Researchers hypothesized that the man was likely struck by an ax — and other weapons — during the 1361 Battle of Visby.
In 1361, some 2,000 Swedish peasants faced off against 2,500 Danish soldiers in the Battle of Visby. Around 1,800 of the peasants were massacred and a recent study of their remains has revealed that one soldier seemingly perished in an especially gruesome fashion. According to a facial reconstruction, he appeared to have been struck in the face with an ax.
According to Live Science, an archaeological scan of the bodies left at the battlefield caught the eye of a Brazilian graphic artist named Cícero Moraes. As detailed in a study published in OrtogOnLineMag, Moraes set out to reconstruct the skull of a warrior with a curious wound across his face.
The warrior had a gash on his face from his lower jaw up across his nose, a wound that appeared to have knocked out several of his teeth. According to The Sun, Moraes used soft tissue markers on the skull and a CT scan of a living volunteer to recreate what the man had looked like. He produced an image of the doomed Swedish warrior — and his gruesome injury.
“Among the weapon options that could have been used, the ax seemed the most coherent,” Moraes told Live Science. “So, I modeled an ax and placed it on the bone. It’s hard to know if it killed him, but it certainly did a lot of damage to the soft tissue. It was shocking to see that ax stuck in his face.”
As The Sun reports, the ax wound wasn’t the only one that this unfortunate warrior suffered. He also had wounds above his left eye and on his left cheekbone that may have been caused by some kind of pole weapon.
And Moraes doubts that the warrior would have survived long after sustaining such injuries during the battle.
“It is difficult to estimate this with the skull alone,” he told The Sun. “But surely such an injury would not be an easy thing to treat, considering the year and the reality at the time it was inflicted.”
According to the Swedish History Museum, the Battle of Visby — also called the Battle of Gotland — pitted farmers in Gotland against well-trained soldiers from the Danish army. The Danish ruler King Valdemar Atterdag had set out to conquer Gotland after successfully conquering Skåne and Öland, but was met with resistance from Gotland farmers in July 1361.
As The Sun notes, some 2,000 Swedish farmers in Gotland — many of them elderly or minors — faced off against the well-trained mercenaries of the Danish king. The Danish troops made quick work of the Swedish farmers, killing an estimated 1,800 of them, and the king declared victory.
“Many [of the] Gotland warriors [were] inexperienced rural militiamen, [and] were massacred by the Danish army, with a cadre mostly composed of well-trained mercenaries,” Moraes explained to Live Science. “There were so many dead that most were buried with all their clothing, causing great astonishment to archaeologists who carried out the first excavations.”
To Moraes, the facial reconstruction of the doomed Swedish warrior helps illustrate the high price that many paid during the battle, 661 years ago.
“These images are quite impactful,” he told The Sun, adding: “Today we have several conflicts happening in the world and we usually observe the scenes from afar, having no idea what happens to the combatants. Imagine how it is for those who receive such violence.”
After reading about the medieval warrior who likely died after being hit in the face with an ax, see how scientists reconstructed the face of a 1,000-year-old female Viking warrior. Or, discover how a skull discovered in Jericho helped researchers understand what people looked like 9,500 years ago.