The exhibition “Viking in Poland?”

I would like to write a short review of an event I had the honour to participate few days ago. As The Museum of the Origins of Polish State in Gniezno (Muzeum Początków Państwa Polskiego w Gnieźnie) kindly asked the group Marobud for some photos of quality costumes, I was invited as a guest to the opening of the exhibition that is called “Vikings in Poland? Scandinavian remains in Polish lands” (Wikingowie w Polsce? Zabytki skandynawskie z ziem polskich).

The logo of the exhibition.

The opening took place on Friday February 24, 2017. After a while of hesitation, I decided to confirm my arrival. Starting in Prague on Thursday, I travelled to Poznań with Kamil, talkative carpooling driver from Poland. After 5 hours of the travel, around 10 PM, I met Dr. Andrzej Janowski and driver of the museum gave us a lift to Gniezno and provided us with rooms on campus to sleep.

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Shoes from Gniezno, dated to the 10th or 11th century. Taken from Monika Purol-Wierzbicka (2015). Wczesnośredniowieczne wyroby ze skóry z Góry Lecha w Gnieźnie, in: Rocznik Muzeum Początków Państwa Polskiego w Gnieźnie, Tom 1, p. 145: Rys. 1.

In the morning, I went to the museum and met there Dr. Michał Bogacki, director of the The Museum of the Origins of Polish State in Gniezno. I was given the chance to see the last preparations and to meet the other staff of the museum, who showed me the permanent exhibition as well. I realized very soon how important the town was. Even though Gniezno was found at a suitable hill in the water system already in the 8th century, it was the 10th century, when it became the capital of the Greater Poland and the place of the seat of archbishop. Gniezno has some historical connections to Bohemia, therefore my visit was beneficial for self-exploration. In addition, I could observe many organic finds (shoes, pouches, sheaths etc.), preserved thanks to the wet environment.

By early afternoon, the official opening started, and director welcomed the guests – mainly local politicians, media, clergymen, archaeologists, historians and history enthusiasts. The meeting was held in a humorous and friendly atmosphere; participants could take button badges “I’m a Viking, what’s your superpower” and director himself wore a plastic horned helmet. I met my dear friend Dr. Leszek Gardeła, who introduced me to Kamil Kajkowski, archaeologist interested in Slavic burial practises and symbolism.

The model of early medieval Gniezno, Made by http://3rstudio.com/.

As the exhibition was declared open, guests could have a look on more than 100 early medieval objects from Poland and to have some refreshment. It is always a highly-valued experience to see the originals, known only from publications or the internet, with my own eyes; an experience that gives much better idea about the real size and the possible function. Furthermore, the museum was able to gather quite an impressive assembly of objects which I was not aware of. It is important to say that displayed objects are not all the artefacts of possible Scandinavian origin from Poland, because some museums refused to lend their valuable treasures. Even though it is hard to determine what makes an object to be Scandinavian, I am more than sure that some of displayed items are more typical for West Slavic area. Mainly the huge collection of bone, antler and ivory archaeological material from Poland, which could be judged as Scandinavian or imitated from Scandinavia, is problematic and analogical to Anglo-Scandinavian material. The same goes with weapons – it is true that fragments of a typical Scandinavian shield were found in Poland (Świelubie), but on the contrary, Petersen types E and S swords can not be labelled as exclusively Scandinavian. Rather than idea that a person from Scandinavian used this or that object, it is much more reliable to think there was fashion dictating the shape and the decoration, no matter who was the final user.

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Displayed axes. Photo taken and kindly provided by Aleksandra Dudczak.

After the end of the opening, we had late lunch in a local restaurant and then we dissolved our company, thanking to each other. Later that day, Leszek and his girlfriend Mira gave me a lift to Poznań, where our friends Jacek and Melissa Pelczar, a lovely couple of history enthusiasts, invited me to their flat. We were talking till the early morning, when I had to run to catch the bus back to Prague, and such was the end of my trip to Poland.

There is no way to express how grateful I am to all those who made my visit come true. Not only I saw archaeological finds, but also I can proudly say I met perfect people and improved my Polish; all of that for a reasonable price. I was positively surprised how smooth was the cooperation between the museum and Marobud. In my personal opinion, collaboration with museums is the biggest achievement reenactors could earn, and I would love to see more examples of this kind of mutually beneficial relationship. All participated sides are satisfied – the museum is given permission to use photos of quality costumes as attractive illustrations, the group gains fame and the chance to get to original finds closest possible and the visitor feels contented with the appealing combination of archaeological objects and reconstructions. In addition, this positive content can be copied by other museums and reenactors and can lead to the trend that depicts Viking Age people in a more decent and realistic way in general. As I understand it correctly, it is difficult for younger Polish historians or archaeologists to not have reenactment experience – including former reenactors Michał and Leszek. These both academics know there are several possible ways how to touch the past and the cooperation with the reenactment scene is possible under certain conditions. The exhibition “Vikings in Poland?”, that ends on July 16, is a result of such a cooperation, brings a positive progress to the presentation of the Viking Age and it is highly recommended.

Photos from the exhibition. Taken and kindly provided by Aleksandra Dudczak.