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The Archaeological face of battle: Visby

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posted on Jul, 20 2008 @ 11:55 PM
The battle damage of Visby

On July 22, 1361, King Valdemar IV of Denmark (Valdemar Atterdag) sent an army of 2,500 men ashore on Gotland's west coast. The citizens of Gotland paid taxes to the King of Sweden, though the population was diverse and included Russians, Danes and Germans. In 1280, the city of Visby joined the Wendish City-alliance along with Riga, L├╝beck, Tallinn and other large population centres from northern Europe, further separating Visby and the countryside. Antagonism between city-dwellers and those living in the countryside heightened, and the peasants of the island were defeated in battle in 1288 despite the aid of knights from Estonia.

On July 27 an unorganized peasant army fought the Danes just outside the city, and were severely beaten, with an estimated toll of 1,800 peasants killed while the Danish casualties remains unknown.

What made this battle important was that it was one of the first finds of mass graves with medieval armour and equipment in situ. The graphic details of effects of those early weapons are also very evident.

This battle was was documented and led Keegan to develop a number of his theories on the development of war.

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle

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 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.

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.

posted on Jul, 21 2008 @ 12:22 AM
reply to post by Hanslune

I don't really have anything of value to add, but I did want to let you know that the material is indeed interesting. Thanks for posting it.

posted on Jul, 21 2008 @ 01:20 AM
The pictures are suggestive of a truly brutal and horrific struggle. "Churchmouse"'s pages are really very interesting... I hit the home page and browsed, but here's the original page about Visby for those of you interested:

posted on Jul, 21 2008 @ 01:25 AM
Thanks Byrd

"Churchmouse" looks to be one of the those famous - and oh so valuable, "local experts" that archaeologists love to find. Guys like that know every niche and cranny of the countryside.

It was a similar person who located l'Anse aux Meadows. In Mexico and Cyprus the locals, especially the sheepherders always knew where ruins were.... that is beside the guys who did looting.

posted on Jul, 21 2008 @ 01:32 AM
Why Visby was important to Archaeology

Because of the amount of evidence here of battle damage and skeletons in excellent conditions A number of factors were noted that helped in ID'ing skeletons found in other areas.

Some of the things found:

Men who used shields had hundreds of small fractures in their shield arm and damage to the shoulder joint from taking shocks to the shield arm.

Swords and single axe men had over developed wrists-and stress damage

Many men were killed by blows to the left side of the head (attacked by right handed people using a single handed weapon)

Men without shields (peasants) tended to be hit in the legs

Chain mail wasn't much good against armor piercing arrows - which is why plate armor arouse - it did stop arrows.

Men would often discard armor as they overheated - but always kept their helmets on - the reason was that the head was the most likely place to get hit.

posted on Feb, 6 2012 @ 01:08 PM
As we are touched on the battlefield archaeology of the battle of Towton I've resurrected this thread on the Visby graves which is still one of the best battlefield archaeology sites as the dead were left in their armour.

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