Polish Life

Though somewhat differing in civilization, the tribes which later formed the Polish nation were kindred in their social, moral and religious ideas. They were scattered in large clans or gentes, bound by ties of blood. The lands belonging to a group or family were held in common. The work was done in common under the direction of the "starosta," the elder or patriarch of the gens. He was the chief executive, and had control over the crops and the allotments of work. It must, however, be noted in this connection that since the earliest times there existed private property in movables especially in tools. The Polish Slavs, unlike the others and especially the Southern Slavs, never had the so-called "zadrugas" or great communal households. From their early history they exhibited a strong individualistic propensity.


A later Slavic warrior

Important matters were decided by a popular assembly called "Wiec," to which belonged all the male adults of the community. It is impossible to determine accurately the relation between the power of the Wiec and that of the starosta. It varied from place to place and from time to time; sometimes the popular assembly maintained supreme power; sometimes the starosta gained ascendancy and endeavored to make his office hereditary. In many instances he was successful.

[img width=313 height=400]http://www.theancientweb.com/images/explore/Poland_Horseman.jpg”/>

The poles inherited their horse riding skills from their Sarmatian fore fathers

As elsewhere in a similar primitive social organization the individual did not exist outside of his clan. The solidarity of the members of the clan was the basis for protection and any injury sustained by a member of the clan at the hands of an outsider was an offense against the whole community. The principle of blood vengeance prevailed. He who did not belong to a clan had no protection and either perished or was made a slave, becoming the property of the clan as a unit, and, in later stages, of certain individuals within the community. The slaves were recruited chiefly from among the prisoners of war, but some were bought. In some instances murder was punishable by slavery. The children of slaves were retained by the masters as slaves.

[img width=203 height=400]http://www.theancientweb.com/images/explore/Poland_Sarmatian_Maiden.jpg”/>

An ancient Sarmatian maiden

Concomitant with the growth of the "grody" and the increased demands of the military princes, came the agglomeration and greater economic exploitation of the slaves in the interests of the small fortified towns and their garrisons. Settlements given over entirely to slaves sprang up around the "grody" and certain specified tasks were assigned to the inhabitants. Some settlements ground grain, some supplied bread or fish, others cared for horses and cattle, built boats or made shields, and the settlements were named for the industry in which the inhabitants engaged. This distribution of occupations among the settlements lasted well into the twelfth century, the occupations having become hereditary from father to son. The names of many such "purposely created" (narokowe) villages have survived until the present day.


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