Polabian Slavs

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Polabian Slavs


(Polabians), a large group of West Slavic tribes that, at the end of the first millennium A.D. and the beginning of the second, occupied the area from the Elbe River and its tributary the Saale eastward to the Oder River and from the Ore Mountains in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north. The Polabian Slavs comprised three tribal unions: the Wends, the Lutici (Veleti), and the Bodrichi (Obodrity). They mainly engaged in land cultivation and livestock breeding, becoming very skilled in raising fruits and vegetables. Handicraft production was highly developed, and the tribes carried on a lively trade.

Germanic feudal lords began systematic encroachments upon the territory of the Polabian Slavs in the tenth century, initially to collect tribute and later to expand their rule by creating military regions (marks) in the area. Catholic missionaries forced Christianization and tithing upon the Polabians. The Germanic feudal lords succeeded in subjugating the Polabian Slavs in the tenth century, but all except the Wends regained their freedom after major uprisings in 983 and 1002. Sustained warfare against the Germanic feudal lords seriously affected the economic development of the Polabians, retarding the formation of large early-feudal states in the region. In the late tenth and 11th centuries, however, the development of class relations hastened the formation of feudal states. The Wend State was the most important state to emerge among the Polabian Slavs; it was governed by Prince Gottschalk, ruler of the Bodrichi, the most highly developed tribal group.

In the 12th century, Prince Niklot of the Bodrichi led the Polabian Slavs in their final struggle against the Germanic aggressors, who were headed by Heinrich der Löwe and Albrecht der Bär. The crusade against the Slavs in 1147 ended in failure for the aggressors. The Germanic feudal lords succeeded, however, in capturing the last free lands of the Polabian Slavs in the 1150’s and 1160’s, after the Polabian Slavs had become divided into a number of feuding principalities. The margravate of Brandenburg was created on the territory of the Lutici. The land of the Bodrichi became the principality of Mecklenburg, a vassal state of the dukes of Saxony that was ruled by Slavic princes. In 1169, Danish feudal lords destroyed the Polabian sanctuary at Arkona on the island of Rügen. Most of the Polabians were germanized and some were exterminated, but a small group retained an ethnic and cultural distinctiveness.


Die Slawen in Deutschland: Geschichte und Kultur der slawischen Stämme westlich von Oder und Neisse von 6–12 Jahrhundert, 2nd ed. Edited by J. Herrmann. Berlin, 1972.
See also references under bodrichi, WEND STATE, and CRUSADE AGAINST THE SLAVS OF 1147.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In Part Two: 'Wagria and the Polabian Slavs in the Central Middle Ages', Wieckowska-Luth uses deposited lake and peat bog sediment core samples to reconstruct the settlement history of the Ostholstein lakeland area in the Middle Ages, showing how palaeoenvironmental indicators--for example fluctuating lake levels, identifiable wet or dry phases and pollen analysis--can reveal how climatic conditions varied over time.
Part two looks at Wagria and the Polabian Slavs in the central middle ages: reconstructing settlement history by pollen records; network analysis; evidence of metalworking.
Danes fought against Polabian Slavs in the 1147 Wendish crusade.