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Galicia and Lodomeria: Forgotten in History

Lost places and people from history fascinate me. Have you ever heard of Galicia and Lodomeria?

Halych and Volhynia

The Rurik dynasty established the Principality of Volhynia in Ruthenia in 987 A.D. It was populated by Eastern Slavs and the capital Volodymyr-Volynskyi was named in honor of Saint Vladimir the Great, Prince of Novogorod, and Grand Prince of Kyiv (c. 958-1015).

His descendant Roman the Great (c. 952-1205) united Volhynia and Halych, another principality ruled by the dynasty in 1198-9 to create the Duchy of Halych and Volhynia. In Latin, Halych translates to Galicia and Volodymyr-Volynskyi becomes Lodomeria.

The duchy was also historically referred to as the Kingdom of Ruthenia which on today’s maps is comprised of parts of Belarus, Ukraine, and Poland. Roman's successors often referred to the united territory simply as Galicia.

Early Eastern Europe

Early Eastern Europe

Rival Claimants to Galicia-Lodomeria's Rule

Roman the Great was initially an ally of the Poles but after shifting allegiances, he was killed in a battle against the Polish in 1205. Without his leadership, the Duchy of Galicia and Lodomeria became the cause of disputes between Poland and Hungary. Their rulers, Leszek I “The White” and King Andrew II, each believed that their claim to the duchy was greater. King Andrew of Hungary was the first of his line, the House of Arpad, to proclaim himself the King of Halych and Lodomeria in 1208.

The Rurik dynasty's claimant Danylo Romanovich, Roman the Great’s third son, born in 1201, was forced to wait until 1221 before he could secure power in Volhynia and 1235 for rulership of Halych. Rival rulers included Mstislav Mstislavich, Coloman of Hungary, King Andrew’s second son, and Leszek I, Coloman’s father-in-law. Danylo Romanovich was recognized as the undisputed King of Galicia and Lodomeria and in 1253 he was proclaimed the first King of all Rus by Pope Innocent IV. Danylo’s sons Shvarn and Lev ruled after him but with Lev’s death came more chaos.

Roman the Great of the Rurik dynasty

Roman the Great of the Rurik dynasty

Civil War and a Power Split

Civil war terrorized the kingdom for over fifty years in the 1300s. In 1323 after the direct line of descent from Roman the Great was left without any survivors, Casimir III “The Great” of Poland claimed Galicia-Volhynia for the Kingdom of Poland. Casimir declared that he was King of Ruthenia and took control of Galicia and West Volhynia.

East Volyhnia and Kyiv were awarded to Mindaugas, ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, from 1253 the Kingdom of Lithuania. In 1434 Ruthenia became a province with its capital in Lviv, under a Ruthenian Voivodeship(governorship). Galicia-Volhynia became entirely Polish in the 1569 Treaty of the Union of Lubin.

King Casimir III "The Great" of Poland

King Casimir III "The Great" of Poland

The Partitions of Poland

1772 was a year of great change. During the three Partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795 huge tranches of Poland and Lithuania were purloined by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Catherine the Great of Russia had installed her lover Stanislaw August Poniatowski as the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1764 and this helped Catherine, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, and King Frederick the Great of Prussia to avoid excessive bloodshed.

As king, Stanislaw II August was heavily criticized for his lack of conviction when defending his kingdom. By the time of the 1795 partition Poland no longer had a standing army to defend itself and Stanislaw abdicated. He was incarcerated in the Marble Palace, St. Petersburg for the remainder of his life which ended in 1798. He was given a state funeral by Catherine the Great’s son and successor Paul I.

The impressive coat of arms of the 19th century Kingdom of Galicia-Lodomeria

The impressive coat of arms of the 19th century Kingdom of Galicia-Lodomeria

The Kingdom of Galicia-Lodomeria

Ironically, under the Habsburg’s the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, also known as Austrian Poland and Austrian Galicia did not include the former power base of Volodymyr-Volynskyi.

A succession of Holy Roman Emperors in Vienna controlled Galicia with a firm hand and took vast amounts of money from their new lands so the kingdom became poorer and was considered less developed than the rest of Austro-Hungary. A great number of Galician men were conscripted into the army, more than in other areas of the empire.

According to historian Jacek Purchla, the Austrians viewed Galicia as "a barbaric place inhabited by strange people of questionable personal hygiene." However, the kingdom’s people were renowned for their sense of humour according to historian Norman Davies in his book Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe.

Polish-Austrian Governor and Minister of the Interior of Galicia-Lodomeria  Count Agenor Gołuchowski

Polish-Austrian Governor and Minister of the Interior of Galicia-Lodomeria Count Agenor Gołuchowski

The Kingdom of Bareness and Starvation

As Napoleon and revolutions hit Europe in the 19th century Galicia was permitted more rights by Vienna including the abolition of serfdom in the late 1840s and its own legislative powers, a diet or sejm in 1861. Political uprisings were short-lived and unpopular with the Galicians. The people were more concerned with achieving equality between the Polish and Ruthenians within the kingdom rather than gaining autonomy from Vienna.

Unfortunately for them, the Ruthenians were significantly outnumbered by the Podolians, Polish aristocrats, landowners, and conservatives in the sejm so their needs were overlooked. The Galicians who aspired to Russian rather than Austrian rule were deemed to be traitors. From 1895 Galicia’s elections were called “bloody” as votes were rigged by Austrian officials and policemen were given free rein to batter voters who were against the status quo.

As repeated famines brought disaster for the people of Galicia mass emigration occurred. In the 1880’s Germany, the U.S.A., Canada, and Brazil offered fresh hope for the downtrodden and cash-strapped Galicians who saw the hopelessness in their homeland. It was estimated that the migration totaled several hundred thousand people. The Galician peasants who remained renamed it “The Kingdom of Bareness and Starvation.”

An image from 1890 of emigrants from Galicia-Lodomeria seeking a brighter future

An image from 1890 of emigrants from Galicia-Lodomeria seeking a brighter future

The Swift End of the Kingdom of Galicia-Lodomeria

The First World War was as brutal to Galicians, fighting for the axis powers with Austria, as it was to all nations. Under the terms of the Peace of Riga in 1921, Galicia was subsumed into Poland. The east was later attached to the U.S.S.R but the west remained Polish.

It’s a sorry fact that if you Google “Galicia” the results take you to Spain’s Galicia and not Poland's.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Joanne Hayle