The Battle of Visby Burials, Sweden.


The crude burials after Battle.

Quick battlefield burials have been the norm for hundreds of Years and whereas after the first and second world wars any body which could be identified as such was re-interred in area cemeteries. In England there is the German cemetery at Cannock Chase, the American cemetery near Cambridge and Tyne Cot in Belgium plus many smaller ones but this didn’t happen in the battles of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Once the bodies had been stripped of their weapons and protective gear they were thrown into a pit and covered over en mass.

 

In 1340 Waldemar Atterdag became King of The Danes and for some years the people of the Baltic islands had been growing fat on the trade between Sweden and Russian provinces. When Waldemar sorted out certain things wrong with his own people he began a period of rejuvenation and expansion. He then began to look at various provinces which had been taken from Denmark in the past by the Swedes, and taking them back. He had success in Scania and turned his attention to the Baltic and to the wealthy and strategically important region of the area including Gotland. In 1361 at midsummer he set out to capture the island of Oland and its fortress at Borgholm. On July 22nd this armada invaded Gotland at Vastergarn probably about 15 miles to the south of Visby. A battle, one of three on record, took place at Fjale fen where the peasant army were heavily defeated, the last defence was held in front of the gates of Visby and the peasants were finally destroyed

 

In 1905 a mass grave was found on the Island of Gotland and in the years up to 1928 at least three more pits were found. The final ones were found outside the gates of Visby, a walled city. It is said that the merchants and citizens of Visby were not used to fighting and refused to help. They eventually capitulated after the peasants had been slaughtered and bought the Danes off. The irony of it was that the ship which was taking the booty back home sank so that trip was for no gain of treasure.

The dead of the peasant defenders were stripped of virtually anything of value and any arms or armour and then flung into pits where they had been despatched. Over 1185 human remains were found in pits excavated and many more are known about - some inaccessible.

Just a few were found still wearing minor bits of equipment such as this skull (one of two) with the mail coif still in position but many would have been very poorly equipped or armed. This is proved by the results of archaeological investigations which enabled a fairly detailed picture of injuries to be built up. The injuries inflicted on the poorly equipped defenders proved explicit and horrific and were categorised into three main types with subdivisions where required.

 

There were 456 wounds with visible evidence of cutting weapons, such as swords and axes. There were 126 which were from piercing weapons such as arrows, lances and "morning stars" which were a wooden ball studded with metal spikes and attached to a short handle with a chain and these were used against head and shoulders from above. There were also an undisclosed number of crushing injuries by the mace and war hammer. The latter were also often used to finish off the wounded.

 

 

The cutting wounds were split into two groups, those which showed hacking evidence but finished at the bone and those which actually severed the bone were 29. For example in more than one case where a single well aimed blow with a sword had been aimed at the upper legs and gone straight through both severing them instantly. Some had evidence of more than one lesser blow before the killer blow was used either in or after the battle.

 

War hammers were also in evidence where a square section of the hammer head showing in the shape of the section of the skull which had been stove in. See the picture on the left which points to three bodkin arrow points which had penetrated the skull and two holes where a hammer had been used and the skull split between them.

Double Top!

Which came first is unknown. A number of guesses can be made such as two quick hammer blows to fell the man and the arrows landing after, or a hail of arrows which he had turned his back on and then later two hammer blows to put him out of his misery. Before stripping and dumping him with his mates. The grouping of the arrow heads is particularly spectacular and it makes one wonder if they used the tactic of a hail of arrows as in the later battle of Crecy where it is said the English Longbow men kept 100,000 arrows in the air at one time.

 

 

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