The question of Truso’s location appeared for the first time in academic literature at the end of the 16th century. It was raised by Oxford geographer Richard Hakluyt, who in his monumental work describing the history of the English navigation and discoveries mentioned Wulfstan’s voyage from Haede to Truso, which, as he pointed out, lay in the vicinity of Gdańsk. Since Hakluyt brought Wulfstan’s account to daylight, this source has been the object of study of numerous historians, archivists, philologists, geographers and archaeologists from various European countries. It was the question of Truso’s location that attracted the most attention and initiated extensive discussion.
While presenting the results of the research on Truso after its discovery in 1981, it is impossible not to mention issues connected with the history of the search for this emporium. This subject matter is significant in many respects. It is not only of documentary and historical importance but shows us primarily how the discussion around Truso evolved in the context of new areas of the humanities that were appearing at that time. In the 1850s, alongside the established disciplines of history and philology, there appeared geography, geology, anthropology and – above all – archaeology. The latter, especially in the second half of the 19th century, had its spectacular achievements: in 1873, Heinrich Schliemann announced the discovery of Troy. It is worth emphasizing that it was then that the Elbląg Ancient Society (Elbinger Altertumsgesellschaft) and, slightly earlier, the Elbląg Municipal Museum (Städtisches Museum) were established. Both institutions dealt with the subject matter of local ancient sites. It is undoubtedly thanks to their activities that we have a relatively full picture of the state of the art of contemporary archaeological research and we can gain insight into the extent of the issues under discussion at that time, including problems related to Truso. Researchers of the primeval history of Prussian territories, already in the period that can be described as pioneering in European archaeology, dealt with the question of Truso’s location. It was the Elbląg archaeologists who played a special role here, for whom issues relating to Truso were the main subject of research.
The discussion that ensued among scholars regarding the location, character and ethnic affiliation of Truso, created an unusual opportunity of an academic ‘travel through time’, extending over four hundred years back. The possibility of gaining insight into the bases of the formulated hypotheses across such a long period of time, especially in relation to an issue of such a broad cognitive extent, is quite unique. We have been given a chance to trace the development of the humanities, to point out the context in which new disciplines entered the mainstream, and, as a result, to reach the bases or sources of the now commonly accepted principle of the interdisciplinarity of research. In this respect it should be regarded as a classic example of an academic debate for historians, geographers, geologists and archaeologists alike.
Following Gerard Labuda, we can state that “the question of Truso’s location already has its history”. The period up until 1911 was described extensively and in great detail by Edward Carstenn, and a critical account of the period up until 1937 was given by Bruno Ehrlich. In the 1960s it was summed up by Polish mediaeval historians in an in-depth analysis of the whole issue. Following in the footsteps of the eminent specialist on the subject Gerard Labuda, one should pay attention to two research methods that were formed in the course of the debate on the location of Truso. The first one – philological-historical – based its whole theoretical framework on the analysis of one source, which was Wulfstan’s account, commenting on and explaining the information contained therein, at the same time examining its connection to settlements located in the vicinity of Lake Drużno, which were often quite ancient. The other method – called empirical – based its reasoning mainly on the analysis of the natural environment and settlements which developed within it. Both methods strongly influenced each other, pointing at the same time to the extent of research issues that had to be dealt with.
Gerard Labuda (born in 1919) Professor of Poznań University and of the Institute of History at the Polish Academy of Sciences, historian, specialising in the Middle Ages and mediaeval history, publisher of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon sources pertaining to the history of the Western Slavs. Author of, among others, Studia nad początkami państwa polskiego (1946), Fragmenty dziejów Słowiańszczyzny Zachodniej (vol. 1-3, 1960-75), Studia nad początkami państwa polskiego (vol. 1-2, 1987-88), and editor of Słownik starożytności słowiańskich.
The first serious and thoroughly documented attempt to indicate Truso’s location was put forward by the Elbląg-based historian Ferdinand Neumann. From the perspective of current knowledge, he very accurately explained and identified some of the names appearing in Wulfstan’s account: Estmere as the Vistula Lagoon, Ilfing as the River Elbląg, and the name ‘Truso’ as deriving from the Lithuanian word trusas – ‘work’, ‘occupation’, and identified it with the place called Preuschmarkt/Preussisch Mark (today’s village of Przezmark). A quarter of a century later, A. Kolberg announced a thorough critique of Neumann’s conception, especially with regard to the location of Truso. The main achievement of this scholar lay in emphasizing the nautical value of Wulfstan’s account. On account of the specialist terminology included therein (e.g. steorbord, bacbord, eastan, suðan), he recognized Wulfstan as an experienced sailor, and the analysis of the purely navigational aspect of the voyage was to serve as the key to finding Truso. Kolberg located it at the mouth of the River Elbląg and he also suggested his own etymology of the name, deriving it from the Lithuanian word truszai – ‘reed’, and, in support of his hypothesis, pointed out the old name of Karczma Drużyńska on Lake Drużno – Rohrkrug (‘Reed Inn’).
The two conceptions regarding Truso’s location that I described above, are an example of academic research connected with the above-mentioned philological-historical method, the empirical method being mainly the domain of archaeologists, who frequently based their research and studies on the achievements of representatives of natural sciences – geographers and geologists.
The research work of Siegfried Anger dating from the end of the 19th century can be mentioned as pioneering in this respect. It is worth emphasizing that while analysing the specificity of settlement on Lake Drużno dating from the period of Roman influence up until the Middle Ages, he pointed out the exceptional abundance of the remains of former settlements and cemeteries located along the edge of the Elbląg Upland and indicated, apart from Elbląg, also many other places located along the western edge of the Elbląg Upland in the vicinity of Lake Drużno (among others the village of Hansdorf, presently Janów Pomorski!) as possible locations of Truso. Similarly to Neumann, he described Truso as “an Estian/Prussian trade emporium”.
The research and interpretations of the Elbląg archaeologist Robert Dorr were new in qualitative terms as far as this issue is concerned. While analysing the results of his own excavations, the scholar decided that the remains of the Truso settlement could be situated on the northern outskirts of Elbląg. He even introduced the name ‘Trusons’(Trusonen) to refer to the people inhabiting the outskirts of the Old Town of Elbląg and the adjacent edge of the Elbląg Upland, and the term ‘Truson culture’. It was undoubtedly the first attempt to emphasize the specificity and distinctive character of the group of sites under inspection in relation to the settlement in the whole of Prussian territory as recognized at the time.
In the 1920s, primarily owing to Max Ebert, archaeologist from Królewiec (Königsberg), the question of the role of the Scandinavians in the shaping of the settlement around Elbląg in the early mediaeval period and their contribution to the establishment of Truso was raised for the first time. Ebert also tried to prove that Truso was situated in Myślęcin (Meislatein), where he carried out extensive research excavations in 1925. The basis of his conception was the assumption that the numerous archaeological sites in the area surrounding Myślęcin, dating from several epochs starting from the Latenian period (400 B.C. – the turn of the last century BC and the first century AD) up until Early Middle Ages, pointed to a strong tradition of the continuity of settlement which was connected, among others, to the coastal location of this region and amber trade. His opponents, however, pointed out an essential chronological gap among the settlements studied by Ebert and dating from Wulfstan’s times – 8th-9th centuries, which in effect resulted in the rejection of his hypothesis regarding the location of Truso.
Another essential element of Ebert’s conception was introducing into the discussion the achievements of the representatives of natural sciences relating to the reconstruction of the physiography and settlement structure of the Vistula Delta in the year c. 1300.
Max Ebert (1879–1929), Chairman of the Ancient Society Prussia, professor of the universities of Riga, Königsberg and Berlin; Honorary Member of Elbinger Altertumsgesellschaft.
In the course of the subsequent discussion, which involved mainly archaeologists, interpreting the source text was abandoned and the main emphasis was put on the interpretation of the archaeological sites (settlements and cemeteries) that were being discovered.
This problem was widely discussed especially in the 1930s. The course of the debate was influenced by archaeological discoveries made in Elbląg and its immediate surroundings, which, according to some researchers, including the Elbląg-based archaeologists Werner Neugebauer and Gdańsk-born Kurt Langenheim, confirmed the Scandinavian presence in the region. The single finds of Scandinavian origin and the discoveries of graves with Scandinavian furnishings, especially those made in the years 1936-1939 in the district of Pole Nowomiejskie in Elbląg, constituted the main argument for supporters of the hypothesis about Truso’s Viking origins.
Langenheim’s and later also Neugebauer’s views were challenged, among others, by the eminent Elbląg archaeologist Bruno Ehrlich.
He thought that the hypothesis about the existence of a Scandinavian settlement (of the type characteristic of Viking rule) in the vicinity of Elbląg put forward by these researchers was “a too farfetched and ungrounded assumption”. According to Ehrlich, at least part of the Scandinavian finds discovered in the area surrounding Elbląg (more on this issue below in the chapter entitled Prussians, Scandinavians and the Slavs) could have reached this area due to trade exchange of goods or as war loot. As far as the question of the location of Truso is concerned, he unhesitatingly pointed to Elbląg, Similarly to Werner Neugebauer, he strengthened the view established in literature about Elbląg being the most likely place of Truso’s location.
After World War II, as if of its own accord, the debate began anew – this time in the milieu of Polish scholars. Jan Żak, for example, linked Truso (Druso) to Elbląg, Leon Roppel pointed to the mouth of the River Święta, Gerard Labuda was in favour of Elbląg, Stanisław Mielczarski situated Truso at the mouth of the river Wąska in the village of Drużno, Mieczysław Haftka indicated the area of Elbląg near the mouth of the River Kumiela, Andrzej Zbierski pointed to the mouth of the River Dzierzgoń and Jan Powierski indicated the area of today’s Elbląg or the area immediately adjacent to it.
Nevertheless, all the above-mentioned hypotheses (in the case of some of them there were attempts at verification by means of field surveys or research excavations carried out in specified locations) have not led to the discovery of Truso.
In the 1980s Polish archaeologists launched a large-scale campaign which consisted in registering any objects of historical importance that were in the scope of interest of archaeology identified in the course of fieldwork with the use of modern surface survey method worked out as part of AZP.
Carrying out this task in the area that could potentially hide the relics of Truso required special preparations, comprising both thorough library-based studies (which included gathering information on particular places) as well as continuous surveying of the areas singled out for research. For this reason it was necessary to extend the range of some of the areas of the national AZP project, including those regarding field surveys and documentation. The initiator and creator of the research program which was called “Ancient history of the lands situated east of the lower course of the River Vistula” was Profesor Jerzy Okulicz-Kozaryn.
Jerzy Okulicz-Kozaryn (born on 15 April 1931) – Polish archaeologist and specialist in ancient history, professor of Warsaw University, initiator and patron of the research programme devoted to the ancient history of the lands situated east of the lower course of the Vistula.
Thanks to the project, numerous pieces of information regarding earlier discoveries that were scattered in literature have been collected, sorted out and partially verified and a great number of new and unknown archaeological sites have been revealed. Nevertheless, the greatest achievement so far has been the discovery of the remains of a large early mediaeval settlement situated on flood polders of Lake Drużno, near Janów Pomorski (Ger. Hansdorf). The archaeological, geological and biological research that I have conducted there for 27 years, allowed me to confirm with all certainty that it was here that Truso was located.
When attempting to find the relics of this settlement, I assumed that it had primarily fulfilled the function of a port. Taking this into account, I designated the land surrounding Lake Drużno from the north, east and west as the area for a detailed search. It was crucial that the areas which had not been previously excavated and which at present are mainly depressions, be included in the search. The naturalist research conducted in the area after Truso had been discovered fully confirmed my initial assumption.
Summing up the history of the search for Truso, it could be said that one of the most fascinating puzzles of the past, hiding an almost romantic charm of the lost city, veiled in mystery, has been solved but – what needs to be emphasized – not yet fully explored.