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The Hansa
(The League of Trading Cities)

The Hansa was a confederation of German cities engaged in trade in the area of the Baltic Sea which had banded to together to protect their opportunities to trade. The chief city was Lübeck, the German city just east of Denmark. It was here that the representives of the Hansa cities met to formulate policy and strategy.

There were about two hundred cities in the Hansa with a few large cities such as Lübeck, Dantzig, Cologne and Brunswick, dominating the Hansa's operations.

The Hansa may have arisen because of the practice of foreign countries in forcing all German merchants to locate in special areas. This promoted their cooperation in matters of common interest. The German merchants also began to cooperate in dealing with defense against bandits and pirates. The cooperation of merchant associations was later expanded to include trade with Flanders and England.

The problem of security was not just due to overt pirates preying upon traders; there were also the covert pirates who extracted tolls. And there was not just one toll-extractor on a trade route. That might have been tolerable. It was the proliferation of the toll-extractors along the trade routes that was the problem. Along the Rhine River the number of toll-extractors fluctuated between thirty and sixty in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The Hansa organized convoys to cope with pirates and later built light-houses to safeguard against navigation dangers. It went beyond just facilitating trade to securing special privileges and trading monopolies for the association. The Hansa operated also operated permanent enclaves in Bruges in Flanders (Belgium), Bergen in Norway, Novgorod in Russia and in London (the Steel Yard) in England.

The major items of trade were:

The Hansa was guilty of trying to establish trade monopolies in regions such as the Baltic Sea where it have control.

The pinnacle of Hansa power came in the 1360's when the Hansa organized an army and navy which in 1386 defeated those of the Danish king, Valdemar IV, in a war that lasted ten years. At its peak the Hansa included about two hundred cities, not all of them German. But by the 1400's the Hansa's power declined dramataically due to political disunity within the Hansa and competition from Dutch merchants for the Baltic trade. The representatives of the Hansa met for the last time in 1669.


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