Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna and Palmanova

GARS is attending great 17th century festival in Palmanova, Italy next month. The Savolax infantry regiment did not, obviously, fight in the Uskok war of the 1615-1618 which the Rievocazione Storica di Palmanova re-enacts: so in the event we portray generic Northern European mercenaries on the service of the Venetian Republic. But there actually exists strong ties between Gustavus Adolphus’s Sweden and Venice, and at least one person that forms a link between fortress town of Palmanova and Savolax infantrymen: Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643).

During Thirty Years War kingdom of Sweden and the republic of Venice were allied, Venice providing diplomatic and financial support to Sweden and Protestant Union. Venice of course was catholic in faith, but like very often during that time, the religion was secondary issue to power politics. Sweden and Venice shared the same enemy, Hapsburg empire, and thus were on the same side of the conflict.

In 1621 King Gustavus chose 30-year old nobleman Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna to travel as his ambassador to Venice. Bengt was born to one of the highest ranking families in the kingdom but the reason he was picked for the job was that he already knew the republic well. In fact Bengt was already a veteran traveler at that time.

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna
Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643)

He had started his traveling hobby as a teenager studying in Rostock, first making trips to Germany and Poland, and then further south to Italy. He attempted visit to Holy Land already in 1613 but was forced to return to Tuscany because of a robbery. Few years later he made second, and this time successful trip to Orient, reaching Syria, Bagdad, Persia and Egypt.On his first trip to Italy (and the only part of his travels that we have his own written account of) Bengt Oxenstierna visited Palmanova in 1612. Here is his description of the fortress in his own words:

Ifrån Venedig och till Palma, huvudfästningen I Friul, äro 2 dagsresor, vilken fästning ligger uti ett slätt och eben land, och för den skull ser man henne långt bort, förty boluarderne och vallarne äro högt uppförda. Hon är alldeles regular och har 9 boluarder. Lorinus Florentinus har varit byggmästare därföre. Hon ligger ungefär 500 steg ifrån Österriks gebiet: två mil härifrån ligger det Österriks gränsfastning, som heter Gradisca; är tämlig fast.

Modern spelling by Sven Hedin. Same in english, translation by Konsta Nikkanen:

From Venice to Palma, main fortress in Friuli, was 2 days journey, where the fortress is situated in flat and plain land, so that she can be seen from far away, as the boulevards [bastions] and banks were built high. She is perfectly regular shape and has 9 boulevards. Lorinus Florentinus had been the construction master there. She is situated about 500 steps from Austria’s land: two miles from there is Austrian border fortress called Gradisca; which is quite sturdy.

Palmanovan kartta, 1500-1600 -luku

Later in his life Bengt Oxenstierna served as a governor of Augsburg in 1632-33: during that time several companies of Finnish infantry, first from Savolax and then from Viborg regiments (both under the Savolax colonel Kaspar Ermes) were stationed as garrison troops of Augsburg for short periods of time. So that’s our (only slightly forced) connection between Palmanova and our regiment!


During Thirty Years’ War thousands of silken flags were produced for Swedish army, but just a few of them survive: most of the surviving ones are those which enemy took in battle and brought home as trophies, to be shown in churches and palaces. Later, some of them ended up in museums. Researching flags of this period is based largely on paintings and written descriptions. We know for sure that swedish army didn’t have any single flag standard, as the flags were usually made in the regiments according to the tastes of the commanding officers and of which materials were available. Native Swedish regiments might have had slightly simpler flags than the continental mercenary regiments. There are no evidence of flag colours being systematically coordinated with the uniform colours or the provincial colours even though there might have been that kind of efforts or plans.

German monk Reginbaldus Möhner painted dozens of water-colour portraits of flags, belonging to Swedish regiments occupying and passing through Augsburg in 1634, for his chronicle. Amongst these paintings there are four flags of Kaspar Ermes’s Finnish (Savolax) infantry, which are company flags in all propability. Every one of the four flags have been reduced to mere rags hanging from a flagpole, with no hint of the pattern of the flag. Silken flags truly were not very durable in the battlefield and on the other hand new flags were often not issued until the regiment was reorganized: so in the long campaigns, many units were marching under tattered flags.

GARS uses blue and black flag with golden wreath painted on both sides and on the middle the Savolax coat of arms on the other and the king’s monogram on the other side. This is a speculative reconstruction made after Möhner’s paintings, general flag fashion of the period, other Swedish infantry flags and later period flags of Savolax infantry regiment.

Savolax infantry regiment

Savolax (Savo in modern finnish) is a province in southeastern Finland. Out of all Finnish infantry units the men of Savolax infantry regiment were most actively present in the key events of Swedish king’s German campaign. After the military reform of 1626 there was seven Finnish infantry regiments in Swedish army, all named after the province whose population they were drawn from. Not all these regiments were used in the German campaign (or at least it’s most active early phase) and many units served mostly as garrisons in Northern Germany, Prussia and Livonia. When Swedish field army marched far south to Bavaria and fought the big decisive battles, Finnish infantry was mainly represented by Savolax infantry who also are the ones being most often mentioned in contemporary sources. Men of Savolax regiment performed well especially in the battle of Rain (crossing the Lech river).

Five out of the eight companies in Savolax regiment were sent to Germany with the king. These companies were formed into a regiment under the command of colonel Klas Hastfer even though the Savolax regiment itself was still commanded by general Gustav Horn (who himself was acting as a Field Marshal of the Swedish army). Later the Hastfehr’s regiment was commanded by Lt.Col. Kaspar Ermes who was a veteran captain from Savolax regiment. Even though Swedish conscription system worked on a regional basis and every conscript regiment had a provincial identity, name and insignia, on field of war the regimets were still named after their leader: so Savolax regiment in Germany was usually called “Hastfer’s Finnish regiment” and later “Ermes’s Finnish Regiment”. Last men of Savolax reximent left Germany in 1649, after the peace treaty. Many of those who survived were then transferred to new wars against Poland and Denmark.

It is safe to assume that Savolax was equipped as other native Swedish infantry units. Savolax regiment is the only Finnish infantry unit from the period that we have a reasonably trustworthy, even though only partial, source for a flag. German monk Reginbaldus Möhner painted flags of Swedish forces occupying Augsburg in 1634 and amongst these paintings there are four flags -shown as mere rags- of Kaspar Ermes’s Finnish infantry.

Finnish infantry and 30 Years War

Thirty Years’ War was fought in Central Europe from year 1618 to 1648. Sweden joined the war properly in 1630 and Swedish forces remained in Germany to the end of the war. The whole reign of Gustavus Adolphus, from 1611, had been time of almost constant war: Sweden fought against Russia in Ingria (1611-1617), against Poland in Livonia (1617-1618 and 1621-1626) and in Prussia (1626-1629) and several times against Denmark. After the death of Gustavus Adolphus and towards the end of the German war, wars against old enemies Poland and Denmark started again. State of war was effectively the normal state of things, short periods of peace were spent getting ready for the next war.

Whole area of modern Finland belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden during the 17th century and Finnish troops were well represented in Swedish military. Finnish cavalry (“Hackapelites”) and their exploits in German War are well known especially amongst Finns, and have a somewhat mythical reputation thanks to 19th and 20th century writers. In reality, much bigger number of Finns fought in infantry. While cavalrymen were volunteers (drawn mostly among the sons and servants of welthier farmers, with tax exemption and freedom from feared conscription as motive of volunteering) native Swedish and Finnish infantry were conscripts, drawn from the peasant class.

During the early-17th century wars against Poland and Russia a very large proportion of Swedish army had been Finnish in origin, but in Thirty Years War the Swedish field army was actually mostly comprised of foreign (German, Scots, etc.) mercenaries: native Swedes and Finns were a minority. Often concripted troops were also given tasks in guarding and garrisoning the North-German towns and castles and saw less action in battlefield than mercenaries. Nevertheless, a small number of Finnish infantrymen were present in most of the famous battles of Thirty Years War, like Breitenfeld and Lützen.

GARS mainly re-enacts Finnish infantry from Savolax infantry regiment during the German campaign of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1630-1632) but our equipment can mostly be used also in a larger timeframe from the beginning of the Livonian war in 1621 to the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648.