The Hanseatic League (also known as the Hanse or Hansa) was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns. Originated as a few North German towns in the late 1100s, the League came to dominate Baltic Marine trade The area of influence stretched along the coast of Northern Europe: from the Baltic to the North Sea during the late Middle Ages and early Modern period (from 15th to 19th centuries). The word Hanse was used to describe the groups of merchants traveling between the Hanseatic cities by land or by sea.
The first merchant guilds appeared in the 12th century and reached their heyday in 14th century Germany. Germany was located in the proximity of the main trade routes, which was extensively utilized by the merchants. Moreover, the cities such as Mainz, Köln, Lübeck were developed primarily through trade. The Hansa was a monopolic intermediary between the producing regions of the Northern, Western, Eastern and partly Central Europe: England, Flanders and Northern Germany supplied cloth, England, Central Europe and Scandinavia - metals, Northern Germany and the West coast of France - salt, Eastern Europe - furs and wax.
The Hansa represented an alliance of merchant families, connected by family ties and personal relationships. The weakness of the organizational structure was at the same time the strength of the Hansa, which easily adapted to different conditions in different trading zones.
The city of Lübeck became the highest judicial authority of the Union. Here were held the meetings of representatives of Hanseatic cities (ganzatagi), where the internal and external affairs were discussed. The decisions of meetings were binding for all participants of the Union.
The 15th century was the heyday of the Hansa. In the Northern Europe, new cities emerged, quickly becoming the centers of culture and commerce. Here roads were built, channels were built. Trade rules were established, new systems of measures and weights were created.
Due to the lack of centralized management between the Western and Eastern parts of the Union, disagreements began to arise. In Europe, the era of The Great Geographical Discoveries began the maritime forces of Britain and Denmark grew. On the global scale, the national monarchies began to emerge. After the conquest of Novgorod in 1494 by Ivan III, the Hanseatic merchants were expelled and the Hanseatic lost its importance in the east of Europe. A decisive blow in Northern Europe was caused by the "division of the Count" and the Seven Years' Northern War. In the Hanseatic cities, internal turmoil began to emerge, as well as the grievances between the patricians and shops. German and Scandinavian Kings sought to weaken the power of cities in order to belittle their political significance. High customs duties were introduced; the Hanse trade monopoly was violated. Torn apart by internal contradictions, the Union was unable to stand up for its interests.
Officially, Hansa existed until the 1669. Before that, the league found itself in a weaker position than it had known for many years. The individual cities, making up the league had also started to put self-interest before their common Hanseatic interests. For reasons of inner contradictions between the cities Lübeck chad to carry out its own policy.
Hansa played a significant role in the development of trade, diplomacy and intercultural dialogue in the European space and Russia.
Hanse and Pskov
At the time of Pskov republic fur was the main Russian export. In the 14th and 15th centuries wax became the main Pskov exported product. Wax was very important in the Medieval Europe as the source for candles used in lighting and religious ceremonies. European merchants couldn't produce enough wax to satisfy the demand, so they had to buy it from the East where honey hunting was well developed due to abundance of forests. Wax trade was very profitable for the Russian merchants.
One of the most valuable imported commodities for Pskovians was salt. The importance of salt during the Middle Ages times was caused by its wide range of application. Salt was used as not only in food preservation but also in leather curing. Salt was produced in high quantities only in a few remote regions. It was expensive and very early became an important trade commodity. In Russia, including Pskov, the amount of produced salt was not enough to satisfy the demand, thus salt was one of the most imported commodities.
A significant part of the trade flows in the Middle Ages consisted of alcoholic beverages. While wine was expensive and was imported in small volume, beer and honey at the same time were imported heavily. Honey was also produced in Pskov and Novgorod and exported to Dorpat and other cities.
Pskov was trading with many Hanseatic cities – Lübeck, Danzig, Riga, but most of all with Revel and Dorpat.
In 1474 Dorpat and Pskov signed a very detailed trade agreement which regulated many aspects of trade relations between Pskov and Dorpat merchants. The agreement guarantied both sides the free passage of goods, abolished duties and customs control. This agreement was very beneficial for Pskov, because now Pskovians could trade not only with Dorpat citizens but with traders from Riga, Revel and all “Dorpat guests”. The document in detail regulated quality control and weighing of the goods. Hanseatic cities of the Baltic region didn’t have a dedicate space for Pskov merchants similar to Hanseatic “guest courts” in Russian cities for the merchants from the Hanse. Russian Orthodox churches in Livonian cities became the “lodgement” for Russian merchants trade operations, providing place to store the goods. Also, merchants used churches for their gatherings and celebrations. In return, merchants supported the churches financially by providing donations.
Until the 16th century Pskov didn't have a trade place dedicated to the German merchants, but since as early as the 13th century German merchants occupied a special place in Pskov where they rented houses and storage for their goods. This place was called the "German riverside" and located on the bank of Pskova river opposite the Kremlin in Zapskovye district. After the fire in 1520 the “German riverside” was replaced on the bank of Velikaya river opposite the Kremlin in Zavelichye district. In 1588 the farmstead of Lübeck appeared at that place.