The Battle Of Visby 1361 (658 years later)


Walking through Gotland’s  Historical Museum (Fornsalen), besides experiencing the very dramatic room of picture stones, you learn about the people’s lives, the history of the Danish invasion of 1361 and see the remains of  medieval armour and some skeletons from that battle.  It is a large part of the history of the island and a large part of the museum.

From the website

The Battle of Visby was a violent Medieval battle near the town of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland, fought between the inhabitants of Gotland and the Danes, with the latter emerging victorious. The battle left a lasting archaeological legacy; masses of slaughtered soldiers and citizens lay scattered across what was once a blood battle field. Slashed and broken bones, skeletons still in their chain mail and armor, and smashed skulls, some still with spears and knives protruding out of them.

In the summer of 1361, a Danish army set sail for Gotland. The inhabitants of Visby had been warned about the invading Danish force, and prepared themselves for the battle. In late July 1361, Valdermar’s army landed on the west coast of Gotland. The Danish army numbered between 2000 and 2500 men, and consisted mainly of experienced Danish and German mercenaries. The defending Gotlanders, on the other hand, numbered around 2000, and were militiamen with little or no experience of battle.

The Battle of Visby was fought before the walls of the town. Although the militiamen were fighting for their lives, and fought as best as they could, they were simply no match for the professional Danish army. As a result, the majority of the defenders were killed, and the town surrendered to Valdemar.

We toured the museum last week and read about the invasion.  This Saturday, we got to watch the battle live.  On the last day of Visby’s Medieval Week festival, participants reenacted the battle in front of the Visby Wall.  We paid our 150 SEK each and lined up behind the safety rope.

This was the first day we had a sprinkling of rain, and it made the entire production seem very realistic, with wet straw and mud on the ground, bedraggled looking dogs, and people huddled under long wool capes.


The flags are introduced.


Women, children, and dogs flee as the Danes approach.

The “battle” began just outside the Visby wall, which made a fantastic backdrop to the activity.  The narrator, a Swedish historian, spoke for about thirty minutes prior to the introduction of the flags.  A woman from Stockholm standing next to me kindly translated much of what he said during the introductions.  But when the battle got going, there was a lot of activity.  Many of the local Gotland spectators got emotional.  We thought we saw some tears.


Gotland archers behind their blue and yellow striped flag move into position.


Gotland arrows fly in support of the ground troops.

Without knowing who belonged to what flag, it was hard to tell who was a Dane and who was a Gotlander.  There were swordsmen, archers and horsemen as well and flag bearers with flags representing specific households.  There was one man playing the part of the Danish prince, and one playing the Danish king.  They mostly got heckled and booed by the audience.


Danish horsemen flank and surround the Gotland archers.

The horses were the best part in my opinion, but they were Danes.  There were about a dozen horses, my favorite being the big black horse.  We think at least half the horsemen were women, and one was riding without a saddle.  It seemed to me it would be hard enough to ride carrying a sword, so I gave the horsemen and women lots of credit.





Gotland archers regroup and continue the fight.

The Danish horsemen break through the Gotland defenses.







At one point the battle got very close to where we were standing, and the rope divider was knocked down as many participants fell to the sword (but no spectators).




At the end of the battle scene, one Gotlander challenged the prince and was taken down by another Dane from behind, and finished off with a hammer by the Prince.






The King of Denmark makes his entrance.


After the battle, townspeople attended to the dead and dying.   A processional of youths made their way out singing a cappella, and were quite good.  Then a priest made his way from body to body and carts were hauled out to remove the dead.  It was a devastating loss of life for the local people.  We read in the museum that half the men of the Gotland countryside were killed and it altered the future of the island and its people, creating a huge hardship.  Some farms were unable to continue working and producing.





After the “battle” all the participants lined up and were applauded by the crowd of  approximately 3,000 spectators.  They were introduced in groups of countrymen, some from as far away as Australia.  (No group stepped forward to represent the US, but we saw a group of Norwegians, Swedes and Finns).



This entry was posted in Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Battle Of Visby 1361 (658 years later)

  1. Rich says:

    Wow, what an amazing and moving event to watch in person! Thanks for sharing your post and the history lesson.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s