The lands, in which the country of Poland was formed, were inhabited by numerous tribes. As the Slavs came to Europe, the terrains between Baltic sea, along Vistula and Oder rivers were those where Western Slavic tribes lived. When mentioning West Slavs, one needs to remember about the Czechs, Slovaks, Sorbs and Lechites – a group to which the Poles belong.
The five main tribes of Poles that lived in the lands that were later on summoned by Mieszko I – the first legendary ruler of united Polish lands – were: Masovians, Polans, Vistulans, Lendians and Silesians.
The tribe inhabited Warta river basin. Their main cities were Giecz, Poznan, Gniezno and Ostrow Lednicki. It is the tribe from which Mieszko I (the first Polish ruler) derived, and the tribe that gave the name to the whole country. ‘Polanie’ comes from the word ‘pole’ which means ‘the land’ and was used to describe people who worked on a land. During the 8th century it was the strongest tribe of Polish lands that managed to gain control over the other ones.
The name of the tribe comes from the name of the river (Wisla – Vistula) banks of which were inhabited by those people. This region (south of Poland) is called nowadays Lesser Poland. The Vistulans were at the beginning (when Poland was being formed by Mieszko I) part of Great Moravian country and only with time got under the rule of Piast Dynasty. Its main settlement – Krakow – became later on the capital of the country.
The Masovians, or Masurians, are the ethnic group that inhabited the region called today Warmian-Masurian. Their main settlements were cities such as Plock (their primary capital city and the oldest city of the region) or Lomza. The name most probably derives from the word ‘maz’ that would point out at muddy and swampy terrains that were characteristic for this part of Poland. The word ‘Maz’ itself, could describe a person living in muddy land.
The name describes the tribe that inhabited surroundings of Sleza mountain up to Wroclaw city. Firstly they were a part of Great Moravian country, then Czechia and Poland. The Silesians shared the fate of Silesia region, therefore they inhabit now the terrains in Poland, Germany and Czech Republic. There have been debates whether or not the Silesians are separate ethnic group.
This tribe lived in East Lesser Poland and Red Ruthenia. The inhabitants of Lendian lands were incorporated into Great Moravian state but also got under influence of Hungarian and then Russian culture. One of the names describing the Poles in the past (Lachy) comes from Lendian tribe.
Apart from the tribes mentioned above, in the north of today’s Poland, there was a tribe called Pomeranians. They belonged to Lechitic group (along with the Poles). The tribe inhabited the terrains along the shore of the Baltic Sea, between Vistula and Oder river. They spoke their own, Pomeranian, language.