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Baltic Sea Trade

A history of the maritime relations between the countries around the Baltic Sea between 1450 and 1800



Changing Patterns in Seaborne Trade (c. 1450-1800)

Hanno Brand (Hanse Research Centre, Groningen University)


Each year during the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, many hundreds of ships plied the narrow waters of the Sound in both directions, carrying the produce of the economies located on the shores of the Baltic and the North Sea. The Baltic seaborne trade was based on the exchange of raw materials, foodstuffs and minerals from the east, and on the influx of the rich commodities and domestic industrial produce from the west. It gave rise to a trading system that was structured on the basis of the pivotal role staple markets played in the purchase and distribution of the commodities that were transported along the vast waterway stretching from the Finnish Gulf to the Danish Kattegat. The struggle for control over these markets, their hinterlands and the seaborne trading routes that linked them is the common element in the history of the maritime powers east and west of the Sound and the changing patterns of trade in the region. This narrative attempts to trace the main lines of these developments from various angles over a period of almost 400 years. Starting with the rise and fall of the German Hanse, the dynamics of the Baltic system are be elaborated by analysing the advance of the Dutch in the Baltic and the emergence of new powers in the eastern Baltic. Finally, the application of mercantilist policies in the region and the outcomes of the Great Nordic Wars explain the changing relations between the seaborne nations in and beyond the Baltic.

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