Gotland

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Gotland was first discovered by a man named Þieluar. At that time the island was so bewitched that it sank by day and rose up at night. That man, however, was the first that brought fire to the island, and afterwards it never sank again. —Gutasaga

Gotland is a large island in the Baltic Sea. It is essentially a chalk plateau, rising up out of the sea no higher than 275 feet and covering about 1230 square miles. The boundary of the island is generally understood to encompass the smaller islands of Fårö, Gotska Sandön, and the Karlsö Islands (Lilla and Stora), all situated just off the coast.

Excavations have turned up evidence of Finnic and Mediterranean peoples inhabiting the island since at least the Middle Neolithic, and of a thriving Iron Age culture—some of the finest examples of pre-Viking picturestones can be found dating from the fifth century on Gotland, and the carving of runestones remained an oft-practiced craft through the Viking period.

The Gutasaga, which describes the legendary origins of the inhabitants of the island, tells of how the land’s population was divided into thirds, and that eventually one third was forced to migrate to the European mainland due to population pressures. This tradition is associated with the migration of the Goths, whose name shares an origin with the Gutar of the island and, indeed, was synonymous in Old East Norse.

At some point lost to history, the island was incorporated into the Kingdom of Sweden, although the Gutasaga is at pains to present this as a mutually-agreeable decision rather than any type of conquest. Indeed, Gotland in the Viking Age remained fiercely independent, with the king on the mainland largely a distant figurehead.

They then went away to Fårö and settled there. They could not support themselves there, but travelled to an island off Estonia called Dagö, where they settled, and built a fortification, which is still to be seen. They could not support themselves there either, but travelled up by the watercourse called the Dvina, and onward through Russia. —Gutasaga

Thanks to its position in the Baltic, Gotland has long been a nexus of trade among the peoples of that sea, and the Gutar have made extensive journeys up the mighty rivers of the East, establishing settlements at Aldeigjuborg and Holmgard on the Volkhov River, and far-distant Konugard on the Dnieper; the Gutasaga even speaks of folk from Gotland reaching the legendary Miklagard, seat of the Roman Empire.

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Settlements

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Sites of Interest

Gotland

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