Bolesław I the Brave

Mary Stone | December 28, 2022


Boleslav I of Poland (other names Boleslas or Boleslav the Brave, in Polish: Boleslav I Chrobry, (b. 967 – d. 17 June 1025), formerly known as Boleslav the Great, was Duke of Poland from 992-1025 and the first King of Poland in 1025. Boleslav was the son of Mieszko I who was Duke of Poland and his first wife, Princess Dubrawka of Bohemia. He was named after his grandfather on his mother”s side.

Boleslav I was an outstanding politician, strategist and statesman. He transformed Poland into a country that was not only comparable to larger Western monarchies, but also brought it into the European elite. Boleslav I waged several successful military campaigns in the west, south and east. He consolidated Polish lands and conquered territories outside Poland”s modern borders, such as Slovakia, Moravia, Red Ruthenia, Meissen and Lusatia, as well as Bohemia. He was a strong mediator in central European affairs.

Boleslav was an ally of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, who may have crowned him king. After Otto III”s death in 1002, he fought several successful wars against the Holy Roman Empire. Otto III”s cousin and heir, Henry II, concluded the Peace of Bautzen with Boleslav I in 1018. In the summer of 1018, in one of his most famous expeditions, Boleslav I captured Kiev, where, according to legend, he slashed his sword striking the Golden Gate of Kiev. Later, a sword called Szczerbiec (”Crested Sword”) would become the ceremonial sword used at the coronation of Polish kings.

Boleslav I succeeded in laying the foundations of the Polish church, founding a metropolis at Gniezno independent of the German Archbishopric of Magdeburg, which had tried to claim Polish areas. During the famous Congress of Gniezno he officially freed the church from tribute to the Holy Roman Empire and finally, at the height of his reign, he crowned himself king, the first Polish ruler to do so.

He was an able administrator who instituted the so-called “royal law” and built numerous forts, churches, monasteries and bridges. Boleslav I created the first Polish monetary system, with the grzywna divided into 240 dinars and minted his own currency. He is regarded as one of the most capable and brilliant rulers of the Piastian dynasty.


Boleslav I was born in Poznań as the first child of Mieszko I, Duke of Poland and his wife Dobrawa, Princess of Bohemia. At the age of six he may have been sent to the imperial court in Germany as a hostage, according to agreements with the Imperial Diet in Quedlinburg (although historians now dispute this detail). Another theory states that Boleslav spent some time in the 980s at the court of his uncle on his mother”s side, Duke Boleslav II the Pious of Bohemia.

In 984, at his father”s wish, Boleslav -who was eighteen at the time- married the daughter of Rikdag, Margrave of Meissen, who was probably called Hunilda or Oda. It is believed that after this union he became the ruler of Lesser Poland with its capital at Kraków. The death of Margrave Rikdag in 985 rendered the marriage politically meaningless and shortly afterwards it was annulled and Hunilda repudiated.

At the end of 985, probably at the urging of Duke Boleslav II the Pious, Boleslav I married an unknown Hungarian princess and had a son, Bezprym. In ancient literature she is identified as Princess Judith, daughter of Géza, Grand Duke of Hungary. Although opinions are divided as to the identity of Boleslav I”s second wife, a large number of scholars still support the hypothesis that she was Géza”s daughter. However, this union also proved to be short-lived, most likely due to deteriorating political relations between Poland and Hungary, so around 987 the marriage was annulled.

After 989, though probably as early as 987, Boleslav I married Emnilda, daughter of Dobromir, a Slavic prince from Luzatia. As a result of this marriage he had a daughter, Regelinda, and a son, the future King Mieszko II, another daughter and yet another son, Otton. At this point Boleslav I”s rule over Lesser Poland would have brought him Bohemia. Assuming this was the case, he would have added this province to Poland only after the death of Duke Boleslav II the Pious in 999. However, assuming that Mieszko I took control of Lesser Poland in 990 (which is likely to have happened), Boleslav I would have received kingship of Lesser Poland from his father, but without its territory being included in the Polish crown realm. Boleslav I does not appear in the surviving summary of the Dagome Iudex document, and as such it can be assumed that Lesser Poland was already recognised as Boleslav I”s heir, while his two half-brothers, Mieszko and Lambert, sons of Mieszko I with Oda, his second wife, divided the rest of the kingdom between them. Another theory explains Boleslav I”s absence from the document by an old Slavic custom whereby children received their inheritance as soon as they reached the age of majority. Thus Boleslav would have received Kraków as part of his father”s inheritance before the writing of Dagome iudex.


The circumstances in which Boleslav I took control of the country following the death of his father, Mieszko I, foreshadowed what was later to become a widespread practice among the Piast dynasty. This seizure of power consisted of a struggle for dominance, usually a military one, between the descendants of almost every deceased monarch of the Piast dynasty. Boleslav I was no exception, and shortly after the death of Mieszko I (25 May 992), he banished his stepmother Oda and her two half-brothers, who were allegedly considered competitors for the throne, especially on the basis of information from Dagome iudex. The exact circumstances of Boleslav I”s ascension to Duke of Poland are unknown, but it is known that by June he was the uncontested ruler of Poland – since Otto III asked him for military help in the summer of 992. Also, soon after gaining full control of Poland, Boleslav I stifled opposition from the barons, blinding two of their leaders, the magnates Odylen and Przybywoj. As cruel as such a punishment was, it also proved to be the most effective, resulting in total obedience to his subjects because, from that point on, there was no mention of any internal challenge to his position.

Territory expansion

Boleslav I inherited from his father a territory that was almost the same size as modern-day Poland. It was centred on the core of Polanian County, the future Wielkopolska. Wielkopolska comprised the valley of the Warta River, stretching north to the Noteć River and south to the Kalisz. Outside this early core, Poland contained the surrounding areas conquered by Boleslav I”s father Mieszko I, these being: parts of Pomerania to the north, including Kolobrzeg in the west and Gdańsk in the east, Mazovia with its capital at Płock in the east and Silesia in the south-west. It is disputed whether Lesser Poland, centred around Kraków, was incorporated into the Polish state ruled by Mieszko I before 992 or whether it was added by Boleslav in 999. Either way, in 1000 Boleslav I was master of an area larger than contemporary England, Denmark or Burgundy.

Duke of Poland

Based on the lack of any record of his international activities, it appears that Boleslav I spent his early years as ruler more concerned with gaining and retaining the throne than with attempts to conquer lands abroad. This is the period of consolidation of power in which he allied himself with Otto III, Emperor of Germany, in 995 helping the Holy Roman Emperor in his expedition against Luzatia.

Seeking to extend his influence over Prussian territory, Boleslav encouraged Christianizing missions to Prussian lands. The most famous of these was the mission of Vojtech of the princely Slavník clan in Bohemia, former bishop of Prague. Known as Adalbert of Prague on the death of Adalbert of Magdeburg in 981, Adalbert”s mission took place in 997 and ended with the missionary”s martyrdom at the hands of the pagan Prussians in April 997 on the Baltic coast near the fortress of Truso (near the modern town of Elbląg). The missionary”s remains were offered for ransom by the Prussians, but the Bohemian rulers of the Přemyslid dynasty refused to pay for the body of Adalbert (Vojtech). However, the body was bought by Duke Boleslav I who paid its weight in gold and buried it at Gniezno. In 999 Bishop Adalbert was canonized as St. Adalbert by Pope Sylvester II. He later became the patron saint of Bohemia, Poland, Hungary and Prussia. Vojtech”s canonisation increased the prestige of the Polish Church in Europe and the prestige of the Polish state in the international arena.

By the year 1000, Boleslav I consolidated his position as Duke (Dux) of Poland. Not only was he unopposed at home, but he also won the respect of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III (980-1002). Consequently, in 1000 Otto III visited Poland on the pretext of a pilgrimage to the grave of his friend, the recently canonised Bishop Adalbert (Vojtech). Besides the religious motivation, Otto III”s trip also had a strong political agenda: he intended to renew the Holy Roman Empire on the basis of a federal concept called Renovatio Imperii Romanorum. On this basis, the Polish and Hungarian duchies were to become the so-called eastern federates of the empire.

The Emperor wanted to assess Poland”s strength and establish its status within the Holy Roman Empire. The Congress of Gniezno, at which Boleslav met his distinguished guest, is one of the most famous episodes in Polish medieval history. During the time the emperor spent in Poland, Boleslav did not hide his country”s wealth, in fact, he showed its prosperity at every turn by trying to amaze the emperor. Among other gifts the Polish ruler gave Emperor Otto III were 300 knights in heavy armour, while the emperor presented him with a copy of St Maurice”s spear as a gift. Otto III was obviously impressed by what he saw and decided that Poland should be treated as a kingdom on an equal footing with Germany and Italy and not as a tributary duchy like Bohemia. Otto III intended to renew the Empire on the basis of a federal concept called “Renovatio Imperii Romanorum” within a federal framework, with the Polish and Hungarian duchies to be modernised as the eastern federates of the Empire. To this end the emperor placed his imperial crown on Boleslav I”s forehead and gave him the titles frater et cooperator Imperii (”Brother and Partner of the Empire”) and populi Romani amicus et socius. He also elevated Boleslav I to the dignity of patricius, or ”forerunner of the Roman nation”. This episode has long been a subject of heated debate among historians. Some historians see it as an act of favour between an emperor and his vassal, others as a gesture of friendship between equals. Historians wonder whether the imperial crown on Boleslav”s head could mean that the emperor crowned him Duke of Poland. Most modern historians answer this question in the negative. Although it was undoubtedly a sign of the emperor”s respect for the Polish ruler, Boleslav I was not really named king since only the Pope had the authority to invest a prince with a crown and elevate his realm to the status of a kingdom.

Other political discussions also took place. Otto III decided that Poland would no longer be obliged to pay tribute to the Empire. Gniezno was confirmed as the Archbishopric and Metropolitanate of Poland. Three new bishoprics were created with papal consent. These were placed in Kraków, Wrocław and Kolobrzeg. The missionary diocese of Poznań was confirmed as a direct subject of the Vatican. Boleslav I and his heirs gained the right to appoint bishops. It is possible that the future marriage of his son Mieszko to Richeza (Polish Rycheza), Otto III”s niece, was also agreed at this time.

Otto III”s premature death in 1002, at just 22 years old, brought an end to ambitious plans for renovatio, plans that were never fully implemented. Henry II, Otto III”s less idealistic successor and an opponent of Otto”s policies, reversed the course of imperial policy to the east.

The excellent relations between Poland and Germany during the reign of Otto III deteriorated rapidly after his death. Boleslav I supported Eckard I, Margrave of Meissen for the German throne. When Eckard was assassinated in April, Boleslav I supported Henry IV, Duke of Bavaria, whom he helped to ascend the German throne as Henry II. Boleslav I took advantage of the infighting that occurred after the death of the Emperor and occupied important areas west of the Oder River: the Mark of Meissen and the Mark of Luzacia, including the fortresses of Budziszyn and Strzala. Boleslav claimed hereditary right to the Mark of Meissen as a relative of the former ruler, Margrave Rikdag (by marriage, he being his daughter”s ex-husband). Henry II agreed to Boleslav I”s territorial gains and allowed the Polish duke to keep Lusatia as a fief. The only exception was the Mark of Meissen, which he was not allowed to keep. Although Polish-German relations normalised at that time, soon after Henry II organised a failed assassination attempt on Boleslav I, relations between the two countries were severed.

In the same year (1003) Boleslav I intervened in the internal affairs of Bohemia when Duke Vladivoj died. Boleslav helped the pretender Boleslav III the Red to obtain the throne of the duchy. Later, Boleslav III undermined his own position by ordering the massacre of his ruling Vršovci nobles at Vyšehrad. The nobles who survived the massacre secretly sent messengers to Boleslav I who they asked to come to their aid. The Polish duke agreed and invited Boleslav III to visit him at his castle in Kraków. Here, Boleslav III was captured, blinded and imprisoned and probably died in captivity thirty years later. Boleslav I, claiming the ducal throne for himself, invaded Bohemia in 1003 and occupied Prague without any serious opposition, ruling as Boleslav IV for over a year. Polish forces also probably took control of Moravia and Upper Hungary in 1003. The exact date of the conquest of the Hungarian territories is 1003 or 1015 and Upper Hungary remained part of the Polish kingdom until 1018.

As mentioned above, Boleslav I took control of the Luzatia and Meissen Marches as well as the Budziszyn (Bautzen) and Meissen fortresses in 1002, refusing to pay tribute to the Empire from the conquered territories.

Henry II, allied with the Lutic tribes, responded with an offensive a year later. Although the first attack was unsuccessful, already in the autumn of 1004 German forces had deposed Boleslav I from the Bohemian throne. Boleslav managed to hold Moravia and Slovakia, however, their rule lasted until 1018. In the next phase of the offensive, Henry II recaptured the Mark of Meissen and in 1005 his army advanced into Poland so that a peace treaty was signed in the town of Poznań. According to this treaty Boleslav lost Luzatia and Meissen and probably gave up his claim to the Bohemian throne. Also in 1005, a pagan reaction in Pomerania overthrew Boleslav”s rule and led to the destruction of the local diocese.

In 1007 Henry II denounced the Peace of Poznań, which led to an attack by Boleslav I on the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, as well as the re-occupation of the Marches of Luzatia and Meissen, including the town of Bautzen. The German counteroffensive began three years later, in 1010. It had no significant consequences, except for the sacking of Silesia. A five-year peace was signed in 1012.

However, Boleslav I broke the peace and once again invaded Lusatia. Boleslav I”s men sacked and burned the town of Lubusz (Lebus). In 1013 a new peace agreement was signed in Merseburg. As part of the peace Boleslav I paid tribute to Henry II, but in return received the marks of Luzatia and Meissen as fiefs. His son Mieszko also married Richeza of Lotharingia, daughter of the palatine count Ezzo of Lotharingia and niece of Emperor Otto II.

In 1014, Boleslav I sent his son Mieszko to Bohemia to form an alliance with Duke Oldrich against Emperor Henry II. Boleslav I also refused to help the emperor militarily in his expedition from Italy. This led to imperial intervention in Poland and so, in 1015, war broke out again. The war started well for the emperor who defeated the Polish forces at Ciani. Once the imperial forces had crossed the Oder River, Boleslav I sent a detachment of Moravian knights in a diversionary attack against the eastern marks of the empire. Soon afterwards the imperial army withdrew from Poland, without any permanent gains. Then Boleslav I”s forces took the initiative. The Margrave of Meissen, Gero II, was defeated and killed during a conflict with Polish forces at the end of 1015.

Also towards the end of that year, his son Mieszko is sent to rob Meissen. However, his attempt to conquer the town is unsuccessful. In 1017 Boleslav defeated the Margrave Henry V of Bavaria. In 1017, with the support of the Czechs and the Polabian Slavs (whom the Germans called Wenden), Henry II once again invaded Poland, again with no significant results. He besieged the fortresses of Głogów and Niemcza, but was unable to conquer them. Taking advantage of the involvement of Czech troops, Boleslav I ordered his son to invade Bohemia, where Mieszko met very weak resistance. On 30 January 1018, the Peace of Bautzen was signed (recognising Boleslav as the winner of the war). The Polish ruler was able to keep the Marches of Luzatia and Meissen not as fiefs, but as part of Polish territory. Boleslav also received military aid in his expedition against Kievan Russia. Boleslav I (then a widower) also strengthened his dynastic ties with the German nobility through his marriage to Oda, daughter of Margrave Eckard I of Meissen. The wedding took place four days later, on 3 February, in the castle (German: Burg) of Cziczani (or Sciciani, where Groß-Seitschen is today).

Boleslav I organised his first expedition against his eastern neighbour in 1015, but decisive confrontations took place in 1018 after the Peace of Budziszyn was signed. At the request of his son-in-law Sviatopolk I of Kiev, the Polish duke invaded Kievan Russia with an army of about. 2,000-5,000 Polish warriors, along with (possibly) 1,000 Pechenegs, 300 German knights and 500 Hungarian mercenaries. Having assembled these forces over the course of June, Boleslav I led his troops to the border in July. On 23 July, on the banks of the River Bug (Red Ruthenia) near Wielen, he defeated the forces of Yaroslav I the Wise, Prince of Kiev, in what was to become known as the Battle of the River Bug. All primary sources claim that the Polish prince was victorious in this battle. Yaroslav retreated north to Novgorod rather than Kiev. The victory opened the way to Kiev, already under harassment from his allies, the Pechenegs. The city, suffering from fires caused by the siege of the Pechenegs, surrendered on 14 August to the sight of the bulk of the Polish armies. The army that entered the city, led by Boleslav I, was ceremonially greeted by the local archbishop and the family of Vladimir I of Kiev. It is possible that Boleslav I”s troops did not stay in Kiev for more than six months (see Kiev Expedition (1018)), having been forced to return by the popular pagan uprising in Poland. According to some popular legends Boleslav I notched his sword (Szczerbiec) by striking the Golden Gate in Kiev. It was during this campaign that Poland re-annexed the Red Fortresses, what would later be called Red Ruthenia, the region having been lost to Boleslav I”s father in 981.

In 1015 Boleslav I sent a detachment of Polish horsemen to help his nephew Knut the Great, son of his sister Swietoslawa, conquer England.

After Henry”s death in 1024, Boleslav I took advantage of the interregnum of the Holy Roman Empire and crowned himself king in 1025, thus raising Poland to the rank of a kingdom before its neighbour Bohemia. He was the first Polish king (rex), his predecessors having all been considered dukes (dux) by the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. Boleslav I died shortly after this coronation, most likely from illness.

Boleslav”s exact burial place is not known. It is believed that the remains recently discovered in a double grave in Poznań Cathedral belong to Boleslav and his father Mieszko. Boleslav I”s son, Mieszko II, was crowned king soon after his father died in Poznań.

Military power

At the time of his death, Boleslav I left a greater Poland than he had inherited from his father: he added to his domains the long-contested Marks of Luzatia and the Sorbian Mark of Meissen, as well as Red Ruthenia and eventually Lesser Poland. At the time, Poland was undoubtedly a considerable military power since Boleslav was able to wage successful campaigns against both the Holy Roman Empire and Kievan Russia. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the long struggle against Germany enabled Western Pomerania to gain independence from Polish protection. Another negative side of Boleslav I”s reign is that the long military campaigns had a detrimental influence on the Polish kingdom”s economy. As the years went by, Boleslav needed ever larger sums to finance his wars, especially when the fighting was on two fronts, both in Germany and in Kievan Russia. The incessant warfare led to ever higher taxes on his subjects, which led to negative feelings, resentments that grew throughout his reign and led to the outbreak of a pagan popular revolt shortly after his death.


Boleslav I was a talented and organised administrator. He was largely responsible for the full implementation of the ”law of principles” throughout the Polish lands. The Law of Princes led to the creation of a kind of nationalized, state-controlled economy whose sole purpose was to finance the spending needs of the ruler. These needs were considerable, since the duke was responsible for all sorts of building projects. The foundation of the law led to a network of fortified towns called grody, but the ruler was also in charge of building churches, monasteries, roads, bridges, etc., in short of developing an infrastructure. Building projects were financed by collecting taxes in money or goods. Peasants were also needed to produce various goods and services such as communications, hunting, military and others. For the production of the necessary goods Boleslav I organised a network of settlements which were each specialised in the production of about 30 different products, such as barrels, bows, various metal objects, spears, as well as settlements which were engaged in animal husbandry, i.e. raising pigs, cattle, horses, etc. Hundreds of villages were thus specialised and named in such a way as to suggest what each was engaged in. There are still dozens of settlements in Poland today with names left over from that time, such as Szewce (cobbler), Kuchary or Kobylniki. This system worked well enough to support the 33-year reign of Boleslav I.


Increasing Poland”s internal and external power was of paramount importance to Boleslav I, especially in the face of increasing pressure from the magnates. The magnates demanded greater participation in the administration of the country while Boleslav sought to strengthen the ruler”s central authority. Boleslav I”s coronation sometime in 1025 was intended to strengthen his position as ruler. It can be said that, in general, a full integration of the country took place during his reign.

Boleslav I was able to establish an independent Polish church structure, with a Metropolitanate at Gniezno, with the approval of the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire. His activities laid the foundation for the use of the name “Poland” for all regions of his domain; they also led to the use of a symbol representing the ruler”s supreme authority. The symbol was a sign of his knightly class of Gniezno: the white eagle.

First marriage: 984-985

An unknown daughter of Rikdag, Margraf of Meissen, probably named Hunilda. After Rikdag”s death in 985, she was disowned by her husband and sent away.


Second marriage: 986 – 987

An unknown Hungarian princess previously thought to be Judith, daughter of Géza, Grand Duke of Hungary. After 987, due to deteriorating political relations between Poland and Hungary, she was disowned.


Third marriage: 987

Emnilda, daughter of Dobromir, Prince of Luzacia.


Fourth marriage: 1018-1025

Oda (b. ca. 996 – d. after 1025), daughter of Eckard I, Margrave of Meissen.



  1. Boleslav I al Poloniei
  2. Bolesław I the Brave
  3. ^ Polish: Bolesław I Chrobry Polish (help·info); Czech: Boleslav Chrabrý; Latin: Boleslaus I rex Poloniae
  4. ^ Polish: Bolesław Wielki
  5. ^ a b A. Czubinski, J. Topolski, Historia Polski, Ossolineum 1989
  6. Дубравка, мать Болеслава, прибыла в Польшу именно в 965 году (согласно Малопольской Хронике).
  7. Речь, по-видимому, идёт о Святополке Владимировиче, который был женат на дочери Болеслава
  8. Титмар Мерзебурский пишет о ней (книга IV, 58) следующее: «а третья [дочь] стала женой короля Владимира», что очевидно является ошибкой.
  9. Jest to jedna z możliwych dat koronacji królewskiej Bolesława. Rozważania dotyczące tej kwestii znajdują się w rozdziale Koronacja.
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