Slavs in Scandinavia, part 2: The Creation of Poland
At the time when Polans (Polani) originally formed Poland, it was a landlocked country. Nevertheless, the early Polish state, during the process of expanding its boundaries, did not forget to include some seashore within its limits.
The first part of Pomerania to be incorporated into Poland was Eastern Pomerania with its city and port of Gdansk. Then, the central sector of Pomerania followed, with its chief city and port of Kolobrzeg. Circa 965 AD, the westernmost segment of Pomerania followed with its capital at Szczecin. Some two years later, Poles occupied the last remaining Slavic tribe of the Polabia-Pomerania, an thus Poland’s (the tribal unity under Polans(the tribe)) conquest of Pomerania was completed.
It was the most important step to forming the Polish nation under the tribe of Polans, which gradually assimilated the other tribes.
Eventually, as Poland consolidated its hold on the newly acquired littoral, the country established and maintained diplomatic relations with both Denmark and Sweden. One of the results of these diplomatic links was the marriage of Swietoslawa, a Polish princess of the Piast Dynasty and daughter of the Polish Duke Mieszko I, with the Swedish King Eric the Victorious. The marriage took place circa 990 AD, (the precise date of this event has not been established, see G. Labuda, “Polska w Zlewisku Baltyku”, Jantar, Year VI, pg. 34, Booklet 1; L. Koczy, Zwiazki Malzenskie Piastow ze Skandynawami, Poznan 1933, pg. 12; Jadwiga Zylinska, Piastowny i Zony Piastow, Warszawa 1967, pgs. 23-36).
It must be added that this marriage was not merely a trivial historical event, considering the fact that Swietoslawa was the daughter and sister of the rulers of Poland, and also the wife and mother of the rulers of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and even England. Swietoslawa is also considered to be the very first more notable Polish national to have made a trans-sea voyage. She must have definitively not been the only Pole on board her ship, as there must have been some other Poles who were chosen to accompany the princess on her journey. In Scandinavia Swietoslawa became known as Sigrid (or sometimes also as Storrad), and under that name she figures in the Norse sagas. Following Eric’s death Swietoslawa married another Scandinavian monarch: King Sven the Forkbearded of Denmark. After a few years he expelled Swietoslawa from Denmark to Poland, but after his death, her sons made it possible for her to return to Denmark.
One of them, Canute, would become a ruler of three countries as King Canute II the Great of Denmark (1018-1035), of England as Canute I (1016-1035), and also the King of Norway (1028-1035). He was probably the most outstanding ruler in Denmark’s history, especially notable for his conquest of England (started by his father), after which he also crowned himself as the king of England, and it is sad to say that very few people are aware of the fact that he was half-Slavic, that is, half-Polish.
According to a legend, there were two Polish knights that went along with Swietoslawa to Scandinavia, and later joined the Norsemen on their journeys to Iceland, and possibly Greenland and the continental North America, and there are some sources, both Scandinavian and Polish, which seem to indicate that it is more of a historical fact than only a legend.
These two Polish knights were named Wyzdarwoda (sometimes also known as Wyzdraw) and Tyrker (also known as Tyrkir); the latter is very frequently identified in Western sources as a “German”, but the very possibility of him being Polish, or at least Slavic, will shortly be discussed here. Both of them eventually ended up at the royal Danish court of King Sven the Forkbearded, where they came into contact with, according to some claims, Eric the Red, or at least with some other Norse sailor who convinced the two Poles to join him on a journey to a distant island in the far north. In his companionship, they sailed to Iceland and then possibly on to Greenland, where they might have permanently settled. The notable Polish author and maritime researcher and historian, Jerzy Pertek, has confirmed the existence of these two semi-legendary figures as being mentioned in the old Norse sagas, and he believes that it is possible that Wyzdarwoda, along with Tyrker, might have settled on Greenland.
What is interesting about this whole account is that it was neither invented nor propagated by Poles, but rather by Americans. Apparently, the very first Polish-language mention of this story was made by a Polish Roman Catholic priest residing in the U.S. named Waclaw Kruszka on pg. 16 in his Historya Polska w Ameryce, Vol. 1, Milwaukee, 1905 (a second edition of this 13 volume work was published in the United States in 1937).
Kruszka might not have been the very first to publish that claim, either in English or Polish or in any other language, and the work that he cited as a source for this information is actually the English-language American-written Scribner’s History of the U.S.A., Vol. 1, pg. 42.
This book was not the work of any sensation-seeking ethno-centric Poles, but rather of unbiased and objective American scholars and researchers who somehow managed (probably using the same old Norse sources that were used by Jerzy Pertek) to establish that a journey of at least two Poles, or at least other Western Slavs, took place alongside the Norsemen all the way to the New World.
In fact, there is some evidence to support that claim, but before that, we must prove that Tyrker and Wyzdarwoda were Slavic and that will happen in our next article. Stay tuned.
More articles from this series:
Slavs in the Viking World Series: Introduction – Who Were the Vikings?
Slavs in the Viking World Series: Slavs in Scandinavia
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