Germany - the origins of the Hanse

MTI13C -Trading Methods of the Hanse . RICHARD BENNETT

The purpose of the Hansa was to give collective protection in foreign lands, to secure trade privileges, and to watch over those aldready in place.

The trading methods of the Hansa were mainly partnerships, the preservation of already existing trade and even force. The Hanseatic league on several occasions, resorted to boycott, blockade or privateering. For example in 1358, when the Hanseatic cities ordered their merchants to withdraw from Bruges and not trade with Flanders until they had obtained a settlement for their grievences.

They even clashed with England, from 1469 to 1474, and successfully engaged in naval warfare. From this the Hansa obtained the restoration of it's old privileges and succeded in halting for many years the pentration of the English merchants into the Baltic. This shows that the consistant method of the Hansa was to preserve it's control over the Baltic trade against any intruder.

The Hanseatic trade mainly extended along a single axis, with it's centre in Lubeck and two arms: One streching out west to Bruges and London, and the other east to Riga and Novgorod. The only brach off was to Bergen in Norway. This style of axis allowed the Hanseatic merchants to get along with less elaborate machinery. It is therefore not surprising that business methods were less advanced in this region and still forced the merchants or his factors to be constantly on the road.

The individual merchant trading on his own was still common. Partnerships did exist, but were more or less temporay associations in which 2 or 3 merchants joined forces for a specific purpose. Some of these contract were occasional partnerships formed for a single venture, but others were of longer duration and continued year after year. All these contracts had the common feature of being well suited to the persistantly colonial character of the Hansa.

Amoung these occasional partnerships the most typical were the 'Sendeve' and the most widely known the 'Wederlagginge'. These came closer to being an agency contract, since it involved the trade of a stock of goods by a servant, a fellow merchant, or an innkeeper, according to the instructions of the principal who assumed all the risks of the venture.

By far the most typical method of Hanseatic trade was the 'mutual agency partnership'. This was whereby a partner in one place and a partner in a different place agreed to act as each other's agents and to sell reciprocal consignements/goods at a common profit. This was well adapted to the needs of the Hansa. However, this agreement remained unknown to outsiders and no central book-keeping methods were used. There were no means of control, the arrangement rested largely on confidence and business integrity. These drawbacks were serious and became frequent sources of litigation.

Historians studying the Hanse insist that during the fourteenth and fifthteenth centuries, Hanseatic trade tended to become more sedentary, because of the growth of business by correspondence.

However there seemed to be no banking centres or organised money markets east of the Rhine. Despite this scarcity of currency the Hanseatic merchants were forced to settle debts abroad by shipment of specie, the least efficient way of transferring funds.

In general, the Hanseatic trading methods were backward compared to that of the Italians and there seemed to be a lag of a century between the two. It is only in the sixteenth century that the Hansa begins to improve and brings them up to the same level.