Danzig and Poland in History

Danzig and Poland in History

Danzig and Poland in History

By Stanislaw Kutrzeba

Baltic and Scandinavian Countries, Vol.4 (1938)

Introduction: Danzig’s (Gdansk’s) relations with Poland have described a chequered course since the city first received historical mention in the Life of St.Adalbert in 997. The interwoven fortunes of Danzig and Poland are a fruitful theme, and it will be of singular interest to ascertain to what extent they have been moulded by the geographical location of the region in which Danzig is situated, and to what extent they mirror the influence of human factors.

It will be apposite to commence with a brief outiine of Danzig’s past. The city was first under the sway of a Polish monarch, and from the twelfth century belonged to the territories ruled by the Dukes of Pomerania. On the extinction of this dynasty in 1294, its dominions together with Danzig passed into the hands of Przemyslaw II, Duke of Great-Poland, who was crowned King of Poland a year later. In 13o8 the Knights of the Teutonic Orcler stormed the city and held it until 1454, when Danzig returned to the Polish Crown during the reign of Casimir II. From that time the fate of Danzig was bound up with Poland until the Partition of thc Polish Commonwealth in 1793, when the city passed for a short time under Prussian rule. After the crushing defeat of the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt, Napoleon severed Diinzie’s connexion with Prussia and made it a Free City in 18o7 under the protectorate of the Duchy of Warsaw and of Saxony. Eight years later, when Napoleon was finally brought to bay, the city was again handed over to Prussia by the Treaty of Vienna. It returned to its status as a Free City under the terms of the treaty of Versailles in 1919 and was bracketed in intimate relation with Poland: the control of its foreign affairs was vested in the Polish Republic and it was incorporated within the Polish customs area.

In surveying Danzig’s position in the past, we are accustomed to regard it as having been the principal and virtually only port of the former Polish Commonwealth, and, as such, an essential apanage of that massive realm. Straddling the mouth of Poland’s main commercial artery, the Vistula, Danzig handled the trade served by that river and its navigable tributaries (comprising 4,ooo kilometres of waterways) over an area of nearly 2oo,ooo square kilometres. Possession of Danzig was therefore an obvious and vital necessity for the economic life of Poland. Nearly the whole of her extensive corn trade and the bulk of her exports of forest produce were routed through Danzig; the port also served as the chief point if ingress for Poland’s imports, particularly of cloth and manufactured goods from the Western countries.

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