Poland became a state by the union of a number of Slavonic tribes settled in the basins of the Vistula, the Warta and the Oder. The nation was converted to Christianity in 966. Under the Rast dynasty (10th-14th centuries) German ‘eastward expansion’ (Drang nach Osten) deprived Poland of her north-western and western borderlands. After the defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenberg (1410) and the partial recovery of Prussia, Poland’s political interests turned eastward. Temporary successes in White Russia and the Ukraine were bought by a permanent weakness on her western front. Poland reached the height of her power in the period between the 14th and 16th centuries under the rule of the Jagiellon dynasty. On its extinction the crown became elective and this, leading to an overgrowth of special rights granted to the nobility and gentry, resulted in the permanent weakness of the central authority. During the 17th and 18th centuries the position of Poland rapidly declined, and eventually, by the three partitions of 1772, 1793 and 1795, the Polish Commonwealth, as it was. then called, was divided between Prussia, Russia and Austria.
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