Congress of Gniezno

Congress of Gniezno
The spearhead of the Holy Lance, Schatzkammer (Vienna)

The Congress of Gniezno (German: Akt von Gnesen or Gnesener Übereinkunft, Polish: Zjazd gnieźnieński) was an amical meeting between the Polish duke Bolesław I Chrobry and Emperor Otto III, which took place at Gniezno on March 11, 1000. Scholars disagree over the details of the decisions made at the convention, especially whether the ruler of Poland was pledged the king's crown or not.



Silver relic coffin of St. Adalbert at Gniezno Cathedral

After his death in 997 during a mission among the pagan Prussian tribes, Bishop Adalbert of Prague was soon canonized by the common effort of Duke Bolesław I and Emperor Otto III. Thus, Adalbert was the first Slavic bishop who became a saint.[1] His body, bought by Bolesław for its weight in gold, was put into a tomb at Gniezno Cathedral, which became the ecclesiastical center of Poland.

According to the chronicles by Thietmar of Merseburg, Otto III, who had been a friend of Adalbert,[1] committed to a pilgrimage from Italy to St. Adalbert's tomb in Gniezno; in his attempt to extend the influence of Christianity in Eastern Europe, and to renew the Holy Roman Empire based on a federal concept ("renovatio Imperii Romanorum") with the Polish and Hungarian duchies upgraded to eastern federati of the empire.[2] As part of this policy he also invested Grand Prince Stephen I of Hungary with the king's crown (the Crown of Saint Stephen).

The Polish Piast dynasty under Miezsko I had extended their domains beyond the Oder river, where their claims to power collided with the interests of the Saxon margrave Gero. After his defeat by Gero's troops in 963, Mieszko I decided to come to terms with Emperor Otto I and agreed to pay tribute for parts of his lands. In turn he managed to gain the title of amicus imperatoris ("Friend of the Emperor") and the acknowledgement of his position as Dux of Poland. He continued his policy of convergence by marrying Oda, daughter of the Saxon margrave Dietrich of Haldensleben, in 978 and by marrying his son Bolesław I to a daughter of Margrave Rikdag of Meissen. As a precaution however, shortly before his death in 992 he placed his realm (Civitas Schinesghe) under the protection of Pope John XV according to the dagome iudex regest.

When his son Bolesław succeeded him, Poland remained an ally of the Empire in the campaigns against the Polabian Lutici tribes. Emperor Otto II, father of Otto III, had died at age 28 in 983 and his widow Theophanu and grandmother had reigned for the child-king Otto III. In 996 he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor at Rome and by the year 1000 at Gniezno was 20-years old.

The act

Emperor Otto III on his pilgrimage was received by Duke Bolesław at the Polish border on the Bóbr river near Małomice, whereafter Bishop Unger of Poznań conducted him to Gniezno. In the week of 7 to 15 March 1000 Emperor Otto III invested Duke Bolesław with the titles frater et cooperator Imperii ("Brother and Partner of the Empire") and populi Romani amicus et socius[2] as rendered in the 1115 Gesta principum Polonorum by the Kraków chronicler Gallus Anonymus, the first author of Polish history. If the act implemented an elevation of Bolesław to a Polish king at the mercy of the Emperor has not been conlusively established. In any case, Bolesław had himself crowned King of Poland at Gniezno Cathedral in 1025.

Portrait of Bolesław with the replica of the Holy Lance, Jan Matejko (1838-1893)

On the same visit, Otto III raised Gniezno to the rank of an archbishopric. Three new dioceses subordinate to Gniezno were created: the Bishopric of Kraków (assigned to Bishop Poppo), the Bishopric of Wrocław (assigned to Bishop Jan) and the short-lived Bishopric of Kołobrzeg in Pomerania (assigned to bishop Reinbern).[1] St. Adalbert's brother Radzim Gaudenty became the first archbishop of Gniezno.[1] Otto III gave Bolesław a replica of his Holy Lance, part of the Imperial Regalia, and Bolesław presented the Emperor with a relic, an arm of St. Adalbert in exchange.

The status of the Bishopric of Poznań of Bishop Unger, whose diocese had also comprised Gniezno before and who had not supported the creation of a separate archdiocese in Gniezno, is also subject to historical debate. One view holds that it stayed independent and with Unger as a missionary bishop directly subordinate to the pope while another one holds that it was attached to the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, the nearest German ecclesiastical province.[1][3] However, generally, the congress is seen as having established complete ecclasiastical independence of the Polish church from Magdeburg.[4]

Bolesław subsequently accompanied Otto III on his way back to Germany. Both proceeded to the grave of Charlemagne at Aachen Cathedral, where Bolesław received the throne chair as a gift. Both arranged the betrothal of Bolesław's son Mieszko II Lambert with the Emperor's niece Richeza of Lotharingia.


Due to Otto's early death in 1002, his renovatio policies were not fully applied. King Henry II, Otto's successor, changed the empire's policies, while Bolesław had supported Henry's rival Margrave Eckard I of Meissen, expanded his realm into the March of Lusatia and the Milceni lands, and also took the Bohemian throne at Prague, interflicting with the Empire's interests. On a meeting with Henry II in Merseburg, Bolesław was raided and narrowly escaped. As a consequence, the excellent relations between the Empire and Poland marked by the Congress of Gniezno turned into a state of hostility that soon emerged into a German-Polish War ended with the 1018 Peace of Bautzen.

Memorial erected in 2000 at Kołobrzeg

Not until Henry's death in 1024, Bolesław was able to reach the papal consent for his coronation as Polish king. Poland lost Pomerania, and stayed outside the empire.[2] The Pomeranian diocese of Kołobrzeg, founded as a consequence of the Congress of Gniezno, was overthrown by the Pomeranians already in ~1007, bishop Reinbern returned to Boleslaw's court.

Creating the separate Archdiocese of Gniezno directly subordinate to the Holy see resulted in keeping Poland independent from the Holy Roman Empire through the Middle Ages. About 1075 the Bishopric of Poznań became a suffragan diocese of Gniezno. The archdiocese then comprised the whole Piast realm as confirmed by the papal Bull of Gniezno in 1136.

See also

  • German–Polish relations


  1. ^ a b c d e Janine Boßmann, Otto III. Und der Akt von Gnesen, 2007, pp.9-10, ISBN 3638853438, 9783638853439
  2. ^ a b c Andreas Lawaty, Hubert Orłowski, Deutsche und Polen: Geschichte, Kultur, Politik, 2003, p.24, ISBN 3406494366, 9783406494369
  3. ^ Nora Berend, Christianization and the Rise of Christian Monarchy: Scandinavia, Central Europe and Rus' C. 900-1200, 2007, pp.281-182, ISBN 0521876168, 9780521876162
  4. ^ Uta-Renate Blumenthal, "The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century", University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, pg. 38

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