Where is Pomerania and why does it have a Viking connection?

This article is for my friend Patricia Mayhew who is a fellow history geek! She has been following my family history search in Germany and mentioned that her ancestors came from an area called Pommerania. Her ancestor situation there is similar to mine… we can’t trace our individual family line back because of limited information. We can however, find out more about the areas they came from which is interesting in itself.  When I was doing my research on Old Saxony, I kept running across mentions of Pommerania and I immediately thought of Patricia!  So, Patricia- Here is a detailed  history of Pommerania for you… It looks like some Saxon or Viking roots may be tugging at you as well!

History of Pomerania

I first heard of Pomerania when Patricia mentioned that her ancestors were from a place called Pomerania in Germany.  The first question that comes to mind about this place is, Where on earth is it in Germany? It’s not one of the more common place names or locations that trigger some idea of where it might be when you think of Germany.  It is also one of those areas like Saxony or Prussia that covers a wide general area and no longer exists as a territory.  As I mentioned, I only came across it when researching early histories of Saxony and the Saxon Wars.  I’ve went back and gathered a number of maps so that we can see where the general area is or was and how it’s borders may have changed through history. I’ve also discovered that it may have more history with areas of Poland rather than Germany.  It is located near the Baltic Sea and when you look at maps of the area you can easily see why there might be connections to some Viking past in Denmark and Sweden.


A medieval map of Pomeranian area in 1400s

This shows Pommeranian area in relation to German area of Mecklanburg

This shows Pomeranian area in relation to German area of Mecklenburg


This  map is one from Charlamagne’s time and while it does not show Pomerania, it shows the coastal area and the early Danish connection with Haithabu or Hedeby.


Early Carolingian map 804-814 showing Danish connection and Hedeby


 I’ve already mentioned that  we do not have a city or village name to narrow our search so we will just look at the overall history of the area. We do know that Patricia’s family left the area in the mid 1800s so we can look at a few maps of that time to define the borders of the area during that time frame. I also know that Patricia is a fellow Vikings Saga and early medieval history fan so for that reason I am going to focus on some of the earliest history of the area as well!

The map below gives us an excellent representation of where Pomerania was in relation to modern day countries. The yellow line is represents the original border of Pomerania. With this map it’s very easy to see the early Pomeranian connections and importance to the Northern lands.

Pomeraniamap early border superimposed in yellow on modern Germany and Poland

Alright,  we know where Pomerania is or was so we can look at the history of the area. The history of Pomerania, an area in modern-day Germany and Poland, dates back more than 10,000 years. The name Pomerania comes from Slavic po more, which means Land at the Sea.  Settlement in the area started by the end of the Vistula Glacial Stage, about 13,000 years ago.  Archeological traces have been found of various cultures during the Stone and Bronze Age, of Veneti and Germanic peoples during the Iron Age and, in the Middle Ages, Slavic tribes and Vikings.  Starting in the 10th century, Piast Poland on several occasions acquired parts of the region from the southeast, while the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark augmented their territory from the west and north.

Earliest Pomeranian cultural artifacts-faced urns

Earliest Pomeranian cultural artifacts-faced urns

One of more than 1,000 megalith sites in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - the Lancken-Granitz dolmen

One of more than 1,000 megalith sites in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – the Lancken-Granitz dolmen

In the High Middle Ages, the area became Christian and was ruled by local dukes of the House of Pomerania and the Samborides, at various times vassals of Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire and Poland.  From the late 12th century, the Griffin Duchy of Pomerania stayed with the Holy Roman Empire and the Principality of Rugia with Denmark, while Denmark, Brandenburg, Poland and the Teutonic Knights struggled for control in Samboride Pomerelia.  The Teutonic Knights succeeded in annexing Pomerelia to their monastic state in the early 14th century. Meanwhile, the Ostsiedlung started to turn Pomerania into a German-settled area; the remaining Wends, who became known as Slovincians and Kashubians, continued to settle within the rural East.  In 1325 the line of the princes of Rugia (Rügen) died out, and the principality was inherited by House of Pomerania,  themselves involved in the Brandenburg-Pomeranian conflict about superiority in their often internally divided duchy. In 1466, with the Teutonic Order‘s defeat, Pomerelia became subject to the Polish Crown as a part of Royal Prussia.  While the Duchy of Pomerania adopted the Protestant Reformation in 1534,  Kashubia remained with the Roman Catholic Church. The Thirty Years’ and subsequent wars severely ravaged and depopulated most of Pomerania. With the extinction of the Griffin house during the same period, the Duchy of Pomerania was divided between the Swedish Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648. Prussia gained the southern parts of Swedish Pomerania in 1720.   It gained the remainder of Swedish Pomerania in 1815, when French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars was lifted.   The former Brandenburg-Prussian Pomerania and the former Swedish parts were reorganized into the Prussian Province of Pomerania,  while Pomerelia in the partitions of Poland was made part of the Province of West Prussia. With Prussia, both provinces joined the newly constituted German Empire in 1871. 

What this brief history means basically is that Pomerania went through the same chaos and turmoil as the rest of the Germanic territories and ended up as a part of that extremely large space called Prussia during the mid 1800s.  What does this mean for Patricia in searching for her family ancestors? Well, Patricia’s family left sometime in the mid to late 1800s- possibly around 1870s and they listed themselves as from Pomerania. This would conceivably mean that they were from the German-Brandenburg portion or the Swedish portion because at the time those two areas retained the name Pomerania. The Polish areas were renamed as West Prussians.   I know that doesn’t help a whole lot but maybe it’s a small start!  I am going to add my personal thought that they were probably from the German/Brandenburg portion or at least the western portion of Pomerania since they considered themselves German and not Polish.

Early history of Pomerania

Now that we’ve looked at the very brief and basic history of Pomerania, let’s explore further to find out how it fits into the rest of the early history of the surrounding areas. It’s history dates back as far as 13,000 years ago but let’s not really attempt to go quite that far back in any depth! Let’s just state that there are traces of pre-history culture throughout the area that include a number of different groups. From the 2nd century to about the 6th century there was a massive migration that left the area largely depopulated by the early 7th century.   Between 650 and 850 AD, West Slavic tribes settled in Pomerania.  These tribes were collectively known as “Pomeranians” between the Oder and Vistula rivers, or as “Veleti” (later “Liuticians”) west of the Oder. A distinct tribe, the Rani, was based on the island of Rügen and the adjacent mainland.  In the 8th and 9th centuries, SlavicScandinavian emporia were set up along the coastline as powerful centers of craft and trade.


The Veleti moved into modern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and adjacent southern areas from the south in the course of the 6th-7th centuries, assimilating the remaining Germanic population and West Slav tribes that had previously moved into that area from the east.

The Veleti did not remain a unified tribe for long. Local tribes developed, the most important being: the Kissini (Kessiner, Chizzinen, Kyzziner) along the lower Warnow and Rostock, named after their capital Kessin; the Circipani (Zirzipanen) along the Trebel and Peene Rivers, with their capitol believed to be Teterow and strongholds in Demmin and probably even Güstrow; the Tollenser east and south of the Peene along the Tollense River; and the Redarier south and east of the Tollensesee on the upper Havel. The Hevelli living in the Havel area and, though more unlikely, the Rujanes of Rugia might once have been part of the Veletians. Even the Leitha region of Lower Austria may been named for a tribe of Veneti, the Leithi.


One of the more important groups to settle parts of the area would have been the Rugii.

The Rugii, also Rugians, Rygir, Ulmerugi, or Holmrygir (Norwegian: Rugiere, German: Rugier) were an East Germanic tribe who also appeared in southwest Norway and who in 100 AD lived near the Vistula River south of the Baltic Sea in an area 900 years later known as Pomerania. A number of them went from the Baltic Sea to the Danube River valley, where they established their own kingdom in the 5th century AD.

Settlement areas of the Rugii Rogaland Pomerania since the 1st century Rugiland 5th century Rügen

The tribal name “Rugii” or “Rygir” is a derivate of the Old Norse term for rye, rugr, and is thus translated “rye eaters” or “rye farmers”. Holmrygir and Ulmerugi are both translated as “island Rugii”.   Uncertain and disputed is the association of the Rugii with the name of the isle of Rügen and the tribe of the Rugini. Though some scholars suggested that the Rugii passed their name to the isle of Rügen in modern Northeast Germany, other scholars presented alternative hypotheses of Rügen’s etymology associating the name to the mediaeval Rani (Rujani) tribe.  The Rugini were only mentioned once, in a list of tribes still to be Christianised drawn up by the English monk Bede (Beda venerabilis) in his Historia ecclesiastica of the early 8th century. Whether the Rugini were remnants of the Rugii is speculative.  The Rugini were also associated with the Rani.

The Rugii were first mentioned by Tacitus in the late 1st century.  Tacitus’ description of their contemporary settlement area, adjacent to the Goths at the “ocean”, is generally seen as the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, the later Pomerania.  Tacitus characterized the Rugii as well as the neighboring Goths and Lemovii saying they carried round shields and short swords, and obeyed their regular authority. Ptolemaeus in 150 AD mentions a place named Rhougion (also transliterated from Greek as Rougion, Rugion, Latinized Rugium or Rugia) and a tribe named Routikleioi in the same area, both names have been associated with the Rugii. Jordanes says the Goths upon their arrival in this area expelled the Ulmerugi.  and makes other, retrospect references to the Rugii in his Getica of the 6th century. The 9th-century Old English Widsith, a compilation of earlier oral traditions, mentions the tribe of the Holmrycum without localizing it. Holmrygir are mentioned in an Old Norse Skaldic poem, Hákonarmál, and probably also in the Haraldskvæði.

Around the mid 2nd century AD, there was a significant migration by Germanic tribes of Scandinavian origin (Rugii, Goths, Gepidae, Vandals, Burgundians, and others) towards the south-east, creating turmoil along the entire Roman frontier. These migrations culminated in the Marcomannic Wars, which resulted in widespread destruction and the first invasion of Italy in the Roman Empire period. Many Rugii had left the Baltic coast during the migration period. It is assumed that Burgundians, Goths and Gepids with parts of the Rugians left Pomerania during the late Roman Age, and that during the migration period, remnants of Rugians, Vistula Veneti, Vidivarii and other, Germanic tribes remained and formed units that were later Slavicized.  The Vidivarii themselves are described by Jordanes in his Getica as a melting pot of tribes who in the mid-6th century lived at the lower Vistula. Though differing from the earlier Willenberg culture, some traditions were continued.  One hypothesis, based on the sudden appearance of large amounts of Roman solidi and migrations of other groups after the breakdown of the Hun empire in 453, suggest a partial re-migration of earlier emigrants to their former northern homelands. By about the 6th century, the Rugii tribe ceased to exist as any separate identity. They were most likely assimilated into the various cultures that they became a part of.

Most historians agree on the idea that the area of Pomerania was essentially a melting pot of tribes and cultures that included Slavic tribes coming from the east, Germanic tribes venturing northwards, and Norse or pre-Danish tribes such as Angles, Saxons and later Danish coming southwards. It was such a large coastal area that many early tribes would have found their way to the area. Because of this large area and the large number of different tribes or cultures settling there, we are going to limit this discussion to a smaller portion. We’ve already discussed the fact that our friend Patricia’s family identified with the Germanic side so we will focus the rest of this discussion on that Germanic portion that includes the Mecklenburg and Brandenburg areas. We are also going to narrow the time frame a bit and concentrate on the history from about the late 8th century on.

Danish and Viking Connection

Some of the history mentions early Dane and pre-dane migrations to the area so let’s look at that since I know many of us are interested in that connection. If we look at early maps of the areas, we can easily see the connection for such migrations.

hedeby in connection to mecklenburg

hedeby in connection to Mecklenburg


These early maps show how those tribes of Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Ribes (possibly connected to the Rugii tribes) would have moved southwards as the early Dani or Danes took over their territories in the north. As these tribes settled the coastline of what would  later become Pomerania, they may have retained some connections or relationships with those Danes in the North. It has been often debated whether the take over of territories by the Danes was truly hostile or more a matter of them moving in and being able to take over because lands were limited and tribes were slowly migrating to other less populated areas anyway.  What ever the case, there is evidence from later times that the Saxons and other groups remained on friendly terms with the Danes and even sought their help when the Franks began invading in the late 700s.

This map shows Scandinavian settlements according to timelines and you can see that they moved into the Pomeranian coastline area during the 7th-8th centuries.

scandinavian settlement timeline

scandinavian settlement timeline

I mentioned Mecklenburg because it has a history with connections to the Danes as well as the Saxons. The name Mecklenburg derives from a castle named “Mikilenburg” (Old Saxon: “big castle”, hence the scientific translation used in New Latin Megalopolis), located between the cities of Schwerin and Wismar. In Slavic language it was known as Veligrad which also means “big castle”.  From the 7th through the 12th centuries, the area of Mecklenburg was taken over by Western Slavic peoples, most notably the Obotrites and other tribes that Frankish sources referred to as “Wends”.  

Evidence of Danish or Viking settlements in the area is found at Altes Lager a site 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi)  near Anklam, Western Pomerania, Germany. The site, on the banks of the river Peene, was an important Viking trading-post during the Viking Age. At that time, Pomerania was inhabited by Slavic Wends, yet several Viking trading-posts were set up along the coast (the nearest were Ralswiek to the West and Jomsborg/Wollin to the east). The settlement covered an area of approximately 18 hectares in the 9th century. Remnants of a bridge and a cemetery have been excavated. Some artifacts found in the graves originated in Ireland and in the lands east of the Baltic. Following Scandinavian customs, the dead were buried either in stone ships, i.e. ship-like graves, or within stone circles. The graves excavated so far have been found to be the tombs of women. Most findings date back to the 9th and 10th centuries.

Viking graves at Altes Lager in western Pomerania

Viking graves at Altes Lager in western Pomerania

In looking at the map location of Anklam, it’s easy to see a possible early Viking connection.


Another important Viking age settlement in the area was Jomsborg. a semi-legendary Viking stronghold at the southern coast of the Baltic Sea (medieval Wendland, modern Pomerania), that existed between the 960s and 1043. Its inhabitants were known as Jomsvikings. Jomsborg’s exact location, or its existence, has not yet been established, though it is often maintained that Jomsborg was somewhere on the islands of the Oder estuary. While the previous site at Anklam is on the western German side, the supposed location of Jomsborg would put it on the eastern now Polish side of Pomerania.

Harald blutooth monument at wollen germany

Modern memorial in Wolin, the most probable site of medieval Jomsborg. The Danish and Polish inscription, held in rune style, commemorates the death of Harald Bluetooth in Jomsborg, 986


Jomsborg is often thought to be identical with the present-day town of Wolin (also Wollin) on the southeastern tip of the isle of Wolin, probably located at Silberberg hill north of the town.  In the Early Middle Ages, modern Wolin was the site of a multi-ethnic emporium (then known as Jumne or Julin).  The Nordic sagas use “Jómsborg” exclusively, while medieval German histories use “Jumne” or “Julin”, with the alternate names, some of which may be spelling variants, “vimne”, “uimne”, “Jumneta”, “Juminem”, “Julinum”, “uineta”, “Vineta” and “Vinneta”.  In 1931/32, Pomeranian historian Adolf Hofmeister suggested, through comparison of the events reported by the different chronicles, that all these terms describe the same place, which is at or near the modern town of Wolin.  However, this is by no means universally accepted; Steven Fanning writes: “The Trelleborg-type fortresses of Denmark have been taken to be actual examples of Jómsborg-style camps of such warriors and Wolin in Poland was believed to be the actual Jómsborg. However, all such attempts to locate Jómsborg or encampments of the Jómvikings have failed, leading many to doubt that Jómvikings ever existed outside of literature.”  According to Władysław Filipowiak there are several dated sources which attest to the presence of a company of armed Vikings at the end of the 10th century in Wolin, who may have been installed there as mercenaries by the Polish king Bolesław Chrobry.   Other theories see Jomsborg in the northwest of nearby Usedom island, on lands now submerged.  The small islands in this area are remnants of a long stretch of land between Usedom and Rügen, which fell victim to storm floods in the early 14th century.  Suspected locations in this area are the Veritas grounds between the petty islands of Ruden and Greifswalder Oie, and the Peenemünde shoals. While Viking Age jewelry has been found at the site, archaeological evaluation of these theories has not yet been possible.

Archaeologists believe that in the Early Middle Ages Wolin was a great trade emporium, spreading along the shore for four kilometers and rivaling in importance Birka and Hedeby.  Around 972 the island became controlled by Poland, under prince Mieszko I. However, it has not been established if Wolin became part of Poland, or if it was a fief. Polish influences were not firm and they ended around 1007. In the following years Wolin became famous for its pirates, who would plunder ships cruising the Baltic. As a reprisal, in 1043 it was attacked by the Norwegian king Magnus the Good.  In the early 12th century the island, as part of the Pomeranian duchy, was captured by the Polish king Boleslaw III Wrymouth. Shortly after, the inhabitants of Wolin accepted Christianity, and in 1140 pope Innocent II created a diocese there, with its capital in the town of Wolin. In 1181 the dukes of Pomerania decided to accept the Holy Roman emperor as their liege lord instead of the Polish king.

According to the Knytlingasaga and Fagrskinna, Jomsborg was built by the Danish king Harold Bluetooth (910-985/86) in the 960s.  The Jomsvikinga Saga mentions Danish Viking Palnatoki as its founder.  In medieval records, Jomsborg is described as a fortress with a harbor.  The harbour was overseen by a stone tower mounted with catapults, built on an arch spanning over the harbour entrance which could be closed by an iron gate.   According to the oldest records, the harbour had space for three ships,  later records give a capacity of up to 360 ships.   Jomsborg was destroyed in 1043 by Norwegian king Magnus the Good .   The fortress was burned down, and many of the inhabitants were killed.

Most records name the jarl of Jomsborg Sigvald(i), son of petty king Strut-Harald of then Danish Scania.  Sigvald died some time before 1010.  The Jomsborg Vikings (Jomsvikings) were composed of selected warriors, adhered to a special codex, and were loyal only to their leader.   In 1009, many Jomsvikings left Jomsborg and followed Sigvald’s brothers Herring and Thorkell the Tall to England, where they became the nucleus of Cnut the Great‘s Thingmen or Huscarls.

Jomsborg is considered to be one of those almost mythical places of as yet unknown true location. There is another Viking city that was once deemed as that same sort but recent discoveries are proving this other city to have real origins. I need to make mention of this other city as well as long as we are delving into Danish settlements in northern Germany.

Sliasthorp, Fabled Viking Military Town, Possibly Unearthed In Germany :

Danish archeologists believe they have uncovered a once thriving center of Viking activity, Sliasthorp, the fabled military base occupied by the earliest Scandinavian kings. Since excavations began in 2010, roughly 200 buildings, along with weapons, precious jewelry, glass beads, and silver coins have been unearthed at Füsing, near the Danish border, National Geographic reports, findings that they say offer valuable insights into the military organization and town planning of what is thought to be the earliest Viking settlement in the historical record.    “Our studies have given us a completely new view on the anatomy of the very earliest cities. It differs greatly from what we see in the Middle Ages and today,” said Andres Dobat, a lecturer in prehistoric archaeology at Aarhus University, in an interview with Science Nordic.

Dobat, who is heading up the archeological dig, explained that the location of Sliasthorp was unknown until now. What was known is that it was used as a base by the Viking king Gøtrik, also known as Godfred or Gudfred.  From the town, Viking kings or their chieftains would have controlled trade and access to the region, the study team suggests.

“We have actually found the origins of what we today call Hamburg,” he said. “When the Vikings built this town and Hedeby, they were a precursor of Schleswig, which in the early Middle Ages was the great trading city in the region. Schleswig, in turn, was the precursor of Lübeck, which today has given way to Hamburg. We’re digging at the roots of world economy.”  Hedeby, a much larger city approximately 2.5 miles away, functioned as an international port and trading center during Viking times. “We have the international traders and craftsmen at one place, and the Scandinavian elite a few kilometers away,” Dobat told ScienceNordic.  Dobat first came across the site using a metal detector in 2003, according to Wired. And while the findings are promising, Mads Dengsø Jessen, of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen cautions that a positive ID still needs to be made. It’s “the best candidate we have for now,” he told National Geographic.


hedeby in connection to mecklenburg

Hedeby history

Hedeby is first mentioned in the Frankish chronicles of Einhard (804) who was in the service of Charlemagne, but was probably founded around 770. In 808 the Danish king Godfred (Lat. Godofredus) destroyed a competing Slav trade centre named Reric, and it is recorded in the Frankish chronicles that he moved the merchants from there to Hedeby. This may have provided the initial impetus for the town to develop. The same sources record that Godfred strengthened the Danevirke, an earthen wall that stretched across the south of the Jutland peninsula. The Danevirke joined the defensive walls of Hedeby to form an east-west barrier across the peninsula, from the marshes in the west to the Schlei inlet leading into the Baltic in the east.  The town itself was surrounded on its three landward sides (north, west, and south) by earthworks. At the end of the 9th century the northern and southern parts of the town were abandoned for the central section. Later a 9-metre (29-ft) high semi-circular wall was erected to guard the western approaches to the town. On the eastern side, the town was bordered by the innermost part of the Schlei inlet and the bay of Haddebyer Noor.

Hedeby  was an important trading settlement in the Danish-northern German borderland during the Viking Age. It flourished from the 8th to the 11th centuries.  The site is located towards the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula. It developed as a trading centre at the head of a narrow, navigable inlet known as the Schlei, which connects to the Baltic Sea. The location was favorable because there is a short portage of less than 15 km to the Treene River, which flows into the Eider with its North Sea estuary, making it a convenient place where goods and ships could be ported overland for an almost uninterrupted seaway between the Baltic and the North Sea and avoid a dangerous and time-consuming circumnavigation of Jutland, providing Hedeby with a role similar to later Lübeck.  Hedeby was the second largest Nordic city during the Viking Age, after Uppåkra in southern Sweden, and used to be the oldest city in Denmark until the site became part of Germany.  The city of Schleswig was later founded on the other side of the Schlei, and gave the duchy its name. Old records mention two bridges connecting the two towns. Hedeby was abandoned after its destruction in 1066.  The site of Hedeby is located in the Duchy of Schleswig, which was traditionally the personal territory of the kings of Denmark. But the Kingdom of Denmark lost the area to Austria and Prussia in 1864 in the Second Schleswig War, and it is now in Germany. Hedeby is now by far the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein. The Haithabu Museum was opened next to the site in 1985.

According to some history, Godfred built the Danevirke as defense against Charlamagne and the Frankish invasions that were coming too close to Denmark for his comfort- especially with the conquering of the Saxons and those areas of Pomerania!



Pomeranian areas in relation to Charlamagne’s conquests

In the late 700s, Charlamagne decided to conquer and unite all of Europe into one Empire. This conquest would include Saxony and areas of Pomerania. During the time of these conquests and wars some areas of Pomerania were probably part of Old Saxony and vice versa. We have to look at much of it together to see the possible and plausible connections. Charlamagne was tackling the ambitious feat of fighting and conquering on many fronts at once, so many of the conquests overlapped each other. And, as he would conquer one area, he would then use it in his conquest of his next phase… sometimes that paid off well, but often it would result in the once conquered areas banding together and rebelling against him.  The following map shows the Frankish territories and conquest by time frame. It also shows that northern area of Saxony with it’s bordering territories of the Obitrites and the Veliti. These two groups would play important parts in Charlamagne’s ability to conquer the Saxons.


In 772, Charlemagne, ruler of the Franks, started the Saxon Wars to conquer the lands of the North German Plain. According to the Royal Frankish Annals, the Westphalian noble Widukind refused to appear at the 777 Imperial Diet in Paderborn and fled across the Elbe to Nordalbingia (or possibly further to the court of the Danish king Sigfred). Even after Widukind’s submission and Christianization in 785, the Nordalbingian tribes remained reluctant until they were finally defeated at the 798 Battle of Bornhöved by the combined forces of the Franks and their Obotrite allies led by Prince Drożko. The Saxons lost 4000 people, 10,000 families of Saxons were deported to other areas of the Carolingian Empire.

The areas north of the Elbe were at first given to the Obotrites, while Land Hadeln was directly incorporated. However, Nordalbingia soon was invaded by the Danes and only the intervention of Charlemagne’s son Charles the Younger in 808 pushed them back across the Eider River. The next year the emperor had Esesfeld Castle erected near present-day Itzehoe and the entire region was incorporated into the Frankish Empire. In order to encounter the ongoing invasions led by King Sigfred’s successor Gudfred, the Franks probably established a Danish march stretching from the Eider River to the Danevirke fortifications in the north. After King Gudfred was killed, his successor Hemming concluded the Treaty of Heiligen with Charlemagne in 811, whereafter the Eider should mark the border between Denmark and Francia. However, quarrels between both sides would continue for more than a century until the East Frankish king Henry the Fowler finally defeated the Danish forces of King Gnupa at Hedeby in 934.

There is no mention of when the Obotrites became vassals or allies of Charlamagne, only that they were already under his control and allegiance when he began his campaigns against the Saxons. When he succeeded in his conquest of the Saxons, the Obotrites were rewarded with the most northern portions.

The Veleti moved into modern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and adjacent southern areas from the south in the course of the 6th-7th centuries, assimilating the remaining Germanic population and West Slav tribes that had previously moved into that area from the east.  Because of their constant hatred and hostility toward the Franks, in the late 8th century, Frankish king Charlemagne organised campaigns against the Veleti, and fellow Slavic tribe of the Linonen. With the aid of Frisian, Obodrite1, Saxon and Sorbian1 reinforcements, Charlemagne managed to cross the Elbe River, advancing toward the Havel River into Veleti territory. Outnumbered, Dragovit, in 789, was forced to pledge loyalty to the Franks and surrender hostages.   Among others, Dragovit was also forced to pay a tribute and accept the influence of Christian missionaries among his people.

As I’ve already mentioned, the various campaigns were often inter-connected and overlapping. The were all connected to Charlamagne’s main goal of conquering the Saxons. It was a long drawn out war lasting well over 30 years. He began the campaigns in 772 and the fighting continued even after some sort of peace was achieved around 804.  After the last conquest involving the northern region of Nordalbingia, the Frankish frontier was brought into contact with Scandinavia. The pagan Danes, “a race almost unknown to his ancestors, but destined to be only too well known to his sons” as Charles Oman described them, inhabiting the Jutland peninsula, had heard many stories from Widukind and his allies who had taken refuge with them about the dangers of the Franks and the fury which their Christian king could direct against pagan neighbours.

In 808, the king of the Danes, Godfred, built the vast Danevirke across the isthmus of Schleswig. This defence, last employed in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864, was at its beginning a 30 km (19 mi) long earthenwork rampart. The Danevirke protected Danish land and gave Godfred the opportunity to harass Frisia and Flanders with pirate raids. He also subdued the Frank-allied Wiltzes and fought the Abotrites.

This Danish involvement would bring those Danish settlers to shores of the Baltic Sea once more in the form of the Danish Viking settlers that we have already discussed earlier. The Danish would continue to have a role in the area as would the Swedish.

Pomerania from 9th century on

From the 9th to the 11th century, at least ten Pomeranian tribes dwelled between the Oder and Vistula river.  They are not known by name except for the Volinians and Pyritzans. It is not known if these tribes ever formed any kind of a tribal union. It is also possible that on the two sides of the river, the tribes were split from the beginning into eastern and western Pomeranian groups, with the latter possibly related to the Veleti.  The settlements of the distinct tribes were separated from each other and from their neighbors by vast woodlands. In 1124, it took Otto of Bamberg three days to cross the woods separating the Pomeranians from the neighboring Poles.

Among the various Pomeranian tribes, the territory of the Volinians was the smallest, but also the most densely settled, with about one settlement for every four square kilometers, around 1000 AD. In contrast, the other tribe explicitly mentioned in contemporary chronicles, was that of the Pyritzans, who inhabited the area around Pyritz and Stargard but whose settlements numbered roughly only one for every twenty kilometers. The center of the Volinian territory was a town located at the site of the modern town of Wolin (Wollin) on Wolin (Wollin) island. Russian, Saxon, and Scandinavian merchants lived in the town.

During the 12th century, Obodrite, Polish, Saxon, and Danish conquests resulted in vassalage and Christianization of the formerly pagan and independent Pomeranian tribes.  Local dynasties ruled the Principality of Rügen (House of Wizlaw), the Duchy of Pomerania (House of Pomerania, “Griffins”), the Lands of Schlawe and Stolp (Ratiboride branch of the Griffins), and the duchies in Pomerelia (Samborides).

Starting in the High Middle Ages, a large influx of German settlers and the introduction of German law, custom, and Low German language began the process of Germanisation (Ostsiedlung). Many of the people groups that had dominated the area during the Early Middle Ages, such as the Slavic Rani, Lutician and Pomeranian tribes, were assimilated into the new German Pomeranian culture. The Germanisation was not complete, as the Kashubians, descendants of Slavic Pomeranians, dominated many rural areas in Pomerelia. The arrival of German colonists and Germanization mostly affected both the central and local administration.

In 1147, the western half of Pomerania had joined Henry the Lion‘s Duchy of Saxony. Following internal struggles, Henry fell against Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1181. Bogislaw I took his duchy as a fief directly from Barbarossa in the same year. At that time, the duchy was also referred to as Slavinia (German: Slawien) (yet this was a term applied to several Wendish areas such as Mecklenburg and the Principality of Rügen). The duchy remained in the Empire, although Denmark managed to take control of the southern Baltic including the Duchy of Pomerania from the 1180s until the 1227 Battle of Bornhöved.

Beginning in the 12th century, on the initiative of monasteries,  as well as the local nobility, German settlers began migrating to Pomerania in a process later termed the Ostsiedlung. The local nobles and rulers encouraged the settlement in order to strengthen and consolidate their position and to develop and intensify land use, while the settlers were attracted by the privileges that were granted to them.  Through a process that spanned three hundred years, in western Pomerania the local Slavic population was mostly assimilated, while in the eastern part, Slavic Kashubians and Slovincians held on to their ethnic culture and identity.

Eldena Abbey, a favourite motif of Caspar David Friedrich. Medieval Pomeranian monasteries, owners of vast areas, ensured the conversion of Pomerania and contributed to Ostsiedlung.

Eldena Abbey, a favourite motif of Caspar David Friedrich. Medieval Pomeranian monasteries, owners of vast areas, ensured the conversion of Pomerania and contributed to Ostsiedlung.

Ruins of Eldena Abbey

Ruins of Eldena Abbey

In the 12th century the Baltic coast south of the island of Rügen belonged to the Rani principality of Rügen, which in its turn was subject to the Danes. The Danish Cistercian monastery, Esrum Abbey, was thus able to found a daughter house in the area, Dargun Abbey, at Dargun, west of Demmin, in 1172. When in 1198 this monastery was destroyed in fighting between Denmark and Brandenburg, Jaromar I, Prince of the Rani, whose wife was of the Danish royal house, offered to re-settle the monks at a new site at the mouth of the River Ryck, close to the boundary between the territory of the Princes of Rügen, and the County of Gützkow, since the early 1120s subordinate to the Duchy of Pomerania.

The offer of the site, which included profitable salt-pans, was accepted, and in 1199 Hilda Abbey, now Eldena Abbey,  was founded,  and confirmed by Pope Innocent III in 1204. The princes of Rügen further endowed the new monastery with extensive lands in the border country between the Rügen-owned territories of Gristow and Wostrose (Wusterhusen), the area of Lositz (Loitz) which was debated between Rügen and Mecklenburg, and the County of Gützkow.

The monastery became wealthy from the salt trade and was very influential in the Christianisation of Western Pomerania. It also brought about the foundation at the beginning of the 13th century of the town of Greifswald, which started out as the monastery’s trading settlement opposite the salt-pans, near the point where the via regia, an important trade route, crossed the river. After the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227 the Danes withdrew from this part of their former territories, and despite some competition from the princes of Rügen, the Duke of Pomerania, Wartislaw III, was able in 1248/49 to pressurise the abbey into subinfeudating Greifswald to him. Wartislaw was later buried in Eldena Abbey, as were later members of the ducal family, the House of Pomerania.

Memorial plaque recording the burials at Eldena Abbey of Wartislaw III and later members of the ducal family.  Throughout the 13th century, Eldena Abbey organized the cultivation and settlement of its growing estates in the Ostsiedlung process, allocating and founding Wendish, Danish and German villages.  In the growing town of Greifswald however, the Cistercians of Eldena lost much of their influence the foundation in the town in the mid-13th century of friaries of the Franciscans (Greyfriars) and the Dominicans (Blackfriars).  The east end of the abbey church was built in about 1200, while the conventual buildings date from the mid-13th and 14th centuries, all in Brick Gothic. The final stages of construction were the west front and the nave of the church, which were completed in the 15th century.

After the 12th century, 12th  Pomerania became Christian under saint Otto of Bamberg (the Apostle of the Pomeranians); at the same time Pomerelia became a part of diocese of Włocławek. Since then, the Griffin Duchy of Pomerania stayed with the Holy Roman Empire and the Principality of Rugia with Denmark, while Pomerelia, under the ruling of Samborides, was a part of Poland.  The Teutonic Knights succeeded in integrating Pomerelia into their monastic state in the early 14th century. Meanwhile, the Ostsiedlung started to turn Slavic narrow Pomerania into an increasingly German-settled area; the remaining Wends and Polish people, often known as Kashubians, continued to settle within the Pomerelia.  In 1325 the line of the princes of Rügen died out, and the principality was inherited by the Griffins.  In 1466, with the Teutonic Order‘s defeat, Pomerelia became again subject to the Polish Crown as a part of Royal Prussia.   While the German population in the Duchy of Pomerania adopted the Protestant reformation in 1534, the Polish (along with Kashubian) population remained with the Roman Catholic Church. The Thirty Years’ War severely ravaged and depopulated narrow Pomerania; few years later this same happened to Pomerelia (the Deluge) .  With the extinction of the Griffin house during the same period, the Duchy of Pomerania was divided between the Swedish Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648, while Pomerelia remained in with the Polish Crown.

During the early 1600s, even Sweden held control of a portion of Pomerania!  Sweden, present in Pomerania with a garrison at Stralsund since 1628, had gained effective control of the Duchy of Pomerania with the Treaty of Stettin in 1630. At the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the Treaty of Stettin in 1653, Sweden received Western Pomerania (German Vorpommern), with the islands of Rügen, Usedom, and Wolin, and a strip of Farther Pomerania (Hinterpommern). The peace treaties were negotiated while the Swedish queen Christina was a minor, and the Swedish Empire was governed by members of the high aristocracy. As a consequence, Pomerania was not annexed to Sweden like the French war gains, which would have meant abolition of serfdom which since the Pomeranian peasant laws of 1616 was practised there in its most severe form. Instead, it remained part of the Holy Roman Empire, making the Swedish rulers Reichsfürsten (imperial princes) and leaving the nobility in full charge of the rural areas and its inhabitants. While the Swedish Pomeranian nobles were subjected to reduction when the late 17th century kings regained political power, the provisions of the peace of Westphalia continued to prevent the pursuit of the uniformity policy in Pomerania until the Holy Roman empire was dissolved in 1806.


Gustav II of Sweden during 1630s


Gustavus Adolphus at battle of Breitenfeld

In 1679, Sweden lost most of her Pomeranian possessions east of the Oder river in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and in 1720, Sweden lost her possessions south of the Peene and east of the Peenestrom rivers in the Treaty of Stockholm. These areas were ceded to Brandenburg-Prussia and were integrated into Brandenburgian Pomerania. Also in 1720, Sweden regained the remainder of her dominion in the Treaty of Frederiksborg, which had been lost to Denmark in 1715. In 1814, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Swedish Pomerania was ceded to Denmark in exchange for Norway in the Treaty of Kiel, and in 1815, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, transferred to Prussia.

Prussia gained the southern parts of Swedish Pomerania in 1720,  it invaded and annexed Pomerelia in 1772 in Partitions of Poland, and the remainder of Swedish Pomerania in 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars was lifted.  The former Brandenburg-Prussian Pomerania and the former Swedish parts were reorganized into the Prussian Province of Pomerania, while Pomerelia was made part of the Province of West Prussia. With Prussia, both provinces joined the newly constituted German Empire in 1871. Under the German rule the Polish minority suffered discrimination and oppressive measures aimed at eradicating its culture. Following the empire’s defeat in World War I, however, Pomorze Gdańskie Pomerelia was returned to the rebuilt Polish state (the region once called by the Germans the Polish Corridor), while German-majority Gdansk/Danzig was transformed into the independent Free City of Danzig. Germany’s Province of Pomerania was expanded in 1938 to include northern parts of the former Province of Posen–West Prussia, and in late 1939 the annexed Pomorze Gdańskie/Polish Corridor became part of the wartime Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia. The Nazis deported the Pomeranian Jews to a reservation near Lublin  and, in Pomerelia, mass-murdered Jews, as well as some Poles, since Nazi ideology considered them to be untermenschen (sub-human) races. The Polish population suffered heavily during the Nazi oppression; more than 40,000 died in executions, death camps, prisons and forced labour, primarily those who were teachers, businessmen, priests, politicians, former army officers, and civil servants.  Thousands of Poles and Kashubians suffered deportation, their homes taken over by the German military and civil servants, as well as some Baltic Germans resettled there between 1940-1943.

After looking at all of the varied history surrounding Pomerania, I think that my friend Patricia could very well have some Danish or Swedish roots along with any Germanic ones from her ancestors that resided in Pomerania at one time.  My suggestion to you, Patricia… Go ahead and claim some Viking roots- they’re probably in there somewhere!