Hanseatic League

views updated May 11 2018


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

views updated May 18 2018

Hanseatic League. The league was a trading alliance which, at its height, included 200 towns, of which the most important were Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Cologne, and Danzig. Founded in the 13th cent., it survived until the 17th and exercised great naval and diplomatic, as well as economic, power. The German word hanse meant a guild or company. Its London base, the Steelyard, was just west of London bridge, until closed by Elizabeth I in 1598. Other kontore were at Bergen, Novgorod, and Bruges. There was a vigorous trade with Scotland and the east coast ports: Boston imported furs and timber and exported cloth, and a Hanseatic warehouse survives at King's Lynn. The decline of the Hanse in the 16th cent. was caused partly by internal rivalries, by the growth in power of Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, and by strong economic competition from the Dutch.

J. A. Cannon

Hanseatic League

views updated May 21 2018

Hanseatic League Commercial union formed in 1241 by c.160 n German cities (Hanse towns), including Bremen, Cologne, Hamburg, and Lübeck. The League protected its merchants by controlling the trade routes from the Baltic region to the Atlantic. It began to decline in the late 15th century, with the opening up of the New World and aggressive trading by the British and Dutch.

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