The Jagiellonians

(jagiellonians.com)

64 points | by danielam 11 days ago

2 comments

  • lemursage 10 days ago
    One interesting thing is the perception of Jogalia aka Władysław II Jagiełło (King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania) by Polish and Lithuanians nowadays. I'm pretty sure he's quite cherished historically in Poland due to his relatively stable rule and rather famous wars waged against Teutonic order, incl. battle of Tannenberg (the OG battle). On the other hand, it seems that there was a period when Jogalia was perceived in a rather negative light by Lithuanians. Not sure if 'traitor' is the right description of that sentiment, but definitely getting into a personal union, that ultimately led to the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, seems to be judged rather unfavourably. From what I could understand, the dominance of Polish in that union was detrimental to the Lithuanian identity over time?

    If anybody knows to what extent and for what exact reasons we see those differing pictures of the same person by peoples of two countries that constituted the same political body for quite some time, I'd be interested in hearing some details.

    • vkazanov 10 days ago
      This has a lot to do with a simplistic (and wrong) projection of the modern concept of patriotism/nationalism to medieval history.

      Jogaila did what was good for his dynasty and himself personally, that's it. As an aristocrate he couldn't get a better deal.

      Back then there was no concept of nations and nation-states, which only evolved a couple of centuries later. An aristrocrate inherited lands and a relatively week tie to his patron. No "nation" in the power equation. They could and did switch sides a lot, especially if that meant extra subordinates and a higher aristocracy rank.

      Sadly, state-sponsored school textbooks always kind of skip this simple fact.

      • yywwbbn 9 days ago
        That’s kind of true (too some degree at least) if you’re talking about Western Europe. However Lithuania (and Jogaila himself) was still Pagan back then and had much closer ties to the Orthodox world. There was a very clear dividing line between the two nations and chances are Lithuania would have become Orthdox had he not been offered the throne of Poland.

        > An aristrocrate inherited lands and a relatively week tie to his patron. An aristrocrate inherited lands and a relatively week tie to his patron. No "nation" in the power equation. They could and did switch sides a lot, especially if that meant extra subordinates and a higher aristocracy rank.

        Polish nobles were not legally allowed to own land in Lithuania (and vice versa) many years after the initial union. Legally in many ways it was much harder to move to a different country without losing you social position and most or your property than nowadays.

        > there was no concept of nations and nation-states

        That just a misconception. Their understanding of what a nation was might have been quite a bit different but it did definitely exist.

        • vkazanov 9 days ago
          > That’s kind of true (too some degree at least) if you’re talking about Western Europe.

          Why do you think it was unique for Western Europe?

          The East was slightly behind in the feudal disunity phase but it had the same kind of picture: numerous duchies changing sides, one form of serfdom or another and no state representation on the ground. Local population did care about religion and language to a certain extent but didn't care about whatever problems aristocracy had.

          Dukes jumped sides at will, e.g. between Lithuania, Poland and other power centers in what was left of Kievan Rus. Even more so in pre-Mongol period.

          > That just a misconception. Their understanding of what a nation was might have been quite a bit different but it did definitely exist.

          It was fundamentally different. For a commoner the state was not represented locally in any way. They could say something like "in the land of Rus" or even a smaller Zemaitija (aka Samogitia), which was more of a region than a political structure. What mattered was your local priest as well your local duke (or a lesser nobleman).

          The region of modern Lithuania had a similar disunited structure in late 14th century, maybe a bit more on the archaic pagan kind of phase.

          I am pretty sure the situation was similar in what became Poland, with szlachta and priests being more important than the state.

          > That just a misconception. Their understanding of what a nation was might have been quite a bit different but it did definitely exist.

          What I was pointing out in that comment about Jogaila is exactly that nation-states were basically not known in Europe back then. There were regions, where people understood each other, practised a similar religion and probably had a similar way of life but this was not reflected in power structures the same way modern nation-states represent these things.

          In fact, the state was not represented in people's daily life until much later. Even more so in Eastern Europe where population density and general economical ties were always much lower.

          So for Jogaila and his colleagues it was meaningless to think in terms of modern nationalism and patriotism.

      • AinderS 9 days ago
        > Back then there was no concept of nations and nation-states, which only evolved a couple of centuries later.

        Just because the power structures didn't perfectly reflect nations, doesn't mean nations didn't exist. Look at, for example, Catalonia, that still has a concept of its own nationhood despite being ruled by Spain.

        Or look at the British Raj, for that matter. Britain and India were both ruled by the same royal family, yet no-one pretends their people's identities weren't distinct.

        • vkazanov 9 days ago
          Or Ancient Egypt, which had all the necessary attributes in place over 4 thousand years ago... not quite the case with feudal societies in medieval Europe.

          I am only speaking about medieval Europe, btw. And British colonial rule over India is clearly out of scope here. Besides, monarchy by then was a VERY different construct.

          • AinderS 9 days ago
            > British colonial rule

            Keep going. What makes "colonial rule" different from rule by an aristocrat that inherited lands, if people have no concept of nationhood, and one aristocrat is as good as another?

    • rich_sasha 10 days ago
      Interesting.

      As far as I can tell, both nations see the union as "their" one. Poland, as you say, grew to be more dominant culturally and politically, Lithuania brought in more territory.

      The Commonwealth eventually collapsed, which certainly in Poland is seen as the greatest disaster of the country's history. I'd imagine similarly in Lithuania; it brought cruel foreign rule to all of its former territories. The state collapsed because it was more and more dysfunctional, perhaps due to its inhomogeneity, so eg in Poland the union is sometimes seen as short term good but long term bad. But the mainstream view remains "look how big Poland was. Yes and that other bit too".

      It probably doesn't help that after the post-war border rejig, Lithuania is left as a territorially small country, with much of its heartland chopped off, and initially at least with a huge Polish minority wishing that the territory they live in was in fact awarded to Poland. Vilnius to this day is, i believe, something like 10% Polish population. There's countless trips from Poland admiring "our" city full of "Polish history".

      So basically Poland and Lithuania built together an empire that collapsed badly, leaving considerable animosity between the nations, which i guess sours the memory of the empire, and leaves people wondering what the past would have looked like if not for the joint venture.

      The reality is that, together or apart, it still lie between Russia and Germany, so a hard place to be, but it's always nice to have a bogeyman to blame

      • vkazanov 10 days ago
        Well... about that hard place. At some point it was the Commonwealth that dominated the region. A Polish Prince could have kicked off a Russian tzar dynasty:

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Władysław_IV_Vasa

        Unfortunately, this was completely mismanaged by prince's father and, transitively, the Pope, who saw this as a great possibility to expand Rome's rule in the region.

        • inglor_cz 9 days ago
          True, most people don't realize that Russia was, from the European point of view, a non-entity for much of its history. The country was big, but very poor and underdeveloped.

          Only in the 1700s Russia starts to emerge as a serious contender in European power struggles.

      • inglor_cz 9 days ago
        "eventually"

        After some 400 years. Most currently existing countries, at least in their contemporary political form, haven't reached this mark yet.

        • rich_sasha 9 days ago
          It's more that the collapse was particularly painful for Poles and Lithuanians.

          Incidentally, it is around that time that Ukraine got under Russian hegemony too. Not that Ukraine got a good deal under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmelnytsky_Uprising

    • rpastuszak 10 days ago
      In Our Time (the BBC podcast) has a decent episode on the subject: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0010f8z
      • lemursage 9 days ago
        That was a really great listen, thanks! It actually mentions some of the concepts discussed around here (up or down, may be hard to tell in a while) about how people perceived the Commonwealth and the Republic.
    • scyzoryk_xyz 10 days ago
      Jagiełło is up there as one of the greatest greats of all time in Polish national mythology.

      I mean I’m no historian, but my impression here in Europe is that every nation has its heroes. And that those same heroes are often villains in the histories of neighboring national mythologies.

      I know this isn’t some big insight. But from my Polish perspective I think it’s all much more recent than we would like to think. We learn all of this stuff on the basis of a highly politicized curriculum. For instance most of the current Polish national stories/facts date back only to 19th century literature, which was highly focused on restoring the Polish national myth.

      Our minds can’t wrap their way around time very well. So, we end up believing that someone from the 19th century somehow knew more than we do about the 17th century. Fact is, someone from the end of the 18th century probably could already have distorted knowledge about the beginning of the 18th century.

      So I think shitty nationalist arguments over Jagiełło’s rule have more to do with what modern Poles and modern Lithuanians think, than with what was really going on in that historical period.

      Anyways I’m surprised Jaggielonians were this important historically later. I’m a bit suspicious about modern motivations around supporting myths that they’re worth cherishing. Are there ancestors who have an interest in making themselves “royal” for the purposes of their ego?

      What’s more - why is this even on Hacker News? Isn’t this, like completely off topic?

      edit: I don’t want to be harsh - the subject does sound very interesting, and worth investigating. Oxford historians are probably more than very well aware of everything I said above.

      • inglor_cz 9 days ago
        The Commonwealth was an interesting entity.

        Lithuanians were the last remaining pagans in Europe, retaining a lot of pagan customs and practices even after their nominal conversion to Christianity. Poles were much more devout Catholics.

        The two languages are absolutely mutually incomprehensible, plus there were significant minorities that spoke other incomprehensible languages.

        There wasn't any good road system etc., and the country had just a few ports worth their name. It also existed a dangerous neighbourhood: Prussia, Sweden, Turkey.

        But it still endured for 400 years. That is quite remarkable. If I saw a Linux server with 25 years uptime, I would be equally surprised.

      • abrichr 9 days ago
        From the guidelines (link in footer):

        > On-Topic: Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

        • scyzoryk_xyz 9 days ago
          I get it - I’m more so expressing surprise with this subject, rather than dissatisfaction.
    • praptak 9 days ago
      Lithuanians have much more recent reasons to hate Poland. The Polish annexation of Vilnius in 1919 was a dick move. It gives Lithuanians strong reasons to colour their view of past events.
      • yywwbbn 9 days ago
        Well it was a Polish (and Jewish) at the time. And the Lithuanian state wasn’t particularly interested in any compromise with Poland.

        And well.. Lithuania did the same when it snatched Klaipeda/Memel (well worse to be fair considering that most people living there would have preferred if the region was returned to Germany).

      • AlbertCory 9 days ago
        Tverečius also (see my top-level comment).
  • AlbertCory 9 days ago
    I'm so enjoying the comments about Polish & Lithuanians hating each other, because:

    1) My neighborhood had a lot of both

    2) My parents were both (Dad: Lithuanian, Mom: Polish)

    3) I was completely unaware of any feud growing up

    4) One grandmother was from Tverečius, now Lithuanian but Polish in the interwar period.

    • lemursage 9 days ago
      I was also not quite aware of such feud! I generally assumed that Poles and Lithuanians got along pretty well, or at least that was my impression from talking to Poles. Some time later I asked two Lithuanian guys what's up with this, what I saw as, asymmetric feud, and they explained that it may be in part due to some communities in the Polish minority in Lithuania, which were rather pro-Russian. Needless to say I was told that many years before the war in Ukraine, way before 2014 (no idea how the perception is now). This really perplexed me to the point where I permanently gave up understanding this kind of feud/friendship generalisation -- not only this stuff is extremely local, region-wise, and in the long run, it just does not hold up.
      • AlbertCory 9 days ago
        I've just recently heard from a guy from my 'hood who said there used to be fights between Polish & Lithuanian kids. This was totally news to me.

        Btw, if anyone is able to do genealogical research in that area (as opposed to sitting on your computer using English from somewhere else) for money, pls get in touch with me. I'm looking for data for after WW I, not for the great waves of immigration.

      • praptak 9 days ago
        You properly saw that as asymmetric. Most Poles are not aware of (some) Lithuanians holding a grudge. The way we're taught history is pretty one-sided.