Safe Behind Walls and Ramparts? Archaeological Perspectives on Early Modern Fortifications In The Baltic and Scandinavian Region

Posted on February 8, 2017


Are you a big fan of castles? Are fortifications your reason for getting up in the morning? Or do you just have an interest in all things in the past? Well we have got you covered with this session we filmed at the EAA conference.

Session Details:

Thursday, 1 September 2016, 09:00-18:30
Faculty of History, Room 214h
Author – Pettersson, Claes B., Jönköping County Museum, Jönköping, Sweden (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Simonsen, Rikke, Museum of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Coauthor(s) – Wennberg, Tom, Gothenburg City Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden
Co-author(s) – Nurk, Ragnar, Tallinn Culture and Heritage Department, Tallinn, Estonia
Keywords: siege archaeology, conflict, fortification

During the Early Modern Period the Baltic Region saw a number of conflicts where the ambitions of national states aiming for control of territory and trade clashed. The political instability created a need for protective measures. One way to deal with an almost constant state of warfare was to secure the borders; to fortify towns and other strategic key positions. The period between 1550 and 1750 saw immense investments when castles and town walls were modernized. The theoretical perspectives were developed on the Continent, but found a wide field of application in the Baltic region.
The new fortresses and protected towns were formed by the combination of military presence and civil life. But even the major cities were characterized by military aspects. Still the visions of the authorities met with harsh economic realities. Did the fortifications built match what was intended? However, what is needed today is a holistic approach to the “ideal cities” created by military states like Sweden and her neighbors.
The last decades have witnessed a re-establishment of contacts within the region. Today it is desirable to address themes from a common past. Once again the Baltic Sea unites the countries bordering its shores. Research focused on the Early Modern Period with its multifaceted development can give us an important background; thus providing new perspectives on our own time. This session welcomes papers dealing with research in fortresses and fortified towns of the Baltic and Scandinavian regions. We hope for a wide approach, with themes ranging from the development of modern fortifications and siege archaeology to the study of life and death in these fortified cities. The social and material aspects of human existence are seen as central for the understanding of contexts like these. This makes the session well suited for contributions with an interdisciplinary approach.

The Fortifications of Gothenburg – A Centennial Construction Site

Author – Wennberg, Tom, Gothenburg City Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden (Presenting author)
Keywords: Early modern times, Fortified city, Gothenburg

In the early 17th century Sweden was at a political turning point. This was the beginning of an era known as “The Swedish Age of Greatness” (Stormaktstiden). In the wake of a major defeat in the Kalmar War, the state was reformed regarding centralization of power, more elaborate bureaucracy and higher taxes. This was the foundation for an expanding empire and the beginning of a centennial project that resulted in the fortified city of Gothenburg.
In the expanding state of Sweden during the reign of Gustaf II Adolf (1611-1632) more than 15 new towns were founded.
Maybe the economically most important and strategically best placed of these were the city of Gothenburg on the Swedish west
coast. Founded 1621 in the estuary of the river Göta, it became the main link to the North Sea trade and onward.
The design was very modern with the continental idea of an ideal plan protected by massive fortifications. The construction
of these fortifications lasted for more than 100 years and are generally described in three stages. This paper will give an
archaeological perspective of this massive project and show how continental theories of fortification were applied and customized
for the local conditions.
The new fortified Kalmar – a work in progress during the 17th century

Author – Konsmar, Annika, National Historical Museums,
Linköping, Sweden (Presenting author)
Keywords: Construction, Fortification, Kalmar

The town Kalmar is situated in the southeast of Sweden and was together with Gothenburg and Jönköping the most important outposts in the early Great Power period. As decisions were made in 1640 to move the town Kalmar to a new and strategically more beneficial location, the town would also be surrounded with a modern fortification. Several archaeological excavations have been made in the last years on one of the nine bastions, Carolus Nonus (Charles IX). In addition contemporary maps have been studied describing the work in progress. This has concluded that the work on this bastion alone progressed over decades, and it took more than 50 years to finish the whole fortification. This puts questions on an efficient defense for the town, its population and administration. The studies revealed solutions to problems regarding the construction, and also the development over the years to keep up with modern types of the construction of bastions.

The Strong Link in the Chain? Jönköping Castle – a Swedish border fortress with hidden defects

Author – Pettersson, Claes B., Jönköping County Museum, Jönköping, Sweden (Presenting author)
Keywords: Conflict, Fortification, Siege archaeology

In the beginning of the 17th century the vulnerable southern border of Sweden was defended by modern fortresses. While Kalmar and Elfsborg protected the coastline, Jönköping castle should secure the inland routes towards the central parts of the realm. The site was strategically well suited, being a major crossroad with access to waterways.
The castle was originally a Franciscan convent, taken over by the Crown after the Reformation and fortified with walls, dry moats and corner towers. Vastly enlarged and modernized in the first half of the 17th century, this artillery fortress and its outworks covered an area of 10 hectares. From contemporary plans and drawings it is obvious that these defenses were built according to the latest principles in the art of fortification.
However, recent excavations and extensive GPR-mapping of the ruins have given reasons to doubt the battle-worthiness of this major border fortress. While written sources speak of cracks in the masonry and crumbling walls, archaeological observations of insufficient foundations and poor craftsmanship points in the same direction. It is questionable if the castle could have resisted a serious siege. Within lies the paradox of Sweden as a military state – its great ambitions in conflict with limited resources.

The bastions of Christian 4th

Author – MA Simonsen, Rikke, Copenhagen Museum, Copenhagen V, Denmark (Presenting author)
Keywords: Baltic region, Fortifications

Christian 4th is considered one of the most influential Danish kings. From 1596-1648 he ruled the kingdom Denmark-Norway, which included the southern part of Sweden and the islands of Gotland and Saaremaa. This gave Christian 4th control of the waterways to the Baltic Sea and a huge profit on the Sound toll – an important factor for the king in fighting for the Baltic Sea dominion and engaging the country in several wars.
Christian 4th made great effort to modernize the fortifications of the realm introducing the bastioned fortification on a big scale. He built more than 30 fortresses and fortified towns within today’s Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Estonia. This paper wants to look into what concerns influenced the king’s strategy of building fortifications which had a strong focus on the Baltic region. Was the king demonstrating a general plan for the safety of the realm or was he reacting to sudden and changing threats? Many plans were made for building new fortifications and renovating old ones. Why were the plans carried out in some places but changed or given up in others? Were finances, incompetence, enemy threats or international politics responsible for the fate of the fortifications?

The Early Modern Fortifications of Halmstad

Author – Lena, Bjuggner, Regional Museum Halland, Halmstad, Sweden (Presenting author)

Keywords: early modern, fortifications

Halmstad, situated in the former eastern part of the Danish kingdom, was from the beginning of the early 14th century a simply fortfied town built on royal ground. It had a strategic position by the mouth of the river Nissan and the important road that led to the Swedish town Jönköping. Halmstad was also situated in a province that was bounded by Sweden. Several times during the 15th and the beginning of 16th centuries the town was forced to open the gates for the Swedish army. Halmstad was reinforced in the middle av 16th century and a new fortification was erected between 1598-1605 under the leadership of the Dutch master builder-architect Hans van Steenwinkel and after his death in 1601 succeded by Willum Cornelissen. The layout of the new fortification system made it possible for the Danish king Christian IV to rebuild the town with a reinaissance plan after a devastating fire in in 1619. The defensive works was reinforced during the following decades. Through the Peace Treaty in Brömsebro 1645 Halmstad and the province of Halland became Swedish. The fortifications were maintained during the end of 17th century but started slowly to dilapidate and was demolished in 1735 by the military.
The first part of the paper will be a short presentation of the early modern fortifications put in the comtemporary political situation and exposed position in the two kingdoms (Denmark and Sweden). The second part will give some archaeological examples from the Danish period. The investigations during the last years have proved that the defensive works had an immediate impact on the medieval townplan in certain areas. Old structures have also been integrated and given new funtions. Even if the inhabitants have been better protected the fortifications created practical problems and forced people to change their habits.

From earthworks to scars of the cold war – 500 years of coastal defence on Gotland

Author – PhD Svedjemo, Gustaf, Uppsala University, Visby, Sweden (Presenting author)
Keywords: artillery, coastal defens, Gotland

Gotland, situated in the middle of the Baltic Sea, is with its relatively few inhibitors and long coastline of around 560 km, hard to defend from invaders. There are a few good natural harbours, of which the most seem to have been defended by fortifications in some form from historical times up until the 21th century, with some breaks. The remains of most of them are still visible in the landscape. This presentation is about a new research project, just started about coastal fortifications on Gotland from early modern times up until the turn of the new millennium, when all coastal fortifications and fixed coast artillery batteries where closed down, not only on Gotland, but in all of Sweden. This covers a period of nearly 500 years, but this presentation will mostly deal with the early modern times.
The project was initialised by an observation of some symbols and notes in a historical map from 1694 which is to my knowledge not discussed before. In the map are three conventionalize symbols of sconces with a note, saying “old decayed scones of wood” in an area with no known fortifications until the late 19th century, One question is when and who built them, since they are from a period of several wars, when Gotland was swinging to and fro between Denmark and Sweden. There are no visible traces at the sites today.
In the military archives there are some interesting fortification maps, over all or parts of Gotland, and several detailed blue prints of fortifications, from the 18th century. One map and some blue prints are made by the land surveyor and lieutenant of the fortifications Mattias Schilder in 1712-14 during the Great Nordic War, when the threat of a Russian invasion became imminent. The map shows the position of some 20 “beach batteries” and some additional inland ramparts. It is clear that most of the beach batteries were built, and most of them are identified, but not all. In an initial analyses based on high resolution LiDAR-data, is one of the missing ones found at a different location than previously supposed. An interesting aspect, which the project hopes to shed some light on, is on what criteria the 20 sites were chosen, since many known landings sites have no batteries.
Some of the sites for these beach batteries are known to have earlier, Danish batteries, of unknown date. There is a written source from 1611, ordering the Danish governor of Gotland to put all sconces fallen in decay by the countryside harbours in order, but when the first fortifications was erected is unknown, which we hope be able to answer.

Kuressaare fortress (Estonia) as an example of the transformation of bastion fortifications Author – Nurk, Ragnar, Tallinn University, Aruküla, Estonia (Presenting author)

Keywords: 17th century, Baltic Sea hegemony, bastion fortifications

Recent archaeological investigations have revealed, that the development of the bastion fortifications of Kuressaare fortress was more complicated than has been presumed. Kuressaare, located on the Saaremaa Island in the Baltic Sea, is one of the few medieval fortresses in historical Livonia where the modernization of the fortifications continued also after the Livonian War (1558–83). It was a foothold, in succession, of Denmark, Sweden and Russia.
Kuressaare was a small fortress – four bastions located at the corners of the medieval fortifications were sufficient for its defenses – but its command was essential to maintain the power on the island and carry out the ambitions of the Baltic Sea hegemony. The general design of bastion fortifications, which was regular from the beginning and thus well consistent with the ideal of the period, persisted throughout all construction stages of the fortress. But major and significant changes involved the bastions, particularly their most characteristic parts, their flanks.
Although the core of the defense principle of bastion fortifications – perfect flanking defence – did not change, the methods to achieve it were considerably improved during the 17th century. Archaeological investigation allows us to get a glimpse of what it meant constructionally, and analyze the fortification-theoretical arguments for these costly and labour-consuming undertakings.

Breaching walls and sinking ships: experimental evidence for the performance of 17th-century heavy artillery

Author – PhD Hocker, Fred, Vasa Museum, Stockholm, Sweden (Presenting author)
Keywords: Gun, Siege, Experimental archaeology

In 2014, the Vasa Museum carried out an extensive field trial of a replica 24-pounder bronze demi-cannon, based on those found on the warship Vasa. The gun was developed in 1620 as a mobile heavy field piece, adapted to naval use in 1626 for Vasa and her sister ships. This gun later equipped both the largest warships and field artillery units during the Thirty Years War, ending it service career as a fortress gun in Sweden’s Baltic outposts. A two-week program of fire revealed not only the ballistic characteristics of this type of artillery, but trials against a replica section of ship structure demonstrated that conventional interpretations of the effect of cannon fire on warships is oversimplified. This paper presents the results of the tests in the context of how such guns might have been used against both ships and shore installations.

Prussian, early modern fortification in Pomerania, a result of the Prussian – Swedish struggle

Author – PhD Podruczny, Grzegorz, Adam Mickiewicz University, Słubice, Poland (Presenting author)
Keywords: Fortification, Pomerania, Prussia

The Duchy of Pomerania, after the death of the last duke from the House of Griffins in 1637, was the scene of a struggle between Prussia and Sweden. Initially the duchy was divided into two parts – Prussian Farther Pomerania, and Swedish Hither Pomerania. But as a result of the Swedish defeat in the Great Northern War in 1720, Prussia also won a large part of Hither Pomerania, with the capital city and main fortress, Stettin and the entire estuary of the Oder river. But all of Pomerania was again a witness to Prussian -Swedish hostility during the Seven Years’ War. Its last act was the annexation of Swedish Hither Pomerania with Stralsund in 1815. One of the key factors for this struggle were the fortifications. They were built during the wars (field fortifications) and during peacetime as well (fortresses, autonomous forts or sconces and fortified cities). Siege warfare assumed an important role in the wars. The main stress in this paper will be on the presentation of the activity of the Prussian side of the conflict, mainly in the area of construction of new permanent fortifications from the last half of 17th century through the first half of the 18th century. This large period is divided into two smaller ones. During the first, between 1648 and 1720, Prussian activity was focused on securing the Farther Pomerania. Its main city and most important fortress was Kolberg. The bastion fortifications of this city were already built by Swedish forces during the last stage of the Thirty Years’ War, but the Prussians thoroughly rebuilt it during the long modernization between 1655 and 1715. Apart from Kolberg a fortress in Rügenwalde was also planned, but never built. The main achievement of the second period was the modernization of the fortress at Stettin. It lasted only fifteen years (from 1725 to 1740), but was very intensive, more than half of the Prussian engineering corps was involved in this large construction site. Just as in the previous period, also after 1720, another fortress was considered (in Stargard), but it also was never built. After 1720 the Prussian engineers had to handle the problem of a large number of smaller and weaker fortified complexes in the Hither Pomerania, „inherited” from Sweden, such as cities with bastion fortifications (Wolin, Damm, Cammin in Pommern, Neu Warp, Demmin, Dammgarten and Anklam), or single strongpoints such as sconces in Penemünde, Anklamer Fehr, Swinemünde and Divenau. Only some of them were modernized (Penemünde
and Anklamer Fehr Schanze) but all of them were preserved until the second half of the 18th century, and even took an active part in the Seven Years’ War. In the projects of Prussian fortifications in Pomerania different solutions are visible; traditional (casemates for guns in the
flanks of bastions in Rügenwalde); modern, French inspired, connected with the activity of Huguenot engineers such as Cayart or Montargues, and the solutions influenced by Scandinavian military architecture (powder magazines in Stettin, similar to those in Copenhagen).

Sveaborg (Suomenlinna), an 18th century sea fortress and the importance of water areas Author – MA, PhD Student Koivikko, Minna, The National Board of Antiquities of Finland, Helsinki, Finland (Presenting author)
Keywords: Baltic Sea, fortification, maritime

The decision to build a fortress in the first place was a political resolution from the Sedish crown, since Finland was a part of Sweden from the Middle Ages until 1809. The decision was a reaction to a situation created by two ruinous wars in 1700-21 (The Great Northern War) and 1741-43 (The Russo-Swedish War) where Sweden lost easternmost regions along with old fortifications. To choose the location of this new main fortress, place d’Armes, was a difficult decision. It had to be in the middle of the Finnish coastline, offering a protected water area for the fleet. Helsingfors (Helsinki) and Degerby (Loviisa) were competing with each other, and surprisingly waterways and water areas became one of the issues of discussion. Finally, the archipelago in front of Helsingfors was chosen, and fortification was originally built on six bedrocks isles following a bastion system, which was freely applied according to natural forms of the landscape. With my forthcoming doctoral dissertation, I have been considering what is the footprint of this decision of the location of the fortress in the underwater landscape.

Remnants of a Siege – The Siege of Älvsborg 1612 at the West Coast of Sweden

Author – Wennberg, Tom, Gothenburg City Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Sandin, Mats, Rio Göteborg Natur- och kulturkooperativ, Gothenburg, Sweden
Keywords: 17th century, Castle, Siege archaeology

The primary characteristics of siege archaeology are that the remains in question are often from a relatively short period of time and that the events are not infrequently documented, and in that case particularly by the victors. In recent years battlefield archaeology has had, at least in Sweden, a major boom, but the archaeology of sieges and siegeworks has been in the shadows. In this paper, we present the siege of the royal castle of Älvsborg 1612 during the Kalmar War, and the archaeology of certain events during this siege.
The royal castle of Älvsborg was of great importance for royal power. It secured the corridor of land that provided the crucial westward passage for Sweden. The castle and its fortifications are strategically located on a cliff at the mouth of the river Göta. The castle is an important and widely known part of Swedish history and is best known for two exceptionally large tributes paid in connection with the Nordic Seven Years War (1563-1570) and the Kalmar War (1611-1613). These wars were two major conflicts between Denmark and Sweden a result of both countries constant rivalry for dominion in the north which had its origin in the medieval period.
Between 2003 and 2006, Gothenburg City Museum conducted a series of excavations at the Älvsborg Castle. The excavations aimed at examining structures belonging to the castle’s early modern fortifications. Some features were revealed, such as a bastion, the moat, and the covered way. In addition to these, an extensive assemblage of artifacts that can be directly linked to the Danish siege of Älvsborg 1612 was recovered. The artifacts consisted of a range of ordinance, including lead bullets, cannonballs, parts of rifles, fragments of grenades. In connection with the besieging aspect of siege archaeology, the excavations also uncovered remains of a besiegers approach (sap), and mines, and one of the castle’s defenders’ countermines. During this project it has been possible to link some of the archaeological remains to actual events described in the historical sources therefore strengthening the actual narrative.

The Outdating of Medieval Fortifications – The Castle of Raseborg and the Town Wall of Vyborg Author – PhD docent Haggren, Georg, University of Helsinki, Espoo, Finland (Presenting author)
Keywords: Castle, Town wall, Fortifications, Medieval

The castle of Raseborg (Finland) and the town of Vyborg (Russia) both locate on the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland. Raseborg was built in the 1370s by the Swedes and during the next 150 years the castle was gradually enlarged. The town of Vyborg situated close to the eastern border of the Swedish realm and it was continuously threatened by the Russians. There was an older castle close to the town of Vyborg but in the 1470s the town itself was fortified too. From now on high walls surrounded the medieval town. When Raseborg was founded fire arms were not yet in use along the northern Baltic Sea. A century later when Vyborg was surrounded by the walls fire arms were known but on those days most of them were light weapons making no harm to stone structures. In dawn of the early modern era or the early 16th century, the role of the fire arms had changed. New guns were heavier and more effective than the earlier ones. Simultaneously the range of the fire arms had become much longer. Old medieval fortifications offered not anymore a safe heaven. The new era meant remarkable changes for the old fortifications. The castle of Raseborg had lost its military importance already in the 1520s. In 1550 King Gustaf Vasa made a decision to abandon the old castle and build a modern one called Helsingborg in his new town called Helsinki. This was a part of his large castle building program but in the case of Helsingborg the King was not able to realize his ambiguous plans. In Vyborg a fortified suburb with two modern bastions was built ahead of the weakest part of the old town wall in the middle of the 16th century. These arrangements combined with the old town walls secured the urban settlement for another hundred years. However, in 1700 when a new war between Sweden and Russia broke out, the old town wall was in bad condition. Three years later an officer called Lorentz Stobaeus was ordered to modernize the fortifications. The outdated town walls were now pulled down. Fortunately, before he began replacing the fortifications Stobaeus documented the old structures offering later generations a possibility to get an overview of the Europe’s northernmost medieval town wall.

The fortifications of Copenhagen: The western boundary as seen at Rådhuspladsen (Townhall square) Author – Lyne, Ed, Museum of Copenhagen, Br nsh j, Denmark (Presenting author)
Keywords: Bastion, City Gate, Fortifications

Prior to excavations carried out at Rådhuspladsen in 2011/2012, relatively little was known with certainty about Copenhagen’s former western boundary. What knowledge was available mainly stemmed from cartographic sources and historical references, as well as present day street layout (particularly Vester Voldgade). The first map however was only drawn in 1590, and the first historical references for this area date to the later 1300s, when Vesterport (the western gate) is mentioned for the first time. Part of the aim of this excavation was to confirm or reject existing ideas about the city’s border to the west; where it was placed, how it was constructed and when, and how it changed through time.
The excavations at Rådhuspladsen carried out in advance of the Metro Cityring, offered an unprecedented opportunity to examine the remains of the fortifications along Copenhagen’s western boundary, and as will be discussed here, the evidence unearthed has been extensive and very illuminating regarding the ongoing changes made to this boundary through the centuries. The historical evidence, previous archaeological observations and the new evidence as documented in 2011/2012 will all be outlined, in an attempt to achieve as complete an account of the story of this boundary as possible.

The city wall in Nya Lödöse Author – Archaeologist Svensson, Pia, National Historical Museums, Mölndal, Sweden (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Bakunic, Imelda, Rio Göteborg Natur och Kulturkooperativ, Göteborg, Sweden
Keywords: Early Modern Town, Material culture, Rampart/Palissade

In 2013 the largest urban archaeological excavation ever undertaken on the west coast of Sweden started in the Old Town (Gamlestaden), Gothenburg. The town of New Lödöse/Nya Lödöse, at the mouth of Göta river, which lay here between 1473 and 1624, is still being excavated. Twice before, in the 1910s and 1960s, archaeological excavations were carried out, mainly in the northern parts of the town. During the first excavation, parts of the northern moat were also recorded. Since then, more recently, further smaller investigations have been carried out. In 2015 we had the opportunity to explore much larger areas southwest of the town. Underneath the modern disturbance and an 1800s construction debris and foundation, we had the opportunity to record remains of the city wall. This area consisted of the following structures: a putative gatehouse, a palisade, parts of the ramparts and the appurtenant moat, as well as a bridge foundation in the moat. Having excavated the remains and the parts of the city wall (as well as the remains of the town), we now have a significant body of material reflecting daily life in the town of Nya Lödöse. Organic materials, construction waste and the practical use of the moat in the handling of various materials, for example flax-retting, are all evidenced. Subsequently, we address the question of how the construction of the ramparts affected the people in Nya Lödöse and what was its real purpose? We present the preliminary results and take a closer look into how the construction of this town limit affected the town and its population.

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