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On the magnificence and power of Bolesław the Famous

Historical context

Under Bolesław Chrobry (Bolesław the Brave), the Polish state reached the height of its power based on the country’s original organization, i.e. ducal law. The early Piast state was a patrimonial monarchy. The ruler saw himself as the owner of the country, he ruled despotically, relying on the military might of his team (Pol. drużyna) of knights. The duke supported his drużyna from taxes he collected from his subjects to ensure its loyalty. The distribution of regiments across different strongholds not only facilitated provisioning but also guaranteed the loyalty of the freshly united and Christianized country. An important source of income for the ruler and his knights were spoils seized during their numerous victorious campaigns (including the capture of Prague in 1003 or of Kiev in 1018).  

The power of Bolesław the Brave’s state – especially its military might – was lauded by the chronicler Gallus Anonimus, active at the court of Bolesław Krzywousty (Bolesław Wrymouth). We do not know his name or his country of origin. He is believed to have come from the south of France, although more recent research suggests that he may have hailed from northern Italy. He was probably a Benedictine monk. His Polish Chronicle, composed in Latin ca 1113 (its narrative stops at this date), describes the history of Poland since its mythical beginnings until the chronicler’s times. The author’s intent was to relate the deeds of Polish dukes, predecessors of Bolesław Wrymouth, and of Bolesław himself. It was doubtless a propaganda work meant to praise the ruling family and justify their title to the Polish throne. Gallus’s Chronicle is the first work of such breadth to have been written in Poland and treating of its history, hence despite its Latin and the author’s foreign origins it is considered the first work of Polish national literature. It remains a seminal and unrivalled source for the study of the early Piast period. In the fragment cited below, the chronicler provides numerical data regarding Bolesław the Brave’s troops which, however, are considered dubious and exaggerated by historians.

Document text

Haec erat Bolezlavi regis magnificentia militaris, nec inferior ei erat virtus obedientiae spiritualis. Episcopos quippe suosque capellanos in tanta veneratione retinebat, quod eis astantibus sedere non praesumenbatnec eos aliter quam dominos appelabat, Deum vero summa pietate colebat, sanctam ecclesiam exaltabat, aemque donis regalibus adornabat. Habetat etiam praetera quiddam iustitiae magnum et humilitatem insigniae, quod si quando rusticus pauper vel muliercula quaelibet de quovis duce videlicet vel comite querertur, quamvis esset magnis negotiis occupatus multisque cuneis et magnatum et miltum constipatus, non prius se de loco dimovebat, donec causam ex ordine conquerentis auscultaret, et pro illo de quo querebatur camerarium transmandaret; interim vero ipsum conquerentem alicui fideli suo commendabat, ne absentem sine causa accusaret, et ne iniuste conquerendo iram quam alteri conflabat sibimet ipsi cumularet. Nec accusatus citissime vocatus venire differebat, nec diem a rege constitutum qualibet occasione praeteribat. Adveniente vero principe, pro quo missum fuerat, non se illi maligne commotum ostendabat, sed alacri eum et affabili vultu recipiens, ad mensam invitabat, neque ea die, sed sequenti vel tertia causam discutiebat. Sicque diligenter rem pauperis ut alicuis magni principis pertractabat. O magna discretio magnaque perfecto Bolezlavi! qui personam in iudicio non servabat, qui populum tanta iustitia gubernabat, qui honorem ecclesiae ac statum terrae in summo culmine retinebat. Iustitia nimirum et aequitate ad hanc Bolezlavus gloriam et dignitatem ascendit, quibus virtutibus initio potentia Romanorum et imperium excrevit. Tanta virtute, tanta potentia tantaque victoria regem Bolezlavum Deus omnipotens decoravit, quantam eius bonitatem et iustitiam erga se ipsum et homines recognovit, tanta gloria Bolezlavum, tanta rerum copia tantaque laetitia sequebatur, quantam eius probitas et liberalitas merebatur.


Chronica et annales aevi Salici, red. G. H. Pertz, Hanower 1851, s. 431.

Większe są zaiste i liczniejsze czyny Bolesława, aniżeli my to możemy opisać lub prostym opowiedzieć słowem. Bo jakiż to rachmistrz potrafiłby mniej więcej pewną cyfrą określić żelazne jego hufce, a cóż dopiero przytoczyć opisy zwycięstw i tryumfów takiego ich mnóstwa! Z Poznania bowiem [miał] 1300 pancernych i 4000 tarczowników, z Gniezna 1500 pancernych i 5000 tarczowników, z grodu Władysławia 800 pancernych i 2000 tarczowników, z Giecza 300 pancernych i 2000 tarczowników, ci wszyscy waleczni i wprawni w rzemiośle wojennym występowali [do boju] za czasów Bolesława Wielkiego. [Co do rycerstwa] z innych miast i zamków, [to] wyliczać [je] byłby to dla nas długi i nieskończony trud, a dla was może uciążliwym byłoby tego słuchać. Lecz by wam oszczędzić żmudnego wyliczania, podam wam bez liczby ilość tego mnóstwa: więcej mianowicie miał król Bolesław pancernych, niż cała Polska ma za naszych czasów tarczowników; za czasów Bolesława tyle prawie było w Polsce rycerzy, ile za naszych czasów znajduje się ludzi wszelakiego stanu.

Kronika Polska, Anonim tzw. Gall, oprac. M. Plezia, Wrocław 2008, s. 25−27.

The deeds of Bolesław are doubtless greater and more numerous than we are able to describe or recount in simple words. For what master counter could produce a more or less precise number of his iron regiments, let alone cite descriptions of so many victories and triumphs. For [he had] 1300 armoured knights and 4000 shield bearers from Poznań, 1500 armoured knights and 5000 shield bearers from Gniezno, 800 armoured knights and 2000 shield bearers from the stronghold of Władysławia, 300 armoured knights and 2000 shield bearers from Giecz; all of these valorous men skilled in the art of war stood up [to fight] during the time of Bolesław the Brave. [As for knights] from other towns and castles, [it] would be a long and unending task for us to enumerate [them], and for you perhaps a pain to listen. But to save you [this] laborious enumeration, I shall tell you the quantity of this lot without numbers: namely King Bolesław had more armoured knights than all of Poland has shield bearers in our day; there were as many knights when Bolesław reigned as there are people [in Poland] of all estates today.

Translated © by Jerzy Giebułtowski
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