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The year is 1361 and the citizens of Visby (at that time Wisby) were doing what they usually did; shopping, eating, working etcetera. They didn't know that King Valdemar of Denmark and his army were on their way to the wealthy and strategically important Gotland. The Gutlandic people (on Gotland) had been informed by the Swedish king that the neighbouring island of Öland was already occupied by the Danes.
  Gutlandic people were not obliged to pay war tax or to go to war for the Sveas and the Swedish king, except in case the edict of crusades against heathens came. In some cases it was about Russians, but sometimes also fighting in present-day Finland.


  battle of visby  The Hansa cog was used as trade- and warship in the Baltic Sea during the 13th-14th century, here painted by Axel Nelson.
Click to enlarge.
    ©  Axel Nelson

All over northern Europe were groups of armed ships established to protect the trading. The organization in Visby, initiated and organized by Danes, was established between 1170-1180 with the name "universitas mercatorum Romanii imperii Gotlandiam frequentantium". A lot of Russians, Danes and particularly Germans settled in Visby for trading. It was the resident German section of the society that raised the dome church S:ta Maria, consecrated in 1225.



 In 1280 Visby joined "The Wendish City-alliance" (free translation) containing Riga, Lübeck, Tallinn, Riga and other big cities in northern Europe, which started the final separation between Visby and the countryside. As late as 1356 the -real- Hansa organisation was established, but at that time Visby had lost its importance as the trading hub in The Baltic Sea, Lübeck in Germany took over the role.
 Even the countryside of Gotland had a lot of rich people. To be respected and to show they had been christened, the parishioners raised their own church. That is why this little island has 92 stone churches, most of them created during the 13th century, and many medieval houses were inspired by the style that was used to build the churches. In the countryside there are only 3 desert churches. A lot of antagonism between the citizens of Visby and the citizens of the countryside ended with the city starting to build a city wall, and gradually the encircling wall became higher. The peasantry of Gotland, supported by Estonian knights, were defeated in an encounter in 1288.



Back to King Valdemar... they accomplished the landing the 22nd of July on the west coast of Gotland, and his plan was not to go directly with his army at the northwest coastal land of Gotland where Visby is situated. It is easy to assume that some of the soldiers were service personnel such as spions, cooks, lumberjacks and similar. What one can also "assume" is that it was not three ships (the legend that also mention 2500 soldiers). The royal ship Vaasa had a recommendation of 133 sailors and 300 soldiers. And it was 267 years after the Danes came. The construction technology of warships had developed a lot during this time period. His 2000-2500 soldiers did not meet much resistance from the farmers, except for two battles in the marshy grounds not far away from where the invading troops landed.
The second day about 800-1000 farmers died in a place called Fjäle myr in Mästerby, before the king continued to Visby, but the graves have not yet been found, but lots of objects have been found indicating a large battle. A question: Can we guess that the dead peasants were carried home to their farms? The 27th of July was a huge medieval battle between the Danish elite army and the farmers, only 300 meters outside the city wall of Visby. The farmers were badly armed, and about 1800 of the peasants met the death here, approximately 100 soldiers of king Valdemar´s army. His army also killed those who were injured with axes and maces. All this happened only eleven years after the Black Death, or 'pestilencia' as contemporaries called these diseases, visited Sweden.

 With new techniques the arcaeologists have found out what happened this tragic day of July 1361. Five mass graves from this medieval battle have been found outside the city wall of Visby. The first one was excavated 1905, and each grave have hundreds of victims. Between 1909 and 1928 two more mass graves were investigated. Later investigations have shown that one third of the Gothlandic army were children, old men and cripples. While the farmers were dying, the citizens of Visby just watched helplessly from the ramparts. The southern gate is different to the others since it has three openings, only one which is used by cars today (residents only in summer). It was outside this gate that the Danish force invaded Visby after fighting a bloody battle which you can learn more about in the museum.

There are few proofs of what happened when king Valdemar Atterdag entered the city. It is said that Valdemar ordered that part of the wall to be demolished, and then demanded the people of the city to rebuild this part, now with pinnacles. It's the only part of the entire city wall that just has pinnacles. In the past, it was the rural people who had to build the wall, but the king allowed it to be an affront to the townspeople. In addition, he demanded precious privately owned and ecclesiastical silver as well as other treasures from the city, it is ensured. Annually in August the residents and the tourists are celebrating "The Medieval Week".  People are probably dressed in a richer manner nowadays then what was the case during the Medieval Times. Musicians from all over Europe come to Gotland during the event, clowns are jesting and the mayors (from both Sweden and Germany) show their power when thousands of people walk through the city. This medieval festival has become a tradition, and 2021 will be the 38th year when people dress up in clothes that can inspire others to join in the following years to learn their history. The photos show a lot of this.


Author: Göran Smitterlau



battle of visby 1361
Was it really with the bows in their hands the citiziens welcomed Valdemar Atterdag? Here is one of many history events where 'Wisby Bågskyttar' prepares to fight at the tournament arena.
Reconstruction of 'The Snäckgärds gate'
from 2009. The oak wood is now grey.

battles in
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