Military Organisation in the Guta Saga

The Guta Saga is a short chronicle, written sometime between 1220 and 1275, which details the history of Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. One of the last sections in this saga describes the arrangements made regarding what obligations did Gotlanders have in providing ships and men for the military campaigns of the Swedish kings.

Since the Gotlanders accepted bishop and priest, and completely embraced Christianity, they also undertook, on their part, to follow the Swedish king on military expeditions with seven warships, against heathen countries, but not against Christian ones. It had to be in such a way, however, that the king should summon the Gotlanders to the levy after the winter, and give them a month’s respite before the day of mobilisation and, furthermore, the date of mobilisation shall be before mid-summer, and no later. Then it is a lawful summons, but not otherwise. Then the Gotlanders have the choice of travelling, if they wish, with their longships and eight weeks’ provisions, but no more. Nevertheless, if the Gotlanders are not able to take part, then they are to pay a fine of 40 marks in coin, in compensation for each longship; but this, however, is at the following harvest and not in the same year that the summons was made. This is called the ‘levy-tax’.

In that month the summoning-baton shall pass around for one week and an assembly be announced. When people are agreed that the expedition shall go out, they shall then further arm themselves for the voyage for a fortnight. And afterwards, for a week before the mobilisation, the men on the muster ought to be prepared and wait for a favourable wind. But if it should happen that no favourable wind comes during that week, they shall still wait seven nights after the day of mobilisation. If, however, no favourable wind comes within that specified time, they then have the right to go home freed from obligation, since they are not able to cross over the sea rowing, only under sail. Should the levy summons come within a shorter period than a month, they do not have to go, but may remain at home with impunity.

Should it be the case that the king is not willing to believe that the summons came unlawfully, or that the wind hindered them at the proper specified times, the king’s messengers, who collect the tax at that assembly which is next after St Peter’s mass, have a duty to take an oath from twelve commissioners, whom the king’s messengers wish to select, that they remained at home for lawful reasons.

This section is from Guta Saga: The History of the Gotlanders, ed. Christine Peel (London: Viking Society for Northern Research, 1999). We thank Christine Peel for her permission to republish this section.

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