The Battle of Lützen

47 skeletons in a mass grave - these are the only victims to date that have been recovered from one of the greatest and costliest battles of the Thirty-Years' War. They belong to the 6,500 casualties, who lost their lives at Lützen near Leipzig in 1632 - as well as the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus, the shining light of Protestantism. The first half of the exhibition is dedicated to their stories, as revealed by recent archaeological research.

Finds from the Lützen battlefield. Photo: LDA, Juraj Lipták.
Detail of the Lützen mass grave. Photo: LDA, Juraj Lipták

Lifted as a block of earth weighing several tons and prepared in the laboratory, the grave stands as an expressive anti-war memorial in the atrium of the State Museum. The excellently preserved and globally unparalleled feature offers - thanks to the latest analytical techniques - the unique opportunity to give each of the nameless dead once again a face and an identity. They tell of an army born out of hardship and hunger, an army of lame and wounded men, about which barely anything is to be found in history books.

Unforgotten, however, are the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus and the Imperial general Albrecht von Wallenstein, the two ablest commanders of their day who faced each other in the battle. They are the focus of the second room. The living conditions of the two prominent figures differed greatly from those of ordinary people and soldiers as illustrated by new archaeological finds from Central German field camps and devastated places.

Wallensteins' sword, Photo: LDA, Juraj Lipták.
King Gustavus Adolphus' hacking jacket from the Battle of Lützen (c) Livrustkammaren (Royal Armoury) Stockholm

The origins of war

Since when do we recognise "war"? Based on the Lützen findings we trace the origins of this phenomenon with archaeological methods. The second half of the exhibition is devoted to the decoding of these traces.

Are violence and aggression innermost parts of our nature? Traces on human skeletons of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers seem to testify to this. Armed conflicts in the broadest sense, can, however, only first be spoken of from the Neolithic period onwards, when we humans became sedentary and tied to land and house.

Over the next millennia, eventually a separate class of warriors emerged. They had a certain self-conception and were characterised by specialised weaponry. Military technology, strategy, and tactics, too, developed steadily while the suffering of people in war remains timeless.

Neolithic petroglyph of fighting archers from the Spanish Levante (after Perello 1963)
Flint arrowhead in the joint end of a right humerus from the Bronze Age battlefield in Tollense Valley, Photo: S. Suhr, LAKD M-V, Landesarchäologie