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Italians in Early Modern Poland

Translated by Katarzyna Popowicz


Wojciech Tygielski

The book provides a panorama of Italian migrants’ activities in Polish economy, political life and, above all, culture. The motivations of Italians who decided to travel to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and quite often settled there permanently, the reasons which made this migration possible and approved by the Polish and Lithuanian hosts are described in detail. Various categories of Italian migrants are considered as well as the potential and growing difficulties in their adaptation. These premises serve as proof of social and cultural distances between the Italians and the Poles and underline the tensions between the Italians’ cultural background and the one which they had to cope with. The hypothesis of the lost historical opportunity made possible by numerous arrivals of migrants from more culturally advanced areas is highlighted through the debate on the efficiency of Italian influences upon Polish-Lithuanian realities, and by the catalogue of the causes which effectively hindered Italian impulse for modernity.
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In the last years of the 16th century, the work Relation of the State of Polonia and the United Provinces of that Crown, was written, extending the collection of descriptions of foreign countries (a type of work created often and eagerly during this period in Europe). Texts of this kind were prepared (typically on the basis of personal contacts and experiences) by ambitious diplomats and travellers, who wanted to attract attention, gain recognition, and show competence that could prove useful in their further careers. Relation of the State of Polonia surely was to be delivered to the English monarch Elizabeth I.

The author, whose identity we may only speculate on, begins his copious study in a manner most typical of this genre, namely with elementary issues such as the origin of Poles, and the genesis of the very term Polonia. One would further expect, as in many similar texts, a disquisition on the geographical location of the country, its neighbours and natural resources, and a description of the inhabitants, binding laws, and political system. However, in this case, this rhythm is disturbed. By the second chapter, just after the etymological elucidations, the author enumerates the characteristic traits of Poles, who, in comparison to other nations, are friendly, polite, and appreciative of pleasures of the table, as well as smart, tolerant, and not overly attentive to material goods. According to the author of the Relation of the State of Polonia, exactly these—let us add, agreeable—national...

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