In the Baltic Sea off the southeast coast of Sweden lies the fabled island of Gotland. Gotland is the home of the Gutes (the tribal name of the Gotlandic people). When man first arrived in Gotland is unknown, but archeologists have excavated splendid stone age graves dating back some 8000 years in Lummelunda near Visby.
With its strategic position in the Baltic, trade between Gotland and the surrounding as well as far away countries flourished and a booming trade network grew. Throughout the Bronze Age on up until approximately the 1400’s AD, Gotland experienced one era of prosperity after the other growing culturally, politicially and in wealth and riches. Gold, silver and other riches flowed to the island. Greek and Roman treasure troves have been unearthed on the island, showing the extent of Gotland’s influence and trade.
Sometime in the sixth century though lacking a king, Gotland was considered a separate country that was mostly involved in trade and merchandise. The Gutes made an agreement with Sweden for the import and export of goods in exchange for peace and protection from the mainland Swedes who were much more powerful and more of a warring nation. Gotland’s international influence grew and because there was no king, there were no import taxes making it an ideal place for traders from many lands to come to. Eventually it even became a trade base with the Orient.
During the Viking age the manufacture of handicrafts such as glass beads along with iron and bronze smithing was prevalent on the island. During the 13th century the general conditions in the Baltic sea region changed. This was also affecting Visby. Gotland’s largest city. One main factor that significantly affected Gotland is the increased depth of the ships brought into use in the mid-13th century. This meant that several of the earlier frequented harbours were to shallow and became disused, with more trade concentrated to Visby. The competition between the Germans and the Gotlanders grew stronger at this period. The Germans influence was stronger and more trade moved to northern German towns from Visby. Finally, Gotlands influence and position as the Nordic/Baltic hub of trade was losing out. moving the island into more of a minor role by the end of the 13th century.
Tensions with Sweden grew and in 1342 regarding a conflict over taxes many of the influential inhabitants of Visby were executed in what became known as the massacre of Visby with many of the influential survivors fleeing. Shortly after this the black plague took it’s toll claiming the lives of over 8000 inhabitants of the city.
Jakob Pleskov, who later became the town mayor of Lübeck Germany was born in Visby. It was he who is credited with helping form the powerful Hanseatic League by calling the Hanseatic League Day’ in 1358. The 1300’s was a century of misfortune for the Gutes. King Valdemar IV of Denmark conquered Visby in 1361 and the Hanseatic League considered this as an attack League itself, and declared war on Denmark. The people of Gotland suffered tremendously during this time. Throughout the 15th century up until 1679 when Gotland finally became part of Sweden the Danes and Swedes fought back and forth over the island.
From 1679 Gotland has remained a part of Sweden and been under the rule of Swedish kings and more recently the Swedish government.