The Gotlanders are the population of the island of Gotland. In Swedish, they are also called Gutar an ethnonym identical to Goths (Gutans), and both names were originally Proto-Germanic *Gutaniz. Their language is called Gutnish (Gutniska).
The oldest history of the Gutar is retold in the Gutasaga. According to legend they descended from a man named Þjelvar who was the first to discover Gotland. Þjelvar had a son named Hafþi who wedded a fair maiden named Hvitastjerna. These two were the first to settle on Gotland. Hafþi and Hvitastjerna later had three children, Guti, Graipr and Gunfjaun. After the death of their parents, the brothers divided Gotland into three parts and each took one, but Guti remained the highest chieftain and gave his name to the land and its people.
In Modern Swedish language, there are two words for a Gotlander: gotlänning and gute. All inhabitants of Gotland, regardless of their birth status, are gotlänning (pl. gotlänningar), but one is called gute (pl. gutar) if he or she and three generations back on both sides (e.g. father, his parents and their parents) are born on the island.
It is also related that because of overpopulation one third of the Gutar had to emigrate and settle in southern Europe. Some historians have argued[who?] that this tale might be a reminiscensce of the migration of the Goths.
The name of the Gotlanders in Old West Norse is Gotar, which is same as that used for the Goths. Likewise the Old East Norse term for both Goths and Gotlanders seems to have been Gutar. Only the Goths and Gotlanders bear this name among all the Germanic tribes. The fact that the ethnonym is identical to Goth may be the reason why they are not mentioned as a special group until Jordanes' Getica, where they may be those who are called Vagoths (see Scandza). However Ptolemy mentions the Goutai as living in the south of the island of Skandia, who could be identical to the Gutar, since the "ou"-sound in Ancient Greek corresponds to the Latin and Germanic "u".
Certain linguists[who?] point out that there are similarities between Gothic and Gutnish that are not found elsewhere in the Germanic languages. One example of this is the use of the word lamb for both young and adult sheep, which is only seen in Gutnish and Gothic.
Before the 7th century, the Gutar made a trade and defence agreement with Swedish kings, according to the Gutasaga. This seems to have been due to Swedish military aggression. Although the Gutar were victorious in these battles, they eventually found it more beneficial (as a nation of traders) to try and negotiate a peace-treaty with the Swedes.
It gives Awair Strabain as the man who arranged the mutually beneficial agreement with the King of Sweden, and the event would have taken place before the end of the 9th century, when Wulfstan of Hedeby reported that the island was subject to the Swedes.
Because of Gotland's central position in the Baltic Sea, from early on the Gutar became a nation of traders and merchants. The amount of silver treasures that have been found in Gotlandic soil during the Viking Age, surpasses that of all the other Swedish provinces counted together, which tells of a traders' nation of undisputable rank among the Norse nations. The Gutar were the leading tradesmen in the Baltic sea, until the rise of the Hanseatic League.
The Gutar were both yeomen farmers and travelling merchants at the same time, so called farmenn. This was an exceptionally dangerous occupation during the Middle Ages, since the Baltic Sea was full of pirates. The Gutnish farmenn always had be ready for battle. The division and organisation of the early Gutnish society shows a nation constantly ready for war. The "Ram" seems to have been an early symbol for the Gutar, and is still seen on the Gotlandic coat of arms.