Prehistoric time to Viking Age
Sockens on Gotland. The sockens are written in small text, the bolder names are the names of the municipalities existing 1950–1970.
The island is the home of the Gutes, and sites such as the Ajvide Settlement show that it has been occupied since prehistory. A DNA study conducted on the 5,000-year-old skeletal remains of three Middle Neolithic seal hunters from Gotland showed that they were related to modern-day Finns, while a farmer from Gökhem parish in Västergötland on the mainland was found to be more closely related to modern-day Mediterraneans. This is consistent with the spread of agricultural peoples from the Middle East at about that time.
Gutasaga contains legends of how the island was settled by Þieluar and populated by his descendants. It also tells that a third of the population had to emigrate and settle in southern Europe, a tradition associated with the migration of the Goths, whose name has the same origin as Gutes, the native name of the people of the island. It later tells that the Gutes voluntarily submitted to the king of Sweden and asserts that the submission was based on mutual agreement, and notes the duties and obligations of the Swedish King and Bishop in relationship to Gotland. According to some historians, it is therefore an effort not only to write down the history of Gotland, but also to assert Gotland's independence from Sweden.
It gives Awair Strabain as the name of the man who arranged the mutually beneficial agreement with the king of Sweden; the event would have taken place before the end of the 9th century, when Wulfstan of Hedeby reported that the island was subject to the Swedes:
The Discovery of Muscovy –
- Then, after the land of the Burgundians, we had on our left the lands that have been called from the earliest times Blekingey, and Meore, and Eowland, and Gotland, all which territory is subject to the Sweons; and Weonodland was all the way on our right, as far as Weissel-mouth.
Torsätra runestone (U 614
) raised in memory of one of the Swedish king's tribute collectors who fell ill and died during a trip to Gotland. Swedish History Museum
The number of Arab dirhams discovered on the island of Gotland alone is astoundingly high. In the various hoards located around the island, there are more of these silver coins than at any other site in Western Eurasia. The total sum is almost as great as the number that has been unearthed in the entire Muslim world. These coins moved north through trade between Rus merchants and the Abbasid Caliphate, along the
Silver-Fur Road, and the money made by Scandinavian merchants would help northern Europe, especially Viking Scandinavia and the Carolingian Empire, as major commercial centers for the next several centuries.
The Berezan' Runestone, discovered in 1905 in Ukraine, was made by a Varangian (Viking) trader named Grani in memory of his business partner Karl. It is assumed that they were from Gotland.
Notable archaeological findings
The Mästermyr chest, an important artefact from the Viking Age, was found in Gotland.
A part of the Spillings Hoard at Gotlands Museum.
On 16 July 1999, the world's largest Viking silver treasure, the Spillings Hoard, was found in a field at Spillings farm northwest of Slite. The silver treasure was divided into two parts weighing a total of 67 kg (148 lb) (27 kg (60 lb) and 40 kg (88 lb)) and consisted mostly of coins, about 14,000, from foreign countries, mostly Islamic. It also contained about 20 kg (44 lb) of bronze objects along with numerous everyday objects such as nails, glass beads, parts of tools, pottery, iron bands and clasps. The treasure was found by using a metal detector, and the finders fee, given to the farmer who owned the land, was over 2 million crowns (about US$308,000). The treasure was found almost by accident while filming a news report for TV4 about illegal treasure hunting on Gotland.
Early on, Gotland became a commercial center, with the town of Visby the most important Hanseatic city in the Baltic Sea. In late medieval times, the island had twenty district courts (tings), each represented by its elected judge at the island-ting, called landsting. New laws were decided at the landsting, which also took other decisions regarding the island as a whole.
The city of Visby and rest of the island were governed separately, and a civil war caused by conflicts between the German merchants in Visby and the peasants they traded with in the countryside had to be put down by King Magnus III of Sweden in 1288. In 1361, Valdemar Atterdag of Denmark invaded the island. About 1,500 Gotlandic farmers were killed by the Danish invaders after massing for battle at Mästerby. The Victual Brothers occupied the island in 1394 to set up a stronghold as a headquarters of their own in Visby. At last, Gotland became a fief of the Teutonic Knights, awarded to them on the condition that they expel the piratical Victual Brothers from their fortified sanctuary. An invading army of Teutonic Knights conquered the island in 1398, destroying Visby and driving the Victual Brothers from Gotland. In 1409, Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen of the Teutonic Knights guaranteed peace with the Kalmar Union of Scandinavia by selling the island of Gotland to Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
The authority of the landsting was successively eroded after the island was occupied by the Teutonic Order, then sold to Eric of Pomerania and after 1449 ruled by Danish governors. In late medieval times, the ting consisted of twelve representatives for the farmers, free-holders or tenants.
Early modern period
Since the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645, the island has remained under Swedish rule.
On 19 September 1806, the Swedish government offered sovereignty of Gotland to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, who had been expelled from Malta in 1798, but the Order rejected the offer since it would have meant renouncing their claim to Malta. The Order never regained its territory, and eventually it reestablished itself in Rome as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
On 22 April 1808, during the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia, a Russian army landed on the southeastern shores of Gotland near Grötlingbo. Under command of Nikolai Andreevich Bodisko 1,800 Russians took the city of Visby without any combat or engagement, and occupied the island. A Swedish naval force rescue expedition was sent from Karlskrona under the command of admiral Rudolf Cederström with 2,000 men; the island was liberated and the Russians capitulated. Russian forces left the island on 18 May 1808.