In November of 1632, the townspeople of Lützen, Germany, were stuck with a grim task: They had to bury some 9,000 soldiers who were left dead on a battlefield after a bloody fight during the Thirty Years’ War.Archaeologists recently undid some of that work.A few years ago, researchers uncovered a mass grave at the site of the Battle of Lützen.By analyzing the bones, they have now learned more about the violent lives and deaths of soldiers from this era.
The Thirty Years’ War was one of the bloodiest events in European history — deadlier than the Black Death and World War II, in terms of the proportion of the population lost. Fought between 1618 and 1648, the conflict started out as a struggle between Catholics and Protestants within the Holy Roman Empire. The brutal clashes touched much of central Europe, but most of the battles were fought in what is Germany today.Outside of the killing on the battlefields, famine and disease outbreaks devastated populations. Both sides in the conflict heavily relied on wealth-seeking foreign mercenaries (whose loyalties might change based on who was paying more), and occupying armies terrorized civilians in cities and villages.
One turning point in the war came when Sweden intervened in 1630, lending support to Protestant forces. Swedish King Gustav II Adolf led a series of victorious battles, until he was killed in a fight against General Albrecht von Wallenstein, commander of the Holy Roman Empire’s imperial troops, during the Battle of Lützen, just southwest of Leipzig, on Nov. 16, 1632.