By Periklis Deligiannis

 

harquebus
A short-barreled harquebus (below) and a pistol (above) of the Polish-Lithuanian Hussars (source: kismeta.com).

429

Semi-cuirasses and helmets of Polish hussars of the mid-17th century (National Museum, Krakow). The armor in the background is accompanied by the renowned wing-construction.

In 1386 the Polish Kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were united on the basis of a personal union under the Lithuanian Jagiellonian monarchs. Ladislaus (Russ. Vladislav) II Jagiello, the duke of Lithuania, married Hedwige, the queen of Poland. The royal couple joined their dominions forming a new strong Roman Catholic kingdom centered on Krakow, which included large Eastern European areas. The new state included Lithuania, modern Belarus, most of modern Poland and Ukraine and parts of modern Russia. The Jagiellonian borders were quite close to the Russian metropolises Moscow, Novgorod and Tver. In 1410 the Polish-Lithuanian forces crushed the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg), ensuring a territorial outlet to the Baltic sea for the binary kingdom. Simultaneously the Lithuanians regained Samogitia from the Teutonic Order. Soon afterwards, the princes of Moldavia and Wallachia became vassals of Ladislaus, thereby the Polish-Lithuanian power reached the Black Sea. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was ruled by a Sejm (parliament) of aristocrats and an elected monarch, who was elected by the Polish nobles among the Lithuanian dukes. In 1413 the Polish and Lithuanian nobles confirmed the Polish-Lithuanian union with a treaty.
The Catholic Commonwealth faced the threat of the Muslim Ottomans on its southern borders and of the Orthodox Russians in the East. Moreover, the majority of its people were of Russian origin (who later mostly evolved to the nations of the Ukrainians and Belarusians). At the same time, Poland-Lithuania followed an expansionist policy against the Germans with whom was bordering in the North and West. Ladislaus III, who was also king of Hungary, tried to stem the Turkish advance at Varna (Bulgaria) but he was defeated (November 1444) and the Commonwealth lost permanently the two Danubian principalities. In contrast, the Poles-Lithuanians achieved major victories over the Germans. In 1454 the former conquered some territories from the Teutonic Knights, thus starting the “Thirteen years’ war.” The war ended in 1466 with the Commonwealth being the winner which imposed its overlordship on the Teutonic Knights and won the districts of Pomerellen and Ermland, and the strategic port of Gdansk (Danzig). The Poles-Lithuanians managed to stop the German counter-attack and the Ottoman attack, but failed to achieve the same against the Russians. Since the mid-15th century, the aggressive Grand Duchy of Muscovy pressed hard Lithuania, managing to capture large areas with Russian population, including the major cities of Smolensk and Chernigov. In 1514 the Poles-Lithuanians overwhelmingly defeated the Muscovite army at the battle of Orsza (1514) and later regained Smolensk, Chernigov and other areas.

More