A Passage to Gotland

27 August 2013


Visby 1

After a night in Stockholm my sister and I booked passage on a ship to Gotland. This requires a bus journey of about an hour to the ferry landing and then the ferry passage itself which took several hours. We were off the ship on Gotland before 3:00 pm and walked to our room in the oldest part of visby, still surrounded by its medieval walls. Visby, the largest city on Gotland, is sometimes called “The City of Roses and Ruins,” and indeed within minutes of arrival both roses and ruins are to be seen.

Though Visby is not large by any measure, it has a very interesting museum with a widely ranging collection that points to the historical significance of Gotland. There is an excellent collection of prehistorical “picture stones,” which are unique to Gotland and which date to immediately prior to the Viking period of Scandinavian history. …

There is also a display relating to the Battle of Visby in 1361, when rural Gotlanders rebelled against the growing control of Visby by the Hanseatic League. The Hanseatic League was essentially a transnational corporation of the late medieval period which operated around the cities of the Baltic, much as the commerce of the Roman Empire operated around the cities of the Mediterranean (I wrote about the Hanseatic League last year when I visited the Hanseatic museum in Bergen, Norway, which was another major depot for the Hansa). The remains of soldiers killed in the Battle of Visby were interred in a mass grave, still in their armor, and the excavation of this mass grave of medieval war casualties has provided significant historical knowledge about medieval arms and armor and the kind of damaged inflicted on the human body in such combat. This has been made famous by John Keegan’s book, The Face of Battle, since a picture of a skull in chainmail is used for the cover the paperback edition.

In addition to these finds, there is also a wide range of other material on the history of Gotland and Visby, including Viking treasure hoards and a striking medieval baptismal font.

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A wooden equestrian statue from the Gotlands Museum.

A wooden equestrian statue from the Gotlands Museum.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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