Stolen skull of 14th century German pirate recovered

Hamburg Museum director Lisa Kosok with the alleged skull of pirate Klaus StoertebekerOn January 9th, 2010, thieves stole the alleged skull of medieval pirate Klaus Störtebeker from a display cabinet in the Hamburg Museum. The skull, still sporting the spike it was impaled on as a deterrent to any other would-be pirates, was one of the museum’s prized possessions. They offered a reward for information leading to its recovery and the Hamburg police investigated the theft for a year without success, reportedly following up on 67 leads.

Finally they hit the jackpot with the 68th. A middleman who is not a focus of the investigation handed over the skull-n-spike to the police earlier this week. The details are being kept nebulous intentionally because the investigation is still ongoing. On Thursday the police delivered it to delighted museum officials.

Next weekend, March 26-27, the museum will celebrate his return with a party. Admission will be free and Störtebeker experts will be available for guided tours. After the party the skull will be moved back to its original location now protected with a new alarm system and security guards. The cultural ministry gave the museum an additional €100,000 (about $140,000) to beef up their security measures, which were sorely needed since the display case that held the skull when it was stolen was protected only by a simple lock.

Although museum director Lisa Kosok considers the skull “Hamburg’s Mona Lisa,” it actually has never been fully authenticated as the skull of Klaus Störtebeker. It was found in 1878 on an island in the Elbe River during construction, the same island where Störtebeker and 30 of his crew were beheaded in 1400. The skull has been radiocarbon dated to the late 14th, early 15th century, so it certainly could be his.

Störtebeker (not his real name; it’s a nom de guerre meaning “empty the mug with one gulp,” apparently a reference to his legendary hollow-legged ability to swallow a four-liter pitcher of beer in one gulp) was a privateer initially hired to fight Danish ships and run supplies to Sweden. He and his comrades were known as the Victual Brothers. After the war, they decided to stay in business, only for themselves this time. Finally the Hanseatic League struck back, sending a fleet to capture Störtebeker and his cronies.

Centuries later he would be seen as something of a popular Robin Hood-like hero figure for his fight against the big-money Hanseatic League.

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11 Comments »

Comment by Byzantine Philology
2011-03-19 10:22:49

i like, the guy must have really looked like Mona Lisa…

 
Comment by edahstip
2011-03-19 10:35:53

:skull: :boogie: :skull:

Privateering was one of the major routes to piracy, just as being a mercenary was to brigandage. Many individual instances of piracy occurred due to mutinies, major outbreaks usually coincided with the ends of wars. The privateers already had a trade and the tools to pursue it, but now they had to find their own goals. Of course, even in times of war, many privateers weren’t that choosy about their targets.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-19 14:27:11

Sadly there are no contemporary portraits of him, so we’ll never know if he had a mysterious smile.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-19 14:28:47

Much like knights, for that matter, who despite chivalric myths were well-known for marauding the countryside on their downtime.

 
Comment by edahstip
2011-03-19 14:35:07

I’ve read that finding something to do for all the bored knights was a major reason for the Crusades. The Popes felt that if they were going to be roaming around killing someone, it might as well be people who didn’t acknowledge Rome…

Any idea on why threading is broken in the comments?

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-19 15:12:22

Upgrade fallout. The new version of WordPress has native threading. Unfortunately this clunky old theme doesn’t support the new threading and the plug-in I was using has stopped working.

I’m working on a major revamp with a new theme and everything, so this sorry condition won’t last long.

 
Comment by edahstip
2011-03-19 15:41:06

Ok, I like to tease you about such things, but the truth is the ‘theme’ here is very good, aesthetically speaking. I hope you don’t have to change it.

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-19 15:54:43

I do. I like the way it looks too, but it’s old and limited and buggy. It’s gotta go, and the replacement will be significantly different.

 
Comment by edahstip
 
Comment by tlh
2011-03-20 14:23:05

I guess this guy was a gold medalist of the “Egil Skallagrimson Drink Til You Spew” Olympics. :yes:

 
Comment by livius drusus
2011-03-20 15:07:47

:lol: Now that’s a claim to fame right there.

 
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