If you’ve ever been to New York City’s Central Park, you may have seen a majestic statue of a medieval king on horseback holding two crossed swords above his head. The king is King Jagiełło, the Grand Duke of Lithuania who united Lithuania and Poland, and the swords were taken from the Teutonic Knights of the Cross who his army defeated in the historic and controversial Battle of Grunwald in 1410 in Poland. The statue was given to the U.S. by the Polish government in 1945, but a new artifact which is believed to be from that battle will remain in its home country.
“A sensational archaeological discovery took place near Olsztyn. A perfectly preserved medieval “Grunwald” sword with full accessories was excavated. Valuable artifacts were handed over to Marshal Gustaw Marek Brzezin and will go to the collection of the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald.”
The sword, remains of a scabbard, a belt and two knives were found near Olsztyn by Alexander Medvedev – a man with a metal detector who did the right thing and turned the artifacts over to the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald in Olsztyn. The artifacts (see them and Medvedev in this video) are in excellent condition for their age, and Szymon Drej, director of the Museum of the Battle of Grunwald, said in a press release he believes his researchers may identify the owner.
“The armed set will now undergo maintenance and research. We have some suspicions about the social status of a medieval sword owner, and we are curious to see what lies beneath the rust layer. We will also explore the site of the excavation of the monument in more depth to get to know the situational context of its origin. Such valuable items in the Middle Ages rarely remained in the ground.”
That last sentence reveals why the Battle of Grunwald became controversial. First, some history. According to historians, King Władysław II Jagiełło was Lithuania’s grand duke who converted to Catholicism and married the Polish Queen Jadwiga, becoming king when she died. King Jagiełło also converted Lithuania to Christianity, but that didn’t satisfy the Knights of the Teutonic Order who were originally formed in the Levant to aid Christians on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land, but later became militarized, moved to Transylvania and became self-styled protectors of Catholicism against the region’s non-Catholics, which at the time were in Poland. They waged many successful battles against the Poles until King Jagiełło, frustrated that they didn’t recognize him and the country as Catholic, soundly trounced them in the Battle of Grunwald. The order managed to survive and keep its riches until Napoleon took them. Then came the Soviet Union and Nazis … and that’s where the controversy begins.
The Soviet Union decided to turn Grunwald into a Russian victory because some soldiers from the Russian city of Smolensk fought on King Jagiełło’s side. During World War I, Germany won a battle against Russia near the site of the Battle of Grunwald and declared their victory was revenge for the defeat of the Teutonic Knights while defending Christianity. Before and during World War II, Nazi propaganda depicted the Knights as their forebears — Heinrich Himmler pushed the SS as a reincarnation of the order. In 1938 Hitler banned the modern Teutonic Order as a threat to the Nazi’s but hypocritically based the German Order award on it.
Keeping the sword and other artifacts of the Battle of Grunwald in Poland will help preserve its true history and significance. King Jagiełło will stay in Central Park to preserve the memory of the bravery of the Poles.