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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » July 2, 2010
Six Centuries After Historic Battle
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Six Centuries After Historic Battle
July 2, 2010   
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This year marks 600 years since the Battle of Grunwald, one of the greatest battles of medieval Europe. The anniversary is being celebrated at a string of events across Poland, attended by tens of thousands of people.

The battle took place July 15, 1410, on the plains near the village of Grunwald in what is now northern Poland. On that day, an army led by Polish King Władysław Jagiełło and Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas, aided by three regiments from Smolensk, Russia, and a host of smaller units from Bohemia and Moldavia as well as Tatar troops, crushed the an army of Teutonic Knights aided by mercenaries from Western Europe. Only 47 of 250 top-ranking Teutonic Knights survived the battle. After the battle, the Teutonic Order never regained its prominence in this part of Europe, even though the Poles were unable to deal a final blow to the Teutonic Knights despite besieging their capital Marienburg (today, Malbork in Poland) for two months.

Along with the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta, the German Order of the Teutonic Knights, formed in 1191, was one of the three largest orders of knights that emerged after the Crusades. The Teutonic Knights arrived in Poland in 1226, summoned by Duke Konrad I of Mazovia to help him fend off Prussian tribes that invaded what is present-day Mazovia. In the next two centuries, the Teutonic Knights expanded their possessions in Poland by conquering new land, robbing the local population and refusing obedience to the Polish king. Following years of diplomatic attempts at solving the problem, a great war broke out and the Battle of Grunwald was the climax of it.

The battle was fought by a total of 50,000 men. The Teutonic Knights were led by Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen, who was elected three years earlier as an ardent advocate of armed confrontation with Poland and Lithuania. The struggle lasted six hours during which the victory seemed to shift from one side to the other several times, but then the Teutonic forces were surrounded and defeated. The winners captured 51 Teutonic flags as trophies. Von Jungingen was killed in the battle and King Jagiełło later allowed his body to be taken back to Malbork.

The Battle of Grunwald changed European politics for years to follow. The Teutonic Order lost most of its influence, while Poland’s Jagiellonian dynasty became the dominating rulers in the region and beyond.

This year’s 600th anniversary commemorations will include a battle reenactment to be staged July 17 on the plains near Grunwald as part of the Grunwald Days festivities July 14-18. The show will be performed by over 1,500 medieval warfare enthusiasts from Poland, Germany, Italy, France, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the United States. The reenactment is an annual event that draws thousands of viewers to the Plains of Grunwald every year and this summer a record audience of over 100,000 is expected to attend.

Other anniversary-related events will take place in the towns of Kozienice, Sieradz, Białystok, Malbork, Koronowo and Cracow. A huge outdoor show entitled The Triumph of Polish Knights After the Battle of Grunwald will take place Sept. 11, followed by a screening of The Knights of the Teutonic Order, a Polish movie directed by Aleksander Ford and based on the 1900 novel of the same name written by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a Polish Nobel Prize winner. Made in 1960, the film remains Poland’s all-time box-office record holder, at over 32 million viewers in theaters—more than Poland’s entire population in 1960.

The 600th anniversary has also spawned a number of exhibitions of artworks inspired by the Battle of Grunwald and trophies seized during the battle, some of which have not been shown to the public for years. Many of the items have been borrowed specially for the occasion from collections abroad. As a result of Poland’s turbulent history, many of the mementos from 1410 ended up in Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania and Germany and many others have been lost without a trace.

See also “Wawel Castle Marks Historic Battle” in the BUZZ section.
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