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Gotland

Gotland is an island in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Sweden, to which it belongs today. In the Iron Age and early medieval period Gotland was independent. However, during the Viking period it became tributary to the Swedish kings, until 1361 when it was conquered by the Danes.

A farming settlement of the fifth to sixth centuries AD has been excavated at Vallhagar, indicating a rural economy. However, the island's strategic position at the junction of Viking maritime routes made its inhabitants extremely wealthy in later centuries. The islanders' wealth came through foreign trade, based largely on furs, and probably also slaves and iron.

Many rich graves and hoards of Arabic and Anglo-Saxon silver coins and jewellery have been discovered on Gotland. By the twelfth century a colony of Gotlandic merchants had settled in Novgorod, in western Russia. Nevertheless, the traditional view of an island community of independent tradesmen-farmers has been much modified by recent studies and it now appears that the society was both more stratified and centrally controlled. As in other Viking regions, sea-borne raids for plunder and tribute may have played a part in the accumulation of wealth. Later the island's capital at Visby attracted traders from Germany and the town became an important member of the Hanseatic League.

The jewellery found in Viking-period graves shows that the Gotlanders shared in a Norse material culture, but had their own very distinctive regional identity. Memorial stones of a type rarely found elsewhere show Viking ships, scenes from Norse myths, burial rites, and even possibly scenes from classical legend, although many are now difficult to identify with certainty.

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