Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania Tank
“If God is with us, then who is against us”
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of the largest states in the early modern period, encompassing a territory of some 450,000 square miles and maintaining a population of between 11 and 12 million individuals at its peak. A dualistic state ruled by a monarch who was at once the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was formalized by the Union of Lublin in 1569. This was a progressive step for two nations that had spent the preceding centuries engaged in a series of wars and shaky alliances with each other. The confederation was motivated by security concerns on behalf of Lithuanians, who needed to strengthen their eastern borders against the ever-present Russian power, and by the smaller Polish kingdom’s desire to expand. The political system in the commonwealth was characterized by relatively forward-thinking checks on royal power and incorporated a legislature and a noble class (szlachta) which maintained significant political rights, unlike the lower classes, and elected the monarch. After a period of decline due to raids and invasions by neighboring states and political infighting among the noble classes, the commonwealth failed; having been partitioned aggressively by the likes of Austria, Prussia and Russia. One of the last reforms before the state failed included the enactment of the Constitution of May 3, 1791, which has the distinction of being the first codified constitution in European history and the second in world history (occurring some fifteen years after the ratification of the constitution of the United States). This merit, in addition to its legacy of international cooperation, political checks and balances and enduring religious tolerance have caused the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to be a source of persistent fascination for medieval historians and political scholars alike.