Amsterdam merchants eventually won free access to the Baltic and broke the Hansa monopoly in
the Dutch-Hanseatic War (1438 - 1441). Meanwhile, the League had refused to offer reciprocal
arrangements to English traders and Queen Elizabeth I expelled the League from London by 1597.
There was also inter- League tension and rivalry.
Changes in European economy, emerging territories, new forms of currency and different shipping
practises all put the League in a weaker position as the Swedish Empire took control of much of the
Baltic, Denmark regained control over its own trade, the Kontors in Novgorod and in Brugge were
closed or defunct, and the authority of the German princes grew more powerful.
The League was sinking under the progress around it and its decline began, further eroded by the
chaos of the Reformation, the new power of English and Dutch merchants and the effects of the
Ottoman Turks on shipping routes. By the time of the last Hansa meeting in 1669, only nine
members attended. Only Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen remained as members until its final, formal
demise in 1862.
|Lübeck Hamburg Lüneburg Rostock Stade Stettin Stralsund Wismar Kiel Brunswick
Braunschweig Berlin Brandenburg Bremen Erfurt Frankfurt (Oder) Goslar Halle (Saale)
Magdeburg Danzig Breslau Dorpat Fellin Elbing Königsberg Reval Riga Stockholm Thorn
Visby Kraków Duisburg Zwolle Hattem Hasselt Cologne Dortmund Soest Osnabrück Münster
Roermond Deventer Groningen Kampen Bochum Recklinghausen Hamm Unna Zutphen
Oldenzaal Breckerfeld Bergen-Bryggen Bruges/Brugge London Novgorod Antwerp Boston
Damme Edinburgh Hull Ipswich King's Lynn Kaunas Newcastle Polotsk Pskov Great Yarmouth
York Anklam Arnhem Bolsward Brandenburg Wenden Kulm Doesburg Duisburg Einbeck
Göttingen Greifswald Goldingen Hafnarfjord Halle Harlingen Hannover Herford Hildesheim
Hindeloopen Kalmar Kokenhusen Lemgo Merseburg Minden Münster Narwa Nijmegen
Oldenzaal Paderborn Pernau Perleberg Quedlinburg Salzwedel Smolensk Stargard Stendal Turku
Tver Wolmar Wesel Wiburg Windau Zutphen Zwolle
|Hanseatic League Cities, Kontors, and cities with a Hanse presence:
The league of merchant associations known as the Hanseatic League was formed with the salt trade
in mind. Salt produced in Kiel was distributed via the "salt road" which ran between Hamburg and
Lübeck, inspiring the two northern German towns to form an alliance in the twelfth century. Fish
was popular food in Christian Europe with its religious fast days when meat eating was forbidden.
Lübeck had easy access to the herring spawning grounds, but needed a better way to transport the
perishable fish. Hamburg lacked the better fishing grounds but had easy access to the salt at Kiel,
and salting and drying the herring made for longer shelf life and consequently wider distribution of
the fish. Therefore, the merchants from both cities joined forces to open trade along the "salt" road.
Lübeck and Hamburg formed an alliance in 1241, gaining control over most of the salt-fish trade and
access to salt-trade routes from Lüneburg. In 1266, the Hansa was granted a charter for operations
in England by Henry III. The Hanseatic League, or Die Hanse, took the place of Visby, the previous
center of trade and it became the center of all the sea trade that linked the areas around the North
Sea and the Baltic Sea and acted as a base for northern German merchants who spread east and
north. Lübeck and Hamburg were joined by Köln in 1282.
The Hansa kept growing, and at the height of its power over sixty cities were directly represented in
the association, each with its own merchant association and parliament to govern trade policies.
Its regional assemblies were known as "thirds": The Rhennish third was based on the Rhine trade, the
Wendish third on Baltic shipping out of Lübeck, and the Prussian third on the trade of grain from the
lands of the Teutonic Order. Lübeck, being a free imperial city, had an advantage over most of the
other cities politically, and geographically it also held a predominant position, with all Baltic trade in
either direction going through its port. Key towns such as Danzig and Riga were soon established on
the east Baltic coast under Lübeck law, which mandated that they had to obey the Lübeck city
council in all legal matters. Other important cities which became members of the Hanse included
Thorn, Elbing, Königsberg, and Krakow.
Hansa societies worked to acquire special trade privileges for their members and their network of
alliances formed throughout the Holy Roman Empire grew to include around 170 cities. The league
established significant additional Kontors, or trading centers, in present-day Belgium, Norway,
Denmark and England, trading in timber, furs, resin, flax, honey, wheat and rye, copper, iron and
herring. To be eligible to work at a Kontor, a merchant had to be married, of good repute and
commit himself to a year's term. In these Hansa cities along the trade routes, a distinct architecture
formed, usually three storied structures with a store on ground level, a warehouse on the second floor
and an office/ apartment on the top floor. German colonists under the Hanse's supervision built many
towns in the Baltic such as Reval, Riga, and Dorpat, and trained pilots and erected lighthouses.
To accommodate the larger loads they could now sell, the merchants developed the "Baltic cog", a
rugged, flat bottom, square rigged ship, and the merchants also formed partnerships to buy shares of
a cargo so that if the load was lost due to sinking or pirates, the loss could be spread out and not be
devastating to one party, and for protection and safety, the ships sailed in large convoys. At their
height of its power in the late 1300s, the Hanseatic League wielded significant economic clout and
their well-armed ships could even influence Imperial policy. The Hanse capital eventually moved to
Danzig, the main port for traded merchandise along the Vistula river.