Hanseatic merchant

The medieval Hanseatic League

The term Hansa is derived from the Old High German word for crowd and has been used for communities of travelling merchants since the 12th century. The long-distance merchants joined forces to better protect themselves against pirates and to jointly pursue their economic interests - the foundation stone for the Hanseatic League was laid.

Trade across borders

In the heyday of the network, more than 200 towns were part of the Hanseatic League, mainly around the Baltic Sea and inland up to the line Cologne - Erfurt - Krakow. However, the influence of the Hanseatic League extended far beyond this area: with trading posts from Portugal to Russia and from Finland to the Mediterranean. In Novgorod, Bruges, London and Bergen, the long-distance traders founded four large kontors; smaller branches were established in many other trading centres. For more than 400 years, the Hanseatic League shaped the economy, trade and politics in northern Europe before losing its importance in the middle of the 17th century.

The origins

The beginning of the Hanseatic League cannot be traced to a specific year or place. Over the course of the centuries, one of the most powerful trade and city networks in medieval Europe developed from loose associations of long-distance traders into shipping communities, the so-called "hansa".

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Felle aus Nowgorod

Merchant guilds

The typical Hanseatic merchant was a long-distance trader who traded abroad on a large scale and enjoyed a high reputation in his own city. Until the middle of the 13th century, merchants usually accompanied their goods to foreign markets themselves to sell them or exchange them for other goods.

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Warendorp Hansevolk

Alliance of cities

Since many merchants sat on the town councils, the Hanseatic League developed from the travelling communities of merchants into a powerful confederation of cities. The Hanseatic cities assured each other of protection and legal security. The Hanseatic League thus became an influential network of cities that dominated trade in large parts of Europe.

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Trading posts

"Kontor" (literally: office) was the name given to the Hanseatic League's large trading posts abroad. The four major kontors formed the cornerstones of Hanseatic trade: Novgorod, London, Bruges and Bergen. The long-distance traders set up smaller branches in many other locations, for example in Lynn and Boston in England, La Rochelle in France or Kaunas in Lithuania.

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Bryggen in winter ©VBP Media, VisitBergen.com

The Hanseatic Day

Since the second half of the 14th century, the Hanseatic cities gathered at the Hanseatic Day (convention) to pass joint resolutions. The events were held at irregular intervals as needed, 172 times in 311 years.

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The cog

For trade across the North and Baltic Seas, merchants and skippers often gathered into so-called Hansa (crowds). In the beginning, they only dared to go out to sea with their valuable cargo in convoys. One reason for the success of the Hanseatic League was the use of a new type of ship: the cog.

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Kampen cog and city skyline