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27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Transylvania (Hungarian Erdely and German Siebenburgen) located in today’s Romania northern from the Carpathian Mountains was conquered by the Hungarians about year 900. A short period of independence at the beginning of the 11th century was followed by incorporation of Transylvania into the Kingdom of Hungary as an autonomous vassal duchy ruled by a prince or voivod responsible to the Hungarian King. Transylvania was settled by the German Saxons who were invited by the Hungarian King Geza II in the 12th and 13th century. The Saxons, the Szeklers (a Hungarian-speaking community of unknown origin) and Hungarian nobility formed the Union of the Three Nations as a ruling social class in Transylvania. The Romanian population mostly belonged to the class of serfs and was excluded from the political life.

A portrait of John Hunyadi

John Hunyadi

Like the Balkan Peninsula, Transylvania was faced with the Ottoman threat at the end of the 14th century. The leader of the resistance against the Ottomans became John Hunyadi who was rewarded with the captaincy of the fortress of Belgrade and the governorship (voivodship) of Transylvania in 1440 for his support to the candidacy of Ladislaus III of Poland to the Hungarian throne. He decisively defeated the Ottoman forces at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 and repulsed the Ottoman threat to southern Hungary for the next seven decades. John Hunyadi died of plague three weeks after the lifting of the Siege of Belgrade, while his younger son Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490) succeeded Ladislaus the Posthumous as King of Hungary in 1458.

Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The Monastic state of the Teutonic Knights was established by the Teutonic Knights in 1226. The German Roman Catholic religious order was founded during the siege of Acre during the Third Crusade in 1190. They moved to Transylvania to help Andrew II of Hungary against the Cumans in 1221 but they came into conflict with the Hungarian king and were forced to leave Transylvania in 1225.

The Polish Duke Konrad I of Masovia applied to the Teutonic Knights for aid against the pagan Prussians in 1226. Konrad gave them Chelmno Land (today’s central Poland bounded by the Vistula and Drweca rivers) as a base for their campaigns, while Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and the Pope gave the Teutonic Order a special privilege for the conquest of Prussia and its occupation, including Chelmno Land. The Teutonic Knights conquered the Prussian lands over the following decades and absorbed the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, while Prussia was mostly colonized by the German emigrants after they suppressed the revolts of the Slavic population.

A portrait of Grand Master Winrich von Kniprode

Winrich von Kniprode

Military campaigns of the Teutonic Knights against the pagans lasted until the 14th century when they came into conflict with Lithuania, while the seizure of Pomerania from Brandenburg in 1308/1309 provoked a conflict with Poland. The Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights evolved into an important North European and reached its zenith under the Grand Master Winrich von Kniprode (1351-1382). However, the Teutonic Knights were severely defeated by the Poles and Lithuanians in the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410 and never recovered from the defeat. They were forced to cede West Prussia and Pomerelia to Poland with the second Treaty of Torun in 1466, while the remaining East Prussia became a Polish fief. The rule of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia finally collapsed in 1525 when the Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg accepted Protestantism, dissolved the order and declared Prussia a secular duchy under Polish suzerainty.

Kingdom of Hungary (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Dynastic turmoils in Hungary greatly weakened the royal power and resulted in the rise of powerful nobles at the beginning of the 13th century. Andrew II (1205-1235) was forced to issue the Golden Bull in 1222 giving nobility the right to disobey the king when acting against the law. The Golden Bull of 1222 also obliged the king to regularly convoke the diet and increased the power of nobility in the counties. Andrew’s successor Bela IV (1235-1270) tried limit the power of the magnates and to recover the lost crown-lands. However, his reign was marked by the Mongol invasion in 1241 and severe Hungarian defeat in the Battle of Mohi or Battle of the Sajo River in 1241. Bela IV fled to Dalmatia and appealed to Pope Gregory IX and to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II for assistance against the Mongols. However, none of them responded to his appeal, while Hungary was meanwhile plundered by the Mongols.

The Mongols withdrew because of dynastic crisis in the Mongolian Empire in 1241. Bela IV returned to Hungary which was totally devastated, while western portions of the kingdom were seized by Frederick of Austria. The Hungarians were defeated by Frederick but the latter was killed in the battle at the Leitha River in 1246. The male line of the House of Babenberg became extinct on Frederick’s death but Bela was defeated by Ottokar II of Bohemia in their struggle for Frederick’s inheritance – the Duchies of Austria and Styria in 1260. Bela IV managed to repulse the second Mongolian invasion one year later but the last years of his rule were marked by struggles with his son Stephen V (1246-1272). The latter was crowned junior King and entrusted the government of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia in 1246, and Transylvania in 1258. Stephen V ascended to the Hungarian throne on his father’s death but the deceased senior king entrusted his daughter Anna and his followers to Ottokar II of Bohemia. Ottokar II started a war against Stephen V but the Hungarian King decisively defeated his rival in 1271. He died suddenly in 1272 and was succeeded by his ten year old son Ladislaus IV (1272-1290). Ladislaus’ reign was marked by loss of royal power to the Hungarian magnates and lower nobility. He became very unpopular for favoring the Cumans but he was assassinated by his own Cuman favorites in 1290. Ladislaus IV without an heir to the throne and was succeeded by Andrew III (1290-1301) who the last Hungarian king from the Arpad Dynasty.

Medieval illustration of Charles Robert

Charles Robert

The Hungarian nobility elected Wenceslaus III Premyslid as King of Hungary after the extinction of the Arpad Dynasty. Wenceslaus renounced the Hungarian crown to Otto, Duke of Lower Bavaria in 1305 but the latter was imprisoned in 1307 and abdicated as King of Hungary one year later. The Hungarian throne was assumed by Charles Robert of the Angevin Dynasty as Charles I of Hungary (1308-1342). He managed to restore the royal power as well as to increase the Hungarian foreign prestige. In 1335, he concluded a mutual defense union with Poland which resulted in the victory over Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV and his ally the Habsburg Duke Albert II of Austria in 1337. Charles’ plans to unite the kingdoms of Hungary and Naples under his son Louis I disturbed Venice and the Pope that felt threatened from the eventual Hungarian supremacy on the Adriatic. One of his greatest achievements was the agreement with his ally and brother-in-law, Casimir III of Poland which foresaw the succession of Charles’ son to the Polish throne in case if Casimir III died childless. Thus Charles’ successor Louis I (1342-1382) assumed the Polish throne after Casimir’s death in 1370 but the Hungarian-Polish union fall apart after Louis’ death. His younger daughter gained Poland, while the elder daughter Mary became heiress to the Hungarian throne.

The Hungarian throne was assumed by Sigismund (1387-1439), Margrave of Brandenburg through marriage with Mary in 1387. Hungary was at that time seriously endangered by the Ottomans who invaded Hungary in 1395. Thus Sigismund concentrated on defending his kingdom against the Ottomans but he was severely defeated by Sultan Bayezid I in the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. Sigismund’s authority in Hungary reached its lowest point after the defeat at Nicopolis and he put all his efforts in securing the inheritance of Germany and Bohemia.

A portrait of Ladislaus the Posthumous

Ladislaus the Posthumous

Both Sigismund’s successors Albert II of Habsburg (1437-1439) and Wladyslaw III of Poland (1439-44) died during campaign against the Ottomans. Ladislaus the Posthumous (1440-1457) was elected King of Hungary after Wladyslaw’s death but he was under guardianship of Frederick IV who virtually held him as prisoner. Janos Hunyadi acted as his regent in Hungary until Ladislaus was freed by Ulrich of Celje, Princely Count of Celje in 1452. Ulrich of Celje acted as his guardian until 1456 when he was murdered by his rival Laszlo Hunyadi.

Ladislaus the Posthumous died in 1457 and the diet elected Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490), brother of Laszlo Hunyadi as King of Hungary. He reasserted Hungarian suzerainty over Bosnia in 1458, defeated Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1462 and launched a campaign against the Ottomans who remained a constant threat. Matthias got involved in the struggle for the Bohemian throne after the death of George of Podebrady in 1471. With the Peace of Olomouc in 1478 he gained shared title of King of Bohemia and forced his rival Vladislaus II of Poland to cede Silesia, Moravia, and Upper and Lower Lusatia to Hungary. Matthias Corvinus made Hungary the dominant power in south-central Europe by the end of his reign but his successor Vladislaus II (1490-1516) was not able to pursue Matthias’ policy and lost his power to the nobles.

Bohemia (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Bohemia was elevated into an independent kingdom within the Holy Roman Empire under Ottokar I or Otakar I (1198-1230) and the royal title became hereditary. Ottokar I was succeeded by Wenceslaus I Premyslid (1230-1253) who successfully repulsed the Mongolian attack in 1241 and suppressed the rebellion led by his son Ottokar II who was imprisoned. He arranged marriage between his first born son and heir Vladislaus with the Duke’s niece Gertrud to gain the Duchy of Austria but Vladislaus died shortly afterwards, while his widow swiftly remarried. Wenceslaus I invaded Austria, released his son Ottokar II, named him margrave of Moravia and installed him as governor of Austria.

Burial crown of Ottokar II of Bohemia on display at Prague castle

Burial crown of Ottokar II

Ottokar II married the late Duke’s sister Margaret to legitimize his position in Austria and succeeded his father Wenceslaus I as Ottokar II of Bohemia (1253-1278). He seized Styria from Hungary in 1260 and inherited Carinthia and Carniola in 1269. Bohemia reached its greatest territorial extent stretching from Silesia to the Adriatic and became the most powerful state of the Holy Roman Empire. Ottokar II joined the contest for the Imperial throne and refused to recognize his victorious rival Rudolph of Habsburg. However, he was deprived of Styria, Austria and Carinthia at the convention of the Reichstag at Frankfurt in 1274 and forced to give up all claims to Austria and the neighboring duchies two years later. Ottokar II retained only Bohemia and Moravia. He tried to recapture the lost lands but he was defeated and killed by Rudolph of Habsburg in the Battle of Durnkrut and Jedenspeigen in 1278.

Ottokar II was succeeded by his son Wenceslaus II (1278-1305). He gained the Duchy of Krakow from Premislas II but the latter retained other duchies in Poland and the royal insignia from Krakow, and was crowned King of Poland in 1295. However, Wenceslaus became the overlord of Poland after Premislas’ death in 1296 and was crowned King of Poland in 1300. Wenceslaus also assumed the Hungarian throne on behalf of his son after death of Andrew III of Hungary, the last of the Arpad dynasty in male line in 1301 but he failed to gain full support of the Hungarians. He was succeeded by his son Wenceslaus III (1305-1306) who renounced his claim to the Hungarian throne and met difficulties in Poland. He was murdered under mysterious circumstances in Olomouc, Moravia in 1306.

The Premyslid dynasty became extinct after the death of Wenceslaus III and the Bohemian throne was assumed by Henry VI of Carinthia (1306-1310). In 1310, he was deposed by John of Luxembourg (1310-1346) who assumed the Bohemian throne through marriage with Elisabeth, heiress of Wenceslaus III of Bohemia. John of Luxembourg extended Bohemian territory to upper Lusatia and Silesia and ruled part of Lombardy and Tyrol for a short period. He got involved in the Hundred Years’ War siding with France against England but he was killed in the Battle of Crecy in 1346.

A photo of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle taken by Frantisek Fridrich in 1870

Charles Bridge

John of Luxembourg was succeeded by Charles IV (1346-1378) who was elected King of Germany in 1346 and crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. Bohemia reached its political and cultural height during his reign. Charles IV greatly increased the power of his dynasty through skillful diplomacy, purchases, marriages and inheritance, and made Prague the political and cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire. He founded the first university in Prague and in Central Europe in 1348, expanded and rebuilt the Prague Castle, built much of the cathedral of Saint Vitus and ordered the construction of the famous Charles Bridge.

Charles IV was succeeded by his son Wenceslaus IV (1378-1419) who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1376. However, he was deposed as Holy Roman Emperor and replaced by Rupert of Wittelsbach in 1400. As King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus IV supported the religious reformer Jan Hus and his followers against the Roman Catholic Church. Hus’ execution in 1415 provoked serious unrest which resulted in the outbreak of the Hussite Wars (1420-1434) after Wenceslaus’ death in 1419.

A portrait of Prokop the Great

Prokop the Great

The Bohemian crown was claimed by Wenceslaus’ brother Sigismund, King of Hungary from 1387 and King of Germany from 1411. However, the Bohemians refused to recognize Sigismund as King of Bohemia because of his role at the Council of Constance which burned Jan Hus at the stake for heresy. Sigismund declared a war against the heretics but all his military campaigns against the Hussites led by Jan Ziska and Prokop the Great failed. He was able to assert his rights to the Bohemian throne only after the outbreak of a war between the two fractions of Hussites, the Utraquists and the Taborites in 1434. The Hussite Wars ended with the peace agreement signed at Jihlava by King Sigismund, the Hussite delegates and the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in 1436. Sigismund was finally crowned King of Bohemia but his power was little more than nominal.

Albert II of Habsburg (1437-1439) who was married with Sigismund’s daughter and heiress Elizabeth succeeded Sigismund as King of Hungary, Germany and Bohemia. He was killed in a campaign against the Ottomans at Neszmely in 1439 and was succeeded by his posthumously born son Ladislaus the Posthumous (1453-1457). The latter was crowned king of Bohemia at age of thirteen in 1453 but he died suddenly in 1457. He was succeeded by his regent George of Podebrady (1458-1471) who was the last domestic ruler of Bohemia.

George of Podebrady was succeeded by Vladislaus II who was unable to defeat his rival Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary who claimed the Bohemian throne. The conflict between the rival kings was settled with the Peace of Olomouc in 1478 allowing both Vladislaus and Matthias Corvinus to use the title King of Bohemia. Vladislaus reigned Bohemia, while Matthias gained Moravia, Silesia and the two Lusatias. Vladislaus II succeeded Matthias’ as King of Hungary on his death in 1490 and incorporated the Bohemian lands into the Kingdom of Hungary.

Kingdom of Poland (13th – 15th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Poland was not a solid political entity at the beginning of the 13th century, while its northern frontier was endangered by the pagan Lithuanians and the Prussians. Konrad I, Duke of Masovia (1199-1247) applied to the Teutonic Knights for military assistance. The Teutonic Knights launched several campaigns against the Lithuanians but they started to conquer the Polish lands as well, while southeastern Poland was invaded by the Mongols in 1241. Poland was fragmented but the idea of Polish unity survived and was renewed under Premislas II, Duke of Greater Poland and Gdansk Pomerania who was crowned King of Poland in 1295. He was assassinated one year later and was succeeded by Wenceslaus II Premyslid who was crowned King of Poland in 1300.

Wladyslaw I Lokietek proclaimed himself Premislas’ successor and took advantage of the struggles for the succession in Bohemia after death of Wenceslaus III of Bohemia in 1305. He defeated his opponents and unified Poland in 1305. Wladyslaw I Lokietek was crowned King of Poland in Krakow in 1320 and created a strong central authority. He also rejected the claims of John of Luxembourg to the Polish throne, repulsed the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Plowce in 1331 and tried to settle the conflicts with Gediminas of Lithuania through friendly politics.

A portrait of Casimir III the Great, King of Poland

Casimir III the Great

Wladyslaw’s successor Casimir III the Great (1333-1370) continued friendly politics towards Lithuania, conquered Red Russia and Masovia, and made Poland one of the leading European powers after mediating between the kings of Bohemia and Hungary at the Congress of Krakow in 1364. Casimir’s reign was also marked by codification of the Polish civil and criminal law, erection of numerous castles and foundation of the University of Krakow in 1364. Wladyslaw I died without a male descendant in 1370. The Polish throne passed to Louis I of Hungary (1342-1382), the eldest son of Charles Robert and Elisabeth, daughter of Wladyslaw I Lokietek and sister of Casimir the Great. However, the personal union between Poland and Hungary collapsed after the death of Louis I of Hungary.

Portrait of Queen Jadwiga by Antoni Piotrowski

Queen Jadwiga

Louis’ younger daughter Jadwiga assumed the throne of Poland. She married Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania (1377-1434) who was crowned King of Poland as Wladyslaw II Jagiello in 1386. Thus Poland and Lithuania were joined into a personal union known as the Polish-Lithuanian Union which became one of the leading European powers. However, Wladyslaw II Jagiello had to secure his position both in Lithuania and Poland. His right to the Polish throne was challenged after the death of Jadwiga and their few months old daughter in 1399. Wladyslaw legitimized his rule in Poland by marrying Anna of Celje, a granddaughter of Casimir III of Poland and secured his authority in Lithuania with the Union of Vilnius and Radom of 1401. The agreement granted his rival and cousin Vytautas wide autonomy and title Grand Duke. The Polish King would inherit the Grand Duchy if Vytautas died first but in case if Jagiello would die first without an heir the Polish nobility agreed not to elect new king without consulting Vytautas.

Jagiello dealt with the Teutonic Knights after securing his position in Poland and Lithuania. The Polish-Lithuanian forces decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410 and dictated the terms of the First Peace of Torun of 1411 which ended the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War (1409-1411). The Poles and Lithuanians demanded only small portions of land but the peace treaty ruined the Teutonic treasury and the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights never recovered.

Wladyslaw II Jagiello was succeeded by Wladyslaw III (1434-1440) who was Jagiello’s first-born son from his third marriage with Sophia of Halshany. Wladyslaw III had to face opposition of Polish magnates who had their own candidate: Friedrich of Brandenburg who was betrothed to Jadwiga, Jagiello’s daughter by his second wife. However, Wladyslaw’s position was secured when the princess died. He was also elected King of Hungary after the death of Albert II of Habsburg in 1440 but as King of Hungary he had to face the growing threat of the Ottoman Empire. Wladyslaw III organized an anti-Ottoman Crusade but he was killed in the Battle of Varna in 1444. He died without a heir to the throne and was succeeded by his brother Casimir IV Jagiellon (1447-1492), Grand Duke of Lithuania after a three-year interregnum, while the throne of Hungary was meanwhile assumed by Ladislaus the Posthumous.

Casimir’s greatest achievement was victory in the Thirteen Years’ War (1444-1466) against the Teutonic Order which resulted in the incorporation of Prussia into the Kingdom of Poland. Casimir III also created alliances with several European royal houses through his marriage with Elizabeth of Habsburg as well as through marriages of his children. The Jagiellons reigned Bohemia, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania establishing their overlordship over virtually all Eastern and Central Europe by the end of the 15th century.

Grand Duchy of Moscow

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

The lands of the Kievan Rus (except for Novgorod and the territories captured by Poland and Lithuania) came under the Mongol domination lasting from 1240 until the fall of the western part of Mongol Empire or the Golden Horde two centuries later. Decline of the Golden Horde after the middle of the 14th century was taken advantage by the Grand Princes of Moscow or “the gatherers of Russian lands” who greatly expanded their territories by the middle of the 15th century. Rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow was partly a result of its geographical position but it was also greatly influenced by the transfer of residence from Kiev to Moscow by the Orthodox Metropolitan Peter in 1327 which greatly enhanced its prestige. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was made the Russian religious center and became regarded as the heir of the Kievan Rus.

Grand Prince Dmitri of the Don (1359-1389) achieved the first major victory over the Golden Horde in the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. However, the victory in the Battle at Kulikovo did not bring permanent triumph over the Mongols and Khan Tokhtamysh devastated Moscow only two years later. Like Dmitri’s, Tokhtamysh’s success was short-lasting. The forces of Golden Horde were severely defeated by the army of Timur at the end of 1380’s.

Timur did not had interest in permanent conquest of Moscow nor in replacement of the ruined Mongol Empire with its own empire which greatly influenced the relations between the Mongols and Russians. They became equal adversaries and Vasily I (1389-1425) stopped paying tribute to the Khan. He expanded the territory of Moscow eastwards and northwards but he was forced to pursue a more conciliatory policy after the Mongol invasion in 1408. His successor Vasily II (1425-1462) further strengthened his authority and played an important role in the liberation of Russia from the Mongol yoke despite being defeated and captured by the Mongols. Many cities of the Grand Duchy of Moscow were devastated but Vasily II returned to power and recaptured all the lost lands by the end of his rule.

A portrait of Ivan III the Great, Grand Prince of Moscow

Ivan III the Great

Vasily II was succeeded by his son Ivan III the Great (1462-1505) who finally liberated Russia from the Mongol yoke and quadrupled the territory of the Grand Duchy of Moscow by the end of his rule. In 1480, he refused to pay tribute to the Mongols and defeated the Mongols who marched to Moscow without the use of force. The Russian and Mongol forces confronted each other on opposite sides of the Ugra River for months but the Mongols withdrew because their allies Lithuanians did not sent military assistance. Thus the Mongol rule collapsed although there were still several clashes afterwards. Alliance with the Crimean Khanate secured the southern frontier and enabled Ivan the territorial expansion westwards. However, his attacks on Sweden (in 1496 and 1497) and Livonia (1502) ended with defeat and Ivan III failed to gain access to the Baltic Sea. He had more success against the Polish-Lithuanian Union and gained the support of the Lithuanian Orthodox nobles who voluntary subordinated themselves to the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

Ivan’s foreign politics and territorial expansion also greatly influenced inner politics. Ivan III wedded Sophia Paleologue, a niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, transformed the Duchy of Moscow into a centralized state and titled himself Tsar. He also reduced the power of the nobility by creation of a class of loyal officials. Moscow claimed to be a Third Rome after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, adopted the customs of the Byzantine court and added two-headed eagle of Byzantium to the Muscovy arms.

Kingdom of Poland (10th – 12th c.)

27 Jul
July 27, 2012

Polish lands were unified at the beginning of the 10th century but the history of the Polish unification is mostly unknown because of the lack of historical sources. The first written sources of Medieval Poland date from the middle of the 10th century when Poland started expansion westwards and came into conflict with the Medieval German state. Mieszko I (962-992) payed a tribute to Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor for the territory between the Oder and Warta Rivers. He was succeeded by his son Boleslaw I the Brave (992-1025) who completed the process of unification of Poland that was started by his father and became the first crowned King of Poland in 1025.

Casimir I the Restorer

Casimir I the Restorer

Boleslaw I died in the same year of his coronation and was succeeded by his son Mieszko II (1025-1034) who had to face a strong opposition of numerous landlords. He lost Pomerania, Lusatia and the territory between the Vistula and Bug River, while the Bohemians captured Silesia in 1038. His successor Casimir I the Restorer (1037-1058) managed to reduce the opposition of the landlords and to unify Poland. Casimir’s successor Boleslaw II (1058-1079) took advantage of the conflict between the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII and proclaimed himself King of Poland in 1076 but the rebellious landlords forced him to abdicate in 1079. Boleslaw II was succeeded by his brother Wladyslaw I Herman who was forced to abdicate as well.

The Polish throne was assumed by Boleslaw III Wrymouth (1102-1138) after Wladyslaw’s abdication in 1102. On his death he divided Poland into five principalities: Silesia, Greater Poland, Mazovia, Sandomir and Krakow. The first four principalities were divided among his four sons who became independent rulers, while Krakow was given to his eldest son Wladyslaw who was as Grand Duke of Krakow the representative of whole Poland. Wladyslaw tried to unify Poland by depriving his brothers of their shares provoking a civil war which ended with Wladyslaw’s defeat and disintegration of the Kingdom of Poland. The Grand Duke of Krakow retained the title Duke of Poland but he greatly depended on the nobles and clergy exerting a constant pressure to gain more rights and privileges. In 1102, the Polish kingdom was divided on numerous smaller political units which were de factoindependent.

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