Varmia (Polish: Warmia; Latin: Varmia, Warmia; German: Ermland ; Warmian: Warńija; Lithuanian: Varmė; Old Prussian: Wārmi) is both a historical and an ethnographic region in northern Poland, forming part of historical Prussia. Its historic capitals were Frombork and Lidzbark Warmiński and the largest city is Olsztyn.

Historical region
Herby Warmii.svg
Location of Varmia (shown in red) on the map of Poland
Location of Varmia (shown in red) on the map of Poland
Country Poland
SeatFrombork, Lidzbark
CitiesOlsztyn, Braniewo, Reszel, Frombork
 • Total4,500 km2 (1,700 sq mi)
 • Total350,000
 • Density78/km2 (200/sq mi)
Time zoneUTC+1 (CET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+2 (CEST)
HighwaysS16-PL.svg S22-PL.svg S51-PL.svg

Varmia is currently the core of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship (province). The region covers an area of around 4,500 km2 (1,700 sq mi) and has approximately 350,000 inhabitants. Important landmarks include the Cathedral Hill in Frombork, the bishops' castles at Olsztyn and Lidzbark, the medieval town of Reszel and the sanctuary in Gietrzwałd, a site of Marian apparitions. Geographically, it is an area of many lakes and lies at the upper Łyna river and on the right bank of Pasłęka, stretching in the northwest to the Vistula Bay. Varmia has a number of architectural monuments ranging from Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque to Classicism, Historicism and Art Nouveau.

Varmia is part of a larger historical region called Prussia, which was inhabited by the Old Prussians and later on was populated mainly by Germans and Poles.[1] Varmia has traditionally strong connections with neighbouring Mazuria, but it remained Catholic and belonged directly to Poland between 1454/1466 and 1772, whereas Mazuria was a part of Poland as a fief held by the Teutonic Order[2] and Ducal Prussia, which became predominantly Protestant. Varmia has been under the dominion of various states over the course of its history, most notably the Old Prussians, the Teutonic Knights, the Kingdom of Poland and the Kingdom of Prussia. The history of the region is closely connected to that of the Archbishopric of Warmia (formerly Prince-Bishopric of Warmia). The region is associated with the Prussian tribe, the Varmians,[3] who settled in an approximate area. According to folk etymology, Varmia is named after the legendary Prussian chief Warmo, and Ermland derives from his widow Erma.


Early timesEdit

Warmians and other Baltic tribes during the 13th century
Map of historical lands and regions in Prussia

By the early Middle Ages the Warmians, an Old Prussian tribe, inhabited the area.

Beginning of the Northern CrusadesEdit

In the 13th century the area became a battleground in the Northern Crusades. Having failed to gather an expedition against Palestine, Pope Innocent III resolved in 1207 to organize a new crusade; beginning in 1209, he called for crusades against the Albigenses, against the Almohad dynasty of Spain (1213), and, also around that time, against the pagans of Prussia.[4] The first Bishop of Prussia, Christian of Oliva, was commissioned in 1209 to convert the Prussians, at the request of Konrad I of Masovia (duke from 1194 to 1247).

Teutonic OrderEdit

In 1226 Duke Konrad I of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights to Christianize the pagan Prussians. He supplied the Teutonic Order and allowed the usage of Chełmno Land (Culmerland) as a base for the knights. They had the task of establishing secure borders between Masovia and the Prussians, with the assumption that conquered territories would become part of Masovia. The Order waited until they received official authorisation from the Empire, which Emperor Frederick II granted by issuing the Golden Bull of Rimini (March 1226). The papal Golden Bull of Rieti from Pope Gregory IX in 1234 confirmed the grant, although Konrad of Masovia never recognized the rights of the Order to rule Prussia. Later, the Knights were accused[by whom?] of forging these land grants.

By the end of the 13th century the Teutonic Order had conquered and Christianized most of the Prussian region, including Varmia. The Teutonic Order recruited mostly German-speaking settlers to develop the land. The new régime reduced many of the native Prussians to the status of serfs and gradually Germanized them.[citation needed]. Native Prussians were also reported as holders of estates. Over several centuries the colonists, native Prussians and immigrants gradually intermingled.[citation needed] Until the early 13th century, also the southern parts of Varmia were German-speaking. Polish settlers arrived later, particularly after 1410, mainly to the south of Varmia, so that German was replaced by Polish in this area.[5]

Administrative division of Varmia in 1346–1772

In 1242 the papal legate William of Modena set up four dioceses, including the Archbishopric of Varmia. From the 13th century new colonists, mainly Germans, settled in the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights incl. Varmia. The bishopric was exempt and was governed by a prince-bishop, confirmed by Emperor Charles IV. The Bishops of Varmia were usually Germans or Poles, although Enea Silvio Piccolomini, the later Pope Pius II, served as an Italian bishop of the diocese.

After the 1410 Battle of Grunwald, Bishop Heinrich Vogelsang of Varmia surrendered to King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland, and later with Bishop Henry of Sambia gave homage to the Polish king at the Polish camp during the siege of Marienburg Castle (Malbork). After the Polish army moved out of Varmia, the new Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Heinrich von Plauen the Elder, accused the bishop of treachery and reconquered the region.[6]

Kingdom of PolandEdit

Map of Episcopatum Warmiensem in Prussia by Endersch, 1755

In February 1440 the nobility of Varmia and the town of Braniewo (Braunsberg) co-founded the Prussian Confederation, which opposed Teutonic rule, and most towns of the Varmia joined the organization in May 1440.[7] In February 1454, the organization asked Polish King Casimir IV Jagiellon to incorporate the region to the Kingdom of Poland, to which the king agreed and signed the act of incorporation in Kraków on 6 March 1454,[8] and the Thirteen Years' War (1454–1466) broke out. During the war Varmia was recaptured by the Teutonic Knights, however, in 1464 Bishop Paweł Legendorf vel Mgowski sided with Poland and the Prince-Bishopric came again under the overlordship of the Polish King.[9] In the Second Peace of Thorn (1466) the Teutonic Knights renounced any claims to Varmia, and recognized Polish sovereignty over the region, which was confirmed to be part of Poland.[10] It was administratively remained a Prince-Bishopric with several privileges, part of the larger provinces of Royal Prussia and Greater Poland Province.

Soon after, in 1467, the Cathedral Chapter elected Nicolas von Tüngen against the wish of the Polish king. The Estates of Royal Prussia did not take the side of the Cathedral Chapter. Nicholas von Tüngen allied himself with the Teutonic Order and with King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. The feud, known as the War of the Priests, was a low scale affair, affecting mainly Varmia. In 1478 Braniewo (Braunsberg) withstood a Polish siege which was ended in an agreement in which the Polish king recognized von Tüngen as bishop and the right of the Cathedral Chapter to elect future bishops, which however would have to be accepted by the king, and the bishop as well as Cathedral Chapter swore an oath to the Polish king. Later in the Treaty of Piotrków Trybunalski (7 December 1512), conceded to the king of Poland a limited right to determine the election of bishops by choosing four candidates from Royal Prussia.[11] The region retained autonomy, governing itself and maintaining its own laws, customs, rights and German language.[12]

The Grabowski Palace in Lidzbark Warmiński, the capital of Varmia until the Partitions of Poland

Varmia was invaded by the Teutonic Knights during the Polish–Teutonic War of 1519–1521, however, the Poles, led by renown astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, repulsed the Teutonic siege of Olsztyn in 1521.[13] Copernicus spent more than half of his life in Varmia, where he wrote many of his groundbreaking works and conducted astronomical observations and mathematical calculations, which became the basis for his heliocentric model of the universe.[14] After the war of 1519–1521, he coordinated the reconstruction and resettlement of the devastated southern Varmia.[14]

In 1565, Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius founded the Collegium Hosianum in Braniewo, which became the leading institution of higher learning in the region.

After the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Duchy of Varmia was integrated more directly into the Polish Crown within the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the same time, the territory continued to enjoy substantial autonomy, with many legal differences from neighbouring lands. For example, the bishops were by law members of Polish Senat and the land elected MP's to the Sejmik resp. Landtag of Royal Prussia as well as MP's to the Sejm of Poland. Varmia was under the Church jurisdiction of the Archbishopric of Riga until 1512, when Prince-Bishop Lucas Watzenrode received exempt status, placing Varmia directly under the authority of the Pope (in terms of church jurisdiction), which remained until the resolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.

District of East Prussia (1910)

Prussia and GermanyEdit

By the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Varmia was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia; the properties of the Archbishopric of Varmia were secularized by the Prussian state. In 1773 Varmia was merged with the surrounding areas into the newly established province of East Prussia. Ignacy Krasicki, the last prince-bishop of Varmia as well as Enlightenment Polish poet, friend of Frederick the Great (whom he did not give homage as his new king), was nominated to the Archbishopric of Gniezno (and thus Primate of Poland) in 1795. After the last partition of Poland and during his tenure as Primate of Poland and Prussian subject he was ordered by Pope Pius VI to teach his Catholic Poles to 'stay obedient, faithful, and loving to their new kings', Papal brief of 1795. The Prussian census in 1772 showed a total population of 96,547, including an urban population of 24,612 in 12 towns. 17,749 houses were listed and the biggest city was Braunsberg (Braniewo).

Between 1773 and 1945 Varmia was part of the predominantly Lutheran province of East Prussia, with the exception that the people of Varmia remained largely Catholic. Most of the population of Varmia spoke High Prussian German, while a small area in the north spoke Low Prussian German; southern Varmia was populated by both Germans and Polish Warmiaks.[15] The Polish population was subjected to intense Germanisation policies. Varmia was divided into four districts (Kreise) - Allenstein (Olsztyn), Rössel (Reszel), Heilsberg (Lidzbark Warmiński) and Braunsberg (Braniewo). The city of Allenstein was separated from the Allenstein district in 1910 and became an independent city.

Ethnolinguistic structure of Southern Varmian districts (1825, 1910) [16][17]
Year District Population German Polish / Bilingual
Number Percent Number Percent
1825 Allenstein (city) 2,637 1,371 52.0% 1,266 48.0%
Allenstein (district) 27,820 3,556 12.8% 24,264 87.2%
Rössel 30,705 23,927 77.9% 6,778 22.1%
Total 61,162 28,854 47.2% 32,308 52.8%
1910 Allenstein (city) 33,077 29,344 88.7% 3,683 11.1%
Allenstein (district) 57,919 22,825 39.4% 35,079 60.6%
Rössel 50,472 43,189 85.6% 7,283 14.4%
Total 141,468 95,358 67.4% 46,045 32.5%
Former headquarters of the pre-war Polish newspaper Gazeta Olsztyńska in Olsztyn, destroyed by the Germans in 1939,[18] rebuilt in 1989, now a museum

In 1871, along with the rest of East Prussia, Varmia became part of the German Empire. In 1873, according to a regulation of the Imperial German government, school lessons at public schools inside Germany had to be held in German, as a result the Polish language was forbidden in all schools in Varmia, including Polish schools already founded in the sixteenth century. In 1900 Varmia's population was 240,000. In the jingoistic climate after World War I, Varmian Poles were subject to persecution by the German government. Polish children speaking their language were punished in schools and often had to wear signs with insulting names, such as "Pollack".[19]

After the First World War in the aftermath of the East Prussian plebiscite, carried when Red Army was marching on Warsaw - Polish–Soviet War in 1920, the region remained in Germany following a plebiscite in which 97% of residents voted in favor of remaining in Germany. Support for joining Poland was minimal even in Catholic Varmia,[20] except for the Allenstein (Olsztyn) district where such support was quite high.[21]

Despite German hostility, the Poles founded numerous Polish organizations in Varmia in the interbellum. Persecution of Poles intensified after the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany. Due to severe persecution, from 1936 Polish organizations carried out their activities partly in conspiracy.[22] Polish organizations were heavily invigilated by the Sicherheitspolizei (German security police) through its undercover agents, known as the Vertrauensmänner.[23] Based on their information, the German police compiled files and lists of Poles who were supposed to be either executed or imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.[23] Nazi militants carried out attacks on Polish schools, organizations, printshops, shops.[23] The persecution of Poles further intensified in 1939.[23] In early 1939, many Polish activists were expelled.[22] Afterwards, in an attempt to rig the results of an upcoming census and understate the number of Poles in the region, the Germans terrorized the Polish population, attacked Polish schools and organizations, and confiscated Polish pre-census information leaflets.[24] In summer 1939 the German terror against the Poles even exceeded the terror from the period of the 1920 plebiscite.[25] Poles were subjected to expulsions and arrests, there were terrorist attacks on Polish organizations and schools, Polish libraries were looted or destroyed, and entire volumes of Polish press were confiscated.[23][25] In August 1939, Germany introduced martial law in the region, which allowed for even more blatant persecution of Poles.[25] In August and September 1939, the Germans carried out mass arrests of Poles, including activists, teachers, school principals, bank employees, newspaper editors, entrepreneurs, priests, scout leaders, and the consul and employees of the Polish Consulate in Olsztyn, and shut down or seized Polish newspapers and libraries.[26][27] Arrested Poles were mostly deported to concentration camps, incl. Hohenbruch [de], Soldau, Stutthof, Sachsenhausen, Gusen and Ravensbrück.[28] During World War II, many Poles from the region were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht.[29] The Germans operated a notable Nazi prison in the town of Barczewo (Wartenburg) with several forced labour subcamps in the region.[30]

Polish RepublicEdit

Following Germany's defeat in World War II, and the Yalta Conference and Potsdam Conference of 1945, Varmia became again part of Poland as part of the so-called Recovered Territories, pending a final peace conference with Germany which eventually never took place.[31] The German inhabitants either fled or were transferred to Germany by Soviet and communist authorities installed in Poland and the remaining Polish inhabitants were joined by Polish settlers,[32] many of whom were displaced from former eastern Poland annexed by the Soviet Union.

Olsztyn is the largest city in Varmia and the capital of the Varmian-Masurian Voivedeship. During 1945–46, Varmia was part of the Okreg Mazurski (Masurian District). In 1946 a new voivodeship was created and named the Olsztyn Voivodeship, which encompassed both Varmia and Masurian counties. In 1975 this voivodeship was redistricted and survived in this form until the new redistricting and renaming in 1999 as Varmian-Masurian Voivodeship. The Catholic character of Varmia has been preserved in the architecture of its villages and towns, as well as in folk customs.

The most precious historic heritage sites of Varmia are the Lidzbark Castle, the main seat of the Prince-Bishops of Varmia, and Frombork Cathedral, the bishopric's cathedral. Both objects are listed as Historic Monuments of Poland.[33][34]

Cities and townsEdit

Olsztyn is the largest city of Varmia and capital of the Varmian-Masurian Voivodeship
Braniewo is the northernmost town of Varmia
City Population (2015)[35] Granted city rights
1.   Olsztyn 174,675 1353
2.   Braniewo 17,385 1254
3.   Lidzbark Warmiński 16,352 1308
4.   Biskupiec 10,626 1395
5.   Dobre Miasto 10,599 1329
6.   Orneta 9,046 1313
7.   Barczewo 7,265 1364
8.   Reszel 4,817 1337
9.   Jeziorany 3,346 1338
10.   Pieniężno 2,949 1312
11.   Bisztynek 2,492 1385
12.   Frombork 2,475 1310



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Linguistic map Poland 1912
  2. ^ Górski, Karol (1949). Związek Pruski i poddanie się Prus Polsce: zbiór tekstów źródłowych (in Polish and Latin). Poznań: Instytut Zachodni. pp. 96–97, 214–215.
  3. ^ Also called the Warms, Varms, Varmi, Warmians, Varmians.
  4. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Crusades Archived 2014-09-17 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Hermann Pölking". Ostpreußen - Biographie einer Provinz (in German). Weltbild. p. 50. Udo Arnold (1987). Europa im Hoch- und Spätmittelalter. Klett-Cotta. p. 481.
  6. ^ "Miasto i Gmina Pieniężno Miasto Pieniężno - oficjalny portal miejski". Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 16 March 2006.
  7. ^ Górski, pp. XXXI, XXXVII
  8. ^ Górski, p. 54
  9. ^ Górski, p. LXXXII
  10. ^ Górski, pp. 99, 217
  11. ^ "WHKMLA : Royal Prussia : Varmia Stift Feud (Pfaffenkrieg), 1467-1479". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  12. ^ Dr Jaroslav Miller. Urban Societies in East-Central Europe, 1500–1700. Ashgate Publishing. p. 179.
  13. ^ Lerski, Jerzy Jan; Wróbel, Piotr; Kozicki, Richard J. (1996). Historical dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 403.
  14. ^ a b "Sarkofag ze szczątkami Kopernika w drodze do Fromborka". (in Polish). Retrieved 15 April 2022.
  15. ^ Nationale Minderheiten und staatliche Minderheitenpolitik in Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert, Hans Henning Hahn, Peter Kunze, p. 109
  16. ^ Belzyt, Leszek (1998). Sprachliche Minderheiten im preussischen Staat: 1815 - 1914 ; die preußische Sprachenstatistik in Bearbeitung und Kommentar. Marburg: Herder-Inst. ISBN 978-3-87969-267-5.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ von Haxthausen, August (1839). Die ländliche verfassung in den einzelnen provinzen der Preussischen Monarchie (in German). Königsberg: Gebrüder Borntraeger Verlagsbuchhandlung. p. 81.
  18. ^ Leon Sobociński, Na gruzach Smętka, wyd. B. Kądziela, Warszawa, 1947, p. 61 (in Polish)
  19. ^ "Strona główna - Dom Warmiński". Dom Warmiński. Archived from the original on 27 February 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  20. ^ Ther, Philipp; Siljak, Ana (2001). Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948. pp. 107–117. ISBN 9780742510944.
  21. ^ "Rocznik statystyki Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej" (PDF). 9 June 2007. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 June 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  22. ^ a b Cygański, Mirosław (1984). "Hitlerowskie prześladowania przywódców i aktywu Związków Polaków w Niemczech w latach 1939-1945". Przegląd Zachodni (in Polish) (4): 38.
  23. ^ a b c d e Wardzyńska, Maria (2003). ""Intelligenzaktion" na Warmii, Mazurach i północnym Mazowszu". Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej (in Polish). No. 12-1 (35-36). IPN. p. 39. ISSN 1641-9561.
  24. ^ Cygański, p. 39
  25. ^ a b c Cygański, p. 40
  26. ^ Wardzyńska, pp. 39–40
  27. ^ Cygański, pp. 41–42
  28. ^ Cygański, p. 43
  29. ^ Cygański, p. 63
  30. ^ "Zuchthaus Wartenburg". (in German). Retrieved 15 April 2022.
  31. ^ Geoffrey K. Roberts, Patricia Hogwood (2013). The Politics Today Companion to West European Politics. Oxford University Press. p. 50. ISBN 9781847790323.; Piotr Stefan Wandycz (1980). The United States and Poland. Harvard University Press. p. 303. ISBN 9780674926851.; Phillip A. Bühler (1990). The Oder-Neisse Line: a reappraisal under international law. East European Monographs. p. 33. ISBN 9780880331746.
  32. ^ Ther, Philipp; Siljak, Ana (2001). Redrawing Nations: Ethnic Cleansing in East-Central Europe, 1944-1948. pp. 107–117. ISBN 9780742510944.
  33. ^ Zarządzenie Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 8 września 1994 r. w sprawie uznania za pomnik historii., Dz. U. z 1994 r. Nr 50, poz. 414
  34. ^ Rozporządzenie Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 20 kwietnia 2018 r. w sprawie uznania za pomnik historii "Lidzbark Warmiński - zamek biskupów warmińskich"., Dz. U. z 2018 r. poz. 944
  35. ^ "Lista miast w Polsce (spis miast, mapa miast, liczba ludności, powierzchnia, wyszukiwarka)". Archived from the original on 25 April 2018. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  • (in Polish) Erwin Kruk, "Warmia i Mazury", Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2003, ISBN 83-7384-028-1

External linksEdit

53°48′N 20°30′E / 53.8°N 20.5°E / 53.8; 20.5