A brief history of Poland

The first settlers to arrive in Poland were the West Slavs who spread their clans across much of eastern and central Europe around 800AD. The first recorded writings in Poland however date back to 966AD when Mesko I accepted Christianity after marrying the daughter of a Bohemian Emperor. With this one act he united Poland with western cultures and Latin literacy.

At the Congress of Gniezno in 1000AD Mesko I signed an agreement with the Catholic Church in Rome that the country would fall under the protection and influence of the Pope rather than Germany. This paved the way for Poland to become an independent nation and in 1024 Boleslaw the Brave was sworn in as the first King of Poland.

Poland enjoyed independence and lived relatively peacefully for over a hundred years, but conflict would start when Boleslaw III divided the realm amongst his sons. Thus began the onset of 150 years of struggle for power. The internal conflicts came to an end in the 13th century however when the Teutonic Knights began taking huge chunks of Poland for themselves.

The Teutonic Knights were assisted by similar Secret Orders based in Germany and the Bavarians kings regained control of Poland which invited Germans to settle in Poland and influence the country with German politics and lifestyles. It was also during this period that the first Jewish settlers saw an opportunity to capitalise on a developing nation.

Between 1333-1370 Casimir the Great turned Poland into a major trade route and European power which allowed him to increase the territory to more than twice its size. He also established a legal system and the Krakow university, the second oldest in Europe. But Casimir was to be the last King of a pure Polish State.

Marriages with neighbouring countries, Hungary and Lithuania broadened Poland´s horizon into a dynasty among Muslim Tartars and Bohemian Hussites. This was further expanded in 1490 when Wladyslaw IV was crowned King of the Czechs.

The turn of the 16th century ushered in the Golden Age for Poland and it attracted scholars, writers, artists and architects from all over Europe, especially Renaissance Italy. Because of the tolerance towards opposing religions it also attracted many non-Catholics who were facing persecution in their own countries.

When King Zygmunt died without leaving an heir in 1574, a monarch needed to be elected and the honour was given to Stefan Batory. He would become one of Poland's most celebrated rulers both in war and peace. Batory carried out important reforms, encouraged further overseas trade and created the first regular Polish infantry.

During the 17th century a series of wars with the Swedes and the Turks destroyed the monarchy and the Commonwealth was divided and imposed by a treaty given Turks the right of occupancy. In the 20th century Poland became a tug of war between its powerful neighbours Germany and Russia. In both World Wars it was occupied by German forces, but when was handed to the Soviets at the end of World War II. Poland regained independence in 1989 following the collapse of Russian Communism.