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Sarmatians and Scholars. Dispute over the Origin of the Poles in the Historiography of the Old Polish Period

Wojciech Paszyński

Abstract

The analysis of the Polish chronicles of the Old Polish Period (around 1200-1795) leads to the conclusion that Polish scholars, far from being the creators of the theory of Sarmatian ethnogenesis of Poles, used it in a very creative way. Their analysis of ancient sources was very insightful and their contribution to the problem was extremely innovative. Whilst the Sarmatian theory was already known in the Middle Ages West (alongside with the Vandalian theory) it was spread first time broadly, throughout whole Europe, by works of Polish scholars. Familiarizing well with the legacy of Greek and Latin authors who described the future Polish lands, and comparing it with the achievements of the Old Polish Period historiography, we will see how it was thoroughly known to Polish scholars. As for the pre-Darwinian , pre-archaeological knowledge, their erudition and research methodology is really impressive. Unfortunately, in further, turbulent centuries Polish science just wandered off from their earlier standard, which was truly at the global level. Searching for the roots of the Sarmatian theory, we should look back in the late Middle Ages (Długosz). Even in the Renaissance it was still functioning along with the older theory of Germanic origin of Poles (especially from the Vandals and Goths). Therefore, it is wrongly attributed to the 16th-century scholar, Miechowita. He was also of plebeian origin and is thought to have developed an ideology supporting the privileged layer of the Polish gentry, which was not in his interest, as he was not one of them. Apart from geographical references to the great ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy, there is no allusion or even hint about Sarmatian provenance of gentry or Poles/Slavs in his tractate (he opted for origin from Vandals). The dispute over the Sarmatian and Vandalian concept lasted for most of the sixteenth century, and the final result was not so obvious until the end of the Renaissance period. Scientists who created the Sarmatian theory, originated mostly from the outside of the circles of nobility, and the only Blue Bloods (Długosz is omitted here, as he was a medieval scholar) – Bielski and his son, were particularly skeptical of the orthodox version of the new theory. Supporting a moderate version, which combines the old and new concepts in a very careful way, they gave a great testimony of erudition and proficiency of their scientific methods. Marcin and Joachim Bielski argued with Kromer – the main supporter of the new theory. In the heat of this dispute developed a new version of it, which in the future would evolve into a highly original cultural formation, known as Sarmatism, combining elements of the East and West. The genesis of the victory of the Sarmatian theory is complex and goes far beyond the framework of contemporary science, touching on geopolitics, socio-economic factors and the culture in a broad sense. Contrary to the common beliefs, continuations in the late Renaissance and Baroque periods were not always so uncritical. However, providing research was not much essential in developing the thesis of the oldest Sarmatian theory, and authors were not able to create and try to prove other alternative versions of it. This gullibility therefore, refers to the continuous of the former theory, except a few, maybe more creative examples. It is impossible to estimate the invaluable contribution of the Sarmatian theory to the formation of the Polish national culture. Its genesis lies, paradoxically, in the completely innocent pursuits of the sixteenth-century scholars (of different social class provenances), which – contrary to their intentions (which were academic in a pure sense) – were used in the next century by the growing in strength nobility. At the same time it should be considered that, contrary to former beliefs, this theory was not in the Renaissance something entirely new, and one can even talk about uninterrupted continuation since the ancient times (but in Western Europe only – in medieval Poland it was not adopted). It is also amazing that today, in the light of the multitudinous, often completely contradictory, theories about the ethnogenesis of the Slavs, one cannot completely reject the ancient Sarmatian claims, which are even partially confirmed in heraldry, linguistics and even... genetics!
Record ID
UAMfc916147e4004a24a1de237b420b7338
Diploma type
Doctor of Philosophy
Author
Title in Polish
Sarmaci i uczeni. Spór o pochodzenie Polaków w historiografii doby staropolskiej
Title in English
Sarmatians and Scholars. Dispute over the Origin of the Poles in the Historiography of the Old Polish Period
Language
pol (pl) Polish
Certifying Unit
Faculty of History (FoH)
Discipline
history / (humanities) / (humanities)
Scientific discipline (2.0)
1.3 history
Status
Finished
Defense Date
16-10-2015
Title date
16-10-2015
Supervisor
URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10593/13941 Opening in a new tab
Keywords in English
Ethnogenesis of Slavs, Sarmatism, Polish Chronicles, History of Science, Historiography
Abstract in English
The analysis of the Polish chronicles of the Old Polish Period (around 1200-1795) leads to the conclusion that Polish scholars, far from being the creators of the theory of Sarmatian ethnogenesis of Poles, used it in a very creative way. Their analysis of ancient sources was very insightful and their contribution to the problem was extremely innovative. Whilst the Sarmatian theory was already known in the Middle Ages West (alongside with the Vandalian theory) it was spread first time broadly, throughout whole Europe, by works of Polish scholars. Familiarizing well with the legacy of Greek and Latin authors who described the future Polish lands, and comparing it with the achievements of the Old Polish Period historiography, we will see how it was thoroughly known to Polish scholars. As for the pre-Darwinian , pre-archaeological knowledge, their erudition and research methodology is really impressive. Unfortunately, in further, turbulent centuries Polish science just wandered off from their earlier standard, which was truly at the global level. Searching for the roots of the Sarmatian theory, we should look back in the late Middle Ages (Długosz). Even in the Renaissance it was still functioning along with the older theory of Germanic origin of Poles (especially from the Vandals and Goths). Therefore, it is wrongly attributed to the 16th-century scholar, Miechowita. He was also of plebeian origin and is thought to have developed an ideology supporting the privileged layer of the Polish gentry, which was not in his interest, as he was not one of them. Apart from geographical references to the great ancient geographer Claudius Ptolemy, there is no allusion or even hint about Sarmatian provenance of gentry or Poles/Slavs in his tractate (he opted for origin from Vandals). The dispute over the Sarmatian and Vandalian concept lasted for most of the sixteenth century, and the final result was not so obvious until the end of the Renaissance period. Scientists who created the Sarmatian theory, originated mostly from the outside of the circles of nobility, and the only Blue Bloods (Długosz is omitted here, as he was a medieval scholar) – Bielski and his son, were particularly skeptical of the orthodox version of the new theory. Supporting a moderate version, which combines the old and new concepts in a very careful way, they gave a great testimony of erudition and proficiency of their scientific methods. Marcin and Joachim Bielski argued with Kromer – the main supporter of the new theory. In the heat of this dispute developed a new version of it, which in the future would evolve into a highly original cultural formation, known as Sarmatism, combining elements of the East and West. The genesis of the victory of the Sarmatian theory is complex and goes far beyond the framework of contemporary science, touching on geopolitics, socio-economic factors and the culture in a broad sense. Contrary to the common beliefs, continuations in the late Renaissance and Baroque periods were not always so uncritical. However, providing research was not much essential in developing the thesis of the oldest Sarmatian theory, and authors were not able to create and try to prove other alternative versions of it. This gullibility therefore, refers to the continuous of the former theory, except a few, maybe more creative examples. It is impossible to estimate the invaluable contribution of the Sarmatian theory to the formation of the Polish national culture. Its genesis lies, paradoxically, in the completely innocent pursuits of the sixteenth-century scholars (of different social class provenances), which – contrary to their intentions (which were academic in a pure sense) – were used in the next century by the growing in strength nobility. At the same time it should be considered that, contrary to former beliefs, this theory was not in the Renaissance something entirely new, and one can even talk about uninterrupted continuation since the ancient times (but in Western Europe only – in medieval Poland it was not adopted). It is also amazing that today, in the light of the multitudinous, often completely contradictory, theories about the ethnogenesis of the Slavs, one cannot completely reject the ancient Sarmatian claims, which are even partially confirmed in heraldry, linguistics and even... genetics!

Uniform Resource Identifier
https://researchportal.amu.edu.pl/info/phd/UAMfc916147e4004a24a1de237b420b7338/
URN
urn:amu-prod:UAMfc916147e4004a24a1de237b420b7338

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