Tuesday 25 September 2012

Commerce and Trade

Commercial ties between states and cities were well established by the 15th century however maintaining them often became the unending source of conflict. Near the end of the century the established stream of commerce came under threat by new developments that would have profound effect in the following century. What follows are commerce and trade highlights that may serve the development of a campaign game.  

Existing Trade Routes

Roughly speaking, when thinking about medieval trade routes through Western Europe the majority of goods moved along commercial lanes running north to south. The great rivers of the Oder, Elbe and Rhine facilitated the movement of large and heavy items destined for the Baltic with a return trip bringing product to the Mediterranean lands. The cost of transport, tolls and taxes were relatively speaking regulated throughout the empire, nonetheless, commerce could do business with the Empire’s commercial rivals such as Venice, Genoa or the Hanseatic League.

Hanseatic League

By the beginning of the 15th century the Hanseatic League dominance in the Baltic came under increased activity of Dutch shipping and increased competition diminished Hanseatic staple markets. From its inception in 1161, the Hanseatic League expanded to upward of 200 merchants and trading houses operating throughout the North Sea and Baltic Sea region. Economic issues were resolved through conventions attended by delegates of the guilds and trading houses.

Most of the Hansa cities gained some level of independence through the collective bargaining power of the league, here the Hanseatic Free Cities owed allegiance directly to the Holy Roman Emperor, without any intermediate family tie of obligation to the local nobility.

In the 13th and 14th century, the Hanseatic League could impose economic blockades against kingdoms and principalities and in some cases even waged wars, Denmark being its greatest opponent.


Of the different guild systems our primary interest falls on the merchant guilds. Their products, possibly iron, salt, wool, spices, incense, gold and silver are crammed into wagons or the holds of ships on their way to reach a final destination. Merchant guilds strove to establish a monopoly for their product while setting tolls and taxes to outsiders for theirs. Delivery of product was not without risk from bandits or war such that short distances between cities and towns may find an armed escort necessary. 

The more powerful guilds could often exert political influence to control city authorities and in time some became the wealthiest and most influential citizens in many towns and cities. As urban localities became self-governing guilds were able to pass legislation to regulate all economic activity in many towns.

Possible application to a campaign system.

The conflicts of Northern Germany were not unlike those experienced by the Italian City states a century earlier. Trade monopolies could be threatened by competing cities or commercial traffic could be disrupted by banditry, piracy or war. For the purposes of this game, the DBA Medieval German lists IV/13 'c' and ''d' have been expanded to allow for armies raised by different sources; city state, clerical, mercenary and feudal. 

Commerce between entities should be simplified and require little record keeping. The type of goods can be diverse enough that income can be generated each season, followed by taxation and he payment of loans to be conducted at the end of the year (winter season). More ideas will surface as the revision of the topics continues.


Die Hanse, https://www.hanse.org/en/

Hanseatic League (wiki) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanseatic_League

Great Bullion Famine (wiki) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bullion_Famine

Map, by Lampman, published 18 December 2018.


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