According to Gutasagan (the Gotlandic Tale), Gotland was an enchanted island , which rose every evening and sank again every morning. The enchantment was broken when a man by the name of Tjelvar came to the island, bringing with him fire. Geological studies have shown that, although the tale might not be true, the island has sunk and risen again many times from the sea.
In this way Gutasagan, written down in the beginning of the 13th century, tells its version of the origin of Gotland. Still today the island is as enchanted, very rich on memories from the past. In an endless number of archaeological remains in the countryside as well as in Visby you can see ancient time, middle ages and present time running side by side. You can see it from the more than 90 middle age churches still in use.
Archaeological findings show that people have lived
on Gotland for over 8,000 years. Over 31,000 ancient remains have been recorded,
making the island one of the richest areas in Scandinavia in this perspective.
Everywhere in the landscape one is impressed by mighty shipmoulds and
from the bronze age, as well as the more than 700 gravefields from the iron
Silver, gold and many Roman artifacts found in the Gotlandic soil show that trade with continental Europe was in full swing during the reign of the Roman Empire, and probably even earlier.
The Roman author Tacitus who wrote in the first century A.D. mentions the mighty people on the island in the middle of the Baltic (Mare Suebicum, Suionum hinc cividades). Out of the registered finds of 211 262 silver coins recovered from the Swedish soil 68.7% originate from Gotland (source "Gotland Östersjöns pärla" ISBN 91-972306-5-0).
Long before the Viking Era, and for several hundred years onwards, Gotland was the centre for trade and culture in the Baltic Sea. Gotland became a republic of independent trading farmers with large farms on Gotland and trading contacts in foreign countries. Enormous riches were gathered in the countryside and today one is astonished by the quantity of finds of gold and silver treasures that has been hidden in the Gotlandic earth and that now can be viewed at the museums.
After the Artlenburg peace treaty in 1161, between Gotland and Saxonia, when German traders were allowed to settle on Gotland, the capital city Visby
(according to the tradition founded in 897) became the main port.
During the 13th century Visby grew to the largest and richest city in the Baltic region
(Regina maris, the queen of the seas). Visby became mother city to newer cities like Riga, founded in 1201, and Stockholm, considered founded in the 1250´s.
Thanks to the Gutar's (Gotlander) skills in boat building, they travelled far and wide, trading with whomever they met on their travels. During the 13th century the immigration of Germans to Visby was so large that at the time of the Civil war in 1288, when Visby broke loose from the Gotlandic republic and formed its own republic, the population of Gutar and Germans in Visby was about equal. The city of Visby was together with Lübeck one of the co-founders of the
Hanseatic League, considered founded in 1358.
At the time of the foundation of the Hanseatic league Lübeck had already become as strong as Visby. The invasion of Gotland by the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag in 1361, who killed many rural Gutar in the process, is also thought of as the end of Gotland's period as a powerful trading nation.
Mecklenburgian fleets established themselves as pirates on the island in the last decade of the 14th century, and finally the Teutonic knights had their turn in invading and ruling the island.
Gotland became by accident a Swedish colony in 1645, and after the peace treaty in Lund 1679, when the Swedish government annexed Gotland, the aim was to make the Gutar Swedes but with little success.
According to Gutasagan the Gutar travelled far and wide, trading with whomever they met on their travels and brought new religions to the island. Some archaeologists consider that there are traces of Christianity in graves as early as the sixth century.
The Gotlandic Alltingh (Gutnaltinget) officially made Christianity the sole religion in the 11th century.
According to tradition, a Norwegian king, Olof Haraldsson, came to the island in the year 1030, on the run from his own people. At that point in time he is thought to have convinced the Gutar to convert to his type of Christianity. The Gutar were not very impressed, but finally Gotland joined the ranks, officially accepting Christianity, building many, many churches. There still exists over 90 churches on Gotland, most of them from the early Middle Ages.
(source "Gotland Östersjöns pärla" ISBN 91-972306-5-0).
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