Gdańsk (German, Danzig)

views updated

GDAŃSK (German, Danzig)

GDAŃSK (German, Danzig). A Slavic village founded in the second half of the tenth century at the mouth of the Vistula on the Baltic, Gdańsk became a largely German-speaking Hansa city, serving as the major port for trade between the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania and western Europe, especially Holland. The Teutonic Knights, welcomed in 1226 by the rulers of the Polish principality of Mazovia, occupied Gdańsk in 1308. German immigrants began to reside in the suburbs by the second half of the thirteenth century. After the defeat of the Teutonic Knights by Polish-Lithuanian forces at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg, 1410), Gdańsk swore allegiance to the Polish crown. In response to the Knights' continued threats, gentry, clergy, and nineteen towns formed the Prussian Union in 1440. The order's rule ended definitively in Gdańsk in 1454, and the Prussian estates again swore allegiance to the Polish crown.

The privilegia casimiriana (for King Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk, ruled 14441492) laid the foundation for the city's rights and freedoms until 1793. Gdańsk was now linked via the Vistula with the Polish-Lithuanian hinterland, where it had the right of free trade; the king promised to respect the city's autonomies. Gdańsk flourished, together with the commonwealth, until the wars of the mid-seventeenth century. Population rose from about 20,000 in 1450 to a peak of c. 70,000 in 1650, making it the leading city of Poland-Lithuania. The port became the link between two major trading partners, Poland and Holland, with Gdańsk merchants reaping profits from the grain trade. Imports included salt, salt herrings, spices, and wine.

The Reformation came to Gdańsk against the background of challenges to the patriciate's monopoly of power in the years 15221526. King Zygmunt I restored order in 1526, again banning Lutheran teachings. Residents may have remained crypto-Lutherans, and the ideas soon resurfaced. Sigismund II Augustus in 1557 allowed Communion in both kinds, and in 1577 Stephen Báthory granted a privilege for the practice of Lutheranism. By the seventeenth century the city was divided into a Calvinist patriciate and a Lutheran commonality. Some Catholics, some of them Slavs, lived in the city and suburbs. Jews, Mennonites, and Quakers competed with the city's artisans and merchants, although they were restricted to residence in the suburbs, where other sorts of non-guild commercial activities throve.

Printing began in Gdańsk in 1499, and by the seventeenth century local houses were producing books in German, Dutch, Polish, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. An Academic Grammar School stood at the peak of the city's education system and drew students from abroad (including Poles, Lithuanians, and Hungarians); it offered a course in Polish from 1589. Members of the merchant patriciate emulated the lives of Polish nobles, and residents sent their children to the hinterland to acquire the language. The Collegium Medicum founded in 1614 was the first such institution in the commonwealth.

The city defended its independence from foreign powers (Prussia, Sweden, Russia) just as tenaciously as it guarded its ties with, and privileges and rights vis-à-vis, the Polish crown. It shared in the upheavals and decline that met the commonwealth and the grain trade from the middle of the seventeenth century (including the Swedish "Deluge" of 16551660; the Northern War of 17001721; and the 1734 Saxon and Russian siege of the city). The population had declined to 36,000 by 1793. Although spared occupation in the first partition of Poland (1772), Gdańsk was subjected to a Prussian economic embargo for the next twenty years. Prussian troops entered the city on 4 April 1793, and the second partition of Poland put an end to Gdańsk's status as port to a now moribund Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

See also Hansa ; Northern Wars ; Poland to 1569 ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691765 ; Prussia .


Bogucka, Maria. Das alte Danzig: Alltagsleben vom 15. bis 17. Jahrhundert. Munich, 1987.

Ciešlak, Edmund, ed. Historia Gdańska. Vol. 2, 14541655. Vol. 3, pt. 1, 16551793. Gdańsk, 1982, 1993.

Ciešlak, Edmund, and Czesław Biernat. History of Gdańsk. Gdańsk, 1995.

Simson, Paul. Geschichte der Stadt Danzig bis 1626. 3 vols. Gdańsk, 19131924. (Reprint: Aalen, 1967.)

David Frick