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The Hanseatic League

 The Hanseatic League was a federation of cities, which had developed from European merchant guilds in mediaeval Europe into an early European economic bloc. Through the late 13th and 14th centuries it became a major confederation of cities not only in northern Germany but extending across Scandinavia to Russia, and involving reciprocal trade agreements with cities in England.  The League had enormous economic clout and had a great sway in politics and culture in Europe for centuries paving the way for future generations and the UK-Russian Flax Trade. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Hanseatic League exported thousands of bales of flax each year from its administrative offices (kontor) in Novgorod and Livonia.

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  The League's ships plied the major trade routes across the North Sea and the Baltic, and the cog was its tramp cargo vessel. First records of the cog appear in the 10th century. Previous Viking longships had little space for cargo. The cog, or cogge, was rounded, tub-like, with a high clinker-planked hull, a high stern and a deck which covered a considerable hold. Early accounts indicate that it had a steering rudder on the starboard side, though by the mid 13th century this had been replaced by a stern rudder. There were eventually small raised decks at the bow and the stern. Later the boats were developed for purely trading purposes and were called Galliots or Galeas.


After the decline of the Hanseatic League the flax trade followed the existing routes which has been well mapped and used many centuries before and lots of the practices used at the ports would still have been in use in the 18th/19th century. .. if it wasn't broke they tended not to fix it .. but nothing could hold back the Industrial Revolution as shown with the seal below ....


 Baltic States Cross flax seals found in Denmark/Sweden.

See also IDS465, IDS 794 and IDS879


+ shield with
5/5/-/- pellets




Paul Cannon
Skive Museum



 IDS 878 - From Denmark where N.K Liebgott ascertains that it came from the Dutch town of Zwolle in the 16th century (probably via the Hanseatic League.) The original city of export was probably Riga on the Baltic Sea.  We have 4 seals with 6K grading on the database .. all found in Denmark/Sweden ..  and none found in the UK  Exportation of 6K (3rd sort or 6 head) bales (Novogorods*) was quite low, most being for home consumption.



A lead hemp seal found at Port Hamburg in Germany.

   Here is a seal found during archaeological excavations at the Port of Hamburg brought to my attention by Project member Paul Cannon. As ships made several ports of call on their way to the UK from St Petersburg it was presumably lost overboard while calling in at the port.






H 325






Paul Cannon

Port of Hamburg



Ident page



Hemp (or Port) Inspector S.Levteev working out of 325 post in St Petersburg in 1815


Another lead seal found at Uckermark, near Berlin in Germany.

Of the two recorded bale seals found in Germany both have ПД = PD Hemp (or Port)

Inspector designation whereas Flax seal inspectors are normally designated ЛД = LD.













Tore Rodehorst

Uckermark, Berlin


Ident page



Hemp (or Port) Inspector I.Davydov working out of 257 post in St Petersburg in 1824.


Some of the Cloth Bale Clamps found during the excavations at Port Hamburg.



There are many marvellous pictures surviving which give a good idea of the trading ports of Europe  from the 13th to the 19th century.

Traders weighing gold coins.         The Port of Hamburg 1647             Novogorod Market         



The loading quayside in the Medieval Era

Note the bales, criminals in the wheel crane, weighing scales, wharf wives and sails with a cross.



Other trade in the Medieval Era with the Hanseatic League.

Note the crane, wine, gunpowder kegs, timber, cloth and mill stones of Rhine Valley volcanic lava.


Views of Greifwald Harbour on the Hanseatic trade route


Luebeck Harbour 1350 - Hanseatic League

An idealistic scene which could become a nightmare in those tiny ships during a North Sea storm.



The Weekly Fish Market.

A very important event at every port - Find the Galley with oars still in use during medieval times.



Hazards in the Medieval Era for the Hanseatic League.

The Black Death 1346 - 1353.

The "Great Pestilence"' or the "Great Plague" kept returning sporadically until the 18th century.

The Great Plague of London in 1665 killed 100,000 souls & the Plague is still with us even today.



 Warfare and Piracy at Sea was rife.

Early Cogs were used for trade and war.  Captains had to be capable of defending their cargos

    The city of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea was famed for piracy under the leadership of the Victual Brothers. The name "Visby" comes from the Old Norse "Vis", the genitive singular of Vi the pagan place of sacrifices, and "by", meaning "village".  In the "Gutasagan" (mid 14th century) the place is referred to as just Wi meaning "holy place, place of worship", giving a tentative hint that Visby could be allied to the elusive WU trading block... Visby functioned as the leading centre in the Baltic, before the Hansa, on behalf of the Gotland, Livonia and Swedish regions. Sailing east, Visby merchants established a trading post at Novgorod called Gutagard, dealing in timber, furs, resin (or tar), flax, honey, wheat, and rye, however in 1525 Visby was in a feud with the Lübeckers, members of the Hanseatic League who burned down all Visby's churches except the cathedral. Control of trade was transferred to Riga.

A 16th century Scottish trading ship comes under attack from ships of the Hanseatic League.



Loading at Aberlady Bay in Scotland - 1560

Aberlady Bay was the UK's first Local Nature Reserve .. served by the East Lothian Council Rangers


 Dutch Customs Seals are a common find throughout the country. The obverse has a crowned Dutch shield bearing the rampant lion of Holland. The reverse has

a number of the customs post and the letters R & A

meaning Regten en Accynsen (Customs and Excise).

 Some of these seals would be associated with flax but

they were used for a variety of goods from 1815.

   Seals 343 & 215 were found among  flax seals and

the black 343 on a nearby beach, commonly used

in Scotland to unload bales. The 257 seal was found a

mile from my home in the Yorkshire Dales.

R&A 645 - Bought off eBay for the Project Collection



The Early Harbour at Liverpool in England

Liverpool was an important port for over a thousand years for exporting salt and textiles.


1) Tower Fort and fishing boats  2) Customs House with importers  3) The Castle - c.1680


Liverpool Docks in 1839                                        Liverpool on the Mersey c.1680



The Old Dock at Liverpool in 1715

Note the Red Ensign or "Red Duster" flag on the building and flown by the Royal Navy and later

specifically by British Merchant Seamen. The Navy paid to have such flags sewn during the 1620s.



Liverpool City and the River Mersey Snap Shots

                    Liverpool 1728                                                    Liverpool 1728              



 The Ancient Wishing Gate 1797                      1814                                       1814                   



                1815                           Goree Warehouses 1829                Stormy River Mersey



            Storm 1836                         Paddle Steamer 1841                 Paddle Steamer 1854  



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


St George's Quay on the River Lune in Lancaster

St George's Quay was built in 1750 for the import of sugar, cotton, rum, mahogany timber and for

exporting furniture, general merchandise and slaves to the colonies in North America & West Indies.

The slave trade operated in every port on the west coast of the UK. (For us Lancashire and Cumbria.)



       The Quay at low tide.   The Customs House on St George's Quay is now the Maritime Museum.

  The Napoleonic Wars raised both demand and price for linen goods in the 1790s,

but at the same time made the Baltic trade in raw  materials more  difficult. Napoleon's blockade of the Baltic raised the price of a ton of flax from £40 to £170. The tonnage of shipping from  the Baltic via  Lancaster to Bentham Mills was falling  back in the late  1790s, while from 1808 to 1813 no  ships  entered at the  port at all.  Some flax was brought  in to  Bentham from  Liverpool to fill the gap until 1808, when  the blockade  really began to bite. Meanwhile the  West  House  and Little  Patrick Mills got their raw  materials  via Hull and the east coast and managed to  fare better.  Bentham Mill did not  recover until the late 1820's and then prospered.



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