A Slavic settlement, Gdańsk was first mentioned in 997. It soon became the capital of Pomerelia (see Pomerania ). After its settlement by German merchants, it joined (13th cent.) the Hanseatic League and developed as an important Baltic trading port. In 1308 it was conquered by the Teutonic Knights and became an object of struggle between them and Poland. Pomerelia and Gdańsk passed to Poland in 1466. Gdańsk was granted local autonomy under the Polish crown. In 1576, Gdańsk withstood a siege by Stephen Báthory and thus preserved its established privileges against domination by the Polish crown.
After the Thirty Years War the city began to decline. In the War of the Polish Succession , King Stanislaus I took refuge in Gdańsk until it fell (1734) after a heroic defense. The first partition of Poland in 1772 made Gdańsk a free city; the second partition (1793) gave it to Prussia .
Napoleon I restored its status as a free city (1807). Reverting to Prussia in 1814, it was fortified and, as Danzig, was the provincial capital of West Prussia until 1919, when by the Treaty of Versailles it once more became a free city with its own legislature. In order to give the newly reestablished nation of Poland a seaport, Danzig was included in the Polish customs territory and was placed under a high commissioner appointed by the League of Nations.
As the League's authority waned after 1935, Gdańsk came under Nazi control. Hitler's demand (1939) for the city's return to Germany was the principal immediate excuse for the German invasion of Poland and thus of World War II. Gdańsk was annexed to Germany from Sept. 1, 1939, until its fall to the Soviet army early in 1945. The Allies returned the city to Poland, which restored the name Gdańsk. In 1970 workers' grievances sparked riots in Gdańsk that spread to other cities and led to changes in Poland's national leadership. Further labor unrest in the Gdańsk shipyard led to the formation of the Solidarity union in 1980.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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