Militärhistorisches Museum der BundeswehrLandesamt für Archäologie - SachsenArchäologisches Landesmuseum Brandenburg im Paulikloster
1636 - Trailer

A closer look

Immerse yourself in early 17th Century life. Two narrative threads will guide you through the ten sections of the exhibition: the first explains the historical background, while the second presents the fascinating results of the new research.

1 The unique grave
Who are the 125 soldiers in the grave? How was it discovered and excavated? Who conducted the research and analysis?

Artist’s impression of the mercenary silhouettes on display in the cloister of St. Paul’s Priory (Graphic: J. Junghänel, BLDAM).

Immediately upon entering the museum you will encounter a display of soldier silhouettes. Take your time to walk through the crowd of mercenaries and learn the fate of each one. A series of short profiles introduce the researchers who carried out the excavation and discovered what happened to the mercenaries.

2 A leap back in time
How did people survive during the Thirty Years War? How did they defend themselves? How did they cope with hunger and poverty?

A hoard of precious metal from the Thirty Years War. Found in Fürstenberg in the district of Oberhavel (Photograph: D. Sommer, BLDAM).

Original documents and archaeological finds take you back into the early 17th Century. Viewed through the eyes of an osteoarchaeologist, human skeletons reveal the diet of the urban and rural population. Hoards of coins and other valuables are evidence of the fear of assault and loss during these troubled times.

3 Becoming a soldier
When and how did people become mercenaries? What motivated them to join a regiment? Did the army really offer them a better life?

Muster roll of the Swedish cavalry regiment commanded by William Gunn. The muster was taken in 1636, the year of the Battle of Wittstock (Photograph: S. Eickhoff, BLDAM).

The joint of the left thighbone is deformed. The soldier would have limped during his lifetime (Photograph: B. Jungklaus, BLDAM).

The procedures used to recruit and enlist mercenaries varied greatly between the German, Swedish and Scottish regiments. The finds from Wittstock show that the military regulations were not always strictly applied.

4 With sword and musket
What weapons were used during the war? Which military tactics did the commanders employ? How did the combatants distinguish between friend and foe on the battlefield?

Swept hilt rapier dating from the first half of the 17th Century (On loan courtesy of J. Fricker, Dinkelsbühl; Photograph: D. Sommer, BLDAM).

Unfired and fired pistol shot from the battlefield. The latter deformed on impact (Photograph: D. Sommer, BLDAM).

Original weapons, items of army equipment and clothing take you back into the world of 17th Century warfare. Richly illustrated military manuals outline the innovations in weapons technology and battle tactics during the period. Forensic analysis of the munitions found on the Wittstock battlefield reveals details of the weapons that were used.

5 Everyday life in the army
What was daily life like for the soldiers? What did they have to endure physically?

Marching soldiers as far as the eye can see (Stefano della Bella, an etching from the series Et Pace et Bello, courtesy of the Moravska Galerie, Brno, public domain).

The long marches, construction of massive entrenchments and drill with heavy weapons took their physical toll and left visible traces on the soldiers’ bones.

The events of the two weeks leading up to the Battle of Wittstock serve as a striking example of a strenuous and unsettled life, lived in constant danger.

6 Camp life and social conditions
What was life like for the mercenaries in the army camp and for the women and children in the baggage train? How did these “moving cities” support themselves? What did the people do in their spare time?

In a reconstructed encampment you will come face to face with life in an army camp.

The diet of the mercenaries caused some of them to suffer from extensive tooth decay and dental attrition. In this example the enamel has been worn down to expose the underlying dentine (Photograph: B. Jungklaus, BLDAM).

Historical documents and archaeological artefacts reveal the enormous social differences between the officers and the ordinary soldiers.

Buckle made of copper alloy (Photograph: D. Sommer, BLDAM).

The effects of the poor living conditions are shown using selected examples from the skeletons found in the grave.

7 Medical care
How did they treat injuries and illnesses in the army? Why did diseases and epidemics cost so many more lives than the fighting? What did the soldiers look like?

Partial destruction of vertebrae caused by tuberculosis (Photograph: B. Jungklaus, BLDAM)

Injuries and illnesses were common but, unlike today, little could be done to help the wounded and the sick. There was no organised medical care and treatment was normally in the hands of laypeople which, more often than not, only made the suffering worse. In addition, the terrible sanitary conditions were not a good prerequisite for a patient’s recovery. A three-dimensional facial reconstruction allows you to stand literally eye to eye with one of the mercenaries.

8 The Battle and the dead soldiers
What exactly happened on the 4th of October 1636? Which forces were deployed and where? What caused the deaths of the mercenaries in the mass grave? How many casualties were there?

This copperplate engraving shows the chronological order of events during the battle (Matthäus Merian, Battle of Wittstock, courtesy of the Museum des Dreißigjährigen Krieges, Wittstock)

Eyewitness accounts and historical maps are evaluated with criminological intuition.

Powerful blows to the head from a number of edged weapons killed this soldier (Photograph: B. Jungklaus, BLDAM)

Using the results of modern aerial surveys and the analysis of the spatial distribution of the hundreds of lead shot found on the battlefield, a broad reconstruction of events is possible. You will be able to follow their course in a video installation. Forensic analysis of the bones determine the causes of injury and death. The repeated occurrence of multiple injuries caused by different weapons gives an indication of the brutality and ferocity of the fighting.

9 The grave and its contents
Who looted the bodies of the mercenaries and who buried them? Do friend and foe lie together in the same grave?

Approximately 125 dead soldiers were laid side by side in the grave (Photograph: A. Grothe, BLDAM)

This extraordinary grave is unique. The dead from different countries were buried together in several layers one on top of the other. The diverse geographical origins of the mercenaries, determined using stable isotope analysis, confirm the multinational composition of the army. A display of the grave forms the tranquil yet emotional climax of the exhibition. In the vaulted cellar of St. Paul’s Priory, an artistic reconstruction of the grave forms the tranquil and emotional climax of the exhibition.

10 Outlook
What is battlefield archaeology? Where are there other interesting exhibitions?

Aerial archaeology allows a new perspective (Photograph: J. Wacker, BLDAM)

Archaeological excavations are bringing more and more evidence of past military conflict to light. A media station provides you with information about the methods used in the archaeological investigation of battlefields. Other sites dating to the period of the Thirty Years War are shown on a large map.