The historical Hanseatic League

The roots of the Hanseatic League can be traced back to the middle of the 12th century. Back then, overseas merchants from Lower Germany formed an alliance to pursue joint commercial and trade goals and establish a safe and secure transportation system, in particular at sea. The area of the Hanseatic League stretched from the Dutch Lake of Zuidersee to Baltic Estonia and from Sweden’s Visby to the Cologne-Erfurt-Breslau-Krakow axis. Today that territory comprises seven European states.

From the 13th to the middle of the 15th century, the Hanseatic League dominated northern Europe’s overseas trade however, it never had a monopoly. It supplied luxury goods, food and raw materials to western and middle Europe and in return, the merchants delivered commercial finished products such as cloth, metal goods, weapons and spices to northern and eastern Europe. Among the strategically located transfer sites were the trading posts [kontors] at Novgorod (North-West Russia), Bergen (Norway), Bruges (Flanders) and London (England).

From the second half of the 14th century onward, the Hanseatic cities tightened their alliance, as they increasingly had to face a nobility demanding more power, competing merchants from England, Italy and South Germany, Dutch freighters and newly formed nation states that began to form their own trading alliances. Until the 16th century, the Hanseatic League was able to extend its economic influence from Portugal to Russia and from Scandinavia to Italy and record enormous trade growth. This former trading area today comprises 20 European states. However nothing could stop the competitors and the Hanseatic League’s influence declined. Newly developing national and territorial economies left the Hanseatic cities less and less room to manoeuvre: the historical Hanseatic League’s last council meeting, or Hanseatic Diet, took place in Lübeck in 1669.

Die Hanse Infografik