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Medieval Massacre at Visby in 1361

I visited the National History Museum in Stockholm where they had an exhibition on the Battle of Gotland in 1361. This confused me at first because I wasn't familiar with the Battle of Gotland, but then realized it was referring to the famous Battle of Visby.

Visby is a town on the island of Gotland, which is now part of Sweden. In 1361, King Valdemar IV of Denmark invaded and launched a one-sided slaughter at Visby in what is generally described as a massacre. On one side was the professional Danish army with many well-equipped mercenaries. On the other side were the local farmers and peasants who had been rebelling against the wealthy merchants in Visby, who were part of the Hanseatic League.

It's believed the merchants shut the rebelling farmers out of the safety of Visby's walls, leaving them to be slaughtered by the invading forces. The farmers had cause for rebelling too, as they paid five times higher taxes than the wealthy merchants in town.


The Battle of Visby, or Battle of Gotland, is historically significant because of archaeological excavations that took place between 1929-1930. Though done with antiquated techniques, excavators uncovered evidence like skeletons and artifacts left just after the battle.

Bodies from the losing side were thrown into mass graves, likely because of the extreme heat and rapid decomposition at the time. Coins and other valuables were sometimes still on the skeletons, showing they were hurriedly buried. The excavations provide rare insights into armor and clothing of the time period.

Much of the armor recovered was a simple lamellar or brigandine construction - just overlapping metal plates riveted between layers of leather or canvas for protection. These plates were uneven, unpolished, and likely represented the lowest quality armor worn.

The exhibition provided some artifacts but lacked detailed object labels and information. Context was also missing on how the armor was constructed and worn. It seemed focused more on aesthetics than conveying the historical context and significance of this important medieval massacre. Overall, it was a frustrating exhibition that didn't live up to conveying the importance of this battle.

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