The Occupation of Gotland by the Teutonic Knights, 1398-1408
By Karl-Ferdinand Schmidt
Master’s Thesis, Loyola University Chicago, 1966
With hundredweight they weighed their gold,
They played With precious stones,
Their women used golden distaffs,
And pigs ate out of silver troughs.
With these words an old Swedish folksong describes the wealth of Visby, the capital of the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. It is certainly overdone, since its purpose is to expose the great crime committed by Waldemar Atterdag when he occupied and destroyed Visby in 1361. Yet it does indicate the importance of Visby and Gotland for northern European trade during the Middle Ages. Today’s tourists and visitors to the city are still impressed by its imposing view and grandeur. The city wall is about two miles long, with forty-five towers. Of the twenty-two churches of the medieval city only one is preserved, but seventeen impressive ruins are still to be seen.
In 1398, the Teutonic Order occupied the island of Gotland and its city, Visby. The knights held the island for ten years. The aim of this paper is to investigate this event at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. Previously, only one historian has investigated this incident closely: Otto Kehlert, who wrote a dissertation on this subject in 1887. Yet since that time many further studies have been made touching the problems arising out of this event. Recently another German scholar, Friedrich Benninghoven, published an article about the occupation of Gotland by the Teutonic Knights, but his interests were in the military, technical aspects of the expedition.
Top Image: The walls of Visby, Gotland – photo by Berit Watkin / Flickr