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The warship Mars


Mars was built by master Hollinger (Holger) Olsson at Björkenäs ship yard just north of Kalmar and launched 1563. There are no exact dimensions of the vessel, but comparing her with other ships of the same period and other details such as crew size, armament, dimensions and quantity of certain equipment, her displacement is estimated at around 1,800 tons, the length from bow to the stern is about 50 meters and the width around 13-14 meters.

Ship type

The different types of large carvel-built vessels that were constructed during the 1500s in Sweden was often called caravel. The warships built around the middle of the century has probably been a sort of intermediary between the large ships such as "carrack" and what became galleons / line ship.

Carrack was a type of large ship that was developed during the 1400s and was originally intended for trading but with its high, straight castles fore and aft well suited for the type of infantry combat as practiced at sea.

Galleons was a later ship design with lower superstructure, and more suited for the artillery battle. In Sweden the term "carrack" or "galleon" was not used during this time. Carl Ekman, who examined the shipwreck Elephant in the 1930s, believed that Mars was probably the first ship “of the line" (galleon) built in Sweden.


A ship of Mars size during this time may well have had four masts. On a copper plate showing the Mar´s downfall the ship has four masts. Possibly the Mars was one of the first vessels in Sweden who were fitted with a third sail,  the “bramsail”. This is different from the few years older Elephant which only had two sails on the same mast. Mars may have had five or seven crow´s nest.


There is little known about color and sculptures on the ships during this time. Gustav Vasa wanted commissioned a stately elephant on the ship with the same name.  In English images from the 1500s the ships appear to be more painted then richly decorated with sculptures. In these images can also be seen colorful coats of arms along the side and there are reports that Swedish ships were equipped with these. It is likely that the crow´s nest and possibly parts of the rail was lined with a colorful fabric.


The crew of Mars amounted to about 670 persons, of whom about 350 were boatmen and the other for the most part soldiers. Most of the sailors and soldiers were enlisted. On board the ship was also the admiral, the old trustworthy Jacob Bagge.


Armament  could vary significantly from year to year, depending on availability and needs. Cannons were called simply called "shooter" and the different types went under a series of names, such kartoger , slangor (snakes) and falconets. Of these there were also classes, three forth kartoger, half kartoger and so on.

Mars was almost exclusively armed with muzzle-loading bronze cannons, but they also had rapid-fire, but less powerful breechloader iron guns on board. There are various data on the number of guns in Mars, one source tells 173 and another 107 pieces, including:

  • 2 pieces of 48-pounder
  • 2 pieces of 36-pounder
  • 9 pieces of 24-pounder
  • 10 pieces of 12-pounder
  • 4 pieces of 9-pounder
  • 20 pieces of 6-pounder
  • 6 pieces of 3-pounder
  • 4 pieces of stone boxes
  • 50 Falkoner / falconets (light cannon)

The guns where cast in Stockholm, but also in Kalmar. Cannon carriages are manufactured at Norrmalm, Stockholm and Kalmar.
On the English ship Mary Rose 1545, the big bronze cannons had "four roll boxes", ie, carriages with four wheels. Iron / chamber guns were in carriages with two wheels. On board the Mars, there were 53 "boxes" (carriages) of unknown type.
The building accounts of the ship Elephant from the same period mentioned installation of the "byssebänkar"  (shooting benches) which may have meant guns without wheeled carriages.


There were a variety of ammunition types on board in addition to round balls.  Chain shots where used to destroy the rig. The latter could also be used against the crew which also could face heavy hail from so-called scrap shots or canister shots. They also used the "fireworks", incendiary grenades,  and fire-balls (container filled with flammable material). 

Small arms

To fight the enemy before boarding, in addition to shooting scrap shots they made use of crossbows, bows, hook guns and muskets. For close combat axes and short spikes where the weapon of choice. There were different types of gunpowder, a faster burning “krönekrut” for muskets and a slower burning gunpowder for the cannons. 

Text Patrik Höglund Sjöhistoriska Museet