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Hanseatic League

Hanseatic League

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During the late 15th century, the trading towns of Northern Germany wanted to encourage the growth of trading routes, and therefore their profits. Over the course of centuries, an alliance grew between cities in Northern Germany. In 1356, the cities put an official name to their alliance, becoming known as the Hanseatic League.

Hanseatic League Definition

The Hanseatic League was a trading association or guild, that was founded in 1356 and primarily centered in Northern Germany, but spread all the way across to England and into Scandinavia.

The majority of land and towns were under the control of feudal lords during the Medieval Period. However, the practice of feudalism began to fade as mercantilism became the main source of income. This made it an opportune time for cities to focus on their trade.

The League slowly began to form over the course of the 13th century, beginning with a loose alliance between cities that agreed that they would come to each other's aid if they were ever attacked. It was not until the 1350s that the cities decided that having a structure in place, with clear rules and authority, would be beneficial. This led to the official founding of the Hanseatic League in 1356.

The Hanseatic League became an important player in the trading of raw materials such as wax, timber, and pitch. They also heavily traded foods such as grains and fish. In return, their trading brought in goods like textiles and spices from all over the world to the population in Northern Germany. The Hanseatic League was foremost a trading company, but like many other trading companies, they also traded cultures with the regions that traded with.


a group of towns or people that come together in an alliance for a certain purpose.


the focus on trade as the primary source of wealth.

Hanseatic League Map

The Hanseatic League was made up of cities in Northern Europe, primarily Germany, and in Southern Scandinavia. The geographical location of the Hansa cities was no coincidence; the cities belonging to the Hanseatic League, also called Hansa cities, were all located strategically close to a port from which their ships could easily reach.

Hanseatic League A map highlighting locations of the Hanseatic League. StudySmarter

Fig. 1 A map highlighting locations of the Hanseatic League.

The majority of the Hansa cities bordered either the Baltic or the North Sea, which was the main route that the traders would use to travel. Along these seas were port cities surrounded by land that were rich in resources in high demand across the trading towns.

Hanseatic League Cities

The Hanseatic League boasted close to 200 member cities at its peak. The major cities in the Hanseatic League were Lübeck, Bergen, London, and Novgorod. However, membership of the Hanseatic League extended to cities such as London.


Perhaps the most important and influential city related to the Hanseatic League was Lübeck, a Free Imperial City and one of the first German towns located along the Baltic sea to emerge. Lübeck later became the Queen City of the Hanseatic League. In the mid-13th century, Lübeck attempted to centralize power from the city, creating treaties that would band the Hanseatic cities more closely together through military and economic ties.

The Hanseatic League A view of modern-day Lubeck StudySmarterFig 2. A view of modern-day Lübeck.

German settlers who were emboldened by their success in Lübeck pushed into these cities along the Black Sea. Rostock, Wismar, and Riga were founded as Hanseatic towns. The cities themselves were free and held their own separate governments and societies, but they were bound to certain rules and expectations of the League.

Bremen and Hamburg

Other Free Imperial Cities included Bremen and Hamburg. As Free Imperial Cities, they possessed more autonomy and could join the Hanseatic League. However, even if cities were not Free Imperial Cities, they were not excluded from joining the League. Cities still under the control of a ruler could set up a kontor.

Free Imperial City

a city that is located within a larger empire but has been granted autonomy and powers that other cities do not have


a portion of a city, usually in the form of a trading outpost or building, that was associated with the Hanseatic League

Setting up a kontor meant that a city could not officially join the League as they were under the rule of a monarch. Nonetheless, these cities could have a trading outpost that was associated with the League, giving them access to the perks of being a Hansa city.

The Hanseatic Cities after the Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic Cities remained relevant well into the 18th and 19th century and embraced trading opportunities across the Atlantic. At one point, Bremen became one of the important port cities in which goods departed to and arrived from the United States.

The Imperial Cities of Lübeck and Hamburg, and the entire Hanseatic League, were also involved with US trade.

The Hanseatic League The seal of the Hanseatic League StudySmarterFig 3. The seal of the Hanseatic League.1

Hanseatic Day is still celebrated in the ancient cities that were a part of the Hansa.

Forces of the Hanseatic League

Even before the Hanseatic League was officially founded, in 1262 three cities signed an agreement to fight piracy that threatened their trade along the Baltic Sea. In many ways, this anticipated the future agreement of the League, which outlined the purpose of the League as not only a trading and economic alliance but also a military one.

While the members of the Hanseatic League could band together to protect their interests, by military force or by economic influence, every member of the League could not be held responsible for the actions of another member. However, it was very likely that an attack on one member of the League would lead the rest of the Hansa cities to come to their aid.

The Hanseatic League met at the Hansetag, a meeting convened to make decisions about trading rules and tasked with consolidating the various needs of different cities.

The Hanseatic League A painting depicting the formation of the Hanseatic League StudySmarterFig. 4: A painting depicting the formation of the Hanseatic League.

Hanseatic League significance

The Hanseatic League was an important player in how trade and economic policies developed in Europe during the 14th century.

The League brought trade to many European cities. Its network was a critical way to link cities across the continent. They became the most influential power on the trading culture in Northern Europe during the Renaissance. Some cities, like Hamburg, endure as prominent international trading hubs.

European Trade Cities - Key takeaways

  • The Hanseatic League, also referred to as the Hansa, was founded in 1356 and disbanded in 1862.
  • The League was a trading alliance between European cities in order to protect their economic interests, as well as make trading between cities easier.
  • The Hanseatic League had a large presence in Northern Germany and had member cities in England and Scandinavia. There were about 200 member cities at its peak.
  • The members of the Hanseatic League consisted of Free Imperial Cities that joined on their own and kontors.
  • The League mostly traded resources such as timber and wax, and in return brought back items such as textiles and spices.


  1. Fig 3 Arms of the Hanseatic League by Gabriel Cibber (c.1670) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arms_of_the_Hanseatic_League_(c.1670).JPG by Kim Traynor https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Kim_Traynor Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
  2. Fig 4 Hanseatic League's formation in Hamburg, Germany https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanseatic_league.jpg by Unknown Licensed by Public Domain Mark 1.0 https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

Frequently Asked Questions about Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was an association of cities based on their common trading interests. 

The Hanseatic League was founded in 1356 and was disbanded in 1862.

The purpose of the Hanseatic League was to protect the trading interests of a group of cities. 

Trade groups like the Hanseatic League made it easier to trade with cities, as cities belonging to the League had the privileges that cities not belonging to the League did not. 

Cities belonging to the Hanseatic League spanned across Northern Germany, Scandinavia, but their influence spanned even to England and Russia.

Final Hanseatic League Quiz

Hanseatic League Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


When was the Hanseatic League founded?

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When was the Hanseatic League disbanded?

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What is the difference between a kontor and a free imperial city?

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A kontor was a city given permission to join the hansa but still under the control of a ruler, but a free imperial city was autonomous 

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What are three major Hanseatic cities?

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Lubeck, Bremen, and Hamburg

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True or False: the entire Hanseatic League could be held responsible for the actions of one of their members. 

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False. Each city was responsible for its own actions

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Most of the Hanseatic Cities bordered the _____ and _____ Seas. 

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The Baltic and North Seas

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Why did the rise of mercantilism lead to groups such as the Hanseatic League?

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Mercantilism is collecting profits from trade (rather than agriculture), meaning that cities would need to protect and grow their trade

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What were some of the items and goods that the Hanseatic League traded?

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Wax, timber, fish, grain, and pitch

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What city served as the capital or "Queen" city of the Hanseatic League?

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True or False: the Hanseatic League only traded within Europe

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False, Hanseatic League trading routes reached the US and Asia

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