Legendary Swedish Warship Gives Up More Secrets

Cannons on the ship are up to 4.8 meters long. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)
Cannons on the ship are up to 4.8 meters long. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Cannons, hand grenades, and up to a thousand soldiers were on board the large Swedish warship when it exploded in the Baltic Sea 454 years ago. The ship, known as Mars, belonged to the Swedish navy and was one of Northern Europe’s largest and most feared naval vessels used in the Northern Seven Years’ War.

The remains were discovered at the bottom of the Baltic Sea in 2011, near the Swedish island of Öland. The latest discoveries from the wreckage were revealed during a press conference in Öland. Maritime archaeologist Rolf Fabricius Warming, who is one of the researchers involved in the investigation, said:

Mars was built by Eric XIV in 1563. It was one of the largest and most modern warships of its time. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Mars was built by Eric XIV in 1563. It was one of the largest and most modern warships of its time. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

The ship contained silver treasure

Researchers had previously discovered silver treasure among the Mars wreckage. This time, one of the most spectacular finds was a large grapnel (grappling hook), an anchor-like hook that hung from the bowsprits of warships and was used to cling onto other ships in order to board them.

The wreckage is so deep that divers can only stay down at this depth for 40 minutes at a time. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

The wreckage is so deep that divers can only stay down at this depth for 40 minutes at a time. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Grapnels are illustrated in historical sources from the 16th century, but no actual surviving examples are known apart from this particular one, says Warming, adding that the divers also found remains of possible arms and armor, including helmets and swords:

Divers found a hand grenade probably made of ceramic. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Divers found a hand grenade probably made of ceramic. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Danish and Lübeckian soldiers were on board

Mars sunk due to a gunpowder explosion at the front of the ship. But shortly before, it had been under attack by Danish and Lübeckian warships, according to written sources. Warming said:

Danish soldiers, allied with soldiers from Lübeck, managed to defeat the Swedish crew and capture the warship. When the ship exploded and sank, it had 300 to 400 Dano-Lübeckian soldiers aboard.

Divers found weapons and skeletal remains, along with utensils, which were part of the crew’s everyday life aboard the ship. They could sail for months at a time, says Rolf Warming. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Divers found weapons and skeletal remains, along with utensils, which were part of the crew’s everyday life aboard the ship. They could sail for months at a time, says Rolf Warming. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

A Swedish change of tactics

The new examination of the Mars shipwreck provides new insights into the events that took place between Denmark and Sweden during the Northern Seven Years’ War between 1563 and 1570. They have documented a change in Swedish tactics from a focus on close quarter combat to long distance fighting, as indicated by large cannons up to 4.8 meters long.

The well-preserved wreck was discovered in 2011. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

The well-preserved wreck was discovered in 2011. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Despite the large cannons, the Swedish crew did not manage to avoid engaging in close quarter combat with their enemies. The soldiers aboard were positioned underneath a net that covered the deck and was designed to prevent the enemy from jumping on board — a so-called anti-boarding net. Warming explained:

Artillery of the Mars warship. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Artillery of the Mars warship. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

A snapshot of a moment in time

Until 2011, historians relied on written sources for information about what happened to Mars, including letters from Danish Admiral Herluf Trolle and Swedish Admiral Jacob Bagge, and official royal documents. But the shipwreck provides an entirely different type of documentation. Warming added:

Professional divers investigated the wreck, which sits at the bottom of the sea, 70 metres below sea level. (Photo: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

Professional divers investigated the wreck, which sits at the bottom of the sea, 70 meters below sea level. (Image: Kirill Egorov / Ocean Discovery / Mars Project)

For maritime archaeologist Mikkel Thomsen — from the Viking Ship Museum, Denmark — looking at the well preserved and complete remains captures a snapshot of a moment in time. Thomsen, who was not involved in the study, said:

Divers filmed the shipwreck

The Mars‘ remains lay 70 meters beneath the surface of the Baltic Sea — so deep that researchers could not go down themselves to investigate. Instead, professional divers and ROVs were deployed to film the wreck. The footage and recordings were used to create 3D-models of the wreck and the artifacts found on the site.

Scientists and divers have not been granted permission to touch or remove anything from the wreck or nearby, which might be for the best. According to Thomsen:

Lifting the remains out of the water would lead to the breakdown and damage of the materials, he says.

The exploration of Mars was carried out by researchers from the Marine Research Institute MARIS at Södertörn University in Sweden and divers from the diving organization GUE, Västervik Museum, Ocean Discovery, and MMT. Fifteen divers and 10 researchers have participated in the latest exploration of the ship.

Provided by: Anne Ringgaard, ScienceNordic [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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