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The modern day remains of Olsztyn Castle which is strongly linked to the rule of Casimir the Great.     Source: Tomasz Warszewski / Adobe Stock

Hidden Caves and Lost Battlefield Linked to Casimir the Great Found

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Casimir the Great is one of the greatest figures in Polish history and played an important role in Medieval Eastern Europe. Two recent finds are providing exciting new insights into his reign. In Poland, a mysterious cavern has been found under a ruined castle that was associated with Casimir the Great. And a recently rediscovered battlefield site has also been linked to one his campaigns.

King Casimir the Great (1310-1370) inherited a kingdom that was weakened by war and factionalism. He proved to be a great warrior-king and not only defended his lands but greatly expanded his realm, especially in what is now modern Ukraine.  Casimir reformed the Polish army and made it one of the most feared on the continent. He laid the foundations of the future Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth , which was the dominant Eastern European power in the Late Medieval period.

Portrait of Casimir the Great by Leopold Loeffler. (Public domain)

Portrait of Casimir the Great by Leopold Loeffler. ( Public domain )

Casimir’s Trail of Eagles’ Nests Defensive System

To repopulate his land and to develop the economy Casimir the Great encouraged Jewish people to settle in his domain. Casimir was an enlightened ruler and granted the Jews religious freedom. His policies helped to establish the large Jewish community in Poland that flourished until the Holocaust in WWII.

Casimir also reformed the legal code of Poland at that time. And to protect his kingdom. he built the series of castles, known as the ‘Trail of the Eagles’ Nests’ according to Heritage Daily . One of the most important of these was Olsztyn Castle, built between 1320 and 1350. The monarch was also very enlightened and founded the University of Kraków, which played an important role in the Polish Renaissance. Casimir died as a result of a hunting accident.

The panorama of Olsztyn Castle in modern times. (Ziijon / CC BY 3.0)

The panorama of Olsztyn Castle in modern times. (Ziijon / CC BY 3.0 )

Caves Under Olsztyn Castle Linked to Casimir the Great

Recently Polish archaeologists from the ‘Nature and Man Foundation’ were investigating under Olsztyn Castle. In the 15 th and 16 th century this castle was besieged many times, including when it was administered by Copernicus, the great astronomer. It was captured by the Swedes in the 1650s and later became a seat of bishops. It is now a picturesque ruin. The archaeological team was investigating a series of tunnels and caves under the castle when they made an amazing discovery. One of the caves had ‘served as a Renaissance pantry and a shelter for Neanderthals’ in the past according to Heritage Daily .

Geologists from the University of Silesia used endoscopic equipment in the cave, and they found evidence of a hidden cavern. Mikołaj Urbanowski, who leads the research project, told Heritage Daily that “we came across a fissure, which turned out to be another large cave. At the present stage of exploration, we are not yet able to estimate its full size and age of all the sediments.”

Casimir the Great of Poland depicted on an ancient coin of the realm. (Zygmunt Gloger / Public domain)

Casimir the Great of Poland depicted on an ancient coin of the realm. (Zygmunt Gloger / Public domain )

Subterranean Mysteries of the Newly Discovered Cave

The nature of the cave or cavern is not known, but it could be a karst cave . Urbanowski told Heritage Daily that the possibility “that it is related to the construction of the castle cannot be completely ruled out at this stage.” There could be a whole series of interconnected caverns. The discovery could be related to the construction of the castle and could reveal information on the reign of Casimir the Great and the elaborate ‘Trail of Eagles’ Nests’ defensive system that he constructed.

Recently Discovered Long-lost Battlefield and Casimir

The second recent find linked to Casimir the Great is a battlefield site which was rediscovered in Biała Góra in the Słonne Mountains. This battlefield is likely linked to a campaign waged by Casimir in Ruthenia, in what is now Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine. There are ruins of a medieval fortified settlement here, but it was believed that nothing else of archaeological significance was in the area. However, archaeologists from the local Historical Museum in Sanok became intrigued when they heard that a great many treasure hunters were visiting a remote mountain top in the area.

The archaeologists decided to investigate and sought the assistance of a local historical association. What they found amazed them. Dr Piotr Kotowicz, who took part in the project, told First News that “During several seasons, in the area around the fortified settlement, we found more than 200 arrowheads and bolts.”

Arrowheads and crossbow bolts recently found at the ancient battlefield in Poland. (PAP Foundation)

Arrowheads and crossbow bolts recently found at the ancient battlefield in Poland. ( PAP Foundation )

It is believed that the objects unearthed at this site are from a late medieval period battle. In 1340, Casimir the Great fought a battle in the general area. Dr Kotowicz is ‘convinced, that the latest findings in Sanok can be linked to that particular military campaign’ reports First News . In the following years, the Polish king conquered all of Ruthenia or modern-day Ukraine.

Evidence From The Destroyed Fortified Settlement

Dr Kotowicz believes that the finds ‘are a testimony of fights between Ruthenians and Poles’ according to First News . Apparently, the greatest concentration of arrowheads and crossbow bolts was found near the medieval fortified settlement. This was a small fortress that had a moat around it. It had been totally destroyed at some stage and it is possible that it was destroyed by Casimir the Great during his campaign in the region.

Based on the evidence that was uncovered it seems that the attackers overwhelmed the defenders. Few arrows and bolts were fired from the direction of the stronghold. First News quotes Dr Kotowicz “This means that the defenders were dominated by the invaders and their response to the attack was minimal.”

The latest findings are providing more information on Casimir the Great and his military campaigns and strategies. More research from both sites could provide a new perspective on his reign and achievements. Casimir the Great is regarded as a national hero in Poland to this day.

Top image: The modern day remains of Olsztyn Castle which is strongly linked to the rule of Casimir the Great.     Source: Tomasz Warszewski / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

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