Of Popiel, the duke eaten by mice.

Popiel (Pumpil, Pumpyl, Pąpyl – “ash” or “a bubble”/”an ulcer” (as a sign of a tyrant)) was a legendary Goplan warlord, duke and a ruler over Goplan land, an important hero of one of the earliest Polan/Goplan legends.

There are several versions of the legend. The first one by Gallus Anonymus states Popiel ruled over Goplans in Kruszwica (or Gniezno). One day, two travellers wanted to visit the ducal court but were not invited into a feast, which broke the slavonic “rule of hospitality”.

An explanation is needed here- Slavonic peoples treated this rule with upmost importance. It was a common belief, shared by everyone, that a visitor to one’s house should be treated with respect and with the greatest possible hospitality – as a VIP guest, so to say. There is a proverb that lasted to this day “gość w dom , bogi w dom” (“guest is in the house, gods (or god) are in the house”). The rule included also sworn enemies, that would kill each other if they met somewhere else (sic!). One could go to the enemy’s abode and shout “I come as your guest!” (if not shot by an archer or killed other way before, being normally treated as an assulter…)  and the custom, if respected, allowed him to enter foe’s home unharmed and leaving it unharmed. The custom remained very long and parts of it are respected to this day (the famous “Polish hospitality” :)). This is one of things absolutely diffenrentiating Slavs from Normans (Normans used treason without hesitation, especially in situations like the one described above).

Popiel (depicted by Bohdan Stupka), his wife Brunhild (Małgorzata Foremniak) and two henchmen. “An Old Tale. When sun was a god.” movie.

So, after breaking the rule of hospitality, the mysterious guests left for the abode of Piast Oracz (Piast the Plower), and they arrived on postrzyżyny day of his 7 years old son Siemowit (postrzyżyny was a ritual hair cutting and giving the official name). Piast upheld the rule of hospitality and thanks to that Siemowit received blessings from the visitors. In the years to come, Siemowit overthrew Popiel and became a duke and a founder of Piast dynasty of Polish kings. Popiel himself was eaten by mice.

The second legend in Wincenty Kadłubek‘s chronicle depicted Popiel as a very poor and disliked ruler who would poison his 20 uncles. Killing the members of “ród” (“a nobleman house” or “a heritage birthline,  a genealogic line”, todays word “rodzina” – “a family” is derived from “ród”) was considered a major sin, and angered the gods greatly. Gods made the mice come out of the bodies of the poisoned and consume Popiel and his family.

The third legend’s (in Wielkopolska Chronicle) action took place in Kruszwica, and according to the legend Popiel was consumed by mice in The Tower of Mice. The Tower of Mice is in fact a part of the medieval castle complex build by king Casimir the Great in XIVc.

What really happened and was Popiel a real person or just a mythical hero? The most probable version is he was a ruler of Ostrów Lednicki, “mice” were probably rebelling Polan warriors either from a village named Myszki (“Miceburgh”) or members of the “ród Myszków” (“House Mice”) – the whole legend depicts the overthrowing of the Goplan superiority over Polans which lead to rule of Piast dynasty over Polans.

The legend was portrayed in a XIXc book by Ignacy Kraszewski “Stara Baśń” (“An Old Tale”). In 2002 the movie of the same title was produced. That movie and our part in it’s production (consting mostly of drinking alcoholic beverages with the film crew 🙂 ) made Wilkomir to switch from reenacting a templar to a Dark Age warrior :).