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History of Pomerania

The Pomeranian Region in northern Poland has a long and fascinating history. Below you will find a brief summary of the history of the region from the Early Stone Age to present day.

Early History

In the Early Stone Age, some 15,000 years ago, the glaciers of the last Ice Age moved northwards, leaving tundra, hills and numerous small lakes in the regions of present northern Germany and Poland. During the Iron Age, the area was inhabited by numerous tribes. In the early centuries of the first millennium however, many tribes migrated from the region, leaving only a small number of Germanic tribes behind.

Middle Ages

In the Early Middle Ages, West Slavic tribes settled in the largely abandoned region. West of the Odra River, these tribes were referred to as Veleti (or Luticians), whereas the tribes settling between the Odra and the Wisla River were collectively known as Pomeranians. Rügen was inhabited by tribe known as Rani.

In the 11th and 12th century, the region was divided between the Dukes of Pomerania (the Griffin dynasty) in the west, and the Samborides in the eastern part that is also known as Pomeralia. During these centuries, both duchies were at various times vassal states of Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire and Poland. This was also the time when the population was converted to Christianity, mostly by the German bishop Otto von Bamberg. Dioceses were founded initially in Kolberg (Kołobrzeg) and later in Wolin.

At the end of the 12th century, the Duchy of Pomerania belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, the Principality of Rugia on the island of Rügen to Denmark, and Brandenburg, Denmark and the Teutonic Order were fighting for the rule over Pomeralia. The Teutonic Knight eventually took full control over Pomeralia in the 14th century. In 1325 the Principality of Rugia was inherited by the Griffins and included in the Duchy of Pomerania. This was also the time when many Pomeranian cities joined the Hanseatic League, including Stralsund, Stettin (Szczecin) and Kolberg.

In the 15th century the Duchy of Pomerania was marked by internal disputes, divisions, and conflicts with Mecklenburg and Brandenburg. It wasn't until 1478 that the duchy had a sole ruler again, Bogislaw X. Meanwhile the reign over Pomeralia was after a thirteen year war seeded in 1454 from the Teutonic Order to the Confederation of Prussia (Royal Prussia), which became a relatively autonomous region under the Crown of Poland.

Early Modern Age

The 16th century Pomerania was marked by the Protestant Reformation and economic downturn. The Duchy of Pomerania was once again split and had several conflicts with Brandenburg. In 1627 it was occupied by the Holy Roman Empire, and soon thereafter rolled into the Thirty Years' War. As a result of the war Pomerania lost two thirds of its population and many towns were destructed. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the following Treaty of Stettin (1653) arranged western Pomerania to become part of the Swedish Empire, and eastern Pomerania joining the Brandenburg-Prussia monarchy (Royal Prussia), which was established in 1618 and already included Pomeralia. During these wars, the Griffin Dynasty in Pomerania came to an end.

In the second half of the 17th century and first half of the 18th century, a number of wars involving amongst others Sweden, Denmark, Prussia and Poland (known as the Nordic Wars) brought more conflict and devastations to the region. Sweden lost its control over its regions in western Pomerania to Royal Prussia. In 1772 Poland was partitioned by the Russian, Prussian and Habsburg Empires. Royal Prussia, which for many years was part of the Polish Crown, became part of the Kingdom of Prussia as the Province of West Prussia. In 1793 also the large independent Hanseatic cities of Danzig (Gdańsk) and Thorn (Toruń) joined the newly created province. Large programs were set up to restore the war-torn region and resettling it was colonists from Germany, Poland and Bohemia.    

From Napoleon until World War I

Around the turn of the 18th century, Napoleonic Wars ravaged Europe. The Pomeranian province was invaded by French troops in 1806 and again in 1812. Following the defeat of Napoleon, the Kingdom of Prussia was reorganized its governmental divisions. The last Swedish remains in Pomerania were included in the newly constituted Pomeranian province with its seat in Szczecin. Pomerania was subdivided into the Stralsund, Stettin and Köslin regions. East of Pomerania the Province of West Prussia (later to be joined with East Prussia) was subdivided into the regions of Danzig and Marienwerder (Kwidzyn).

In 1871 the Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck enforced the unification of Germany, resulting in the Kingdom of Prussia (including its Pomeranian and Prussian provinces) to become part of the German Empire.

In 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany lead the country into World War I. With the Treaty of Versailles Pomerania was divided between Poland and Germany. The West Prussian province  became part of Poland as the Pomerania Voivodship (also known as the Polish Corridor), with Toruń as its capital. The Pomeranian province remained in the German Empire, whereas Danzig became independent as the Free City of Danzig.

World War II and beyond

Disputes regarding the rights to Danzig and German land transit over the Polish Corridor to East Prussia were used as reason for Hitler's attack on Poland in 1939. The first shots were fired on 1 September at Westerplatte near Danzig by a German warship. By October the Polish Corridor and Danzig were taken by German troops and annexed by Nazi-Germany as the Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia. In the following years Hitler's troops moved eastwards via Poland to Russia. After the German defeat at Stalingrad, the Red Army of the Soviet Union rapidly progressed westwards. Pomerania was conquered in the beginning of 1945, leaving vast devastations in the entire region.

With the advances of the Red Army, many Germans had fled westwards, leaving the region largely depopulated. After the defeat of Nazi-Germany, the borders of Central Europe were redrawn. The western part of the former Pomeranian Province became part of the newly established country East-Germany and was later merged into the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The remains of Pomerania, including Szczecin, as well as the Province of West Prussia and the city of Gdańsk became part of the Republic of Poland. After the war the Soviet troops remained in Poland, and the country joined the Communist Eastern Bloc. Germans still living in Pomerania were expelled and the region was repopulated mostly with settlers from the southern parts of Poland.

Around 1980, anticommunist movements started in Pomeranian coastal cities, including Gdańsk. The trade union Solidarity (Solidarność), under leadership of the later president Lech Wałęsa, gained popularity and helped trigger the fall of Communism in Poland and Eastern Europe in 1989. In the same year Poland returned to democracy. In 1998, following local government reforms, the Pomeranian region was divided into the voivodships of West Pomerania (Zachodniopomorskie) and Pomerania (Pomorskie), whilst some parts of former West Prussia like Toruń and Bydgoszcz became part of the voivodship Kuyavian-Pomerania (Kujawsko-Pomorskie).

In 2004 Poland joined the European Union and three years later also the Schengen Treaty, allowing now for easy access to Pomerania and an uplift of trade and tourism in the region. The European Championship 2012, which was organized by Poland together with Ukraine, has given another boost to the region.