Port Cities and Trading Networks in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, 13th–21st Century
Chapter 3: The Hanseatic League: A Model of Cooperation on the Baltic Sea
Landlocked seas are never dead ends, they are lanes of communication. The Baltic Sea is no exception. It gives access to the Russian rivers that were navigated as far as Novgorod, where the great fairs took place. From there, by land, the traveller could reach Smolensk, a trade centre for the products of the Byzantine Empire, as well as those of the Muslim countries. It was within this particular framework that the cities of the Hanseatic League would prosper (see Map 3.1). A CONSTELLATION OF FREE TOWNS The beginnings of the Hanseatic League, or Hanse, can be traced to the founding of Lübeck in the mid-12th century. It was first an association of merchants, then a community of towns. Its purpose was to protect and extend its members’ commercial activities and to safeguard the necessary rules of commerce. It was an informal association, with few constraints, whose only aim was to defend its members’ economic interests. The Hanse benefited from a favourable geographic position on the Baltic, with easy access to the North Sea, and at its height grouped together 200 cities that formed an urban network stretching from the Zuyder Zee in the west to the Gulf of Finland in the east, and from Thuringia in the south to the Baltic Sea in the north. In the mid-13th century, the Hanse had a quasi monopoly of trade on both seas (North and Baltic), which was organised along an axis connecting Novgorod, Riga, Hamburg, Bruges and London. Lübeck...
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