Just unveiled at the Historical Museum in Oslo, Mirror Kingdoms – Poland and Norway in the Middle Ages tells the story of two distant neighbors who had more in common than a look at the map might otherwise suggest. 

Two nations under God 

Poland and Norway were remarkably similar in the Middle Ages. Both countries witnessed the rise of their first monarchs and the introduction of Christianity around the year 1000 before war and unrest took the kingdoms in different directions. 

The rulers of Poland lost their royal titles, and the country was fragmented into many small duchies. On the other hand, Norway remained a kingdom but with a history of intense strife. 

Now, researchers from the Universities of Warsaw and Oslo have examined the similarities and differences between the two kingdoms on the edge of medieval Europe. 

Opened last Friday, 22 March, and running until 31 December, Mirror Kingdoms uses animation, pictures, and texts to illustrate and describe the period between 1000 and 1300 when both countries adopted Christianity. Documentation is in English, Norwegian, and Polish. 

Mirror Kingdoms at the Historical Museum provides a comprehensive insight into the shared history of Poland and Norway during the Middle Ages. Photo: Vassia Atanassova - Spiritia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Investigating the elites 

Specialists in medieval history from Poland and Norway gathered material for the exhibition as part of the ELITES project

The project Symbolic Resources and Political Structures on the Periphery: Legitimization of the Elites in Poland and Norway, c 1000-1300, explores how the political elites in Norway and Poland used symbolic power to establish their right to rule over their peers and subjects. 

Despite being considered peripheral regions of Europe, the political elites were able to employ various forms and means of symbolic power to legitimize their authority. 

Societies in medieval Europe were characterized by a lack of formal institutions and lasting state structures. As a result, the ruling elites had to rely on their claims of legitimacy and ideological justifications in order to maintain their position of power. 

What symbolic means did these elites use to demonstrate their entitlement to rule? How did they compete with each other and maintain their dominance over time? 

Chronologically, this project focuses on the 300 years when both Poland and Norway formally became Christian polities. It also examines the moment both were united as stable monarchies after long periods of civil wars and feudal partitions. 

Thematically, ELITES explores the comparative dynastic ideologies, cults, and venerations of national saints, ruler ideologies, elite graves and symbolic expressions on coins, legitimacy of ecclesiastical power, coronation ceremonies, social rituals, and storytelling

The project is based on a close cooperation between Polish and Norwegian historians. 

The team consists of historians, archeologists, and numismatists, coordinated by researchers with relevant experience working in the two peripheral regions. 

The project's results will be presented as co-written articles for special editions of high-profile journals and an edited volume on the topic. 

Exhibition: Mirror Kingdoms – Poland and Norway in the Middle Ages 
Location: Historical Museum, Frederiks gate 2, 0164 Oslo. 
Open: Tue-Wed, Fri-Sun 11 am-4 pm, Thur 11 am-8 pm.
Admission: Nkr 120; students/seniors Nkr 90; under-18s free.

Please note that the exhibition will be temporarily closed from 4 April to 21 June due to work on a new exhibition in an adjacent room. 

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