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Northern Europe and the Hanseatic cities around 1300
The Hanseatic cities and the Teutonic Order in the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century
Illustration from the Hamburg city ​​law of 1497

Hanse (also German Hanse or Düdesche Hanse , Latin Hansa Teutonica ) is the name for the associations of mainly north German merchants that existed between the middle of the 12th century and the middle of the 17th century , whose goal is the safety of the crossing and the representation of common economic interests, especially in the Was abroad. The Hanseatic League was an important factor not only economically, but also politically and culturally .

A development from the “Kaufmannshanse” to a “Städtehanse” can be seen no later than the middle of the 14th century with the first almost all- Hanseatic day trips (Hanseatic days) in which the Hanseatic cities merged and represented the interests of the North German merchants. However, the exact demarcation between “Kaufmannshanse” and “Städtehanse” is controversial.

The colors of the Hanseatic League (white and red) can still be found in the city arms of many Hanseatic cities . At the time of its greatest expansion, almost 300 sea and inland cities in northern Europe were united in the Städtehanse. An important basis of these connections was the development of transport, especially at sea, which is why the cog became a symbol for the Hanseatic League. Many Hanseatic cities achieved great wealth through free trade , which can still be seen today in numerous important buildings.

"Hanse" or "Hänse" were also called other merchant associations as far as Austria , regardless of the "large" North German Hanseatic League. As a rule, they were not political alliances between cities and territories, but rather brotherhoods that individual traders joined. Often such fraternities were aimed at a certain fair and during its duration took over economic control functions, as they were carried out by the guilds in larger cities .


The name Hanse is derived from the Old High German word hansa , which in the High Middle Ages was used to translate the Latin cohors ("entourage, crowd, group"), the Hanse's earliest self-documented name. The previous common Germanic * hanso probably referred to “a community with an all-inclusive cash register and where meals were consumed together”. Compare Gothic hunsl ("sacrificial meal") and Swiss German hans ("drinking binge"). The Finno-Ugric languages ​​also took * hanso from the early Germanic languages, compare Finnish kansa ("people"), Karelian kanža ("collection") and Estonian kāz (a) ("comrade, consort").

Political history

For a long time the Hanseatic League was a first-rate political power. Although its members were not sovereign - they remained under the rule of different secular and ecclesiastical powers - it was economically and militarily successful. The beginning and end of the Hanseatic League are difficult to determine.

Origin of the merchant's hanse (until around 1250)

The German Hanseatic League developed in the 12th century from the communities of the East and North Sea traders. In general, the founding of Lübeck , the first German city ​​on the Baltic Sea , in 1143 is seen as decisive for the development of the Hanseatic League. Access to the Baltic Sea enabled trade between the resource-rich areas of Northern Russia (e.g. grain , wood , wax , hides , furs ) and the countries of Western Europe with its finished products (e.g. cloth , wine).

Lübeck in the 17th century
The Holstentor (city side) in Lübeck around 1900

Various suggestions for the founding year

There is no founding date of the Hanseatic League. It emerged from small, local structures and has grown into a large organization. Not even contemporaries seem to have had clear ideas about it. In 1418 the council of the Hanseatic City of Bremen turned to Cologne in a dispute with Hamburg with a request for a copy of the founding deed of the Hanseatic League. The answer from Cologne was that they had looked in vain for the requested van der fundatacien der Duytzschen hensze , but would keep searching and send the Bremen people the desired copy as soon as they found what they were looking for.

The early Hanseatic League was a free association of merchants who sought the protection of the group for the dangerous journey and who could better represent their interests together at the destinations. To this end, the merchants of a city or region came together and traveled in a car pool. The earliest evidence of such organized German trading groups is for the appearance of Cologne merchants in London . In addition to the Germans, there were already Flemish merchant groups in London.

This form of organization means, among other things, that one cannot initially speak of "the" Hanseatic League or of a "foundation" of the Hanseatic League, since it was only individual groups that pursued their respective particular interests (and should also pursue them later).

In older research, the founding year of the Hanseatic League, in addition to the re-establishment in 1143 and the reconstruction of Lübeck in 1159, also mentioned the first recorded mention of a German merchants' association in 1157 in a London document. Philippe Dollinger argues for 1159 with the leading position of the Lübeck merchants during the entire Hanseatic period. The fact that the Hanseatic League was initially a protective association of German merchants abroad speaks in favor of 1157 and that the purchase of a piece of land near London for the construction of the Stalhof by Cologne merchants is the first evidence we know of the existence of the community today.

In 1160 Lübeck received the Soest town charter . This point in time is now considered by historians to be the beginning of the Kaufmannshanse (in contrast to the later Städtehanse ). The most important argument for this position is the Artlenburg privilege of 1161, in which the Lübeck merchants were to be legally equated with the Gotland merchants who had dominated the Baltic Sea trade up to now . According to Dollinger, the cooperative of German merchants traveling to Gotland ( universi mercatores Imperii Romani Gotlandiam frequentam ), to which not only Luebian merchants belonged, can probably be regarded as the nucleus of merchants' hanse .

The founding of Lübeck in 1143 can therefore be seen as a decisive factor for the development of the Hanseatic League, because it was the first German city on the Baltic Sea with secure connections to the hinterland and thus became, as it were, the "gateway" for North German merchants for Eastern trade. The background to the great importance of the Baltic Sea access was that Western Europe was able to trade with Russia and via the Dnepr and Volga as far as the Orient ( Caspian Sea , Persia ). At the time of the Golden Horde , trade with Central Asia and China was increased. Conversely, North Russian trade was oriented towards the west via the Baltic Sea, which led to the development of an east-west trade connection between the resource-rich areas of northern Russia (grain, wax, wood, furs, especially via Novgorod ) and the finished products of Western Europe (including cloth from Flanders and England) made possible. In addition, the Christianization of the Scandinavians , who still dominated the Baltic Sea trade in the early 12th century, contributed to the integration of the Baltic Sea into European trade. With the access of German merchants to the Baltic Sea, they were able to establish a trade route that almost completely connected the important trading centers of Novgorod and Bruges under their influence.

Incidentally, the Knudsgilde was established around the same time as the Hanseatic League , which expanded into the Danish- Scandinavian region and subsequently competed with the Hanseatic League.

Gotland Cooperative

From the 12th century, the Baltic Sea area was increasingly opened up for German trade as part of the Ostsiedlung .

In Lübeck , the community of German Gotland drivers , also known as the Gotland Cooperative , was established based on the model of commercial protection associations . It was an amalgamation of individual merchants of northern German origin, Saxon legal customs and similar commercial interests and the like. a. from north-west Germany, from Lübeck residents and from new cities being founded on the Baltic Sea.

Trade in the Baltic Sea was initially dominated by Scandinavians, with the island of Gotland functioning as the center and "hub". With the mutual insurance of commercial privileges of German and Gotland merchants under Lothar III. German merchants began trading with Gotland (hence "Gotland drivers"). Soon the German traders followed the Gotland merchants to their traditional trade destinations on the Baltic Sea coast and especially to Russia, which led to bloody disputes in Visby , due to the steady influx of Germans, now with a large German community, between German and Gotland traders. This dispute was settled in 1161 through the mediation of Henry the Lion and the mutual trade privileges were re-invoked in the Artlenburger Privilege , which in older research was regarded as the "birth" of the Gotland Cooperative. To speak of a “birth” here, however, misjudges the structures that already exist.

Visby initially remained the hub of the Baltic Sea trade with a main connection to Lübeck, but came increasingly into conflict with Lübeck regarding the role of protecting the German Russia merchants. Visby founded the Peterhof in Novgorod around 1200 after the conditions in the Scandinavian Gotenhof , where the Gotlanders initially accepted German traders, were no longer sufficient for the Germans.

The rapid rise, the securing of numerous privileges and the spread of the almost omnipresent merchants of the Gotland Cooperative in the Baltic Sea, but also in the North Sea, England and Flanders (there, by the way, in competition with the old trade relations of the Rhenish Hanseatic merchants) led to historical research to see the core of the early Hanseatic League in this grouping (Dollinger even sees the Hanseatic League actually being born in 1161). However, identifying the Gotland Cooperative as "the" early Hanseatic League would do all Low German trade relations (especially to Flanders and London) that did not take place under the seal of the cooperative injustice.

Development of the Städtehanse, heyday (around 1250 to 1400)

Structural developments

Changes in Europe led to developments for the Hanseatic League, which resulted in the so-called Städtehanse. These include the pacification of trade routes, the end of traditional carpooling, the “commercial revolution”, the development of cities and the end of the imperial protective power in the interregnum .

The merchant class had established itself relatively well in European society and trade routes became increasingly safer, especially in the structurally dense network of Western Europe. Carpooling, which promised safety, became less and less important. It became possible to trade on your own and also send representatives instead of traveling in person. This was an important factor in a commercial development that is sometimes called the "commercial revolution". Along with the development of the cities where a permanent market was possible, the more successful merchants began to settle. They managed their trading business from one city by sending a representative and were thus able to organize several trading transactions at the same time from a central point. A multiplication of trading activities became possible. The payment of commercial goods via promissory notes , bills of exchange (not quite as common in the Hanseatic region as, for example, in northern Italy ), or other forms of credit freed the merchant from pure barter and in turn enabled an expansion of trade. The trade fair system ( i.e. the regular wholesale markets in a region, e.g. in Champagne or Skåne ) lost its importance due to the development of cities into new trading centers. In contrast, cities also had very practical advantages: the heavy, bulky transport ships (especially cogs ), with which a particularly large amount of cargo could be traded with just a few ships, needed deep harbors to dock. Landing on the shallow bank and pulling the ship ashore, as was previously the case with the older, flat trading boats, was no longer possible.

It should be noted, however, that there was a kind of east-west divide in these developments. While commercial agents and credit systems spread rapidly in the west , carpooling and barter were still common in the east, especially in trade with Novgorod and along the Daugava . Here the trips were still unsafe and the innovations were only slowly taking hold.

The settling down of the merchants in the cities quickly led these economically powerful city dwellers to rise to the council and to the highest positions in the city. It is also possible that there is no need to speak of “advancement” within the city, since many merchants were originally from the upper class of society anyway. The result was that the cities were primarily ruled by merchants.

Merchants in the empire were traditionally under royal-imperial protection, they were the mercatores imperii . With the end of the Hohenstaufen rule in the empire and the subsequent uncertain times of the so-called interregnum , this imperial protection was effectively lost and the princely territorial rulers could not (or did not want to) replace this function. The merchants found a new, locally organized protecting power in the cities. Cities began (mostly under strong commercial influence anyway) to ensure the security of trade routes and to monitor compliance with the trade privileges of their merchants in the trade destinations. To this end, they agreed with other cities, made alliances and began to discuss their approach to larger meetings, the so-called day trips. Any city that wanted to settle a particular matter with other cities could invite them to a day trip. For this purpose, she invited the cities concerned to her, which could send council broadcasters as representatives in order to reach an agreement. To put it somewhat casually: if a city wants something, it has to take care of it and discuss it with the others. Ultimately, this essentially corresponds to the organizational system of the Hanseatic League. One can speak of a first all-Hanseatic day trip, i.e. a first "Hanseatic Day", in 1356, when the conditions in Flanders required a day trip, which ultimately affected all Hanseatic cities.

Regional alliances between cities emerge

The Hanseatic League developed from the original merchant's hanse to the Städtehanse, in which cities formed a mutual union. The year of foundation is often given as 1241, when Lübeck and Hamburg put their close cooperation, which had existed for eleven years, on a contractual basis, from which the Wendish City Association later emerged. Five years later, associations of Westphalian and (Lower) Saxon cities began to form (example: Ladbergen City Association ). About 100 years later, the leagues of the Prussian and Livonian cities were formed (see Hanseatic City for information on the affiliation of individual cities to the leagues ).

A city could be or become a member of the Hanseatic League in three ways. Until the middle of the 14th century, the towns grew into the community through the participation of their merchants in the Hanseatic trade. Since the middle of the 14th century, the cities made formal admission or readmission applications. The smaller cities often took a third route into the Hanseatic League by letting themselves be accepted by one of the larger cities without any special formalities. Rhenish Neuss , which was elevated to the rank of a Hanseatic city by imperial privilege in 1475 , remained a special case .

The Hansee property was lost through non-use of the privileges, through voluntary withdrawal from the community or through the formal exclusion of a city (Veransung), which could be carried out by the city assembly in the event of serious violations of the principles and interests of the community.

Dominant position in the Baltic Sea region

Between around 1350 and 1400, the Hanseatic League was a major northern European power, which u. a. related to the successful assertion of Hanseatic interests in economic disputes in Flanders. For this purpose, the first Hanseatic day met in 1356 (i.e. the first day trip in which almost all Hanseatic cities took part). This was not an official founding of the Hanseatic League, but it was the first time that almost all cities coordinated a common approach in the interests of their advantages and trade privileges and acted as the Bund van der düdeschen hanse . The German Hanseatic League was more or less freely organized before and after this "moving closer together", had no constitution, no membership lists, no permanent independent financial management or officials.

The decisions of the Hanseatic League on the day trips and from 1356 also on the Hanseatic days were recorded in the Hanseatic trials . The decision-making did not take place by majorities, but was subject to the principle of unity ( consensus ). It was discussed and negotiated until “one agreed”, with abstentions being taken as approval. The delegates of the cities, the day drivers, did not have the authority to make a decision on behalf of their city, but returned to their city with the result of the Hanseatic Day, where it was up to the city council to determine whether the resolution was accepted, or not. This led to the fact that there was hardly a resolution of a Hanseatic day that was actually supported by all cities of the Hanseatic League. Rather, a city's consent and involvement depended on whether or not the matter served its economic interests. A trade embargo against England could e.g. B. certainly correspond to the interests of Lübeck, but are strictly rejected by Cologne because of its old trade relations with London. It was precisely this freedom of the cities to accept or reject resolutions of the Hanseatic Days for themselves that made the principle of unity necessary at the Hanseatic Days. In order to get the approval of as many cities as possible, negotiations were continued until most of them were satisfied with the result.

Around 72 cities formed the core of the Hanseatic League, another 130 were loosely associated. The Hanseatic League's sphere of influence extended over an area that stretched from Flanders to Reval , encompassing the entire Baltic Sea area to the Gulf of Finland . The only non-urban member was the Teutonic Order State - an area state led by Knights of the Order.

The dominance of the Hanseatic League achieved in this way in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea aroused especially the resistance of Denmark : In 1361 there was a fight against the Danish King Waldemar IV. Atterdag , who wanted to restrict the rights of the Hansa , in the First Waldemark War . The federation, which originally only served economic interests, received high political importance through the Cologne Confederation , which was formed against the threat from the Danish king and united the cities in a war alliance with Sweden and Norway against Denmark. The victorious outcome of the Second Waldemark War brought the Hanseatic League with the Peace of Stralsund in 1370 an unusual position of power. The election of a king in Denmark was made dependent on the consent of the Hanseatic League - the Hanseatic League did not take up the option, however.

The Hanseatic League also proved itself in the fight against the pirate union of the Vitalienbrüder , which ended in 1401 or 1402 with the execution (by beheading ) of their leader Gödeke Michels in Hamburg.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the city of Emden came into constant conflict with the Hanseatic League, as the pirates around Klaus Störtebeker were supported by Emden (and other places in East Friesland such as Marienhafe ) . The consequence of this conflict was the multiple occupation of Emden by Hanseatic (especially Hamburg) forces. The Hamburgers did not finally leave Emden until 1447.

The attempt of the Danish King Erich VII. , Scandinavia to break away from the dependence and the introduction of the Sound tax , led from 1426 to 1435 to a new war was defeated, in which Denmark again and in 1435 with the (after 1365 second) Peace of Vordingborg has ended .

Crises and decline (around 1400 to 1669)

The main reasons for the decline of the Hanseatic League lie in the consolidation of the territorial states, the partial relocation of the east-west trade routes of the Nuremberg and Augsburg merchants to land routes (Frankfurt-Leipzig-Krakow) and the increasing competition in trade and production. With the exception of Hamburg and Bremen, the Hanseatic League was hardly involved in the Atlantic trade following the discovery of America , which replaced the previously dominant Baltic-West Sea (now North Sea ) trade. The absolute trading volume of the Hanseatic League in the North and Baltic Seas did not decrease, but presumably even increased, but the loss of the previous monopoly position and the entry of strong competitors for many important products depressed the margins of most of the Hanseatic merchants. Conflicts of interest within the Hanseatic League increased and prevented a more cohesive approach. An innovative backlog in commercial and technical matters contributed to the further loss of importance.

Consolidation of the power of the territorial states

The loss of power of the Hanseatic League began with the strengthening of the sovereign territorial powers in the Baltic region as well . There was a penetration and concentration of princely power in their respective domains. England consolidated its position after the end of the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) and the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 by building a navy and strong long-distance trade. The Grand Duchy of Moscow expanded its area of ​​power in the "gathering of Russian soil" after the end of the Tartar rule to Novgorod. Spain, under the rule of the Habsburgs , made Flanders more dependent. The Kalmar Union (1397–1523) increased the political possibilities of Scandinavia. For Denmark the enforcement of the Sundzoll was now more attractive than the consideration of the Hanseatic League for the privileges at the Skåne fairs . These developments contributed significantly to the loss of importance, in some cases even to the closure of the Hanseatic offices in London, Novgorod, Bruges and Bergen. With the new state authority, which is now also present in the area, it was possible to enforce peace in the country and secure the country roads. In addition, the territorial states grew their own increasingly self-confident merchants, so that there were alternatives to the Hanseatic trade. The military power of the Hanseatic League in relation to the territorial powers also decreased, so that the Hanseatic League could no longer blackmail the continuation of its privileges in this way. The only territorial power with which the Hanseatic League was allied for a long time, the German Knight Order , lost its military importance with its defeat at Tannenberg . The consolidation of the rulers' power directly threatened the political freedom of action of the smaller and not imperial Hanseatic cities. Berlin and Kölln were forced to leave the Hanseatic League in 1442 by the rule of the Hohenzollerns . Wismar and Rostock came more and more under the influence of the Mecklenburg dukes. As a result of the Thirty Years' War, Wismar suffered particularly from high demands for contributions and from being cut off from its hinterland. With the exception of Lübeck, the Wendish quarter lost its central importance within the Hanseatic League. In its final phase, the Hanseatic League effectively consisted only of the free cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen.

As early as 1441, in the Peace of Copenhagen - the end of the Hanseatic -Dutch War (1438–1441) - the Hanseatic League had to recognize the economic equality of the Dutch, after Bruges, the most important office of the Hanseatic League, had become a powerful competitor with Antwerp and the Netherlands also joined the Danes had allied as the "Lord of the Sound ". In addition, there was disagreement between the cities about how to deal with the Dutch: While the Wendish cities were more threatened by the strengthening of Dutch trade and urged an irreconcilable policy, the Teutonic Order , Cologne and the Livonian cities were able to conciliate with their own interests Live politics better.

The Peace of Utrecht (1474) ended the Hanso-English War of the cities of the Wendish and Prussian Quarter against England, which had begun in 1470, and secured the privileges of the London Stalhof and the Hanseatic cloth trade. The turning point in the final decline of the Hanseatic League is the year 1494 with the closure of the office in Novgorod: The Peterhof in Novgorod was opened during the conquest of Novgorod by Ivan III. destroyed. Trade with Russia increasingly shifted to the cities on the Baltic coast .

From the 16th century onwards, under Lübeck's leadership, the Hanseatic League began to get involved in numerous wars in Northern Europe, which reduced the military strength of the Hanseatic League and undermined its internal power. Over time, many federal cities grew tired of raising money and soldiers for the numerous political adventures and wars in the center of Lübeck, since many members saw the federal government primarily as a trade union rather than a political union. The Hanseatic League suffered its first setback in the Danish-Hanseatic War , which ended in 1512. This setback was made up for by the support of Sweden during the Swedish War of Liberation , which resulted in Gustav I. Wasa being able to ascend the throne of Sweden in 1524 . In the same year the Hanseatic fleet also conquered Zealand and Copenhagen and installed Frederick I as the new King of Denmark. This was the last great success of the Hanseatic League in foreign policy. After his death in 1534 the so-called Count feud broke out for the succession to the throne of Denmark. Now, under Lübeck's mayor Jürgen Wullenwever , Lübeck supported the once deposed King Christian II against the new King Christian III. and thereby also made Sweden an enemy. After the capitulation of the Lübeck armed forces enclosed in Copenhagen, the Hanseatic League lost its dominant influence over Denmark. In 1563–1570 the Nordic three-crown war finally took place, in which Sweden fought against Denmark and the Hanseatic League for supremacy in the Baltic Sea. Although the Hanseatic League was able to partially achieve the desired war goals, the war of several years brought trade in the Baltic Sea to a standstill.

Competition in trade: overland routes and direct trade

With the partial shift of foreign trade to land routes and overseas, the Hanseatic League already lost an increasing part of its trade volume. The consolidation of the power of the territorial states into the area enabled the expansion and better protection of trade over land. Above all, the fur trade with Russia was conducted via a land route with Leipzig as the most important trading hub instead of Hanseatic ships across the Baltic Sea. The Hanseatic League was therefore hardly able to participate in Leipzig's development into the central transhipment point for fur in Europe. There were also profound changes in the remaining maritime trade. Larger ships (the three-masted Kraweel ) with better rigging and steering (amidships) that could sail higher upwind than the earlier single -masted cog with rudder, required shorter dwell times and achieved faster travel times. Inventions like the compass also contributed to being able to choose more direct routes and no longer having to keep an eye on the coast. The intermediate stations controlled by the Hanseatic League no longer had to be approached. First of all, the office in Visby on Gotland became superfluous, since not only Hanseatic, but increasingly also Dutch and English merchants could call into the trading centers in Livonia and Russia from their home ports without stopping. Since the end of the 15th century, the Kontor in Bergen was also more and more frequented by English merchants who bought stockfish in Iceland. This ended the Hanseatic stockfish monopoly. With the faster and longer direct trade routes, the Hanseatic intermediate trade had become obsolete. The Hanseatic League had less and less leverage to have its trading privileges confirmed. In addition, there were increasing direct contacts between large Hanseatic cities and foreign merchants, and these with each other, which meant that the Hanseatic stacks lost their monopoly position. Hamburg evaded the Hanseatic guest trade ban and allowed English merchants to offer their goods directly in Hamburg. The Danzig Sundfahrt undermined the Lübeck stacking right. While the larger Hanseatic seaside towns were able to at least partially face the new competition with larger ships and the expansion of their ports, the smaller Hanseatic seaside towns were no longer able to do so. Stralsund, for example, was no longer able to make the necessary investments to expand the port for the larger ships. The traditional corporatist , competitive and "xenophobic" (according to Dollinger especially about Cologne) structures and regulators, which z. B. demanded that Hanseatic merchants were not allowed to marry foreigners, they were no longer able to cope with international, especially Dutch and English competition. With the increasing legal certainty for foreign merchants in the trading cities, the merchant no longer needed the protection of the office. It became more convenient to rent privately and enter into intimate relationships than to submit to the strict rules of the office in an all-male society.

Competition in production

The Hansa grew up in competition not only from trade but also from new production facilities. Changing hydrological conditions in the Baltic Sea changed its salinity, which led to a decline in the herring schools in the Baltic Sea. The importance of the Hanse-controlled Skåne fairs therefore decreased, while the development of the English, Flemish and Dutch herring catches created strong competition. The competition from Western European herring production became possible after the salt (Baiensalz) obtained on the Atlantic coast could be processed better than before and the Lüneburg salt monopoly was called into question. The Dutch, in particular, made great strides in extracting formulants from sea salt, which enabled Western European herring production to shorten its qualitative deficit. At the same time, the Lüneburg saltworks suffered from an increasing shortage of firewood. With the beginning of cloth production in England at the end of the 14th century, it made a major contribution to the formation of an English merchant class and damaged the Hanseatic cloth trade between Flanders and England.

Innovative backlog

The Hanseatic seaside towns lost their leading position in shipbuilding to the Dutch. Due to strong rationalization (standardized components, use of wind-powered saws) the Dutch shipbuilding experienced a leading position. The lease of the Stockholm shipyard in 1600 to a Dutch shipbuilder underlines this. As a result, it was this technological backlog that prevented the Hansen from participating in the developing global maritime trade. The Hanseatic League also fell behind in the commercial area. Although double-entry bookkeeping already existed in the late period of the Hanseatic League (in Lübeck since 1340, Stuart Jenks), it was later established than in northern Italy and southern Germany. Previously, several Hanseatic merchants' companies were only settled when the company was wound up (on average after 20 years). A regular overview of the existing equity capital was therefore not possible for the Hansen. The bookkeeping was done according to the total purchase prices and revenues, not according to individual transactions (Carsten Jahnke). During this time, double-entry bookkeeping according to debit and credit was already established in the large trading groups in Augsburg and Nuremberg, which enabled better calculation and book money creation. The Fuggers , on the other hand, have been accounting according to the principles of their chief accountant Matthäus Schwarz since 1511 . This made banking much easier for the Hanseatic League's southern German competitors. Large banks, stock exchanges and trading companies the size of the Fugger in Augsburg, the Dutch East India Company and the major banks in the northern Italian cities could therefore not develop in the Hanseatic region or only develop significantly later and weaker. The Hamburg Stock Exchange was founded in 1558, the Bremen Stock Exchange in 1620. In Flanders (Bruges, 1409, Antwerp, 1460) and southern Germany (Augsburg and Nuremberg 1540) the stock exchanges had already established themselves. While the Hamburger Bank was founded in 1619, the Medici Bank in Bruges had existed for almost 150 years (1472). The liquidity of the Hanseatic merchants was also not high. Veckinchusen's difficulties in raising 500 marks for a wedding in the 15th century are exemplary , while the Fuggers were able to influence the election of the emperor with over 500,000 guilders in 1519 and only a third of this had to be refinanced through sub-investments. After the failure of Veckinghusen's Venice Society, there was hardly any trade in the Hanseatic League in southern Germany. The Hanseatic merchants also failed to extend the value chain, following the example of the Fuggers, with the acquisition of mines. In Antwerp, the big competition in Flanders with Bruges, the Fuggers established themselves against the Hansen.

Insufficient internal reforms

Nonetheless, the Hanseatic League tried to reorganize itself, in 1556 appointed Heinrich Sudermann from Cologne as a syndic and thus for the first time gave itself its own spokesman and representative. Sudermann's successor from 1605 to 1618 was Stralsund Syndic Johann Domann, who was born in Osnabrück . However, it did not succeed in overcoming the internal conflicting interests of the member cities. This applied not only to the competition between the large Hanseatic seaside cities, but also to the fundamental differences between the rich seaside cities and the comparatively poor inland cities of the Hanseatic League. Since the inequality in the stacking law that was to the detriment of the inland cities was never sustainably balanced, the inland cities did not see the Hanseatic League as their central alliance system, but only as an option that was only used on a case-by-case basis if it was of direct use to the city.

After a brief inter-bloom during the Spanish-Dutch war, the proud and powerful Hanseatic League of cities was only an alliance in name from the beginning of the 17th century, although it resisted this development with some cities in the narrower core. Not only did these cities form joint defense alliances, but in addition to the employment of the Syndikus Domann, a joint military leader in the person of Colonel Friedrich zu Solms-Rödelheim , who also had to supervise the jointly employed fortress builder Johan van Valckenburgh from the Netherlands . The Thirty Years War brought the complete dissolution. A proposal from Spain , a "Hanseatic-Spanish company", which was supposed to trade to the new Spanish colonies in Central America, failed because of the political differences between the "Catholic" and "Protestant" power blocs.

Senators of the Senates of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck, here at a meeting in 1904 on the Elbe island Hamburg-Waltershof

At the Hanseatic Days of 1629 and 1641 Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck were commissioned to preserve the best for the good of the Hanseatic League. In 1669 the last remaining cities in the Hanseatic League, Lübeck , Hamburg , Bremen , Gdansk , Rostock , Braunschweig , Hildesheim , Osnabrück and Cologne held the last Hanseatic Day in Lübeck, with the first three taking over the protection of the offices abroad.

In 1684 Emperor Leopold asked the Lübeck Hanseatic League to provide financial aid for the war against the Turks.

The office in Bergen was sold in 1775, the Stalhof (Steelyard) in London in 1858. The Bruges Hansekontor , which was relocated to Antwerp in 1540 , passed into the hands of the Belgian government in 1863 .

The three cities of Bremen , Hamburg and Lübeck continued to stick together later and, for reasons of cost, had joint diplomatic representations at Europe's courts and joint consulates in important ports. The resident ministers Vincent Rumpff in Paris and James Colquhoun in London signed modern trade and shipping agreements on behalf of the North German city republics, based on reciprocity and most-favored-nation treatment , which were adopted by the North German Confederation in 1867 and continued for a long time by the new German Empire.


The capital Lübeck , in the late Middle Ages one of the largest cities in the empire alongside Cologne and Magdeburg and one of the five glories of the empire alongside Rome , Venice , Pisa and Florence , according to the edict of Emperor Charles IV, was a court of appeal for all Hanseatic cities that were under their own Luebian law had to judge.

Hanseatic Day

Main trade routes of the Hanseatic League in Northern Europe

The general Hanseatic day was the highest governing and decision-making body of the Hanseatic League. The first Hanseatic Days took place in 1356, the last in 1669 (see also Hanseatic Days of Modern Times ).

Hanseatic days were held as required, usually at the invitation of Lübeck, which in 1294 was unchallenged as caput et principium omnium and was repeatedly confirmed as the hovestad of the Hanseatic League in the 14th and 15th centuries. However, Lübeck could not derive any special rights from this function in relation to the other Hanseatic cities.

All questions relating to the relationship between merchants and cities or relationships with trading partners abroad were dealt with at the Hanseatic Day. According to the idea, the resolutions should be binding for all members.

But the Hanseatic League had no coercive power over the cities. The implementation of the resolutions depended on the goodwill of the cities; It was entirely up to their discretion to support the resolutions of the Hanseatic League or to go their own way. Therefore, they only felt bound if the decisions coincided with their own local interests, otherwise they refused to participate. One example is Dortmund's refusal to join the war alliance of the Wendish, Prussian and some Dutch cities against the Danish King Waldemar IV, which was concluded in Cologne in 1367 and was so momentous for the history of the Hanseatic League. In a letter to the council messengers gathered in Lübeck, the city stated that it had never supported the wars of the seaside cities and did not want to do so now. Conversely, the other Hanseatic cities, even the Westphalian ones, left Dortmund alone in 1388 when its sovereignty was at stake in the Great Feud and it was threatened by the assembled armies of the Archbishop of Cologne and the Count of the Mark. Similar examples abound.

At the individual Hanseatic days all important matters concerning the members were dealt with, for example:

  • Ratification of treaties
  • Trade privileges
  • Economic sanctions
  • economic regulations of all kinds
  • diplomatic activities of the Hanseatic League
  • war and peace
  • financial or military action
  • New admission or exclusion of members
  • Arbitration of conflicts between Hanseatic cities
  • consultation

Because of Lübeck's supremacy, 54 Hanseatic Days took place there between 1356 and 1480. Ten Hanseatic Days took place in Stralsund , three in Hamburg , two in Bremen and one each in Cologne , Lüneburg , Greifswald , Braunschweig (1427) and Uelzen (1470). For further Hanseatic days see Hanseatic Days of Modern Times .

As a rule, Lübeck also took the initiative when it came to convening a Hanseatic Congress. The agenda items were announced months in advance in order to give the individual cities or city groups sufficient time for consultation. Ultimately, Lübeck was unable to enforce a fixed order as to which cities were to be invited, and accordingly also invited different cities - probably following the respective problem - to the days.

The cities largely had to bear the travel and subsistence costs themselves. In order to minimize expenses, they tried to identify Syndici who should represent their interests. At the Hanseatic Day of 1418, however, it was stipulated that only the city councilors were entitled to represent interests .

The last Hanseatic Day in Lübeck took place in July 1669 after the revival of the Hanseatic League through the Thirty Years' War and the inability of the city union to develop sustainable power structures had failed. Only nine delegates came and they parted again without taking any decisions. The Hanseatic League was never formally dissolved, but ended "gently".

Third day

Third days were held to discuss Flemish questions in particular and supplemented the Hanseatic Days. The name is derived from the third named city groups. In 1347 the statutes of the Hanseatic Office in Bruges mentioned the existence of thirds for the first time. One third of the office was administered by the Lübeck-Saxon, Westphalian-Prussian and Gotland-Livonian cities. It is assumed that this division corresponded to the then distribution of power within the Hanseatic League. Every third was led by a city ​​called a suburb . At the beginning these were: Lübeck, Dortmund and Visby. In the London office there was such an administration by thirds, but not in other (less important) offices.

Obviously, it was advantageous to be the leading city within a third, because soon there were internal disputes about the division and management of the thirds. Cologne replaced Dortmund in the leadership of the Westphalian-Prussian third. Between Visby and Riga the leadership role in the Gotland-Livonian third changed several times. The importance of Lübeck at that time is also evident from the fact that the leadership role of the city in the most powerful Luebisch-Wendish third was never attacked.

At the Hanseatic Congress in 1554, the thirds were made into quarters . Lübeck led the Wendish quarter , Braunschweig and Magdeburg the Saxon , Danzig the Prussian-Livonian and Cologne the Cologne quarter .

Regional day

In addition to the Hanseatic and Third Days, so-called regional days were also held, on which the representatives of neighboring cities met and also discussed matters outside of the Hanseatic League. These regional days were organized by the councils of the participating cities. They were also responsible for implementing the resolutions of the assemblies in the respective cities.



Economic goods with a high Hanseatic trade volume were mainly wax from Russia , stockfish from Norway , herring from Scania, salt from Lüneburg , grain from Prussia and Livonia, and beer mainly from Wismar . The triangular trade was particularly lucrative, which was mainly operated by Hanseatic merchants from Lübeck in the North Sea until 1467: beer, grain, wine and cloth were exported to Bergen . Stockfish and wood were bought there and sold in England. The Lübeckers took wool with them from England, which was then sold in Flanders . The cloth bought in Flanders was also sold in Lübeck.


Advantages of combining land and sea transport

Kraweel Lisa from Lübeck

The combination of land and sea transport in one organization was, in addition to the granting of privileges, one of the decisive steps into the future, which should ultimately bring the Hanseatic League the monopoly-like dominance in trade and transport on the North and Baltic Seas. However, until well into the 14th century the Hanseatic League did not develop new traffic routes on the water; rather, the roads opened up by the Frisians, Saxons, English and Scandinavians were taken over. The trading partners and boatmen were ousted, often under the appearance of fair contracts between equal partners. An example of this is the privilege of Henry the Lion to the Gotlanders in 1161. When they refused to accept the merchants from the newly re-established Lübeck (1159) as trading partners, Heinrich brokered and granted the Gotlanders the same rights in his area as they should give the Gotlanders to the Germans on their island. Now the merchants from Visby , who until then had dominated the intermediate trade on the Baltic Sea, could at most bring their goods to Lübeck, the direct route further into the interior remained blocked to them.

Uniform ship operation and uniform maritime law

Another advantage of Hanseatic shipping was a certain legal security compared to competitors, a developed maritime law, which regulated questions of affreightment, manning, conditions on board, behavior in case of distress at sea, etc. Legal security for Hanseatic ships, especially abroad, was fundamental for the smooth functioning of the transport organization. Issues of technical ship safety and the seaworthiness of ships were also taken very seriously, as was the protection of merchant ships from piracy . The ships therefore mostly sailed in association in groups of two and three ships, and from 1477 larger Hanseatic ships each had to have 20 armed men on board. However, these measures did not always protect against piracy. The following Hanseatic ships achieved fame in local legends: Peter von Danzig ( Danzig ), Bunte Kuh ( Hamburg ), Adler von Lübeck , Jesus von Lübeck , Löwe von Lübeck.

Traffic routes and flows of goods

During the Hanseatic era, the volume of trade increased via the old traffic routes throughout Europe and new trade routes emerged. The north-south route via the Rhine and Weser to London and the west-east route from London through the North and Baltic Seas to Novgorod were of great importance to the Hanseatic League . Another important connection was the route from Magdeburg via Lüneburg, Bremen or Lübeck to Bergen.

Hamburg and Lübeck worked closely together: while Hamburg covered the North Sea region and Western Europe in particular , Lübeck’s maritime traffic was oriented towards Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea region from the Bergen office in Bryggen to Novgorod ( Peterhof ). Politically, Lübeck's influence in the Hansekontor in Bruges and in the London Stalhof was of outstanding importance for the development of the Hanseatic trade. The trade between the two Hanseatic cities was mainly carried out overland, for example via the Alte Salzstraße , but also by inland waterway through the Stecknitz Canal , via which the salt from Lüneburg , one of Lübeck's most important export goods to the north and east, was also transported . The salt was needed in the Baltic Sea region to preserve fish. In the Middle Ages, herring was a tasty and affordable alternative to more expensive meat for all classes of the population. In addition, fish was eaten as a fasting food on Christian fasting days and every Friday .

The Rhenish traffic line

Since Roman times, wine from the Cologne area and wool from England have been traded along the old Rhenish traffic line . Metal goods were traded in both directions, but products from Italy and France also found their way to northwestern Europe this way. With the emergence of the Hanseatic League, German merchants increasingly brought their goods to the British island on their own ships and less and less used the services of the Frisians. The cities of the Rhenish and Westphalian city federations under the leadership of Cologne and Dortmund were on this traffic line.

The Hanseatic (east-west) line

This trade route went from London and Bruges to the Baltic Sea region, initially mainly to Scandinavia. Trade was stimulated by the Christianization of Scandinavia and the southern Baltic region and was initially dominated by the Gotlanders. These traded the eastern goods , furs and wax from the northeastern Baltic Sea area as well as food from northwestern Europe (butter, grain, cattle and fish) on this route bypassing Jutland . Frisian traders were also active and often brought the goods via the Eider and Schlei from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea region and vice versa. After the (re) establishment of Lübeck, German traders intensified the exchange of goods via the Elbe, Alster and Trave . In the Baltic Sea, with the Gotland Peace in 1160, the Germans displaced the Gotlanders. The increasing demand for goods by up under the Ostkolonisation newly established and rapidly growing German cities or states (Prussia and Livonia) in the Baltic lively trade in this way also. In addition to the strong colonization in the east, German colonization took place in Scandinavia on a smaller scale: German craftsmen and merchants, e.g. B. in Visby and Bergen and later participated equally in the city administration for decades . In contrast to the southern Baltic Sea region, the local population was not dominated. This sea route gained additional importance because there were no paved (Roman) roads along the Baltic Sea coast and the area away from the cities was only very sparsely populated. The Wendish, Prussian and Livonian cities lay along this line. Lübeck, Danzig and Riga were in charge of the city federations of the same name.

The south-north route from Magdeburg to Bergen

This path was also very old and connected the Harz mines and the Lüneburg salt pans with the fish stocks in southern Sweden and Norway. Herring caught by the Gävle fishermen in northern Sweden was also preserved with Lüneburg salt and sold to the Hanseatic League. The cities on the south-north way belonged to the Saxon city union with the suburbs Braunschweig and Magdeburg as well as the Wendish union.


The German Bridge ( Bryggen ) trading post in Bergen
Hanseatic League office building in Antwerp

The Hanse founded countless branches within its sphere of influence. Of even greater importance, however, were their outposts at the most important trading centers abroad, the offices. Hanseatic offices were the Peterhof in Novgorod , the Tyske Bryggen in Bergen , the Stalhof in London and the Hansekontor in Bruges ; elected old men and assessors were at their head . Their task was to protect commercial interests against foreign powers, but at the same time to monitor compliance with the freedoms granted to the merchants themselves, which they had to undertake on oath when they were accepted into the office community. There were also statutes regulating the coexistence of merchants and questions of local trade. They had their own cash register and had their own seal, but they were not regarded as independent members of the Hanseatic League.

The so-called Novgorod Schra is the only completely preserved collection of regulations from one of the four Hanseatic offices.

Hanseatic merchants

Merchant Georg Giese from Danzig , at his workplace in London's Stalhof (1532, 34 years old)

The merchant who was left to his own devices, bearing the full risk and only trading on his own account, was the exception in the Hanseatic League of the 14th and 15th centuries. The typical Hanseatic merchant of the late Middle Ages was a member of one or more trading companies . Since the 12th century, the simple Selschop , a short-term casual company in which a merchant enters capital or goods on a trading trip, risk and profit have been shared, and the Sendeve , the commission business, in which the profit of the commissioned merchant through fixed wages or a commission was replaced and the client bore the sole risk. In the most common type of free society, two or more partners brought in capital of equal or different amounts; Distribution of profits and allocation of losses were made depending on the share. In addition to the active partners, there were often several silent partners. Usually the duration of the society was limited to a few years. Especially the larger Hanseatic merchants with trade relations between East and West were represented in several such companies in order to better distribute the risk. Family relationships always played a major role in the choice of company partners.

Philippe Dollinger highlights some of these merchants: the Hamburg merchant Winand Miles ; Johann Wittenborg from Lübeck about the tragedy of his biography; Tidemann Lemberg from Dortmund for his unscrupulousness; the German-born Stockholm Johann Nagel for his assimilation power; the brothers around Hildebrand Veckinchusen, who operate across Europe, for the different successes of an inter-family commercial cooperation; Hinrich Castorp from Lübeck as an example of the almost classic Hanseatic merchant of his time and the Mulich brothers as an example of the break-in of the Hanseatic merchants in Upper German trade. In the contemporary art scene, the portraits of the Hanseatic merchants in London's Stalhof , portrayed by Hans Holbein the Younger , stood out. Jacob van Utrecht portrayed the successful merchant of the early 16th century in his work environment and with the necessary utensils. King Ludwig I of Bavaria accepted the Lübeck mayor Bruno von Warendorp on behalf of the Hanseatic merchants and their managers in his Walhalla .

An example of the successful Hanseatic merchant of the 17th century is certainly Thomas Fredenhagen from Lübeck, who, despite the changed trade flows, still operated very successfully from Lübeck around the world in competition with Bremen and Hamburgers.


Trustees and heirs

Wherever the Hanseatic League is invoked as a reference point for urban traditions, the Hanseatic people are considered cosmopolitan, urban, sober and reliable, aristocratic, reserved and stiff. Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen are often associated with such clichés. However, the cities only included the term "Hanseatic City" in their state titles in the 19th century - over a century and a half after the Hanseatic League had already expired. After reunification, Rostock, Wismar, Stralsund and Greifswald also added the term "Hanseatic City" to their city name. The Hanseatic League can still be recognized today in the license plates of all these cities. Demmin has had the additional name Hanseatic City since 1994 , and Warburg has also been allowed to use the additional Hanseatic City since 2012 .

Hansaplatz and Hansaport

The Hanseatic League is attributed to the positive phenomena in history. Wherever a city once belonged to the Hanseatic League, this seems to raise its reputation, and it can be advertised. Squares, streets and buildings are a reminder of this: Hansaplatz , Hansastraße, Hanseatenweg, Hansahof, Hanse-Viertel, Hansaport, to name but a few examples from Hamburg and Lübeck. Numerous public and private buildings and companies evoke alleged Hanseatic tradition and use terms such as Hanse, Hansa, Hanseatic or Hanseatic as part of their name. This often indicates their seat or their jurisdiction, for example in the case of a Hanseatic Higher Regional Court , a Hanseatic insurance company from 1891 , Deutsche Lufthansa or the Hansa Rostock football club . Most of the time, however, it serves as a kind of seal of quality that can only be protected to a very limited extent under trademark law , mostly only as a figurative mark, with the Hansa-Pils from Dortmund being an exception.

Hanseatic League of the Modern Era

In 1980 the New Hanseatic League was founded in Zwolle as a living and cultural community for cities across borders . In addition to promoting trade, its aim is also to promote tourism. Since then, a modern Hanseatic day has been held in a former Hanseatic city every year .

European Hanseatic Museum

The European Hanseatic Museum was opened in the old town of Lübeck in 2015 . During the demolition of the previous buildings at the future location of the museum, extensive archaeological finds were made. These finds were integrated into the exhibition of the museum. In addition to the history of the Hanseatic League, events in the history of the city and the history of the dissemination of Luebian law are shown.

Hanseatic Museum and Schötstuben

The Hanseatic Museum and Schötstuben are located in Bergen on Bryggen , Norway .

Linguistic meaning

The Middle Low German language of the Hanseatic League, which was the lingua franca of the Middle Ages in Northern Europe , clearly influenced the development of the Scandinavian languages .

A Hanse cog.
At the end of the 14th century, the cogs were more and more replaced by the similar Holk , then by the Kraweel .

History of individual Hanseatic cities

The history of the Hanseatic League as a loose league of cities is inextricably linked with the individual histories of the main member cities, which, since they were not always united and pursued their own interests, assess the Hansa quite differently in the light of their history:


Georg Friedrich Sartorius , founder of Hanseatic research

Web links

Wiktionary: Hanse  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Hanse  - Collection of Images
Wikisource: Hanse  - sources and full texts

supporting documents

  1. Ernst Pitz: Citizenship and Town Unification . Böhlau Verlag, Cologne / Weimar 2001, ISBN 3-412-11500-2 , 3.2.6 On the state of research, p. 336 ff .
  2. ^ PAF van Veen en N. van der Sijs: Etymological woordenboek: de herkomst van onze woorden. Van Dale Lexicography, Utrecht / Antwerp, 1997.
  3. M. Philippa, F. Debrabandere, A. Quak, T. Schoonheim and N. van der Sijs: Etymological Woordenboek van het Nederlands. Amsterdam (2003-2009).
  4. ^ J. de Vries: Nederlands Etymologische Woordenboek. Leiden, 1971.
  5. ^ Philippe Dollinger : The Hanseatic League . Kröner, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-520-37105-7 .
  6. ^ So R. de Roover, RS Lopez
  7. V. a. Ministerial and old free
  8. ↑ Which they, mind you, ruled themselves!
  9. Jahnke, p. 196
  10. Jahnke, p. 185
  11. Jahnke, p. 185
  12. Jahnke, pp. 204 and 209
  13. Helmut Pemsel : Sea rule. A world maritime story . Augsburg, 1995.
  14. Jahnke, p. 139
  15. Jahnke, p. 156
  16. Jahnke, pp. 160f
  17. Jahnke, p. 155
  18. German: Head and Origin of All
  19. A division based purely on regional aspects would certainly not have organized the widely separated cities of Westphalia and Prussia together.
  20. Jahnke, p. 181
  21. Jahnke, p. 155