Visby Medieval Week 2019

Every year a large – 40,000 participants – and beautifully orchestrated Medieval Week – Medeltidsveckan – is held here on Gotland. The ancient town of Visby, with its towering limestone walls dating from the 12th and 13th centuries is the perfect setting for medieval music, jousting and swordplay, lectures and workshops, authentic period food, and a vast medieval market. A recreation of the 1361 Battle of Visby is carried out, staged outside the very walls in which it was fought, with thousands of international reenactors taking part. The entire week felt like one magically inspired day after another.

And I was delighted to be a part of the spectacle this year, speaking at the Gotlands Museum in Visby on the differences in battle tactics between the Danish Vikings and the Anglo-Saxon thegns they fought in their attempt to claim all of England.

Let me share with you photos and a video of the battle. Maybe you’ll want to join us next year, here on Gotland!

Visby Panorama

View over the town of Visby to the Baltic Sea.

Market from above
Looking down on a small portion of the medieval market from one of the wall’s towers.

Medieval replica glass
Some of the many wares for sale: replica medieval glass.

Smiths at work
Two smiths at work. They sold a broad array of iron hooks, latches, nails and other products of their craft.

Truly wonderful 14th c replica shoes on offer.

Musical instruments
These musicians were selling their hand-crafted instruments and playing nearly all day long. Their wooden wagon fascinated me.

All manner of carved goods
Fabulous variety of carved wooden spoons and scoops.

Octavia at book tent
Here I am at the book stall operated by the Visby booksellers Wessman & Pettersson. The battle flag to my right is the banner of Ælfred the Great which I embroidered many years ago and used in my lecture on battle tactics at the Gotlands Museum that week.

Camp and Domkyrkan
Medieval encampment outside Visby’s medieval wall. The black towers are the tar covered wooden spires of the cathedral of S:ta Maria.

At table
Inside the medieval encampment a group of reenactors enjoys breakfast.

Clay oven
Their clay oven was artfully painted.

Archery Competition
An archery competition.

2 knights
Two knights riding in the ravine outside the Visby wall.

Lances clashing
A 14th c tournament was held every night, filled with action and excitement.

Following is a video with highlights of the 1361 Battle of Visby recreation, 10 August 2019, Visby, Gotland.

In July 1361 the Danish king and war-lord Valdemar Atterdag landed on the independent island of Gotland with a vast number of warriors. The men of Gotland massed to repel the invaders – at great cost. At the end of two battles. one fought in the countryside, and one outside the walls of Visby, almost 9,000 men – most of them valiant Gotlanders – lay dead. Atterdag won the town, took his tribute, and shortly left Gotland – never to return.

This video is from the recreation of the Battle of Visby, and was staged on 10 August 2019 as part of Medeltidsveckan – Medieval Week. The narration is in Swedish, but you’ll hear at least one commander give orders in English, as reenactors came from around the world, including a large contingent from Australia.

To break the action down into parts, you’ll see:

  • The forces of Gotland beginning to gather. Note the red “lamm” (sheep) battle flag one is carrying – the modern flag of Gotland is based on this.
  • Townspeople begin fleeing the town, with soldiers urging them to safety in the woods.
  • The forces of both sides begin to engage, and a segment of the Gotlanders are surrounded by Danish horseman.
  • Open battle. Archers and hand to hand combat, and its sorrowful aftermath. Valdemar Atterdag rides through the body-strewn battlefield, monks and boys sing hymns over the dead, and women suffer the shock of finding their husbands dead on the field.

The Battle of Visby in 1361 was fought before the very same walls you see in this recreation of 2019. These venerable limestone walls have seen so much…