The Hanseatic League was an association of north European towns that dominated trade from London in the west to Flanders, Scandinavia, Germanic Baltic towns, and Novgorod in the east. There is no precise date for the beginning of the Hansa, but during the twelfth century German merchants established a commercial center at Visby on the island of Gotland, and by the early thirteenth century founded Riga, Reval (Tallinn), Danzig (Gdansk), and Dorpat (Tartu).
German and Scandinavian merchants established the Gothic Yard (Gotsky dvor ) and the Church of St. Olaf on Novgorod's Trading Side. Toward the end of the twelfth century, Lübeck built the German Yard (Nemestsky dvor, or Peterhof for the Church of St. Peter) near the Gothic Yard. At the same time Novgorodian merchants frequented Visby, Sweden, Denmark, and Lübeck.
During the thirteenth century Lübeck gradually replaced Visby as the commercial center of the League, and during the fourteenth century the Gothic Yard became attached to Peterhof. In 1265 the north German towns accepted the "law of Lübeck" and agreed for the common defense of the towns. The League's primary concern was to ensure open sea-lanes and the safety of its ships from piracy. In addition to Novgorod, the League founded counters or factories in Bruges, London, and Bergen. At its height between the 1350s and 1370s, the League consisted of seventy or more towns; perhaps thirty additional towns were loosely associated with the Hansa. The cities met irregularly in a diet (or Hansetage ) but never developed a central political body or common navy. The League could threaten to exclude recalcitrant towns from its trade.
A Novgorod-Hansa agreement of 1269 laid the basic structure of commercial relations. German and Scandinavian merchants from Lübeck, Reval, Riga, and Dorpat traveled twice per year, in summer and winter, to Novgorod. German merchants were under their own jurisdiction within Peterhof, but disputes involving Novgorodians fell to a joint court that included the mayor and chiliarch (military commander). During the thirteenth century the German Yard elected its own aldermen, but during the fourteenth century Lübeck and Visby chose the aldermen. During the fifteenth century the Livonian towns selected a permanent official who resided in Novgorod.
Novgorod supplied the Hansa with furs, wax, and honey, and received silver ingots (the source of much of medieval Rus's silver), as well as Flemish cloth, salt, herring, other manufactured goods, and occasionally grain. In 1369 the League imposed duties on its silver exports to Novgorod; in 1373 it halted silver exports for two years, and in 1388 for four years. Novgorod turned to the Teutonic Order for silver, but exports stopped after 1427. During the 1440s war broke out between Novgorod and the Teutonic Order and the League, closing the German Yard from 1443 to 1448.
Novgorod's fur trade declined in the second half of the fifteenth century. After conquering Novgorod in 1478, Moscow closed the German Yard in 1494. The Yard reopened in 1514, but Moscow developed alternative trading routes through Ivangorod, Pskov, Narva, Dorpat, and Smolensk. During the sixteenth century Dutch and English traders further undermined the League's commercial monopolies. In 1555 the English obtained duty-free privileges to trade manufactured goods for Russian furs.
See also: foreign trade; germany, relations with; novgorod the great
Dollinger, Philippe. (1970). The German Hansa, tr. D. S. Ault. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Lawrence N. Langer
Hanseatic League (hăn´sēăt´Ĭk, hăn´zē–), mercantile league of medieval German towns. It was amorphous in character; its origin cannot be dated exactly. Originally a Hansa was a company of merchants trading with foreign lands. After the German push eastward and the settlement of German towns in the Slavic lands of the Baltic, the merchant guilds and town associations led (13th cent.) to leagues. Most notable was the company of German merchants with headquarters at Visby; pushing east, they founded a branch at Novgorod. In London, where German merchants had traded since the 11th cent., the privileges granted to Cologne merchants were extended to other Germans, and a Hansa of German merchants was formed (see Steelyard, Merchants of the). A major impetus to the league's development was the lack of a powerful German national government to provide security for trade. In order to obtain mutual security, exclusive trading rights, and, wherever possible, trade monopoly, the towns drew closer together. In 1241 Lübeck and Hamburg concluded a treaty of mutual protection. Other cities joined this association, and a strong league grew up led by Lübeck. Ports and inland towns from Holland to Poland entered the league, but the north German cities remained the principal members. The league vigorously extended its operations, founding principal foreign branches at Bruges and Bergen. The Hansa towns reached their summit in their victories over Waldemar IV of Denmark, gaining in the Treaty of Stralsund (1370) a virtual trade monopoly in Scandinavia. Their Baltic hegemony continued through numerous wars until their defeat by the Dutch in 1441. Despite its success, the league suffered from lack of organization. Although assemblies of the league met irregularly at Lübeck, many towns did not send representatives, and decisions were subject to review by the individual towns. The number of members fluctuated, probably from less than 100 to over 160. By the 16th cent. internal dissension, curtailment of freedom by the German princes, growth of centralized foreign states and consequent loss of Hanseatic privileges, advances of Dutch and English shipping, and various changes in trade all operated against the league. The last diet was held in 1669, but the league was never formally dissolved. Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen are still known as Hanseatic cities.
See P. Dollinger, The German Hansa (tr. 1970).
J. A. Cannon