The struggle for the Baltic Sea


Fish, money, power

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In the 11th and 12th centuries, controlling the Baltic Sea meant controlling trade in the entire region. Salted herring and other fish were guaranteed sources of income. In the 13th century, the Hanseatic League emerged. Originally a trading confederation made up of coastal Low German market towns in former Slavic areas, by the 14th century the Hanseatic League had monopolised trade in the Baltic area.

In the 11th century, fishermen, merchants and warriors crisscrossed the Baltic Sea. The western Baltic formed the border between German, Danish and Wendish areas. The islands of Lolland, Falster and Møn were all a part of the Danish area. Fehmarn, Rügen, Mecklenburg and Pomerania, together with eastern Holstein, were Wendish. Territories east of Kiel were German. Royal families found spouses throughout the Baltic area. Twelfth century historians Saxo Grammaticus in Denmark and Helmold of Bosau in the Slavic regions both write about waves of peaceful coexistence, followed by periods of division and strife. Revenge was taken by burning towns, fishing fleets and markets.

Merchants of Scandinavia

Proper market towns with formal laws and regulations appeared in the 12th and 13th centuries, replacing the seasonal marketplaces found north and south of the Baltic. In Slavic areas, commerce moved outside the walls of hinterland castles to coastal market…

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