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Exhibition texts Solen

Solen, instruction

Start with the wall straight ahead to the left. Then move counterclockwise around the room.

The map shows the location of the remains, and the box contains short facts about it.

Facts about the find

FIND:The Swedish warship Solen.

PERIOD: November 1627, the Swedish great-power era.

LOCATION: The mouth of the River Wisła, near Gdańsk in Poland.

EVENT: The ship was blown up at the Battle of Oliwa. Large losses in men and materials.

Power struggle in th Baltic Sea

In the 17th century, the Baltic Sea saw extensive trade. Many countries wanted to control trading, and conflicts in the region were common. Poland and Sweden were at war for decades but engaged in only one naval battle. Swedish warfare at sea aimed to block Polish ports and collect customs duties from neutral merchant ships.

The naval fleet was crucial during the height of the Swedish empire, and Solen, ‘The Sun’,  was one of the fleet’s ships. In 1627, Solen took part in the blockade of Danzig, now Gdańsk. But in a Polish attack, Solen was boarded and came at disadvantage. Rather than have the enemy take over the ship, the master blew it up. Solen was then lost for over 300 years. Today, the shipwreck and thousands of objects can tell us about life on board, warfare of the time and prevailing ideals.

Pillau 1627-1629

Watercolour depicting Swedish warships collecting customs duties and guarding the inlet to Pillau, now Baltiysk. The site is located just east of Gdańsk, and served as a base for the Swedes. Dutch merchant ships and some smaller boats are also visible.

Table and chairs. Audiovisual station

An audiovisual depiction of the political power play that provided the background to Solen's sinking. The spoken content is not available here.

Blockades as warfare. Left of table and chairs.

Blockades have been used many times throughout history, and still occur today. At sea, this means that a country with a strong fleet blocks its enemy’s ports, rivers and transport routes. This way, the enemy’s trade and transport can be monitored or prevented.

In the 1620s, the Swedish navy blockaded Polish ports. It was important that the blockades lasted as long as possible, and warships were often left lying off the enemy coast from early spring to late autumn. They prevented supplies from reaching their destination, or collected customs duties from neutral merchant vessels. Waiting out the enemy this way was certainly quite stressful for the crew.

Qoute on the wall

… illness … causes mostly distress and long sedentary, with the stench that of all kinds of uncleanness that lowers itself in the ship and sometimes the ballast…

From Karl Karlsson Gyllenhielm’s letter to the Swedish king, 1628

Letter to the King

Karl Karlsson Gyllenhielm, Admiral of the Swedish Navy, wrote to King Gustav II Adolf from the blockade in 1628. Disease ravaged the ships. Cold ships, viruses and spoiled food were likely the main causes. But he also meant that the tedious existence led to illness.

Blockades often lasted many months. The officers had to keep everyone on board busy, or otherwise the crew members became bored and unruly and got on each other’s nerves. They had to practice manoeuvring the ship and handling its weapons. They had to take care of the ship, tend to equipment and weapons, make sure the gunpowder was kept dry and that provisions did not go bad.

On board the warship. Right of exhibit with cannon.

Blockades often lasted many months. The officers had to keep everyone on board busy, or otherwise the crew members became bored and unruly and got on each other’s nerves. They had to practice manoeuvring the ship and handling its weapons. They had to take care of the ship, tend to equipment and weapons, make sure the gunpowder was kept dry and that provisions did not go bad.

It was usually crowded on board. Infectious diseases, such as fevers and stomach illnesses, were common and sometimes fatal. It was more or less normal for a third of a ship’s crew to get sick during a longer expedition at sea – or during a blockade.

During a blockade

The painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger is called Dutch Ships in a Calm, and depicts life onboard during a blockade. During the long blockades, boredom surely set in easily. People had to keep busy, so they took care of the ships and equipment on board, performed various household chores and played games and music.

Shoe sole. Wall exhibit.

Sewing items and shoe leather are common wreck finds, as with Solen. Sailors had to bring materials on board they could use to mend shoes and clothes: pieces of fabric and leather, needles, thread and shoe pegs. Shoes wore out quickly and often required mending.

Right short wall and exhibit

Quote on short wall

And so it was, that which God forbid, that a ship so strong was attacked by the enemy ship, and all the finest officers shot to death and no rescue forthcoming although desirable, and that some honest Swede and faithful man could be found who would throw fire in the gunpowder chamber, thus avenging the death of his officers and his fellow brothers.

From Henrik Fleming’s instruction to the blockade squadron at Danzig, 1628

The Battle of Oliwa

November, 1627. The Swedes have suspended the blockade of Danzig due to diseases, autumn storms and lack of food. The last ships are getting ready to depart.

A land breeze gives the Polish navy the chance to break free from its trapped position and attack. The Polish ships are well manned. One of the Swedish ships is boarded and forced to surrender.

Solen is also boarded, and the battle surges back and forth. Many die, including the captain and lieutenant. The Poles look set for victory. The master ignites a powder keg – better to blow up the ship than hand it over to the enemy! – and everyone attempts to flee the ship. Soon after, Solen explodes and disappears into the depths.

In the exhibit

Priming iron

Tool for clearing the touch hole at the back of the cannon from gunpowder residue, and at the same time piercing the powder bag of the charge. Fine-ground priming powder was then put into the hole and lit. The powder bag exploded and the shot was fired.

Grappling hook

Thrown at the enemy ship so that it could be pulled up close. The hooks had chains so that they couldn’t be cut off. The enemy ship was then boarded, and sailors and soldiers went into close combat using boarding axes and short spears called half-pikes.

Howitzer barrel (cannon)

A short-barrelled, lightweight cannon that was loaded with musket balls, hail shots or scrap, like pieces of iron. The swarms of cannon balls and projectiles had a terrifying effect on people who lacked protection.

Grappling hook

Thrown at the enemy ship so that it could be pulled up close. The hooks had chains so that they couldn’t be cut off. The enemy ship was then boarded, and sailors and soldiers went into close combat using boarding axes and short spears called half-pikes.

Musket balls

Muskets were a lighter weapon used by soldiers on board. The enemy’s officers were easy targets: easy to recognize by their clothing and often quartered high up in the ship’s aftercastle. The balls also could be packed in containers and used as hail shots in cannons.

Solen at the bottom of the sea

In 1969, a wreck was discovered in Gdańsk’s northern port. It lay 16 metres (52.5 ft.) deep and was in very poor condition, with most of the hull spread out over the seabed. When it turned out to be Solen, a ship of historical interest, a decision was made to excavate it. The project became a pioneering maritime archaeological effort.

Despite the wreck’s poor condition, more than 6,000 finds were uncovered. Archaeologists found everything from personal belongings from soldiers and crew to rigging details and guns. More than 1,200 coins were found including square coins called klippinges, like those found on Vasa.

After the excavations, the Solen wreck was moved – underwater – to protect and preserve it.

At the site

At the excavation thousands of objects were found, preserved in sediment and among ballast stones. The many finds tell us of the ship's sinking and warfare in the Baltic, but also of the crew's life on a warship during a long blockade.

 


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Page last updated: 2021-09-08