15.10.05, Mühle, ed., Breslau und Krakau im Hoch- und Spätmittelalter

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Piotr Gorecki

The Medieval Review 15.10.05

Mühle, Eduard, ed. Breslau und Krakau im Hoch- und Spätmittelalter. Städteforschung, Reihe A: Darstellungen, 87. Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 2014. pp. vi, 384. ISBN: 978-3-412-22122-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Piotr Gorecki
University of California, Riverside

This excellent book is important as a substantive contribution and as a historiographical marker. It is a rich treatment of later medieval urban history, centered on two major cities of East Central Europe, while also affecting our understanding of medieval urbanization in general. It is also a key moment of contact between two major historiographies long concerned with these two subjects, the German and the Polish. This latter aspect of the book is well explained by the editor, Eduard Mühle, in his introductory essay. The book's most specific historiographical aim is to familiarize German medievalists, above all the majority who do not read Polish, with the most recent and innovative work of their Polish colleagues. [1] In this regard, Breslau und Krakau is part of a project Mühle has pursued over his entire distinguished career, as professor of East Central European history at the University of Münster, and, between 2008 and 2013, director of the German Historical Institute in Warsaw.

Mühle has paired his own research into Polish medieval history--above all, the power of the Piast dynasty [2]--with mediating contact and exchange between his Polish and German colleagues on that and many other subjeccts, through translation, original publication, historiographical essays, and innumerable conferences and workshops. [3] One of his talents is a keen ability to identify clusters of distinctly interesting work produced in Poland, for purposes of this kind of exchange. The present book is an example and a culmination of these paths of engagement, regarding urban history--as Mühle notes in his introduction, a subject of important research by Polish scholars across several generations, interdisciplinary in its joint use of history and archaeology, today in the midst of a rich outburst of output by an impressive group of younger scholars. [4] The fourteen chapters comprising the book represent that output.

Three of the articles were commissioned for this volume; the rest are translations from earlier publications in Polish. The original venues, all recent, are carefully listed at the start of each chapter. In his first sentence, Mühle notes that this is the second of two collections of recent essays on Poland's urban history under his editorship. [5] The predecessor volume concerned the formal, or legal, transition of Polish towns known as their locatio, or "establishment"--the thoroughgoing restructuring associated with the appearance of Germans and "German law," ushering in a period of dramatic expansion spanning the rest of the Middle Ages. Apart from one article, to be noted momentarily, the present volume presumes the transition as an independent variable, and turns to an altogether different subject: the material and spatial fabric of the city during its long aftermath.

Wrocław and Kraków, the two case studies for this subject, were the largest cities of two major polities: the province of Silesia, and the newly reestablished Kingdom of Poland, respectively. Although this is not formally expressed in the table of contents, the two cities work to divide the book into two parts: the opening seven articles concern Wrocław, the concluding five Kraków, and, in between, two address relationships between them. The principal focus is on the city as a built area--urban settlement, consisting of civic residences and their lots, streets, and central squares; and other structures, above all churches. This material setting works as the site for the human beings who created, populated, and acted in that setting. The former subject dominates--no chapter quite becomes a full-fledged social history--yet, in the course of each half of the book, the chapters shift from the material toward the cultural, that is, toward attributes of the urban population which, while rooted in the material framework, concern aspects of its collective experience, broadly summarized here with the open-ended word, Lebensstil.

The opening chapter by Marek Słoń stands somewhat apart from the book. It is the one article looking back at Poland's urban history antedating "establishment" (whether understood as a moment or as a process), and moving forward through, and far beyond, that transition. It is also the most explicitly comparative chapter. Titled, somewhat provocatively, "Why only one Wrocław?" (9), it is a fascinating parallel study, spanning decades across that conceptual and chronological divide, of four important urban centers: Kraków, Wrocław, Prague, and Poznań. The result sketches out, and leads into, the later and more specific subject matter of the rest of the book.

The two (informal) halves of the book are strongly parallel in subject matter and its transition. Key material elements of urban space are the focus of three articles each concerning Wrocław and Kraków. Jerzy Piekalski opens the Wrocław section with a reconstruction of residences and their lots, streets, and markets--the city's "public" and the "private" spaces, closely intertwined in what reads like an excellent mental map of the city in transition. The next two articles each zoom in on such specific element. Paweł Konczewski traces out the division of Wrocław's space into lots--the most localized, carefully measured and planned, units, containing residential buildings, plus bits of open land--and, in an early gesture toward the cultural dimension of this book, notes their differentiation in terms of size and structure, reflecting the inhabitants' wealth and related social attributes. Małgorzata Chorowska and Czesław Lasota focus on the transition from wooden toward stone construction of several kinds of buildings--again, above all residential--in Wrocław's market square, and its streets.

The Kraków group begins with Waldemar Komorowski's treatment of similar dimensions of that city's material framework--here, however, across the city in its late-medieval entirety (intra muros). The next two articles zoom in on the most central space, Kraków's market square. Four authors, Sławomir Dryja, Wojciech Głowa, Waldemar Niewalda, and Stanisław Sławiński, provide us with an excellent treatment of the spatial layout of that space--the lucrative points of production and exchange situated on its large plane, delimited by the surrounding residential buildings and churches; while Marek Łukacz shifts focus to those civic residences. Łukacz's chapter, concerning the innermost, most affluent spatial rung of the city's settlement, provides perhaps the most direct parallel with the two chapters about Wrocław, at the juncture of the two subjects of this book: materiality and social stratification.

The remaining articles shift emphasis shifts toward the societal, or cultural, aspects. One is the law--lurking behind which is the great overarching societal theme of this book, inequality. Mateusz Goliński examines the proprietary structure of the buildings (especially residences) surrounding Wrocław's central square: the types of landholders, and the nature of their property rights, situated in this highly privileged civic space. Another dimension of social reality is exchange--economic, though implicitly also of other kinds. The two articles concerning the ties between Kraków and Wrocław examine bilateral travel and related activity between the two cities' populations. In a closely documented excerpt of his superb book about Wrocław as an economic hub published six years ago, [6] Grzegorz Myśliwski examines the presence of merchants from each city in the other, their mediating activities, and the commodities they transported. In his second chapter in the book, Mateusz Goliński reconstructs analogous patterns of contact and presence among the top tier ("patriciate") of the two cities. Here, this group included the merchants, so these two authors address a shared cultural phenomenon from two rather different points of departure.

Other aspects of society or culture emerge more asymmetrically from each city's vantage point. Two treatments of Wrocław examine the inhabitants' tastes, as reflected by concrete objects: buildings, now considered in terms of their architectural style; and domestic goods, ranging between what appears to have been luxury and common use. Małgorzata Chorowska provides an excellent study of one kind of acculturation of Wrocław's (presumably most affluent) inhabitants: a conscious imitation by townspeople of the residential style of the nobility. Jerzy Piekalski and Krzysztof Wachowski examine the incidence and significance of civic acquisition, consumption, and display of luxury domestic items, in a broader context of other, ordinary, consumer goods.

In contrast, the two comparable chapters concerning Kraków vary sharply in their social or cultural subject. In his second article, Komorowski moves from his earlier focus on the city as a whole to the market square, specifically the residences of the urban "patriciate"--in what becomes the book's capstone contribution to a key subject implied in the chapters, a sharp social inequality closely mapped out upon urban space. Uniquely in the book, Jakub Wysmułek examines a quite different aspect of social or cultural life, namely piety--as reflected by testaments, above all pious gifts, by townspeople, to a large number, and range, of churches in and near the city.

The many levels of excellence of this book are difficult to convey in a review. Here is a modest summary. Like so much of the work produced and facilitated by Eduard Mühle, this book and its predecessor certainly comprise the bridge between Polish and German colleagues which has long been his central project. The subject of this book well reflects the interdisciplinary profile of Poland's urban history across its entire post-war period. Most of the contributions rest on evidence drawn from urban archaeology, meticulously accumulated and researched. While focusing principally on Kraków and Wrocław, several authors range outward, from these central places into the broader surrounding worlds of smaller urban communities and lordships. Thus, an important additional layer of this book is a close and careful network analysis.

The rigorous attention to one central subject--the city in its material aspects, and the resulting treatment of urban space and society--results in a thematic coherence rare for a book of essays. Finally, this exceptionally good work on later medieval urban history surely deserves to serve as yet another historiographical bridge: between, on the one hand, the Polish and German world of scholarship, and, on the other, the emerging group of Anglophone colleagues, who now pursue the spatial dimensions of the medieval town from quite different, yet ultimately complementary perspectives. [7]



1. Eduard Mühle, "Introduction," in Polen im Mittelalter. Ein Verzeichnis der seit 1990 auf Deutsch, Englisch und Französisch publizierten Arbeiten der polnischen Mediävistik / Poland in the Middle Ages: A Bibliography of Polish Medieval Scholarship in German, English and French since 1990 / La Pologne au Moyen Âge. Bibliographie des publications en études médiévales polonaises parues depuis 1990 en allemand, anglais et français, eds. Mühle and Anna Laskowska (Quaestiones Medii Aevi Novae Collectio 1; Kraków: Societas Vistulana, 2014), 17-21.

2. Mühle, Die Piasten. Polen im Mittelalter (Munich: C.H. Beck, 2011); Mühle, "Gab es das 'Dienstsystem' im mittelalterlichen Polen--oder was war das ius ducale," .

3. Mühle, "Dynastische Herrschaft im mittelalterlichen Polen. Bilanz eines befristeten Forschungsschwerpunkts des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Warschau," Jahrbuch der historischen Forschung in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2012 (Munich: Oldenbourg Verlag, 2013), 35-46.

4. For two much earlier markers of this area of Polish scholarship, see Acta Poloniae Historica 34 (1976), especially the articles by Lech Leciejewicz (pp. 29-56), Tadeusz Rosłanowski (pp. 7-27), and Benedykt Zientara (pp. 57-83); Michael Ludwig. Tendenzen und Erträge der modernen polnischen Spätmittelalterforschung unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Stadtgeschichte (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1983).

5. Mühle, ed. Rechtsstadtgründungen im mittelalterlichen Polen (Städteforschung A81. Cologne; Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau, 2011).

6. Grzegorz Myśliwski, Wrocław w przestrzeni gospodarczej Europy (XIII-XV wiek). Centrum czy peryferie? (Monografie FNP; Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2009).

7. Keith Lilley, ed. Mapping Medieval Geographies: Geographical Encounters in the Latin West and Beyond, 300-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

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