In the XVI century, Poland and Lithuania united to create a common state – as the result of this union the Commonwealth of Two Nations, the greatest and the biggest country of Europe during that period, appears on the map of the old continent.
At the time of its creation, the Commonwealth consisted of vast territories between Baltic and Black seas to the north and south, and from German border in the west till far beyond Kiev in the east. The Nobility (Szlachta), which emerged from knighthood, was the dominating force in the country, during free election, it had the power to elect the king, in the time of war, it defended the country, and in times of peace, it decreed the taxes.
A certain conviction spread among the nobility in the Commonwealth that it descended from the mighty Sarmates, an ancient Indo-Aryan people that once occupied the territory between the rivers of lesser Volga and Don. This special ancestry was to explain the special role of szlachta in Poland. From them it was to inherit the love of freedom, hospitality, and kindheartedness.
The Sarmatism played a vital role in the polish baroque literature and had tremendous influence over the mentality, customs and ideology of polish nobility.
At the source of Sarmatian ideology lays the myth of the origin of the Polish people and other Slavic nations traced back to the ancient people of Sarmates, which occupied the territory of today Ukraine in the first ages of our era.
The terms „Sarmate” and „Sarmatism” first appear in the polish written works as early as XV century with the rebirth of Ptolemaic theory. The synthesis of XVI century polish views on Sarmatism was the work of Maciej of Miechow “Tractatus de duabus Sarmatiis, Asiana et Europiana” (Traktat o dwóch Sarmacjach, azjatyckiej i europejskiej, Kraków 1517)
The term ‘sarmatism’ has two meanings – the first, it is a lifestyle of polish nobility in XV and XVI century, the second – a broad ideology of nobility. It was based upon two principles – the patriotic and messianic ideologies.
In the beginning, the term was connected with positive attributes of the nobility, which were – valour, courage, and bravery. With time, there is a development in meaning of the term to include the Golden Freedom and Messianism – a religious view stating that the Messiah can be either a single person, or a whole nation. The polish Szlachta believed that their country is a first bastion of Christianity in the east and it has to face the pagan armies, which will come to destroy it. The commonwealth was after all the furthest located catholic country in the east. It has to deal with both Orthodox and Islamic religions, and the National Messianism is a belief of a special political and religious role of Poles.
With time the Sarmatian ideology became spoiled, its positive aspects like cultivation of tradition and the love of simpleness turned to conservatism and xenophobia.
The broad idea of freedom and special privileges gave birth to anarchy and gradually the collapse of the commonwealth.
The Sarmatism by the union of political ideology, artistic culture of baroque and integration of eastern and western influences created a specific style of life, mentality, tradition and fashion. With the exception of the negative aspects of this phenomenon, without a doubt this trend in polish culture was one of the most original in the history of that nation.
Even in contemporary Poland, the term Sarmate is equal to the Noble, with most of the poles not even knowing that it can describe any other people.
By Michal Chatizow,