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The Mars lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where it sank during a naval battle in 1564. Composite photograph by Tomasz Stachura, Ocean Discovery

New Finds at the Well-Preserved Wreck of the Formidable Warship Mars

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Mars, which is also known as Makalös (a Swedish word that may be translated as ‘peerless’ or ‘matchless’), was a 16th century warship. Named after the Roman god of war, Mars was one of the largest battleships in the world when it was built. This formidable warship served as the leader of the Swedish navy until it was sunk during its first naval engagement. Mars sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, and was only re-discovered in late 2011. Due to the conditions of the water, Mars was well-preserved, and is today regarded as the best preserved vessel of its kind.

Sweden’s Naval Power

In 1563, Mars was commissioned by the King of Sweden, Erik XIV. At that time, the king wanted to increase the naval power of Sweden, and this resulted in the construction of Mars, one of Europe’s first large, three-masted ships.

Eric XIV by Domenicus Verwilt.

Eric XIV by Domenicus Verwilt. (Public Domain)

Mars has been measured to be 48 m (157 ft.)  long, 13 m (42 ft.) wide, and had a weight of 1800 tons. The warship is estimated to have been able to carry a crew of up to 800 men.

The stern section of the Mars' wreck.

The stern section of the Mars' wreck. (Photo Thomasz Satachura)

In addition, Mars is also noted for the armaments it was carrying. The warship had 103 guns, 53 of which were cannons, whilst the rest were smaller guns. Others have proposed that Mars was carrying either 107 or 173 cannons of various sizes. In any event, these were spread out along the ship’s three decks and crow’s nest (the structure on the upper part of the main mast of a ship). Additionally, Mars was carrying an arsenal of incendiary grenades, round balls, chain shots, fire balls, and a huge amount of gunpowder.

In July 2018, new discoveries from the wreckage have been revealed during a press conference in Öland and have been reported by

"This year, we have come closer to the people aboard. We found more skeletal parts, including a femur with trauma around the knee which we believe to stem from a sharp-edged weapon," says maritime archaeologist Rolf Fabricius Warming, one of the researchers involved in the investigation.

"We also found large guns and a hand grenade. We can see from the wreckage that it was a very intense and tough battle. Between 800 and 1,000 men were on board. That is comparable to the population of an entire medium-sized town at the time. Most of them died in the explosion or when the ship sank into the watery depths," he says.

Swedish kings during that period were trying to consolidate their power, and one of their major obstacles was the Catholic Church. Thus, Swedish rulers, such as Erik, attempted to reduce the Church’s control. One of the measures taken by them was to confiscate their church bells for the purpose of turning them into cannons. According to a popular legend, it was the cannons which had once been church bells which sealed the warship Mars’ watery fate.

A drawing of Mars by Jacob Hägg.

A drawing of Mars by Jacob Hägg. (Public Domain)

Mars in Battle

In 1564, Mars was launched, and in the same year it participated in its first and last battle. In the previous year, the Northern Seven Years’ War, which was fought between Sweden and a coalition of Denmark-Norway, Lübeck and Poland, broke out. On May 29 in the following year, Sweden fought against Denmark-Norway and Lübeck at the first battle of Öland in the Baltic Sea.

Mars was commanded by the Swedish admiral, Jacob Bagges, and during the early stages of the battle, the Swedish navy seemed to have the upper hand. Led by Mars, the Swedes are recorded to have sunk 16 of the enemy’s ships. In addition to their ships, the coalition also lost 7000 men during this stage of the battle. It was during this time that Mars acquired its nickname, Makalös.

Copy of a miniature portrait of Jacob Bagges.

Copy of a miniature portrait of Jacob Bagges. (Public Domain)

The Ship’s Destruction

Although the coalition was routed during the first day of the battle, it rallied, and attacked the Swedish fleet again on the May 31, 1564. It is reported that the enemy ships were firing fireballs at Mars, which eventually disabled the warship. This allowed Sweden’s enemies to board the ship, perhaps with the intention of capturing it as a prize. Unfortunately, the warship’s gunpowder was ignited by the flames, creating a great amount of heat. The heat was reportedly so intense that it caused the loaded guns on board to explode, resulting in the ship’s sinking.

Mars laid at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for the next 447 years, before it was re-discovered by a group of divers in 2011. The ship was found to be very well preserved. Nevertheless, due to its age and fragility, it was decided not to raise it to the surface.

Instead, the team decided to focus on photographing and digitally scanning the wreck, with the intention of producing a 3D reconstruction. As of July 2014, it was reported that the reconstruction work was expected to be completed by the end of summer.        

Top image: The Mars lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where it sank during a naval battle in 1564. Composite photograph by Tomasz Stachura, Ocean Discovery

By Wu Mingren


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Melissa, 2015. Mars: The Matchless Warship That Sank During Its First Battle. [Online]
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Miller, L. I., 2014. Team to Complete Digital Reconstruction of Sunken Warship “Mars”. [Online]
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The Maritime Museum, 2016. Mars. [Online]
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The Wrecksite, 2016. Mars (Makalös) (+1564). [Online]
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Look what I found on Mars ..

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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