15.06.25, von Güttner-Sporzyński, Poland, Holy War, and the Piast Monarchy, 1100-1230

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Nora Berend

The Medieval Review 15.06.25

von Güttner-Sporzyński, Darius. Poland, Holy War, and the Piast Monarchy, 1100-1230. Europa Sacra, 14. Turnhout: Brepols, 2014. pp. xiv, 294. ISBN: 9782503547947 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Nora Berend
University of Cambridge

This book is a solid contribution to the history of the crusades, investigating Polish participation in and ideas about crusading in its early period. The chronological scope of the book encompasses Polish participation in crusading from its beginnings until the settlement of the Teutonic Order; the latter event and subsequent complicated relations between the Order and Poland radically changed Polish stances to crusade. The author gives a thorough review of the Polish historiography of crusading, and bases his own analysis on a comprehensive investigation of all available written sources: Polish annals and chronicles, as well as charters; papal bulls, and other chronicles, hagiography and narratives written outside Poland. An extensive bibliography accompanies the volume, although there are some lacunae, notably most of the works by S. Rosik on Polish relations to Pomerania are missing.

The author uses the traditional core-periphery model to explain the importation of western European structures and ideas into Poland. He consecrates the first chapter to the establishment of the Christian realm, covering the period from 960 to 1100, discussing the establishment of monarchical power as well as the process of Christianization, the borrowing and adaptation of institutions and practices. The next chapter discusses how ideas of holy war could enter Poland during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Güttner-Sporzyński identifies various channels of communication between Poland and western Europe: dynastic marriages, papal legates who held church councils, as well as immigrant mercenaries and ecclesiastics.

Chapter three analyses the text of the Gesta principum Polonorum concerning Bolesław III's conquest of Pomerania. Güttner-Sporzyński plausibly suggests that the Gesta's anonymous author had close ties to the Awdańcy lineage. He also demonstrates that the ideas of holy war expressed in the Gesta resemble the accounts of the First Crusade, and that there are strong parallels in the way war against the Saracens and war against the Pomeranians is presented. According to the Gesta, Bolesław III's wars against the pagans were waged on God's command, and God assisted the Poles or punished them for sinful actions through defeats. Pomeranians, just like Saracens in the crusading texts, are consistently represented in a negative manner.

The question of reliability, however, is not as straightforward as Güttner-Sporzyński would have it. While chronology and names can be verified from other sources, the claim that the ideas on holy war found in the text reflected those of Bolesław III (who would then have personally instigated the acceptance of holy war ideas in Poland) rather than the opinions of the Gesta's ecclesiastical author can be neither proven nor refuted. All that is clear is that Polish expansionary aims towards Pomerania coincided with ecclesiastical ideas of holy war, and eventually (but perhaps after the reign of Bolesław III) Polish rulers and noble lineages adopted the ecclesiastical notions.

As chapters four through seven demonstrate, during the twelfth century, Polish involvement in crusading was transformed; no longer simply focusing on Pomerania, Polish rulers and nobles participated fully in the Second Crusade, and, according to Güttner-Sporzyński, on three fronts: against the Wends, the Prussians, and the Muslims in the East. A chapter is dedicated to each of these endeavours. Mieszko III and other rulers took the cross, and certainly embraced ecclesiastical ideas of crusading. Crusading also legitimized to the Christian world the takeover of power by the Piast Juniors from Władysław II.

The Wendish Crusade united pious undertaking with pragmatic considerations, most notably a reminder to Duke Ratibor of Pomerania that he owed loyalty and service to the Polish ruler. The Piasts created a family tradition of subjugating and Christianizing populations to the north of Poland. According to Güttner-Sporzyński, John Kinnamos referred to Henry of Sandomierz as the king of the Poles who participated in the Holy Land crusade. Henry is known to have settled the Hospitallers on his lands, and he also had family relations with known crusaders. Henry's journey to Jerusalem was turned into legend, as preserved in the Annales of Jan Długosz, who claimed that Henry wished to achieve martyrdom. Bolesław IV's war against the Prussians is interpreted by Güttner-Sporzyński as a response to crusade preaching in Poland, although no extant sources exist to confirm the preaching of the crusade in Poland. Subsequent crusading against the Prussians is developed in more detail in chapter seven. While in the second half of the twelfth century, Polish rulers tried to subjugate and convert Prussians, after the disintegration of Polish central authority at the end of the century, peaceful missionary activity by Cistercians replaced such attempts until the settlement of the Teutonic Order.

Güttner-Sporzyński's meticulous research unearthed new pieces of evidence, and he provides a detailed account of events relating to Polish crusades, while offering new hypotheses. Appendices include a useful chronology and the key members of the Piast dynasty, with information on their parents, birth, death and regnal dates, marriage and children.

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