The constantly changing treatment of Jews throughout medieval Europe led to periods of migration and expulsion for the Jewish people. Was the movement of Jews into Eastern Europe a result of migration or expulsion?
In the late Middle Ages, Eastern Europe had become a refuge for Jews. Christians in Western Europe launched attacks on Jewish communities during the Crusades and the Black Death. To escape persecution, Jews fled east. As monarchs centralized power in England, France, and Spain, they expelled Jews from their lands. These groups, too, migrated eastward.
A growing number of Jews settled in Poland. By 1264, Jews had gained a charter, or official document, from Prince Boleslaw of Krakov. The charter protected the rights of Jews in his territory. Over the next 500 years, other Polish towns gave shelter to Jews. By about 1650, about 500,000 Jews lived in Poland and Lithuania, the largest population of Jews in Europe. During this period, Poland became a cultural and spiritual center for Jews. Although some Polish leaders encouraged Jews to settle in their lands, Jews still faced persecution throughout Eastern Europe.
Jewish merchants and scholars contributed to the economic and cultural development of Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe where they settled. Owing to their ties with Jewish communities abroad, Jewish merchants were very successful in European and overseas trade. Merchants often mastered many languages, including Arabic. Educated Jews had studied Greek and Latin as well as Hebrew. Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 brought a large range of skills to their new homes.
How did three major religions spread to Eastern Europe?
During the Middle Ages, wars constantly shifted boundaries in Eastern Europe. Sometimes strong empires absorbed national groups. Alliances or royal marriages might bind others together. The histories of three kingdoms—Poland, Hungary, and Serbia—illustrate the shifting fortunes that the peoples of Eastern Europe faced.
Missionaries brought Roman Catholicism to the West Slavs of Poland in the 900s. Within a century, the first Polish king was crowned. To survive, Poland often had to battle Germans, Russians, and Mongols.
Poland's greatest age came after a royal marriage united Poland and Lithuania in 1386. Under the Jagiello (yahg YEH loh) dynasty, Poland-Lithuania was the largest state in Europe. Its empire stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea.