History of the League

hough dates of its origin are disputed, the Hanseatic League was formed in the middle ages as a means for the merchants of the free German city states to band together for mutual protection against pirates (not to mention coin hungry nobles) and to regulate trade prices. The leaders of the League were focused on creating a German monopoly in the Baltic region on the goods they traded. To this end, they were very successful.

At the height of her power (14th & 15th centuries), the Hanseatic League had a fluctuating membership of anywhere between 70 and 170 cities divided into four regions or quarters. Additionally, the League had several satellite offices or Kontors in non-German countries that allowed the League to gain access to additional trading locations and trade goods. These Kontors included: Bergen, Norway; London, England; Novgorod, Russia and Antwerp, Belgium. All merchants were middle-class Germans. Strict regulations were placed on any non-Germans who attempted to trade in the area dominated by the League.

In addition to bolstering trade, the League had a positive impact on their communities by building lighthouses, dredging harbors, and constructing canals. Member cities enjoyed mutual protection agreements with all other cities. Each city also maintained a standing force for protection and to be levied by the League in order to enforce embargos or trade sanctions. These levies were pivotal in the 14th century war between the League and Denmark. The six year war culminated in the Hanseatic League gaining free trade in the Baltic region resulting in a monopoly on the fish trade, the reestablished freedom of Visby and the right to veto candidates for the Danish throne.

The League also invented a new type of ship, the Baltic Cog, to make shipping and transport across the Baltic Sea faster and more economical. Commodities traded by the League were mainly: salted cod and herring, wool, linen, wheat, barley, furs, spices, lumber and minerals. Additional revenue was made by allowing craftsmen, artisans, pilgrims and others to pay a fee to enjoy the safety of the caravan until they reached their destination.

Though the Hanseatic League never officially disbanded, the last office closed in 1799 and the last building was sold in the 1800's. Nevertheless, the former main cities of the League, Hamburg, Lubeck and Bremen, continue to use the term "Free and Hanseatic City" in their official name.