Logistics from Long Ago: The Hanseatic League

The European Union, NAFTA and the WTO are examples of trade agreements that we work with on a daily basis today.

These agreements facilitate trade between its members and, typically, provide mutual benefits for all member-states.

Long before these multinational treaties existed, there was the powerful and united trading alliance of Northern Europe called the Hanseatic League.

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The Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. The main purpose of the league was to facilitate trade among its members and protect their ships from the ever-present danger of pirates.

The league, known in German as the “Deutsche Hanse”, was established in the North German town of Lübeck in 1159. The governing law of the group was known as the “law of Lübeck”. The “skra” was a code of rules governing trade relations and conduct of German merchants.

The league convened once per year in Lübeck to vote on decisions and proposals from its members. Attendance was mandatory and cities that could not attend could be banned from the league for years at a time, which would negatively impact the city’s economic status.

It stretched along the major coastal cities of the British Isles to modern-day St. Petersburg, Russia and inland to cities such as Cologne, Germany and London, England during the Late Middle Ages. It was at its height of influence from the 13th Century through the 16th Century.

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The concept of a transship hub was refined by the Hanseatic League: the port city of Visby, located on the Swedish island of Gotland, was established as a major transshipment center for trade in the Baltic With Visby as the hub, the German merchants incorporated important towns on the east coast of the Baltic into the league. We can see this “hub” concept used today in Singapore (for international ocean moves) and Dubai, U.A.E. (for international air moves).

The league’s principal trade consisted of grain, timber, furs, tar, honey, and flax traded from Russia and Poland to Flanders and England, which in turn sent cloth and other manufactured goods eastward to the Slavs. Swedish copper and iron ore were traded westward, and herring caught off the southern tip of Sweden was traded throughout Germany southward to the Alps.

Several factors led to the decline of the Hanseatic League and its final demise.

Primarily, it was the development of more powerful nation-states in Northern Europe, such as Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Russia. In fact, it was Ivan III of Moscow who closed the Hanseatic trading settlement at Novgorod in 1494.

The Dutch were growing as a world trading power and in the 15th century they were able to expel the German traders from the Dutch markets and the North Sea region. New maritime connections developed between the Baltic and the Mediterranean; and the Old World began looking to the New World in America as a major source of raw materials and trade.

From the Old World to the New World, and with your talents, let’s make it a better place…good luck!

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About Lenny

Many years of experience in a Fortune 1000 companies, especially in the logistics and I.T. areas of manufacturing companies. Through process improvements and the use of many of the tools mentioned here, I have been able to identify and implement savings opportunities worth up to $10 million. I hope that some of these real-life stories, suggestions and tools can help you!
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