A Map of Poland Under its Wry-Mouthed Duke
Despite centuries of war and territorial changes, Poland then looks a lot like Poland now.
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Poland at the time of the death of Boleslav the Wry-Mouthed 1138: how could one resist a map with a title like that? Not that the map isn’t remarkable in its own right. The starkly contrasting colour scheme with sinuous black rivers slicing through Polish white and white streams dissecting the the encircling black lands, the mention of better- and lesser-known lands and tribes (the Kurons and the Jadzvings!) and the delicate amplification of the coastline, making waves deep into the Baltic Sea: it all lends an unreal air to the map.
Surprisingly real, though, is the position and size of Poland. Considering how many times that country would expand, contract, be partitioned and reconstituted (no less than three times), shifting east and (most recently) west, the Poland of Boleslav the Wry-Mouthed looks remarkably much like present-day Polska. It seems the only missing parts are the southern part of the area occupied by the Prussians (a Baltic tribe, later displaced by German colonists) and the area hemmed in by the labels Bohemia and Moravia, usually referred to as Silesia.
What kind of king was Boleslav? Actually, no king at all, since he was Duke of Poland. Boleslav defeated the Pomeranians (go on, chuckle) in 1109, regaining access to the sea. Nominally a liege of the German emperor, Boleslav defeated Henry V in the same year.
By his second wife, Salome von Berg-Schelklingen, Boleslav had 14 children, some of whom continued the family tradition of carrying silly nicknames. Boleslav IV the Curly and Mieszko III the Old spring to mind. In his testament, Boleslav III divided his lands among four of his sons, providing that the eldest would have supreme power. This didn’t last long, and Poland descended into centuries of feudal fragmentation and German encroachment.
This map, suggested by Benjamin, was produced by Edward Henry Lewinski-Corwin for The Political History of Poland, published in New York in 1917.
Strange Maps #132
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