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The former German state of Prussia (1525–1947) derived its name from the region.
Prehistory and early history
The Baltic was settled by the bearers of the Corded Ware culture in the 4th millennium BC. These were presumably the early Indo-European speakers which in the Baltic would diversify into the Satem (Balto-Slavic) branch which would ultimately give rise to the Balts as the speakers of the Baltic languages. The Balts would have become differentiated into Western and Eastern Balts in the late centuries BC. The eastern Baltic region was inhabited by ancestors of Western Balts – Old Prussians, Sudovians/Jotvingians, Scalvians, Nadruvians, and Curonians while the eastern Balts settled in what is now Belarus, Ukraine and Russia).
The Greek explorer Pytheas (4th century BC) may have referred to the territory as Mentenomon and to the inhabitants as Guttones (neighbours of the Teutones). A river to the east of the Vistula was called the Guttalus, perhaps corresponding to the Memel, the Alle, or the Pregel. In 98 AD Tacitus described one of the tribes living near the Baltic Sea (Mare Svebicum) as Aestiorum gentes and amber-gatherers.
The Vikings started to penetrate the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea in the 7th and 8th centuries. The largest trade centres of the Prussians, such as Truso and Kaup, seem to have absorbed a number of Norsemen. Prussians used the Baltic Sea as a trading route, frequently travelling from Truso to Birka (present-day Sweden).
At the end of the Viking Age, the sons of Danish king Harald Bluetooth and Canute the Great launched several expeditions against the Prussians. They destroyed many areas in Prussia, including Truso and Kaup, but failed to dominate the population totally. A Viking (Varangian) presence in the area was "less than dominant and very much less than imperial."
According to a legend, recorded by Simon Grunau, the name "Prussia" is derived from Pruteno (or Bruteno), the chief priest of Prussia and brother of the legendary king Widewuto, who lived in the 6th century. The regions of Prussia and the corresponding tribes are said to bear the names of Widewuto's sons — for example, Sudovia is named after Widewuto's son Sudo. The territory was identified as Brus in the 8th-century map of the Bavarian Geographer.
The Old Prussians spoke a variety of languages, with Old Prussian belonging to the Western branch of the Baltic language group. Old Prussian, or related Western Baltic dialects, may have been spoken as far south as Polesia (northern Ukraine) in the early medieval period, but these populations would have undergone Slavicization before the 10th century.
After the Christianisations of the West Slavs in the 10th century, the state of the Polans was established and there were first attempts at conquering and baptising the Baltic peoples. Bolesław I Chrobry sent Adalbert of Prague in AD 997 on a military and Christianizing mission. Adalbert, accompanied by armed guards, attempted to convert the Prussians to Christianity. He was killed by a Prussian pagan priest in 997. In 1015, Bolesław sent soldiers again, with some short-lived success, gaining regular paid tribute from some Prussians in the border regions, but it did not last. Polish rulers sent invasions to the territory in 1147, 1161-1166, and a number of times in the early 13th century. While these were repelled by the Prussians, the Culmer Land region became a contested area exposed to frequent raids.
Christianization and the Teutonic Order State
In the 13th century Konrad of Masovia had called for Crusades and tried for years to conquer Prussia, but failed. Thus the pope set up further crusades. Finally the Duke invited the Teutonic Knights to fight the inhabitants of Prussia in exchange for a fief of Chełmno Land. Prussia was conquered by the Teutonic Knights during the Prussian Crusade and administered within their Teutonic Order state. After the acquisition of Pomerelia in 1308/10, the meaning of the term Prussia was widened to include areas west of the Vistula.
Königsberg was founded in 1255, and joined the Hanseatic League in 1340. Gdansk followed in 1361. From this time Prussia was connected to the trade network spanning throughout the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.
With the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), Prussia was divided into eastern and western lands. The western part became the province of Royal Prussia within the Kingdom of Poland, while the eastern part of the monastic state became a fief of Poland.
In 1492, a life of Dorothea of Montau, published in Marienburg (Malbork), became the first printed publication in Prussia.
Early modern era
During the Protestant Reformation, endemic religious upheavals and wars occurred, and in 1525, the last Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Albert of Brandenburg, a member of a cadet branch of the House of Hohenzollern, adopted the Lutheran faith, resigned his position, and assumed the title of "Duke of Prussia." In a deal partially brokered by Martin Luther, the Duchy of Prussia became the first Protestant state and a vassal of Poland. The ducal capital of Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, became a centre of learning and printing through the establishment of the Albertina University in 1544.
Ducal Prussia passed to the senior Hohenzollern branch, the ruling Margraves of Brandenburg, in 1618, and Polish sovereignty over the duchy ended in 1657 with the Treaty of Wehlau. Because Ducal Prussia lay outside of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick I achieved the elevation of the duchy to the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701. The former ducal lands became known as East Prussia. Royal Prussia was annexed from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Kingdom of Prussia during the 18th-century Partitions of Poland and administered within West Prussia.
Though the Kingdom of Prussia was a member of the German Confederation from 1815 to 1866, the provinces of Posen and Prussia were not a part of Germany until the creation of the German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany.
By the Treaty of Versailles, some territories of West Prussia and the Province of Posen that had belonged to the Prussian kingdom and the German Empire were ceded to the Second Polish Republic. East Prussia, minus the Memelland, received some districts of former West Prussia and remained within the German Weimar Republic.
According to the Potsdam Conference in 1945 after World War II, the Prussian region was divided between Poland and the Soviet Union. Western Prussia (West Prussia / Royal Prussia) and the East Prussian lands of Warmia and Masuria are in Poland, while northern East Prussia was divided between the Russian and Lithuanian Soviet republics. The German state of Prussia, of which the Prussian region was but a small part, was dissolved in 1947.
- Gwyn Jones. A History of the Vikings. Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-280134-1. Page 244.
- "St. Adalbert", The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907
- Mikkels Klussis, Preface to Dictionary of Revived Prussian, Institut Européen des Minorités Ethniques Dispersées (2006)
- However, the constitution of the short-lived Frankfurt Parliament incorporated Prussia and the western and northern parts of Posen into Germany from 1848 to 1851.
- Since the Partitions of Poland which began in 1772.