Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Paul Milliman, Contentious Memories of the Prussian Crusade in the Fourteenth-Century Kingdom of Poland and Teutonic Ordensstaat

By the early thirteenth century, the former Kingdom of Poland had become a fragmented political landscape of small duchies ruled by various branches of the royal Piast dynasty.  In the region of Pomerania, where the Piasts exercised only nominal control, an independent duchy ruled by native aristocrats began to emerge.  In the 1220s, on the left bank of the Vistula River, one of these Pomeranian dukes, Swietopelk, began to build an independent state at the expense of the neighboring Polish dukes.  At roughly the same time, one of these Polish dukes, Konrad of Mazovia, settled the Teutonic Knights in the region of Chelmno, on the right bank of the Vistula.  Konrad and other Polish dukes made additional donations to the Knights and joined them on crusade against the neighboring pagan Prussians.  By the early fourteenth century, though, the historical memories of these two states had been entirely reversed.  The Pomeranian dukes, who had been presented in thirteenth-century Polish chronicles as traitors and apostates who led the Prussians in rebellion against the crusading Poles and Germans, were remembered as loyal subjects of an imagined Kingdom of Poland.  The Teutonic Knights, who had been presented in thirteenth-century Polish chronicles as a bulwark of Christendom, had become the eternal enemies of Poland, who had been illegally appropriating Polish lands for a century.  My paper will examine the role memories of this shared crusading past played in the construction of group identities in the nascent Teutonic Ordensstaat and the recently restored Kingdom of Poland.  I will examine how and why these new historical traditions had been constructed and accepted by analyzing the various legal documents - including testimonies from 150 witnesses - produced during a prolonged dispute between Poland and the Ordensstaat in the 1320s and 1330s.

 

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