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POLOTSK, a town of Russia, in the government of Vitebsk, at the confluence of the Polota with the Dvina, 62 m. by rail N.W. of the town of Vitebsk. Pop. 20,751. Owing to the continuous wars, of which, from its position on the line of communication between central Russia and the west it was for many centuries the scene, scarcely any of its remarkable antiquities remain. The upper castle, which stood at the confluence of the rivers and had a stone wall with seven towers, is in ruins, as is the lower castle formerly enclosed with strong walls and connected with the upper castle by a bridge. The cathedral of St Sophia in the upper castle, built in the 12th century, fell to ruins in the 18th century, whereupon the United Greek bishop substituted a modern structure. Upwards of two-thirds of the inhabitants are Jews; the remainder have belonged mostly to the Orthodox Greek Church since 1839, when they were compelled to abandon the United Greek Church. Flax, linseed, corn and timber are the leading articles of commerce.

Polotesk or Poltesk is mentioned in 862 as one of the towns given by the Scandinavian Rurik to his men. In 980 it had a prince of its own, Ragvald (Rogvolod or Rognvald), whose daughter is the subject of many legends. It remained an independent principality until the 12th century, resisting the repeated attacks of the princes of Kiev; those of Pskov, Lithuania, and the Livonian tCnights, however, proved more effective, and Polotsk fell under Lithuanian rule in 1320. About 1385 its independence was destroyed by the Lithuanian prince Vitovt. It was five times besieged by Moscow in 1500-18, and was taken by Ivan the Terrible in 1563. Recaptured by Stephen Bathory, king of Poland, sixteen years later, it became Polish by the treaty of 1582. It was then a large and populous city, and carried on an active commerce. Pestilences and conflagrations were its ruin; the plague of 1566 wrought great havoc among its inhabitants, and that of 1600 destroyed 15,000. The castles, the town and its walls were burned in 1607 and 1642. The Russians continued their attacks, burning and plundering the town, and twice, in 1633 and 1705, taking possession of it for a few years. It was not definitely annexed, however, to Russia until 1772, after the first dismemberment of Poland. In 1812 its inhabitants resisted the French invasion, and the town was partially destroyed.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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