Homo is the genus which emerged in the otherwise extinct Australopithecus genus that encompasses the extant species Homo sapiens, plus several extinct species classified as either ancestral to or related to modern humans, most notably Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis. The genus is taken to emerge with the appearance of Homo habilis, just over two million years ago. Genus Homo, together with the genus Paranthropus is sister to A. africanus in the genus Australopithecus, which itself had split from the lineage of Pan, the chimpanzees. Homo erectus appeared about two million years ago and, in several early migrations, it spread throughout Africa and Eurasia, it was the first human species to live in a hunter-gatherer society and to control fire. An adaptive and successful species, Homo erectus persisted for more than a million years, diverged into new species by around 500,000 years ago. Homo sapiens emerges close to 300,000 to 200,000 years ago, most in Africa, Homo neanderthalensis emerged at around the same time in Europe and Western Asia.
H. sapiens dispersed from Africa in several waves, from as early as 250,000 years ago, by 130,000 years ago, the so-called Southern Dispersal beginning about 70,000 years ago leading to the lasting colonisation of Eurasia and Oceania by 50,000 years ago. Both in Africa and Eurasia, H. sapiens interbred with archaic humans. Separate archaic human species are thought to have survived until around 40,000 years ago, with possible late survival of hybrid species as late as 12,000 years ago. See Homininae for an overview of taxonomy; the Latin noun homō means "human being" or "man" in the generic sense of "human being, mankind". The binomial name Homo sapiens was coined by Carl Linnaeus. Names for other species of the genus were introduced beginning in the second half of the 19th century. Today, the genus Homo has not been properly defined. Since the early human fossil record began to emerge from the earth, the boundaries and definitions of the genus Homo have been poorly defined and in flux; because there was no reason to think it would have any additional members, Carl Linnaeus did not bother to define Homo when he first created it for humans in the 18th century.
The discovery of Neanderthal brought the first addition. The genus Homo was given its taxonomic name to suggest that its member species can be classified as human. And, over the decades of the 20th century, fossil finds of pre-human and early human species from late Miocene and early Pliocene times produced a rich mix for debating classifications. There is continuing debate on delineating Homo from Australopithecus—or, delineating Homo from Pan, as one body of scientists argue that the two species of chimpanzee should be classed with genus Homo rather than Pan. So, classifying the fossils of Homo coincides with evidence of: 1) competent human bipedalism in Homo habilis inherited from the earlier Australopithecus of more than four million years ago, as demonstrated by the Laetoli footprints. From the late-19th to mid-20th centuries, a number of new taxonomic names including new generic names were proposed for early human fossils. Many such names are now dubbed as "synonyms" with Homo, including Pithecanthropus,Protanthropus,Sinanthropus,Cyphanthropus,Africanthropus,Telanthropus,Atlanthropus, Tchadanthropus.
Classifying the genus Homo into species and subspecies is subject to incomplete information and remains poorly done. This has led to using common names in scientific papers to avoid trinomial names or the ambiguity of classifying groups as incertae sedis —for example, H. neanderthalensis vs. H. sapiens neanderthalensis, or H. georgicus vs. H. erectus georgicus. Some extinct species in the genus Homo are only discovered and do not as yet have consensus binomial names. Since the beginning of the Holocene, it is that Homo sapiens has been the only extant species of Homo. John Edward Gray was an early advocate of classifying taxa by designating families. Wood and Richmond proposed that Hominini be designated as a tribe that comprised all species of early humans and pre-humans ancestral to humans back to after the chimpanzee-human last common ancestor. Designations alternative to Hominina existed, or were offered: Australopithecinae and Preanthropinae. See Hominini and Chimpanzee–human last common ancestor for the separation of Australopithecina and Panina.
Several species, including Australopithecus garhi, Australopithecus sediba, Australopithecus africanus, Australopithecus afarensis, have been proposed as the direct ancestor of the Homo lineage. These species have morphological features that align them with Homo
The Iron Age is the final epoch of the three-age division of the prehistory and protohistory of humankind. It was preceded by the Bronze Age; the concept has been applied to Europe and the Ancient Near East, and, by analogy to other parts of the Old World. The duration of the Iron Age varies depending on the region under consideration, it is defined by archaeological convention, the mere presence of some cast or wrought iron is not sufficient to represent an Iron Age culture. For example, Tutankhamun's meteoric iron dagger comes from the Bronze Age. In the Ancient Near East, this transition takes place in the wake of the so-called Bronze Age collapse, in the 12th century BC; the technology soon spread to South Asia. Its further spread to Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Central Europe is somewhat delayed, Northern Europe is reached still by about 500 BC; the Iron Age is taken to end by convention, with the beginning of the historiographical record. This does not represent a clear break in the archaeological record.
The Germanic Iron Age of Scandinavia is taken to end c. AD 800, with the beginning of the Viking Age. In South Asia, the Iron Age is taken to begin with the ironworking Painted Gray Ware culture and to end with the reign of Ashoka; the use of the term "Iron Age" in the archaeology of South and Southeast Asia is more recent, less common, than for western Eurasia. The Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa are outside of the three-age system, there being no Bronze Age, but the term "Iron Age" is sometimes used in reference to early cultures practicing ironworking such as the Nok culture of Nigeria; the three-age system was introduced in the first half of the 19th century for the archaeology of Europe in particular, by the 19th century expanded to the archaeology of the Ancient Near East. Its name harks back to the mythological "Ages of Man" of Hesiod; as an archaeological era it was first introduced for Scandinavia by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen in the 1830s. By the 1860s, it was embraced as a useful division of the "earliest history of mankind" in general and began to be applied in Assyriology.
The development of the now-conventional periodization in the archaeology of the Ancient Near East was developed in the 1920s to 1930s. As its name suggests, Iron Age technology is characterized by the production of tools and weaponry by ferrous metallurgy, more from carbon steel; the Iron Age in Europe is being seen as a part of the Bronze Age collapse in the ancient Near East, in ancient India, ancient Iran, ancient Greece. In other regions of Europe the Iron Age began in the 8th century BC in Central Europe and the 6th century BC in Northern Europe; the Near Eastern Iron Age is divided into two subsections, Iron I and Iron II. Iron I illustrates both discontinuity with the previous Late Bronze Age. There is no definitive cultural break between the 13th and 12th centuries BC throughout the entire region, although certain new features in the hill country and coastal region may suggest the appearance of the Aramaean and Sea People groups. There is evidence, however, of strong continuity with Bronze Age culture, although as one moves into Iron I the culture begins to diverge more from that of the late 2nd millennium.
The Iron Age as an archaeological period is defined as that part of the prehistory of a culture or region during which ferrous metallurgy was the dominant technology of metalworking. The periodization is not tied to the presence of ferrous metallurgy and is to some extent a matter of convention; the characteristic of an Iron Age culture is mass production of tools and weapons made from steel alloys with a carbon content between 0.30% and 1.2% by weight. Only with the capability of the production of carbon steel does ferrous metallurgy result in tools or weapons that are equal or superior to bronze. To this day bronze and brass have not been replaced in many applications, with the spread of steel being based as much on economics as on metallurgical advancements. A range of techniques have been used to produce steel from smelted iron, including techniques such as case-hardening and forge welding that were used to make cutting edges stronger. By convention, the Iron Age in the Ancient Near East is taken to last from c. 1200 BC to c. 550 BC, taken as the beginning of historiography or the end of the proto-historical period.
In Central and Western Europe, the Iron Age is taken to last from c. 800 BC to c. 1 BC, in Northern Europe from c. 500 BC to 800 AD. In China, there is no recognizable prehistoric period characterized by ironworking, as Bronze Age China transitions directly into the Qin dynasty of imperial China; the following gives an overview over the
Early Middle Ages
Historians regard the Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period, sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, as lasting from the 5th or 6th century to the 10th century CE. They marked the start of the Middle Ages of European history; the alternative term "Late Antiquity" emphasizes elements of continuity with the Roman Empire, while "Early Middle Ages" is used to emphasize developments characteristic of the earlier medieval period. As such the concept overlaps with Late Antiquity, following the decline of the Western Roman Empire, precedes the High Middle Ages; the period saw a continuation of trends evident since late classical antiquity, including population decline in urban centres, a decline of trade, a small rise in global warming and increased migration. In the 19th century the Early Middle Ages were labelled the "Dark Ages", a characterization based on the relative scarcity of literary and cultural output from this time. However, the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire, continued to survive, though in the 7th century the Rashidun Caliphate and the Umayyad Caliphate conquered swathes of Roman territory.
Many of the listed trends reversed in the period. In 800 the title of "Emperor" was revived in Western Europe with Charlemagne, whose Carolingian Empire affected European social structure and history. Europe experienced a return to systematic agriculture in the form of the feudal system, which adopted such innovations as three-field planting and the heavy plough. Barbarian migration stabilized in much of Europe, although the Viking expansion affected Northern Europe. Starting in the 2nd century, various indicators of Roman civilization began to decline, including urbanization, seaborne commerce, population. Archaeologists have identified only 40 per cent as many Mediterranean shipwrecks from the 3rd century as from the first. Estimates of the population of the Roman Empire during the period from 150 to 400 suggest a fall from 65 million to 50 million, a decline of more than 20 per cent; some scholars have connected this de-population to the Dark Ages Cold Period, when a decrease in global temperatures impaired agricultural yields.
Early in the 3rd century Germanic peoples migrated south from Scandinavia and reached the Black Sea, creating formidable confederations which opposed the local Sarmatians. In Dacia and on the steppes north of the Black Sea the Goths, a Germanic people, established at least two kingdoms: Therving and Greuthung; the arrival of the Huns in 372–375 ended the history of these kingdoms. The Huns, a confederation of central Asian tribes, founded an empire, they had mastered the difficult art of shooting composite recurve bows from horseback. The Goths sought refuge in Roman territory; however many bribed the Danube border-guards into allowing them to bring their weapons. The discipline and organization of a Roman legion made it a superb fighting unit; the Romans preferred infantry to cavalry because infantry could be trained to retain the formation in combat, while cavalry tended to scatter when faced with opposition. While a barbarian army could be raised and inspired by the promise of plunder, the legions required a central government and taxation to pay for salaries, constant training and food.
The decline in agricultural and economic activity reduced the empire's taxable income and thus its ability to maintain a professional army to defend itself from external threats. In the Gothic War, the Goths revolted and confronted the main Roman army in the Battle of Adrianople. By this time, the distinction in the Roman army between Roman regulars and barbarian auxiliaries had broken down, the Roman army comprised barbarians and soldiers recruited for a single campaign; the general decline in discipline led to the use of smaller shields and lighter weaponry. Not wanting to share the glory, Eastern Emperor Valens ordered an attack on the Therving infantry under Fritigern without waiting for Western Emperor Gratian, on the way with reinforcements. While the Romans were engaged, the Greuthung cavalry arrived. Only one-third of the Roman army managed to escape; this represented the most shattering defeat that the Romans had suffered since the Battle of Cannae, according to the Roman military writer Ammianus Marcellinus.
The core army of the Eastern Roman Empire was destroyed, Valens was killed, the Goths were freed to lay waste to the Balkans, including the armories along the Danube. As Edward Gibbon comments, "The Romans, who so coolly and so concisely mention the acts of justice which were exercised by the legions, reserve their compassion and their eloquence for their own sufferings, when the provinces were invaded and desolated by the arms of the successful Barbarians."The empire lacked the resources, the will, to reconstruct the professional mobile army destroyed at Adrianople, so it had to rely on barbarian armies to fight for it. The Eastern Roman Empire succeeded in buying off the Goths with tribute; the Western Roman Empire proved less fortunate. Stilicho, the western empire's half-Vandal military commander, stripped the Rhine frontier of troops to fend off invasions of Italy by the Visigoths in 402–03 and by other Goths in 406–07. Fleeing before the advance of the Huns, the Vandals and Alans launched an attack across the frozen Rhine near Mainz.
There soon followed the bands of the Alamanni. In the fit of anti-barbarian hysteria which followed, the Western Roman Emperor Honorius had Stilicho summarily beheaded. Stilicho submitted his neck, "with a firmness not unworthy of t
Poland the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres, has a temperate seasonal climate. With a population of 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, Szczecin. Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast and Lithuania to the north and Ukraine to the east and Czech Republic, to the south, Germany to the west; the establishment of the Polish state can be traced back to AD 966, when Mieszko I, ruler of the realm coextensive with the territory of present-day Poland, converted to Christianity. The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, in 1569 it cemented its longstanding political association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin; this union formed the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest and most populous countries of 16th and 17th century Europe, with a uniquely liberal political system which adopted Europe's first written national constitution, the Constitution of 3 May 1791.
More than a century after the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, Poland regained its independence in 1918 with the Treaty of Versailles. In September 1939, World War II started with the invasion of Poland by Germany, followed by the Soviet Union invading Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. More than six million Polish citizens, including 90% of the country's Jews, perished in the war. In 1947, the Polish People's Republic was established as a satellite state under Soviet influence. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1989, most notably through the emergence of the Solidarity movement, Poland reestablished itself as a presidential democratic republic. Poland is regional power, it has the fifth largest economy by GDP in the European Union and one of the most dynamic economies in the world achieving a high rank on the Human Development Index. Additionally, the Polish Stock Exchange in Warsaw is the largest and most important in Central Europe. Poland is a developed country, which maintains a high-income economy along with high standards of living, life quality, safety and economic freedom.
Having a developed school educational system, the country provides free university education, state-funded social security, a universal health care system for all citizens. Poland has 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Poland is a member state of the European Union, the Schengen Area, the United Nations, NATO, the OECD, the Three Seas Initiative, the Visegrád Group; the origin of the name "Poland" derives from the West Slavic tribe of Polans that inhabited the Warta river basin of the historic Greater Poland region starting in the 6th century. The origin of the name "Polanie" itself derives from the early Slavic word "pole". In some languages, such as Hungarian, Lithuanian and Turkish, the exonym for Poland is Lechites, which derives from the name of a semi-legendary ruler of Polans, Lech I. Early Bronze Age in Poland begun around 2400 BC, while the Iron Age commenced in 750 BC. During this time, the Lusatian culture, spanning both the Bronze and Iron Ages, became prominent; the most famous archaeological find from the prehistory and protohistory of Poland is the Biskupin fortified settlement, dating from the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age, around 700 BC.
Throughout the Antiquity period, many distinct ancient ethnic groups populated the regions of what is now Poland in an era that dates from about 400 BC to 500 AD. These groups are identified as Celtic, Slavic and Germanic tribes. Recent archeological findings in the Kujawy region, confirmed the presence of the Roman Legions on the territory of Poland; these were most expeditionary missions sent out to protect the amber trade. The exact time and routes of the original migration and settlement of Slavic peoples lacks written records and can only be defined as fragmented; the Slavic tribes who would form Poland migrated to these areas in the second half of the 5th century AD. Up until the creation of Mieszko's state and his subsequent conversion to Christianity in 966 AD, the main religion of Slavic tribes that inhabited the geographical area of present-day Poland was Slavic paganism. With the Baptism of Poland the Polish rulers accepted Christianity and the religious authority of the Roman Church.
However, the transition from paganism was not a smooth and instantaneous process for the rest of the population as evident from the pagan reaction of the 1030s. Poland began to form into a recognizable unitary and territorial entity around the middle of the 10th century under the Piast dynasty. Poland's first documented ruler, Mieszko I, accepted Christianity with the Baptism of Poland in 966, as the new official religion of his subjects; the bulk of the population converted in the course of the next few centuries. In 1000, Boleslaw the Brave, continuing the policy of his father Mieszko, held a Congress of Gniezno and created the metropolis of Gniezno and the dioceses of Kraków, Kołobrzeg, Wrocław. However, the pagan unrest led to the transfer of the capital to Kraków in 1038 by Casimir I the Restorer. In 1109, Prince Bolesław III Wrymouth defeated the King of Germany Henry V at the Battle of Hundsfeld, stopping the Ge
Homo erectus is a species of archaic humans that lived throughout most of the Pleistocene geological epoch. Its earliest fossil evidence dates to 1.8 million years ago. A debate regarding the classification and progeny of H. erectus in relation to Homo ergaster, is ongoing, with two major positions: 1) H. erectus is the same species as H. ergaster, thereby H. erectus is a direct ancestor of the hominins including Homo heidelbergensis, Homo antecessor, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo Denisova, Homo sapiens. Some paleoanthropologists consider H. ergaster to be a variety, that is, the "African" variety, of H. erectus. H. Erectus became extinct throughout its range in Africa and Asia, but developed into derived species, notably Homo heidelbergensis; as a chronospecies, the time of its disappearance is thus a matter of contention. The species name proposed in 1950 defines Java Man as the type specimen. Since there has been a trend in palaeoanthropology of reducing the number of proposed species of Homo, to the point where H. erectus includes all early forms of Homo sufficiently derived from H. habilis and distinct from early H. heidelbergensis.
In this wider sense, H. erectus had been replaced by H. heidelbergensis by about 300,000 years ago, with possible late survival in Java as late as 70,000 years ago. The discovery of the morphologically divergent Dmanisi skull 5 in 2013 has reinforced the trend of subsuming fossils given separate species names under H. erectus considered as a wide-ranging, polymorphous species. Thus, H. ergaster is now well within the accepted morphological range of H. erectus, it has been suggested that H. rudolfensis and H. habilis should be considered early varieties of H. erectus. The Dutch anatomist Eugène Dubois, inspired by Darwin's theory of evolution as it applied to humanity, set out in 1886 for Asia to find a human ancestor. In 1891–92, his team discovered first a tooth a skullcap, a femur of a human fossil on the island of Java, Dutch East Indies. Excavated from the bank of the Solo River at Trinil, in East Java, he first allocated the material to a genus of fossil chimpanzees as Anthropopithecus erectus the following year assigned his species to a new genus as Pithecanthropus erectus —from the Greek πίθηκος and ἄνθρωπος —based on the proposal that the femur suggested that the creature had been bipedal, like Homo sapiens.
Dubois' 1891 find was the first fossil of a Homo-species found as result of a directed expedition and search. The Java fossil from Indonesia aroused much public interest, it was dubbed by the popular press as Java Man. Most of the spectacular discoveries of H. erectus next took place at the Zhoukoudian Project, now known as the Peking Man site, in Zhoukoudian, China. This site was first discovered by Johan Gunnar Andersson in 1921 and was first excavated in 1921, produced two human teeth. Davidson Black's initial description of a lower molar as belonging to a unknown species prompted publicized interest. Extensive excavations followed, which altogether uncovered 200 human fossils from more than 40 individuals including five nearly complete skullcaps. Franz Weidenreich provided much of the detailed description of this material in several monographs published in the journal Palaeontologica Sinica. Nearly all of the original specimens were lost during World War II. Similarities between Java Man and Peking Man led Ernst Mayr to rename both Homo erectus in 1950.
Throughout much of the 20th century, anthropologists debated the role of H. erectus in human evolution. Early in the century, due in part to the discoveries at Java and Zhoukoudian, the belief that modern humans first evolved in Asia was accepted. A few naturalists—Charles Darwin most prominent among them—theorized that humans' earliest ancestors were African: Darwin pointed out that chimpanzees and gorillas, humans' closest relatives and exist only in Africa; the derivation of the genus Homo from Australopithecina took place in East Africa after 3 million years ago. The inclusion of species dated to just before 2 million years ago, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, into Homo is somewhat contentious; as H. habilis appears to have coexisted with H. ergaster/erectus for a substantial period after 2 Mya, it has been proposed that ergaster may not be directly derived from habilis. Homo erectus emerged about 2 million years ago. Fossils dated close to 1.8 million years ago have been found both in
History of Poland (1918–1939)
The history of interwar Poland comprises the period from the re-recreation of the independent Polish state in 1918, until the joint Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 at the onset of World War II. The two decades of Poland's sovereignty between the world wars are known as the Interbellum. Poland re-emerged in November 1918 after more than a century of partitions by Austria-Hungary, the German, the Russian Empires, its independence was confirmed by the victorious powers through the Treaty of Versailles of June 1919, most of the territory won in a series of border wars fought from 1918 to 1921. Poland's frontiers were settled in 1922 and internationally recognized in 1923; the Polish political scene was democratic, but was chaotic until Józef Piłsudski seized power in May 1926 and democracy ended. The policy of agrarianism led to the redistribution of lands to peasants and the country achieved significant economic growth between 1921 and 1939. A third of the population consisted of minorities—Ukrainians, Jews and Germans—who were either hostile towards the existence of the Polish state because of the lack of privileges or discriminated against in the case of Ukrainians and Belarusians who faced Polonization.
There were treaties that protected them but the government in Warsaw was not interested in their enforcement. The independence of Poland had been promoted to the Allies in Paris by Roman Dmowski and Ignacy Paderewski. U. S. President Woodrow Wilson made the independence of Poland a war goal in his Fourteen Points, this goal was endorsed by the Allies in spring 1918; as part of the Armistice terms imposed on Germany, all German forces had to stand down in Poland and other occupied areas. So as the war ended, the Germans sent Piłsudski under arrest, back to Warsaw. On November 11, 1918, he took control from the puppet government. Ignacy Daszyński headed a short-lived Polish government in Lublin from November 6 but Piłsudski had overwhelming prestige at this point. Daszyński and the other Polish leaders acknowledged him as head of the army and in effect head of what became the Republic of Poland. Germany, now defeated, withdrew its forces. Jędrzej Moraczewski became Dmowsky headed the largest party.
From its inception the Republic fought a series of wars to secure its boundaries. The nation was poor. Industrialization came slowly, was promoted in the mid-1930s with the development of the Central Industrial District. Most Polish leaders of that period wanted to create a larger Polish state. At the same time, the exact boundaries of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were not desired, though mentioned as an opening gambit by Roman Dmowski. Much of this land had been controlled by the Russian Empire since the Partitions of Poland and its inhabitants were struggling to create their own states; the Polish leadership did not aim to restore the nation to its 17th-century boundaries. Opinions varied among Polish politicians as to how much of the territory a new, Polish-led state should contain and what form it should take. Józef Piłsudski advocated a democratic, Polish-led federation of independent states — while Roman Dmowski leader of the Endecja movement represented by the National Democratic Party, set his mind on a more compact Poland composed of ethnic Polish or'polonizable' territories.
To the southwest and Czechoslovakia contested boundary disputes. More ominously, an embittered Germany begrudged any territorial loss to its new eastern neighbour; the December 27, 1918 Great Poland Uprising liberated Greater Poland. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles settled the German-Polish borders in the Baltic region; the port city of Danzig, with a majority German population and Polish minority was declared a free city independent of Germany, became a bone of contention for decades. Allied arbitration divided the ethnically mixed and coveted industrial and mining district of Silesia between Germany and Poland, with Poland receiving the smaller in size, but more industrialized eastern section in 1922, after series of three Silesian Uprisings; the German-Polish borders were so complicated that only close collaboration between the two countries could let the situation persist. The unification of the former Prussian provinces lasted for many years; until 1923, these provinces were ruled by a separate administration.
Military conflict proved the determinant of Poland's frontiers in the east, a theater rendered chaotic by the repercussions of the Russian revolutions and civil war. Piłsudski envisioned creating a federation with the rest of Ukraine and Lithuania, thus forming a Central and East European federation called "Międzymorze". Lenin, leader of the new communist government of Russia, saw Poland as the bridge over which communism would pass into the labor class of a disorganized postwar Germany, and the issue was further complicated as some of the disputed regions had assumed various economic and political identities since the partition in the late 18th century while some did not have an ethnically Polish majority in the first place they were still viewed by Poles as their historic regions, since they envisioned Poland as a multiethnic
History of Poland in the Early Modern era (1569–1795)
The early modern era of Polish history follows the late Middle Ages. Historians use the term early modern to refer to the period beginning in 1500 AD and lasting until around 1800; the Nihil novi act adopted by the Polish diet in 1505 transferred legislative power from the king to the diet. This event marked the beginning of the period known as the "Nobles' Democracy" or "Nobles' Commonwealth"; the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility or szlachta, albeit in intense, at times destabilizing, competition with the Jagiellon and elective kings. The Union of Lublin of 1569 constituted the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a more merged continuation of the existing personal union of the Crown of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; the beginning of the Commonwealth coincided with the period of Poland's greatest territorial expansion, civilizational advancement and prosperity. The Polish–Lithuanian state had become an influential player in Europe and a vital cultural entity, spreading Western culture eastward.
Following the Reformation gains accompanied by religious toleration, the Catholic Church embarked on an ideological counter-offensive and Counter-Reformation claimed many converts from Protestant circles. The disagreements over and the difficulties with the assimilation of the eastern Ruthenian populations of the Commonwealth had become discernible. On the military front, a series of Cossack uprisings took place; the Commonwealth, assertive militarily under King Stephen Báthory, suffered from dynastic distractions during the reigns of the Vasa kings Sigismund III and Władysław IV. It had become a playground of internal conflicts, in which the kings, powerful magnates and factions of nobility were the main actors; the Commonwealth fought wars with Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The situation, soon radically deteriorated. From 1648 the Cossack Khmelnytsky Uprising engulfed the south and east, was soon followed by a Swedish invasion, which raged through core Polish lands. Warfare with the Cossacks and Russia left Ukraine divided, with the eastern part, lost by the Commonwealth, becoming the Tsardom's dependency.
John III Sobieski, fighting protracted wars with the Ottoman Empire, revived the Commonwealth's military might once more, in the process helping decisively in 1683 to deliver Vienna from a Turkish onslaught. The Commonwealth, subjected to constant warfare until 1720, suffered devastating population losses, massive damage to its economy and social structure; the government became ineffective because of large scale internal conflicts, corrupted legislative processes and manipulation by foreign interests. The "ruling" nobility class fell under control of a handful of powerful families with established territorial domains; the reigns of two kings of the Saxon Wettin dynasty, Augustus II and Augustus III, brought the Commonwealth further disintegration. The Polish-Lithuanian state was dominated by the Russian Empire from the time of Peter the Great; this foreign control reached its climax under Catherine the Great, involved at that time the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy. During the part of the 18th century the Commonwealth recovered economically, developed culturally and attempted fundamental internal reforms.
The reform activity provoked hostile reaction and military response on the part of the neighboring powers. The royal election of 1764 resulted in the reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski; the Bar Confederation of 1768 was a szlachta rebellion directed against the Polish king. It was brought under control and followed in 1772 by the First Partition of the Commonwealth, a permanent encroachment on the outer Commonwealth provinces by Russia and Austria; the Great, or Four-Year Sejm was convened by Stanisław August in 1788. The Sejm's landmark achievement was the passing of the Constitution of May 3, 1791, considered the first in modern Europe; the constitutional reform generated strong opposition from conservative circles in the Commonwealth's upper nobility and from Catherine II. The nobility's Targowica Confederation appealed to Empress Catherine for help and in May 1792 the Russian army entered the territory of the Commonwealth; the defensive war fought by the forces of the Commonwealth ended when the King, convinced of the futility of resistance, capitulated by joining the Targowica Confederation.
Russia and Prussia in 1793 arranged for and executed the Second Partition of the Commonwealth, which left the country with critically reduced territory incapable of independent existence. Reformers and patriots were soon preparing for a national insurrection. Tadeusz Kościuszko, chosen as its leader, on March 1794 in Cracow declared a national uprising. Kościuszko emancipated and enrolled in his army many peasants, but the hard-fought insurrection ended in suppression by the forces of Russia and Prussia; the third and final partition of the Commonwealth was undertaken again by all three partitioning powers, in 1795 the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth ceased to exist. The death of Sigismund II Augustus in 1572 ended the nearly two centuries of the rule of the Jagiellon dynasty in Poland, it was followed by a three-year interregnum period, during which the Polish nobility was searching for ways to continue the governance process and elect a new monarch. Lower szlachta was now included in the selection process and adjustments were made to the constitutional system.
The power of the monarch was further circumscribed in favor of the expanding noble class, which sought to ensure its future d