Møn is an island in south-eastern Denmark. Until 1 January 2007, it was a municipality in its own right but it is now part of the municipality of Vordingborg, after merging with the former municipalities of Langebæk, Præstø, and Vordingborg. This has created a municipality with an area of 615 km² and a total population of 46,307 (2005). It belongs to the Region Sjælland ("Zealand Region"). Møn is one of Denmark's most popular destinations for tourists with its imposing white chalk cliffs, beautiful countryside, sandy beaches and the inviting old market town of Stege.
There is evidence that people lived in Denmark more than 100,000 years ago, but the area became covered with ice during the last ice age. People returned to Møn about 10,000 years ago during the Upper Paleolithic era. At that time the island was part of mainland Europe.
During the Mesolithic era (6800-3900 BC) there is evidence from findings of small flint and bone tools that inhabitants of the island lived by hunting and fishing. The landscape was largely wooded, with hazel and increasingly oak and alder trees. From around 5400 BC reforestation was complete, forming an inaccessible forest and forcing out the last of the big animals such as aurochs and elk. Human habitations have been found along the eastern coast.
The Neolithic era, (3900-1700 BC) saw the start of cattle farming spreading inland from the coastal settlements. Flint axes were used, and trading occurred in flint, gold, copper and bronze. This era saw the start of barrow building for the dead, and settlements have been found at Rødkilde. Barrows became larger, longer and contained multiple burials. More than 100 large graves have been found on Møn. The period from 2400–1700 is known as Doltktiden, after the flint daggers which became common at that time. Bronze was also in use, imported from the south.
Around 2000 BC, a new wave of people arrived on Møn, the Stridsøksekulturen (the battleaxe people). They brought with them goats, sheep and horses, and their trademark stone battleaxes. They used simpler graves with small round mounds.
Bronze became more common, hence the period 1700-500 BC became the Bronze Age and flint ceased to be used for tools. Large round mounds were used for burial, and more than 200 of these have been found on Møn. Each mound covered a single grave, containing a coffin made from a single split and hollowed oak tree. From 1000-500 BC, graves became smaller and cremation began to be practiced. Graves were encircled by a ring of stones. Fewer items were buried with the dead, as a result of changes in society which made grave robbing more likely.
From 500 BC, iron began to be used in the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The climate became cooler and wetter, causing difficulties for agriculture. Few remains have been found from the period 500-0 BC, but Celtic culture became an influence.
The Roman Empire stopped short of Denmark, but from 0-400 AD in the Roman Iron Age there is evidence of imported Roman goods in silver, bronze and gold. Little has been found from the post-Roman Germanic Iron Age until about 800 AD. Two treasure hoards have been found on Møn from the Viking Age 800-1050.
Unification of Denmark
The last recorded independent ruler of the island of Møn was Hemming, son of Sigvard Snogøje (Sigvard Snake-eye) in the early 800s, who carried out raids on other territories. Møn itself was subject to raids, particularly Vendians from Rügen and Fehmarn.
From 900-1000 AD forests were steadily cleared and there was a profitable trade in corn with the Baltic countries. The relative wealth and large population of the island is indicated by the large number of churches built at that time. However, this wealth increased the likelihood of Vendian raids. This in turn led to the deliberate retention of some coastal forest areas as protection against raiders.
The castle of Stegeborg was begun around 1220 in timber, then rebuilt in brick by 1245, despite this being a relatively peaceful period. On the death of King Valdemar II in 1241, a dispute arose over the succession, which led to the island being raided by Lubeckers who took the part of one of the claimants, Knud Duke of Blekinge who was imprisoned by his brother Erik Plovpenning (king 1241-1250) in Stegeborg. The Lubeckers conquered Copenhagen, then Stege to release the Duke. These raids continued intermittently into the 16th century. The succession wars also led to further raids in 1260 when the island was seized by Prince Järmer of Rügen. The Germans gained rights to establish a trading outpost at Brøndhøj. A Norwegian, Alf Ellingsen, was also attracted by the island, defeating a defending fleet of 30 vessels to raid Møn and other islands during the reign of Erik Glipping (1259–1286). Glipping granted Stege a town charter, granting it sole rights to trade and tax certain commodities, which existed until 1857.
From the middle of the 12th to the mid-17th century Møn became a Danish crown property and was managed by a feudal lord. Its relative importance meant that appointments were made from the ranks of highest Danish nobility. The lord had responsibility for maintaining order and collecting taxes, hosting visits from royalty and important guests, and judging legal disputes. As a royal possession, the island was used as surety against loans made to the crown, and passed into various hands while debts remained unpaid. This gave the pledge holders the right to extract whatever revenue they could from the island while it remained pledged as security. Prince Witslav of Rügen held the island for 20 years from 1286, resulting in rebellions against him and further Norwegian raids
Herring fisheries, prosperity and decline
The island, and Stege in particular, prospered in the 14th century from the results of herring fishing, reaching the height of its wealth around 1500. It adopted a coat of arms including three herrings, and the town defences were strengthened. Around 1430 a rampart, wall and moat were created around the town by Eric VII. Three towers were created at each of the main approach roads, of which only Møllerporten still survives. However, the fortifications were no defence against fire, which at one point destroyed the greater part of the town, or against the plague.
In 1447, King Christopher III granted the town rights to trade outside Møn, within the remainder of Denmark. In 1450, Christian I forbade farmers to trade goods outside of Denmark, with the result that they sailed directly to Germany to sell their goods, bypassing the town of Stege, which was starved of goods and revenue. In 1476, the town received confirmation of its historic rights and, in 1481, a further law forbade foreigners trading with farmers on Møn. This was reaffirmed by King Hans in 1507.
In 1510, the Lubeckers attacked Møn in retaliation for the trade sanctions, failing to take Stege but destroying the island's second largest town, Borre. The trade war continued, and in 1524 Frederick I again felt the need to repeat the ban on trade on Møn anywhere except in the town of Stege. In 1533, Frederick died leading again to a dispute over the crown. The townspeople sided with the previously deposed Christian II, but the castle was in the hands of Christian III. As a result the castle was taken by deceit by townspeople and blown up. The four leaders were hanged, but the castle was not rebuilt. In 1538, Christian III once again repeated the trade ban, as the citizens of Stege still could not obtain sufficient food for the town.
At the start of the 16th century, around 2000 people lived in Stege. However, the herring fisheries were in decline and the town was taxed heavily to pay for continuing wars. Farmers began to sell goods to the harbour at Grønsund, and the island was again pledged against a debt. By 1582 Frederick II was obliged to cut taxes on the town and waive unpaid back taxes, as the town was effectively bankrupt. In 1583, trade with Germany was again banned. Christian IV granted land outside Stege to the town so that the inhabitants might grow food for themselves. In 1627, more land was granted.
The death of Christian IV in 1648 meant the end of the 30-year war, but his successor Frederick III commenced war against Sweden. Copenhagen was occupied and Swedes sought to invade Møn by walking across the ice from Zealand. This was prevented by the islanders, who maintained a three-mile long opening in the ice to stop the invasion force. However, in May 1659, 3,000 Swedes invaded from the island of Bogø against a force of 500 defenders. Stege was occupied, the town hall and 300 farms destroyed, the island looted and the harvest lost. At the end of the war, in 1660, the island's population was reduced to 670.
Frederick III introduced direct rule, replacing feudal regions with counties and attempted to restore the economy. However, in 1664 Møn was again pledged against loans, this time to a Dutchman Gabriel Marselis. In 1684, the pledge was redeemed, at which time Stege was half in ruins, almost all the forests had been cut down and many farms had been abandoned. In 1685, four battalions of cavalry were sent to the island and stationed at Marienborg. To build barracks at Marienborg, their commander Colonel Von Plessen demolished damaged buildings in Stege to re-use their stone, including the town wall and two of the gate towers. The third was converted into a prison. In 1696, the further depradation of the island was discovered by the authorities, and Plessen was himself imprisoned. All taxes on the island were cancelled for two years.
In 1703, an attempt was made to found a navigation school in Stege. This failed, but generally the Danish economy was beginning to recover from the long period of wars. In 1769, Crown property on Møn was sold which allowed farmers to buy their own land and wealthy individuals to create estates and begin to settle on the island. In 1774, a major fire destroyed 112 properties in the northern part of Stege, but by 1782 there were four distilleries in the town, and by 1807, 18.
In 1733, Christian VI introduced a law compelling peasants to remain on the estate where they were born until the age of 36. This was to provide a fixed work force, but also aid military conscription. The law was abolished in 1788 by the then regent, later to become Frederick VI
By 1789, the population of Stege had climbed to 791 with 7,000 people on the island. In 1797, Antione de Calmette was placed in charge of the county, and was, for once, a respected leader.
In 1857, the town trade monopoly was finally abolished.
At the start of the 1900s about 14,000 people lived on the island. This figure then fell, but stabilised in the 1970s.