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Northern Europe in 1400, showing the extent of the Hansa
aerial photography of Lübeck; the "Queen of the Hanse"

The Hanseatic League (also known as the Hanse or Hansa) was an economic alliance of trading cities and their guilds that established and maintained a trade monopoly along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland, during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c.13th–17th centuries). The Hanseatic cities had their own law system and furnished their own protection and mutual aid, thus having a sort of a political autonomy and in some cases creating political entities of their own.



Historians generally trace the origins of the League to the rebuilding of the North German town of Lübeck in 1159 by Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony, after Henry had captured the area from Count Adolf II of Holstein.

Exploratory trading adventures, raids and piracy had happened earlier throughout the Baltic (see Vikings)—the sailors of Gotland sailed up rivers as far away as Novgorod, for example—but the scale of international trade economy in the Baltic area remained insignificant before the growth of the Hanseatic League.

German cities achieved domination of trade in the Baltic with striking speed over the next (i.e. 13th) century, and Lübeck became a central node in all the seaborne trade that linked the areas around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The 15th century saw the climax of Lübeck's hegemony.


Foundation and formation

Hanseatic League's foundation in Hamburg, Germany (circa 1241)

Lübeck became a base for merchants from Saxony and Westphalia to spread east and north. Well before the term Hanse appeared in a document (1267), merchants in a given city began to form guilds or Hansa with the intention of trading with towns overseas, especially in the less-developed eastern Baltic area, a source of timber, wax, amber, resins, furs, even rye and wheat brought down on barges from the hinterland to port markets. The towns furnished their own protection armies and each guild had to furnish a number of members into service, when needed. The trade ships often had to be used to carry soldiers and their arms. The Hanseatic cities came to each other's aid.

Visby functioned as the leading centre in the Baltic before the Hansa. For 100 years the Germans sailed under the Gotlandic flag to Novgorod. Sailing east, Visby merchants established a branch at Novgorod. To begin with the Germans used the Gotlandic Gutagard. With the influx of too many merchants, the Gotlanders arranged their own trading stations for the German Peterhof further up from the river.[1] Before the foundation of the Hanseatic league in 1356 the word Hanse did not occur in the Baltic. The Gotlanders used the word varjag.

Hansa societies worked to remove restrictions to trade for their members. For example, the merchants of the Cologne Hansa convinced Henry II of England to free them (1157) from all tolls in London and allow them to trade at fairs throughout England. The "Queen of the Hansa", Lübeck, where traders trans-shipped goods between the North Sea and the Baltic, gained the Imperial privilege of becoming a Free imperial city in 1227, the only such city east of the River Elbe.

In 1241, Lübeck, which had access to the Baltic and North Sea fishing grounds, formed an alliance — a foundation of the League — with Hamburg, another trading city, which controlled access to salt-trade routes from Lüneburg. The allied cities gained control over most of the salt-fish trade, especially the Scania Market; and Cologne joined them in the Diet of 1260. In 1266, Henry III of England granted the Lübeck and Hamburg Hansa a charter for operations in England, and the Cologne Hansa joined them in 1282 to form the most powerful Hanseatic colony in London. Much of the drive for this co-operation came from the fragmented nature of existing territorial government, which failed to provide security for trade. Over the next 50 years the Hansa itself emerged with formal agreements for confederation and co-operation covering the west and east trade routes. The chief city and linchpin remained Lübeck; with the first general Diet of the Hansa held there in 1356, the Hanseatic League acquired an official structure.[2]


Main trading routes of the Hanseatic League

Lübeck's location on the Baltic provided access for trade with Scandinavia and Kiev Rus, putting it in direct competition with the Scandinavians who had previously controlled most of the Baltic trade routes. A treaty with the Visby Hansa put an end to competition: through this treaty the Lübeck merchants also gained access to the inland Russian port of Novgorod, where they built a trading post or Kontor. Other such alliances formed throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Yet the League never became a closely-managed formal organisation. Assemblies of the Hanseatic towns met irregularly in Lübeck for a Hansetag (‘Hanseatic Day’), from 1356 onwards, but many towns chose not to send representatives and decisions were not binding on individual cities.[citation needed] Over time, the network of alliances grew to include a flexible roster of 70 to 170 cities.[3]

The league succeeded in establishing additional Kontors in Bruges (Flanders), Bergen (Norway), and London (Kingdom of England). These trading posts became significant enclaves. The London Kontor, established in 1320, stood west of London Bridge near Upper Thames Street. (Cannon Street station occupies the site now.) It grew significantly over time into a walled community with its own warehouses, weighhouse, church, offices and houses, reflecting the importance and scale of the activity carried on. The first reference to it as the Steelyard (der Stahlhof) occurs in 1422.

In addition to the major Kontors, individual Hanseatic ports had a representative merchant and warehouse. In England this happened in Boston, Bristol, Bishop's Lynn (now King's Lynn, which features the sole remaining Hanseatic warehouse in England), Hull, Ipswich, Norwich, Yarmouth (now Great Yarmouth), and York.

Town Hall of Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia).

The League primarily traded timber, furs, resin (or tar), flax, honey, wheat, and rye from the east to Flanders and England with cloth (and, increasingly, manufactured goods) going in the other direction. Metal ore (principally copper and iron) and herring came southwards from Sweden.

German colonists in the 12th and 13th centuries founded numerous cities on and near the east Baltic coast, such as Elbing (Elbląg), Thorn (Toruń), Reval (Tallinn), Riga, and Dorpat (Tartu), which became members of the Hanseatic League, and some of which still retain many Hansa buildings and bear the style of their Hanseatic days. Most were founded under Lübeck law (Lübisches Recht), which provided that they had to appeal in all legal matters to Lübeck's city council. The Livonian Confederation incorporated parts of modern-day Estonia and Latvia and had its own Hanseatic parliament (diet); all of its major towns became members of the Hanseatic League. The dominant language of trade was Middle Low German, a dialect with significant impact for countries involved in the trade, particularly the larger Scandinavian languages.


The League had a fluid structure, but its members shared some characteristics. First, most of the Hansa cities either started as independent cities or gained independence through the collective bargaining power of the League, though such independence remained limited. The Hanseatic free imperial cities owed allegiance directly to the Holy Roman Emperor, without any intermediate tie to the local nobility.

Georg Giese from Danzig, 34 year old German Hanseatic merchant at the Steelyard, painted in London by Hans Holbein

Another similarity involved the cities' strategic locations along trade routes. In fact, at the height of its power in the late 1300s, the merchants of the Hanseatic League succeeded in using their economic clout and sometimes their military might—trade routes needed protecting and the League's ships sailed well-armed—to influence imperial policy.

The League also wielded power abroad. Between 1361 and 1370, the League waged war against Denmark. Initially unsuccessful, Hanseatic towns in 1368 allied in the Confederation of Cologne, sacked Copenhagen and Helsingborg, and forced King Valdemar IV of Denmark and his son-in-law Hakon VI of Norway to grant the League 15% of the profits from Danish trade in the subsequent peace-treaty of Stralsund in 1370, thus gaining an effective trade and political monopoly in Scandinavia. This favourable treaty was the high-water mark of Hanseatic power. The commercial privileges were renewed in the Treaty of Vordingborg, 1435.[4][5][6]

The Hansa also waged a vigorous campaign against pirates. Between 1392 and 1440, maritime trade of the League faced danger from raids of the Victual Brothers and their descendants, privateers hired in 1392 by Albert of Mecklenburg against the Queen Margaret I of Denmark. In the Dutch-Hanseatic War (1438—41), the merchants of Amsterdam sought and eventually won free access to the Baltic and broke the Hansa monopoly. As an essential part of protecting their investment in trade and ships, the League trained pilots and erected lighthouses.

Exclusive trade routes often came at a high price. Most foreign cities confined the Hansa traders to certain trading areas and to their own trading posts. They could seldom, if ever, interact with the local inhabitants, except in the matter of actual negotiation. Moreover, many people, merchant and noble alike, envied the power of the League. For example, in London the local merchants exerted continuing pressure for the revocation of the privileges of the League. The refusal of the Hansa to offer reciprocal arrangements to their English counterparts exacerbated the tension. King Edward IV of England reconfirmed the league's privileges in the Treaty of Utrecht (1474) despite this hostility, in part thanks to the significant financial contribution the League made to the Yorkist side during The Wars of the Roses. A century later, in 1597, Queen Elizabeth I of England expelled the League from London and the Steelyard closed the following year. The very existence of the League and its privileges and monopolies created economic and social tensions that often crept over into rivalry between League members.

Rise of rival powers

The economic crises of the late 14th century did not spare the Hansa. Nevertheless, its eventual rivals emerged in the form of the territorial states, whether new or revived, and not just in the west: Poland triumphed over the Teutonic Knights in 1466; Ivan III of Russia ended the entrepreneurial independence of Novgorod in 1478. New vehicles of credit imported from Italy outpaced the Hansa economy, in which silver coin changed hands rather than bills of exchange.

In the 14th century, tensions between Prussian region and the "Wendish" cities (Lübeck and eastern neighbours) rose. Lübeck was dependent on its role as centre of the Hansa, being on the shore of the sea without a major river. It was on the entrance of the land route to Hamburg, but this land route could be bypassed by sea travel around Denmark and through the Sound. Prussia's main interest, on the other hand, was primarily the export of bulk products like grain and timber, which were very important for England, the Low Countries, and later on also for Spain and Italy.

In 1454, the year of Elisabeth Habsburg's marriage to the Jagiellonian king, the towns of the Prussian Confederation rose against the dominance of the Teutonic Order and asked king Casimir IV of Poland for help. Danzig, Thorn, and Elbing came under the protection of the Kingdom of Poland, (1466–1569 referred to as Royal Prussia) by the Second Peace of Thorn (1466). Polish-Lithuania in turn was heavily supported by the Holy Roman Empire through family connections and by military assistance under the Habsburgs. Kraków, then the capital of Poland, was also a Hansa city with German burghers around 1500. The lack of customs borders on the River Vistula after 1466 helped to gradually increase Polish grain export, transported to the sea down the Vistula, from 10,000 tonnes per year in the late 15th century to over 200,000 tonnes in the 17th century.[7] The Hansa-dominated maritime grain trade made Poland one of the main areas of its activity, helping Danzig to become the Hansa's largest city.

The old and rich port city of Danzig (Gdańsk). View of the Krantor (crane gate)

The member cities took responsibility for their own protection. Polish attempts at subjugating Danzig had to be fought off repeatedly. In 1567 a Hanseatic League Agreement reconfirmed previous obligations and rights of League members, such as common protection and defense against enemies.[8] The Prussian Quartier cities of Thorn, Elbing, Königsberg and Riga and Dorpat also signed. When pressed by the king of Poland-Lithuania, Danzig remained neutral and would not allow ships running for Poland into its territory. They had to anchor somewhere else, such as at Pautzke (now Puck, Poland).

A major benefit for the Hansa was its domination of the shipbuilding market, mainly in Lübeck and in Danzig. The Hansa sold ships everywhere in Europe, including Italy. They had excluded the Hollanders, because Holland wanted to favour Bruges as a huge staple market at the end of a trade route. When the Hollanders started to become competitors of the Hansa in shipbuilding, the Hansa tried to stop the flow of shipbuilding technology from Hansa towns to Holland. Danzig, a trading partner of Amsterdam, tried to stall the decision. Dutch ships sailed to Danzig to take grain from the Prussians directly, to the dismay of Lübeck. Hollanders also circumvented the Hansa towns by trading directly with North German princes in non-Hansa towns. Dutch freight costs were much lower than those of the Hansa, and the Hansa were excluded as middlemen.

When Bruges, Antwerp and Holland all became part of the same country, the Duchy of Burgundy, it actively tried to take over the monopoly of trade from the Hansa, and the staple market from Bruges was moved to Amsterdam. The Dutch merchants aggressively challenged the Hansa and met with much success. Hanseatic cities in Prussia, Livonia supported the Dutch against the core cities of the Hansa in northern Germany. After several naval wars between Burgundy and the Hanseatic fleets, Amsterdam gained the position of leading port for Polish and Baltic grain from the late 15th century onwards. The Dutch regarded Amsterdam's grain trade as the mother of all trades (Moedernegotie). Denmark and England tried to destroy the Netherlands in the First Navigation War (1652–1654).[9] The war ended in a truce, but the Anglo-Dutch rivalry continued.[9] A Second Dutch Navigation War (1665–1667) broke out which also ended inconclusively.[10] Later, there was a Third Navigation War (1672–1674), which also resulted in another failed attempt to destroy Holland.[11]

Hanseatic museum in Bergen (Norway)

Nuremberg in Franconia developed an overland route to sell formerly Hansa-monopolized products from Frankfurt via Nuremberg and Leipzig to Poland and Russia, trading Flemish cloth and French wine in exchange for grain and furs from the east. The Hansa profited from the Nuremberg trade by allowing Nurembergers to settle in Hansa towns, which the Franconians exploited by taking over trade with Sweden as well. The Nuremberger merchant Albrecht Moldenhauer was influential in developing the trade with Sweden and Norway, and his sons Wolf and Burghard established themselves in Bergen and Stockholm, becoming leaders of the Hanseatic activities locally.

End of the Hansa

At the start of the 16th century the League found itself in a weaker position than it had known for many years. The rising Swedish Empire had taken control of much of the Baltic. Denmark had regained control over its own trade, the Kontor in Novgorod had closed, and the Kontor in Bruges had become effectively defunct. The individual cities which made up the League had also started to put self-interest before their common Hansa interests. Finally the political authority of the German princes had started to grow—and so constrain the independence of action which the merchants and Hanseatic towns had enjoyed.

Heinrich Sudermann

The League attempted to deal with some of these issues. It created the post of Syndic in 1556 and elected Heinrich Sudermann as a permanent official with legal training, who worked to protect and extend the diplomatic agreements of the member towns. In 1557 and 1579 revised agreements spelled out the duties of towns and some progress was made. The Bruges Kontor moved to Antwerp and the Hansa attempted to pioneer new routes. However, the League proved unable to halt the progress around it and so a long decline commenced. The Antwerp Kontor closed in 1593, followed by the London Kontor in 1598. The Bergen Kontor continued until 1754; its buildings alone of all the Kontoren survive (see Bryggen).

The gigantic Adler von Lübeck warship, which was constructed for military use against Sweden during the Northern Seven Years' War (1563–70), but never put to military use, epitomized the vain attempts of Lübeck to uphold its long-privileged commercial position in a changed economic and political climate.

By the late 16th century the League had imploded and could no longer deal with its own internal struggles, the social and political changes that accompanied the Protestant Reformation, the rise of Dutch and English merchants, and the incursion of the Ottoman Empire upon its trade routes and upon the Holy Roman Empire itself. Only nine members attended the last formal meeting in 1669 and only three (Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen) remained as members until its final demise in 1862.[citation needed]

Modern, faithful painting of the Adler von Lübeck, the world's largest ship at its time

Despite its collapse, several cities still maintain the link to the Hanseatic League today. The Dutch cities of Deventer, Kampen, Zutphen, and the nine German cities Bremen, Demmin, Greifswald, Hamburg, Lübeck, Lüneburg, Rostock, Stralsund and Wismar still call themselves Hanse cities. Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen continue to style themselves officially as "Free (and) Hanseatic Cities." (Rostock's football team is named F.C. Hansa Rostock in memory of the city's trading past.) For Lübeck in particular, this anachronistic tie to a glorious past remained especially important in the 20th century. In 1937 the Nazi Party removed this privilege through the Greater Hamburg Act after the Senat of Lübeck did not permit Adolf Hitler to speak in Lübeck during his election campaign.[12] He held the speech in Bad Schwartau, a small village on the outskirts of Lübeck. Subsequently, he referred to Lübeck as "the small city close to Bad Schwartau." After the EU enlargement to the East in May 2004 there are some experts who wrote about the resurrection of the Baltic Hansa [13].

Historical maps

Lists of former Hansa cities

Members of the Hanseatic League

Cities of the Wendish and Pommeranian Circle

Wendish Circle

Saxony, Thuringia, Brandenburg Circle

Poland, Prussia, Livonia, Sweden Circle

Rhine, Westphalia, the Netherlands Circle

Counting houses

Principal Kontore

Bryggen in Bergen, Norway

Subsidiary Kontore

The Hanseatic Warehouse in King's Lynn is the only surviving Hanseatic League building in England
Kontor in Antwerp

Other cities with a Hansa community

Modern "City League The HANSE"

In 1980, former Hanseatic League members established a "new Hanse" in Zwolle, the "City League The HANSE". This league is open to all former Hanseatic League members and cities that once hosted a Hanseatic kontor. The latter include twelve Russian cities, most notably Novgorod, which was a major Russian trade partner of the Hansa in the Middle Ages. The "new Hanse" fosters and develops business links, tourism and cultural exchange.[14]

The headquarters of the New Hansa is in Lübeck, Germany. The current President of the Hanseatic League of New Time is Bernd Saxe, Mayor of Lübeck.[14]

Each year one of the member cities of the New Hansa hosts the Hanseatic Days of New Time international festival.

Three years ago King's Lynn became the only English member of the newly formed modern Hanseatic League.

Fictional references

  • A Terran Hanseatic League exists in Kevin J. Anderson's science fiction series, Saga of Seven Suns. The political structure of this fictional interstellar version closely resembles that of the historical Hanseatic League.
  • In the computer game series Patrician players begin as a trader and work their way to the head of the Hanseatic League.
    • The PC game Patrician III: Rise of the Hanse is a simulation of trade amongst member cities of the Hanseatic League beginning in the 14th century.
  • In the computer game Darklands players can accept smaller missions from Hanseatic traders.
  • In the Perry Rhodan SF series, the trade organisation the Cosmic Hansa (Kosmische Hanse) covers the Galaxy. The English translation for this organisation is Cosmic House (see American issues 1800-1803) as it was felt that no one would understand the Hanseatic League reference.
  • Midgard open source content management system has often been referred to as the Hanseatic League of Open Source.
  • In the Battletech tabletop and roleplaying universe, there is a state in the Deep Periphery (towards the center of the Galaxy, measured from Earth) called the Hanseatic League, which is structured as a plutocratic trade empire, but which has considerably more primitive social and technological structures when compared to human societies closer to Earth.
  • Hanseatic League merchant caravans are used as the backdrop for "living history" groups in Florida and North Carolina. Hanseatic League Historical Re-enactors has two chapters, Bergens Kontor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Voss Kontor in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Both groups portray merchants from a Hanseatic League merchant caravan originating from kontors and towns in Norway. They offer "in character" lectures, skits and "theatre in the round", based on the history of the Hanseatic League, for the education and entertainment of Renaissance Festival patrons and local schools.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's novel, Citizen of the Galaxy, revolves around a loose league of trading spaceships of varying old Earth nationalities like the Finns aboard the "Sisu." Another ship is called "Hansea."
  • Arthur Rimbaud mentions the Hansa merchant ships in his poem, Le Bateau ivre:
...moi, bateau perdu sous les cheveux des anses,
Jeté par l'ouragan dans l'éther sans oiseau,
Moi dont les Monitors et les voiliers des Hanses
N'auraient pas repêché la carcasse ivre d'eau ;

See also



  1. ^ Translation of the grant of privileges to merchants in 1229: "Medieval Sourcebook: Privileges Granted to German Merchants at Novgorod, 1229". Fordham.edu. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1229novgorod-germans.html. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  2. ^ Atatüre, Süha (2008). "The Historical Roots of European Union: Integration, Characteristics, and Responsibilities for the 21st Century". European Journal of Social Sciences (eurojournal) (2, vol 7). http://www.eurojournals.com/ejss_7_2_02.pdf. Retrieved 2009-07-26. 
  3. ^ Fernand Braudel: The Perspective of the World. Vol III of Civilisation and Capitalism 1984
  4. ^ Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf, Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, 1993, p.265, ISBN 0824047877
  5. ^ Peter N. Stearns, William Leonard Langer, The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001, p.265, ISBN 0395652375
  6. ^ Angus MacKay, David Ditchburn, Atlas of Medieval Europe, Routledge, 1997, p.171, ISBN 0415019230
  7. ^ Norman Davies God's playground. A history of Poland, Columbia University Press, 1982
  8. ^ "Agreement of the Hanseatic League at Lübeck, 1557". Balticconnections.net. http://www.balticconnections.net/views/exhibition/detail.cfm?mode=language&ID=18CEDA3F-D929-4A8E-E777F313AC7EB8E4. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  9. ^ a b Willson, David Harris (1972). A History of England. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. p. 401. 
  10. ^ Willson, David Harris (1972). A History of England. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. p. 411. 
  11. ^ Willson, David Harris (1972). A History of England. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. p. 414. 
  12. ^ Europe a la Carte. "Guide to Lubeck". Europealacarte.co.uk. http://www.europealacarte.co.uk/Germany/lubeck.html. Retrieved 2009-07-20. 
  13. ^ Travel to the Baltic Hansa EuropaRussia, books
  14. ^ a b Website City League The HANSE


  • Dollinger, P. The German Hansa (1970; repr.1999).
  • Nash, E. Gee. The Hansa. 1929 (Reprint. 1995 Edition, Barnes and Noble)
  • Giuseppe D'Amato, Viaggio nell'Hansa baltica, l'Unione europea e l'allargamento ad Est (Travel to the Baltic Hansa, the European Union and its enlargement to the East). Greco&Greco, Milano, 2004. ISBN 88-7980-355-7

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HANSEATIC LEAGUE. It is impossible to assign any precise date for the beginning of the Hanseatic League or to name any single factor which explains the origin of that loose but effective federation of North German towns. Associated action and partial union among these towns can be traced back to the 13th century. In 1241 we find Lubeck and Hamburg agreeing to safeguard the important road connecting the Baltic and the North Sea. The first known meeting of the "maritime towns," later known as the Wendish group and including Lubeck, Hamburg, Luneburg, Wismar, Rostock and Stralsund, took place in 1256. The Saxon towns, during the following century, were joining to protect their common interests, and indeed at this period town confederacies in Germany, both North and South, were so considerable as to call for the declaration against them in the Golden Bull of 1356. The decline of the imperial power and the growing opposition between the towns and the territorial princes justified these defensive town alliances, which in South Germany took on a peculiarly political character. The relative weakness of territorial power in the North, after the fall of Henry the Lion of Saxony, diminished without however removing this motive for union, but the comparative immunity from princely aggression on land left the towns freer to combine in a stronger and more permanent union for the defence of their commerce by sea and for the control of the Baltic.

While the political element in the development of the Hanseatic League must not be underestimated, it was not so formative as the economic. The foundation was laid for the growth of German towns along the southern shore of the Baltic by the great movement of German colonization of Slavic territory east of the Elbe. This movement, extending in time from about the middle of the 11th to the middle of the 13th century and carrying a stream of settlers and traders from the Northwest, resulted not only in the Germanization of a wide territory but in the extension of German influence along the sea-coast far to the east of actual territorial settlement. The German trading towns, at the mouths of the numerous streams which drain the North European plain, were stimulated or created by the unifying impulse of a common and long-continued advance of conquest and colonization.

The impetus of this remarkable movement of expansion not only carried German trade to the East and North within the Baltic basin, but reanimated the older trade from the lower Rhine region to Flanders and England in the West. Cologne and the Westphalian towns, the most important of which were Dortmund, Soest and Munster, had long controlled this commerce but now began to feel the competition of the active traders of the Baltic, opening up that direct communication by sea from the Baltic to western Europe which became the essential feature in the history of the League. The necessity of seeking protection from the sea-rovers and pirates who infested these waters during the whole period of Hanseatic supremacy, the legal customs, substantially alike in the towns of North Germany, which governed the groups of traders in the outlying trading posts, the establishment of common factories, or "counters"(Komtors) at these points, with aldermen to administer justice and to secure trading privileges for the community of German merchants - such were some of the unifying influences which preceded the gradual formation of the League. In the century of energetic commercial development before 1350 the German merchants abroad led the way.

Germans were early pushing as permanent settlers into the Scandinavian towns, and in Wisby, on the island of Gothland, the Scandinavian centre of Baltic trade, equal rights as citizens in the town government were possessed by the German settlers as early as the beginning of the 13th century. There also came into existence at Wisby the first association of German traders abroad, which united the merchants of over thirty towns, from Cologne and Utrecht in the West to Reval in the East. We find the Gothland association making in 1229 a treaty with a Russian prince and securing privileges for their branch trading station at Novgorod. According to the "Skra," the by-laws of the Novgorod branch, the four aldermen of the community of Germans, who among other duties held the keys of the common chest, deposited in Wisby, were to be chosen from the merchants of the Gothland association and of the towns of Lubeck, Soest and Dortmund. The Gothland association received in 1237 trading rights in England, and shortly after the middle of the century it also secured privileges in Flanders. It legislated on matters relating to common trade interests, and, in the case of the regulation of 1287 concerning shipwrecked goods, we find it imposing this legislation on the towns under the penalty of exclusion from the association. But with the extension of the East and West trade beyond the confines of the Baltic, this association by the end of the century was losing its position of leadership. Its inheritance passed to the gradually forming union of towns, chiefly those known as Wendish, which looked to Lubeck as their head. In 1293 the Saxon and Wendish merchants at Rostock decided that all appeals from Novgorod be taken to Lubeck instead of to Wisby, and six years later the Wendish and Westphalian towns, meeting at Lubeck, ordered that the Gothland association should no longer use a common seal. Though Lubeck's right as court of appeal from the Hanseatic counter at Novgorod was not recognized by the general assembly of the League until 1373, the long-existing practice had simply accorded with the actual shifting of commercial power. The union of merchants abroad was beginning to come under the control of the partial union of towns at home.

A similar and contemporary extension of the influence of the Baltic traders under Lubeck's leadership may be witnessed in the West. As a consequence of the close commercial relations early existing between England and the Rhenish-Westphalian towns, the merchants of Cologne were the first to possess a gildhall in London and to form a "hansa" with the right of admitting other German merchants on payment of a fee. The charter of 1226, however, by which Emperor Frederick II. created Lubeck a free imperial city, expressly declared that Lubeck citizens trading in England should be free from the dues imposed by the merchants of Cologne and should enjoy equal rights and privileges. In 1266 and 1267 the merchants of Hamburg and Lubeck received from Henry III. the right to establish their own hansas in London, like that of Cologne. The situation thus created led by 1282 to the coalescence of the rival associations in the "Gild-hall of the Germans," but though the Baltic traders had secured a recognized foothold in the enlarged and unified organization, Cologne retained the controlling interest in the London settlement until 1476. Lubeck and Hamburg, however, dominated the German trade in the ports of the east coast, notably in Lynn and Boston, while they were strong in the organized trading settlements at York, Hull, Ipswich, Norwich, Yarmouth and Bristol. The counter at London, first called the Steelyard in a parliamentary petition of 142 2, claimed jurisdiction over the other factories in England.

In Flanders, also, the German merchants from the West had long been trading, but here had later to endure not only the rivalry but the pre-eminence of those from the East. In 1252 the first treaty privileges for German trade in Flanders show two men of Lubeck and Hamburg heading the "Merchants of the Roman Empire," and in the later organization of the counter at Bruges four or five of the six aldermen were chosen from towns east of the Elbe, with Lubeck steadily predominant. The Germans recognized the staple rights of Bruges for a number of commodities, such as wool, wax, furs, copper and grain, and in return for this material contribution to the growing commercial importance of the town, they received in 1309 freedom from the compulsory brokerage which Bruges imposed on foreign merchants. The importance and independence of the German trading settlements abroad was exemplified in the statutes of the "Company of German merchants at Bruges," drawn up in 1347, where for the first time appears the grouping of towns in three sections (the "Drittel"), the Wendish-Saxon, the Prussian-Westphalian, and those of Gothland and Livland. Even more important than the assistance which the concentration of the German trade at Bruges gave to that leading mart of European commerce was the service rendered by the German counter of Bruges to the cause of Hanseatic unity. Not merely because of its central commercial position, but because of its width of view, its political insight, and its constant insistence on the necessity of union, this counter played a leading part in Hanseatic policy. It was more Hanse than the Hanse towns.

The last of the chief trading settlements, both in importance and in date of organization, was that at Bergen in Norway, where in 1343 the Hanseatics obtained special trade privileges. Scandinavia had early been sought for its copper and iron, its forest products and its valuable fisheries, especially of herring at Schonen, but it was backward in its industrial development and its own commerce had seriously declined in the 14th century. It had come to depend largely upon the Germans for the importation of all its luxuries and of many of its necessities, as well as for the exportation of its products, but regular trade with the three kingdoms was confined for the most part to the Wendish towns, with Lubeck steadily asserting an exclusive ascendancy. The fishing centre at Schonen was important as a market, though, like Novgorod, its trade was seasonal, but it did not acquire the position of a regularly organized counter, reserved alone, in the North, for Bergen. The commercial relations with the North cannot be regarded as an important element in the union of the Hanse towns, but the geographical position of the Scandinavian countries, especially that of Denmark, commanding the Sound which gives access to the Baltic, compelled a close attention to Scandinavian politics on the part of Lubeck and the League and thus by necessitating combined political action in defence of Hanseatic sea-power exercised a unifying influence.

Energetic and successful though the scattered trading settlements had been in establishing German trade connexions and in securing valuable trade privileges, the middle of the 14th century found them powerless to meet difficulties arising from internal dissension and still more from the political rivalries and trade jealousies of nascent nationalities. Flanders became a battle-field in the great struggle between France and England, and the war of trade prohibitions led to infractions of the German privileges in Bruges. An embargo on trade with Flanders, voted in 1358 by a general assembly, resulted by 1360 in the full restoration of German privileges in Flanders, but reduced the counter at Bruges to an executive organ of a united town policy. It is worth noting that in a document connected with this action the union of towns, borrowing the term from English usage, was first called the "German Hansa." In 1361 representatives from Lubeck and Wisby visited Novgorod to recodify the by-laws of the counter and to admonish it that new statutes required the consent of Lubeck, Wisby, Riga, Dorpat and Reval. This action was confirmed in 1366 by an assembly of the Hansa which at the same time, on the occasion of a regulation made by the Bruges counter and of statutes drawn up by the young Bergen counter, ordered that in future the approval of the towns must be obtained for all new regulations.

The counter at London was soon forced to follow the example of the other counters at Bruges, Novgorod and Bergen. After the failure of the Italians, the Hanseatics remained the strongest group of alien merchants in England, and, as such, claimed the exclusive enjoyment of the privileges granted by the Carta Mercatoria of 1303. Their highly favoured position in England, contrasting markedly with their refusal of trade facilities to the English in some of the Baltic towns and their evident policy of monopoly in the Baltic trade, incensed the English mercantile classes, and doubtless influenced the increases in customs-duties which were regarded by the Germans as contrary to their treaty rights. Unsuccessful in obtaining redress from the English government, the German merchants finally, in 1374, appealed for aid to the home towns, especially to Lubeck. The result of Hanseatic representations was the confirmation by Richard II. in 1377 of all their privileges, which accorded them the preferential treatment they had claimed and became the foundation of the Hanseatic position in England.

In the meanwhile, the conquest of Wisby by Waldemar IV. of Denmark in 1361 had disclosed his ambition for the political control of the Baltic. He was promptly opposed by an alliance of Hanse towns, led by Lubeck. The defeat of the Germans at Helsingborg only called into being the stronger town and territorial alliance of 1367, known as the Cologne Confederation, and its final victory, with the peace of Stralsund in 1370, which gave for a limited period the four chief castles on the Sound into the hands of the Hanseatic towns, greatly enhanced the prestige of the League.

The assertion of Hanseatic influence in the two decades, 1356 to 1377, marks the zenith of the League's power and the completion of the long process of unification. Under the pressure of commercial and political necessity, authority was definitely transferred from the Hansas of merchants abroad to the Hansa of towns at home, and the sense of unity had become such that in 1380 a Lubeck official could declare that "whatever touches one town touches all." But even at the time when union was most important, this statement went further than the facts would warrant, and in the course of the following century it became less and less true. Dortmund held aloof from the Cologne Confederation on the ground that it had no concern in Scandinavian politics. It became, indeed, increasingly difficult to obtain the support of the inland towns for a policy of seapower in the Baltic. Cologne sent no representatives to the regular Hanseatic assemblies until 1383, and during the 15th century its independence was frequently manifested. It rebelled at the authority of the counter at Bruges, and at the time of the war with England (1469-1474) openly defied the League. In the East, the German Order, while enjoying Hanseatic privileges, frequently opposed the policy of the League abroad, and was only prevented by domestic troubles and its Hinterland enemies from playing its own hand in the Baltic. After the fall of the order in 1467, the towns of Prussia and Livland, especially Dantzig and Riga, pursued an exclusive trade policy even against their Hanseatic confederates. Lubeck, however, supported by the Bruges counter, despite the disaffection and jealousy on all sides hampering and sometimes thwarting its efforts, stood steadfastly for union and the necessity of obedience to the decrees of the assemblies. Its headship of the League, hitherto tacitly accepted, was definitely recognized in 1418.

The governing body of the Hansa was the assembly of town representatives, the "Hansetage," held irregularly as occasion required at the summons of Lubeck, and, with few exceptions, attended but scantily. The delegates were bound by instructions from their towns and had to report home the decisions of the assembly for acceptance or rejection. In 1469 the League declared that the English use of the terms "societas," "collegium" and "universitas" was inappropriate to so loose an organization. It preferred to call itself a "firma confederatio" for trade purposes only. It had no common seal, though that of Lubeck was accepted, particularly by foreigners, in behalf of the League. Disputes between the confederate towns were brought for adjudication before the general assembly, but the League had no recognized federal judiciary. Lubeck, with the counters abroad, watched over the execution of the measures voted by the assembly, but there was no regular administrative mi. 30 organization. Money for common purposes was raised from time to time, as necessity demanded, by the imposition on Hanse merchandise of poundage dues, introduced in 1361, while the counters relied upon a small levy of like nature and upon fines to meet current needs. Even this slender financial provision met with opposition. The German Order in 1398 converted the Hanseatic poundage to a territorial tax for its own purposes, and one of the chief causes for Cologne's disaffection a halfcentury later was the extension from Flanders to other parts of the Netherlands of the levy made by the counter at Bruges. Since the authority of the League rested primarily on the moral support of its members, allied in common trade interests and acquiescing in the able leadership of Lubeck, its only means of compulsion was the "Verhansung," or exclusion of a recalcitrant town from the benefits of the trade privileges of the League. A conspicuous instance was the exclusion of Cologne from 1471 until its obedience in 1476, but the penalty had been earlier imposed, as in the case of Brunswick, on towns which overthrew their patrician governments. It was obviously, however, a measure to be used only in the last resort and with extreme reluctance.

The decisive factor in determining membership in the League was the historical right of the citizens of a town to participate in Hanseatic privileges abroad. At first the merchant Hansas had shared these privileges with almost any German merchant, and thus many little villages, notably those in Westphalia, ultimately claimed membership. Later, under the Hansa of the towns, the struggle for the maintenance of a coveted position abroad led to a more exclusive policy. A few new members were admitted, mainly from the westernmost sphere of Hanseatic influence, but membership was refused to some important applicants. In 1447 it was voted that admission be granted only by unanimous consent. No complete list of members was ever drawn up, despite frequent requests from foreign powers. Contemporaries usually spoke of 70, 72, 73 or 77 members, and perhaps the list is complete with Daenell's recent count of 72, but the obscurity on so vital a point is significant of the amorphous character of the organization.

The towns of the League, stretching from Thorn and Krakow on the East to the towns of the Zuider Zee on the West, and from Wisby and Reval in the North to Göttingen in the South, were arranged in groups, following in the main the territorial divisions. Separate assemblies were held in the groups for the discussion both of local and Hanseatic affairs, and gradually, but not fully until the 16th century, thegroups became recognized as the lowest stage of Hanse organization. The further grouping into "Thirds," later "Quarters," under head-towns, was also more emphasized in that century.

In the 15th century the League, with increasing difficulty, held a defensive position against the competition of strong rivals and new trade-routes. In England the inevitable conflict of interests between the new mercantile power, growing conscious of its national strength, and the old, standing insistant on the letter of its privileges, was postponed by the factional discord out of which the Hansa in 1474 dexterously snatched a renewal of its rights. Under Elizabeth, however, the English Merchant Adventurers could finally rejoice at the withdrawal of privileges from the Hanseatics and their concession to England, in return for the retention of the Steelyard, of a factory in Hamburg. In the Netherlands the Hanseatics clung to their position in Bruges until 1540, while trade was migrating to the ports of Antwerp and Amsterdam. By the peace of Copenhagen in 1441, after the unsuccessful war of the League with Holland, the attempted monopoly of the Baltic was broken, and, though the Hanseatic trade regulations were maintained on paper, the Dutch with their larger ships increased their hold on the herring fisheries, the French salt trade, and the Baltic grain trade. For the Russian trade new competitors were emerging in southern Germany. The Hanseatic embargo against Bruges from 1451 to 14J7, its later war and embargo against England, the Turkish advance closing the Italian Black Sea trade with southern Russia, all were utilized by Nuremberg and its fellows to secure a landtrade outside the sphere of Hanseatic influence. The fairs of Leipzig and Frankfort-on-Main rose in importance as Novgorod, the stronghold of Hanse trade in the East, was weakened by the attacks of Ivan III. The closing of the Novgorod counter in 1494 was due not only to the development of the Russian state but to the exclusive Hanseatic policy which had stimulated the opening of competing trade routes.

Within the League itself increasing restiveness was shown under the restrictions of its trade policy. At the Hanseatic assembly of 1469, Dantzig, Hamburg and Breslau opposed the maintenance of a compulsory staple at Bruges in the face of the new conditions produced by a widening commerce and more advantageous markets. Complaint was made of South German competition in the Netherlands. "Those in the Hansa," protested Breslau, "are fettered and must decline and those outside the Hansa are free and prosper." By 1477 even Lubeck had become convinced that a continuance of the effort to maintain the compulsory staple against Holland was futile and should be abandoned. But while it was found impossible to enforce the staple or to close the Sound against the Dutch, other features of the monopolistic system of trade regulations were still upheld. It was forbidden to admit an outsider to partnership or to co-ownership of ships, to trade in non-Hanseatic goods, to buy or sell on credit in a foreign mart or to enter into contracts for future delivery. The trade of foreigners outside the gates of Hanse towns or with others than Hanseatics was forbidden in 1417, and in the Eastern towns the retail trade of strangers was strictly limited. The whole system was designed to suppress the competition of outsiders, but the divergent interests of individuals and towns, the pressure of competition and changing commercial conditions, in part the reactionary character of the legislation, made enforcement difficult. The measures were those of the late-medieval town economy applied to the wide region of the German Baltic trade, but not supported, as was the analogous mercantilist system, by a strong central government.

Among the factors, economic, geographic, political and social, which combined to bring about the decline of the Hanseatic League, none was probably more influential than the absence of a German political power comparable in unity and energy with those of France and England, which could quell particularism at home, and abroad maintain in its vigour the trade which these towns had developed and defended with their imperfect union. Nothing was to be expected from the declining Empire. Still less was any co-operation possible between the towns and the territorial princes. The fatal result of conflict between town autonomy and territorial power had been taught in Flanders. The Hanseatics regarded the princes with a growing and exaggerated fear and found some relief in the formation in 1418 of a thrice-renewed alliance, known as the "Tohopesate," against princely aggression. But no territorial power had as yet arisen in North Germany capable of subjugating and utilizing the towns, though it could detach the inland towns from the League. The last wars of the League with the Scandinavian powers in the 16th century, which left it shorn of many of its privileges and of any pretension to control of the Baltic basin eliminated it as a factor in the later struggle of the Thirty Years' War for that control. At an assembly of 1629, Lubeck, Bremen and Hamburg were entrusted with the task of safeguarding the general welfare, and after an effort to revive the League in the last general assembly of 1669, these three towns were left alone to preserve the name and small inheritance of the Hansa which in Germany's disunion had upheld the honour of her commerce. Under their protection, the three remaining counters lingered on until their buildings were sold at Bergen in 1775, at London in 1852 and at Antwerp in 1863.


Hansisches Urkundenbuch, bearbeitet von K. Hohlbaum, K. Kunze and W. Stein (10 vols., Halle and Leipzig, 1876-1907); Hanserecesse, erste Abtheilung, 1256-1430 (8 vols., Leipzig, 1870-1897), zweite Abtheilung, 1431-1476 (7 vols., 1876-1892); dritte Abtheilung, 1477-1530 (7 vols., 1881-1905); Hansische Geschichtsquellen (7 vols., 1875-1894; 3 vols., 1897-1906); Inventare hansischer Archive des sechzehnten Jahrhunderts (vols. 1 and 2, 1896-1903); Hansische Geschichtsbldtter (14 vols., 1871-1908). All the above-mentioned chief sources have been issued by the Verein fiir hansische Geschichte. Of the secondary literature, the following histories and monographs should be named. G. F. Sartorius, Geschichte des hanseatischen Bundes (3 vols., Göttingen, 1802-1808), Urkundliche Geschichte des Ursprunges der deutschen Hanse, herausgegeben von J. M. Lappenberg (2 vols., Hamburg, 1830); F. W. Barthold, Geschichte der deutschen Hansa (3 vols., 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1862); D. Schafer, Die Hansestadte and Konig Waldemar von Dcinemark (Jena, 1879); W. Stein, Beitrage zur Geschichte der deutschen Hanse bis urn die Mitte des fienfzehnten Jahrhunderts (Giessen, 1900); E. Daenell, Die Bliitezeit der deutschen Hanse. Hansische Geschichte von der zweiten Halfte des XIV. bis zum letzten Viertel des XV. Jahrhunderts (2 vols., Berlin, 1905-1906); J. M. Lappenberg, Urkundliche Geschichte des hansischen Stahlhofes zu London (Hamburg, 1851); F. Keutgen, Die Beziehungen der Hanse zu England im letzten Drittel des vierzehnten Jahrhunderts (Giessen, 1890); R. Ehrenberg, Hamburg and England im Zeitalter der Konigin Elisabeth (Jena, 1896); W. Stein, Die Genossenschaft der deutschen Kaufleute zu Brugge in Flandern (Berlin, 1890); H. Rogge, Der Stapelzwang des hansischen Kontors zu Brugge im fiinfzehnten Jahrhundert (Kiel, 1903); A. Winckler, Die deutsche Hansa in Russland (Berlin, 1886).

(E. F. G.)

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