process of colonisation of the Lower Vistula valley which began in the late Viking Age; the tenth to eleventh century. Early written sources described this region as the borderland between eastern Pomerania (Pomerelia), and the adjacent territories of Pomesania and Pogesania.
In the Viking Age, Pomeranian Slavic settlements spreading across the Vistula floodplain and its eastern tributary, the Nogat, eventually gave way to villages and strongholds associated with Prussians, a completely different ethnic group. Scandinavians also formed an important component in this multi-ethnic landscape, particularly associated with the emporium of Truso. By the end of the tenth century, the political reach of the emerging Polish Christian state had extended to this region. Gdańsk, already established as a major settlement by the mid-ninth century, eventually replaced Truso as the main emporium on the other side of the fenlands, and its dukes, allied with the Polish crown, increasingly flexed their political control over this borderland through strongholds.