klaus stortebeker


Klaus Störtebeker (c. 1360 – 1401), was a leader and the best known representative of a companionship of privateers known as the Victual Brothers (German: Vitalienbrüder).

The Victual Brothers were originally hired during a war between Denmark and Sweden to fight the Danish and supply the besieged Swedish capital Stockholm with provisions. After the end of the war, the Victual Brothers continued to capture merchant vessels for their own account and named themselves “Likedeelers” (literally: equal sharers).

image1: Skull alleged to have belonged to Störtebeker, found in 1878 (x)

image2: Reconstruction of skull (x)

[Klaus] Stortebeker and seventy-one of his men were captured and taken to Hamberg to face trial … As he stood beside the executioner’s block he reputedly struck a deal - pardons would be granted to all of the crewmen he could walk past after his head was cut off. As legends goes, he managed to stagger past eleven of his shipmates before he fell - tripped up by the executioner.

- Angus Konstam, Pirates: The Complete History From 1300 BC To The Present Day

One of my favorite things about reading about pirates is that the movies can never match how hardcore the real deal is.

Obscure Legends: The German Pirate

Nikolaus Storzenbecher, or, as he was more commonly known as, Klaus Störtebeker, was the leader of a group of privateers known as The Victual Brothers.  The Victual Brothers were originally hired during a war between Denmark and Sweden to fight the Danish and supply the besieged Swedish capital Stockholm with provisions. After the end of the war, the Victual Brothers continued to capture merchant vessels for their own account and named themselves “Likedeelers”

Störtebeker is only a nickname, meaning “empty the mug with one gulp” in Old German. The moniker refers to the pirate’s supposed ability to empty a four-litre mug of beer in one gulp.

 According to some stories, Störtebeker’s ship had been disabled by a traitor who cast molten lead into the links of the chain which controlled the ship’s rudder. Störtebeker and his crew were ultimately overcome and brought to Hamburg, where they were tried for piracy. Legend says that Störtebeker offered a chain of gold long enough to enclose the whole of Hamburg in exchange for his life and freedom. However, Störtebeker and all of his 73 companions were sentenced to death and were beheaded. The most famous legend of Störtebeker relates to the execution itself. Störtebeker is said to have asked the mayor of Hamburg to release as many of his companions as he could walk past after being beheaded. Following the granting of this request and the subsequent beheading, Störtebeker’s body arose and walked past eleven of his men before the executioner tripped him with an out-stretched foot. Nevertheless, the eleven men were executed along with the others. The senate of Hamburg asked the executioner if he was not tired after all this, but he replied he could easily execute the whole of the senate as well. For this, he himself was sentenced to death and executed by the youngest member of the senate.

When dismantling Störtebeker’s ship, it was found the masts contained a core of gold (one of gold, one of silver, and one of copper). According to legend, this was used to create the tip of St. Catherine’s church in Hamburg.