Autor: King, Wilson (?) One time Consul of the United States at Bremen, Erscheinungsjahr: 1914
There appears to be a dearth of books in English con-
cerning- the Free Cities of Northern Germany, although they
have had much to do with the history, and more especially
with the commercial history, of England and America.

At the present time, when so much is said about the iniquity
of trusts and trade gambling, puts and calls, selling for future
delivery, strikes, boycotts and corners, it may be instructive
to read how the Germans in the Middle Ages dealt with such
things, for they had them all, including " peaceful picketing "
and the minimum wage.

The history of the Free Cities has been treated of and
written about by very many German authors, and I have read
and made use of many of their books, but I have made no
original research. For the earlier history I have drawn chiefly
on the chronicles of Adam von Bremen; and Dr. Schumacher
was the chief source of my information about the Stedingers.
Upon Dr. von Bippen's history of Bremen I have mainly
depended. It is an able, exhaustive and instructive work.

Other books that I have made more or less use of are
Bilder aus der Geschichte Bremens, by Johann Kriiger; Bilder
aus der Geschichte Bremens, by Johann Beyer; Alte und neue
Zeit, by J. G. Kohl; Sagen der alien Brema, by Marie Linder-
mann; Aberglaube und Sagen Oldenburgs, by L. Strakerjan ;
Nordwest-deutsche Skizzen, by J. G. Kohl; Geschichte der
deutschen Hansa, by F. W. Barthold ; the Chronik des
Thietmar von Merseburg, and the Chronik Arnolds von
Lubeck, Helmold's Chronik der Slaven, Geschichtsquellen des
Erzstiftes und der Stadt Bremen, by J. M. Lappenburg,
Versuch einer Geschichte der kaiserlichen und reichsfreyen
Stadt Bremen, by Christian Nicolaus Roller; Die Grundung
Bremerhavens, by W. von Bippen ; Die Hansa als deutsche
See- und Handelsmacht, by Johannes Falke; Die deutsche
Hansa, by Theo Lindner, and a few others.

To me this history of these northern cities, constantly recall-


ing as it does the story of the Italian towns, is more interesting
because the actors in the drama are so much like Englishmen
in many of their actions and in their way of looking at events
and tackling difficulties. The Germans, especially the Low
Germans or Piatt Deutsch, and the English are wonderfully
alike, and there should be no difficulty in two such similar
peoples avoiding the misunderstandings which have unhappily
been very frequent of late.

For Liibeck and Hamburg I have made use of the same
ancient chronicles as for Bremen, but of course have used
other writers for more modern times. Thus for Hamburg I
have followed more especially Nehlsen's Hamburgische
Geschichte, and Dr. Otto Beneke's Hamburgische Geschichten
und Sagen. For Liibeck I have among others used largely
the Lilbeckische Chronik, Dr. Max Hoffmann's Geschichte der
freien- und Hansestadt Liibeck, and other books kindly sug-
gested by the courteous officials of the City Library at Liibeck.

It will be plain to any one reading the following pages that
I have aimed at writing simple chronicles, and not an ambitious

The late Dr. Thomas Hodgkin and the late Dr. Frederick
Seebohm read the MS. and gave me much encouragement, for
which I am grateful, as I also am to the Vice-Provost of Trinity
College, Dublin, for so kindly introducing the book. The
coloured illustrations and most of the others are the work of
my wife, but about a dozen have been made for me by students
at the Birmingham School of Art.


The very dawn of civilization may be said to have been
marked by the possession of water more than of land. The
earliest human progress we know was that of Mesopotamia and
of Egypt, and both depended upon rivers, which first carried
down rich alluvial soil from the mountains, and then continued
to fertilize it by yearly irrigation. The very name Mesopotamia
tells the tale, and the word Egypt was used not only for the
land, but for the river that made the land. In these cases
the irrigation was not more important than the highway created
by a great river without falls or cataracts. The produce of all
the banks and neighbouring hills for hundreds of miles can
be interchanged as soon as the manufacture of rafts or boats
is acquired. Indeed, much can be accomplished by letting
cumbrous goods, such as beams of timber, find their natural
way down the river. Gradually, as man's knowledge and
man's wants increase, the waterway becomes the most important
function that a great river can perform.

From the use of fresh water it is not perhaps an easy step,
but it is a certain step, to use the sea as a highway, at first
creeping along the coasts, then passing from island to island,
and so creating the earliest form of commerce with foreign
lands. And if the sea does not serve for the irrigating of
land and the production of the fruits and crops which feed
primitive man, or the trees which give him shelter, the sea, too,
has its harvest of fish and seaweed, so that it adds to its main
use as a highway that of helping to feed those that live on its
shores. Hence the first men that settled on sea-coasts, though
perhaps worse fed than their inland neighbours, yet had means
of living and a prospect of far greater interchange of the
necessaries of life.

The earliest advance of this kind, leading to great power
and a high civilization, was that of the Phoenicians who settled
on the coast of Syria, on the headlands, or even islands


near the shore, easily protected from land attack, along a coast
poor in the narrow strip of its soil, but flanked by chains of
mountains with magnificent timber, and rich veins of metal
under the surface, and on a sea rich in fish for eating and, as
was presently discovered, for dyeing the clothes they wore.
Thus from fishermen with the best timber to build boats, they
became, in the course of some centuries, a great group of trading
cities, each self-sufficient, each carrying out its own traffic
and managing its own affairs, only combining when in danger
from some great foreign power, and not even then very
loyally or for long. It is worth noting these peculiarities in
the cities of the Phoenicians. Aradus, Sidon, Tyre and the
rest were founded one after the other, and governed by no
common chief or common council, but each with its own king,
as he was called, and with its own aristocracy of merchants
who were the real sovrans.

The one colony sent out by Tyre which, by the force of
circumstances, became an empire — viz. Carthage — does not here
concern us.

The group on the coast of Syria was several times attacked
and brought under tribute by the great inland powers — Egypt,
Assyria, Macedonia — but, with the exception of Alexander's
ostentatious conquest of Tyre, accomplished at enormous
cost of time and money, the so-called subjugation of Sidon,
Aradus, etc., only meant that these cities purchased peace
and internal independence by paying tribute, in fact, by
having their profits taxed. Nor do we find that they ever
stood together loyally in great crises; when, for example,
Alexander determined to subdue Tyre, which had offered him
everything but a formal entry into her fortress, the other
cities, having made their own terms, supplied the fleet which
Alexander required, and which made his conquest possible.
Mutual jealousies must always have been very strong in these
cities. There never was one strong king of Phoenicia, and if
they served the Persian power very loyally with their fleet
against the Greeks, it was because the Greeks were their most
dangerous commercial competitors in the sea traffic of the
Mediterranean. At all events their popularity and their wealth
long survived their naval power, and Tyrian purple and Sidonian
glass made fortunes for their merchants far into the days of
the Roman empire. Need I point out the striking analogies
which this ancient history bears to the subject of the
present book?


Very similar natural conditions have been found elsewhere.
The Greek cities of the coast of Asia Minor had in the eighth
and seventh centuries b.c. created for themselves a great
traffic over the sea. The products of the inner country, nay,
even the products of the coasts of the Black Sea, were
exchanged for those of the west. But, just as in the case
of the Phoenicians, their private interests and jealousies were
too strong to allow them to form a kingdom or empire, or
even a Hansa League. When attacked by the great inland
powers, Media, Lydia, Persia, they succumbed when they might
have easily resisted under a strong central control, and it was
not till the foundation of Rhodes — 400 B.C. — as a joint stock
capital by other cities that there arose a mercantile confederacy
able to police the ^igean Sea, frame a sound mercantile code,
deal on equal terms with kings and republics, and become such
a centre of commerce and wealth, that the great earthquake
which almost destroyed it — 226 B.C. — was felt to be a world-
wide disaster. The great powers all round the Mediterranean,
even those mutually hostile, sent vast presents of money, food,
and shipbuilding materials to avoid a financial crisis, which
would have made many kingdoms bankrupt. In this case we
have one city — Rhodes — holding the leading position which
Tyre long held in the earlier group of which we have spoken,
but it was only by her moral qualities, by her strict commercial
honesty, that she kept the lead over others, like Smyrna or
Byzantium, and held them together by this bond till her
commerce was deliberately ruined by Roman chicanery and
insolence, incited by the lowest commercial jealousy.

From this time onward any combination of European free
cities became impossible till the Empire, that absorbed every
other power, broke in pieces. But then, when we find Europe
parcelled out between various sovrans, dukes and barons, who
were at constant wars, and each raiding and worrying his neigh-
bours, the great interests of commerce could only be kept alive
by combinations of the very same sort, mutatis mutandis. The
trading cities of Italy were unlike those which we have
described, in that they were not founded on rocky promontories,
and were not all on the same side of Italy — Pisa and Venice
were both near the mouth of rivers which brought down the
produce of the interior, and this was not the case with any
of the old trading leagues. But neither the Arno nor the Po
were at all such arteries as the rivers of North Germany, where
was formed the great Hanse League, which is the main subject


of this book. The enemies, however, of the Italian trading
cities were like those of the Hansa, and far more various than
the opponents of Tyre and Sidon or of Rhodes. In the Middle
Ages all the free cities, which were the bulwark of the middle
classes, and which did more for political liberty than any other
form of society, had the same kinds of foes to deal with. In
the first place these foes were either lay or clerical. A bishop
could be quite as great a tyrant as a baron and just as
pugnacious. But these, again, were each separated into two
kinds — the titular heads of Europe, the emperor and the pope,
who, if men of ability, could insist on some kind of submission
from every city and territory within the bounds of the Holy
Roman Empire — and their subordinates, local dukes, or barons,
and bishops or abbots, who were dangerous neighbours, for
the wealth of the traders was always whetting their appetites.

How the three chief cities of the north coast of Germany
played off their various faithless friends and consistent enemies
against each other, how they pursued or controlled their mutual
jealousies, how from small beginnings arose the greatest com-
mercial system of Europe for many centuries — all this is told
in Wilson King's plain and clear narrative. There cannot be
any true history without a painstaking statement of details,
and this is the proper justification of the length of a history
of these cities and of the recurrence of many situations quite
the same in character. Of course the analogies that exist
between Sidon and Liibeck, strong as they are, are as nothing
to those that exist between the three German cities; but there
are differences everywhere. In fact, it is as impossible to
reproduce precisely any crisis in human history as it is to find
one that has not strong analogies to many others. As men
of the same race are both similar in type and dissimilar in
features, so are cities. This is here told by one who lived
for years, officially as consul, in Bremen, and who knows the
others from constant intercourse and observation.

It is interesting to consider for a moment the other
geographical areas in Europe which lend themselves to such a
development of free cities, and to ask why their history was
so widely different. Ireland, for example, would have been
just the place for such a league, for its trading cities — Galway,
Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Dublin, Drogheda — were all at the
mouths of convenient rivers, and these cities were founded by
a race superior to the natives, and well able to defend them-
selves. The city of Galway even had its tribes, or guilds, of


English merchants, who long protected their liberties against
both the savage O'Flaherties and the not less troublesome
Norman Clanricardes. But the resources of Ireland were too
small and the seas around it too large to produce any European

It might have been a very different affair if the Heptarchy
had lasted, if the Norman William had not made himself real
king of all England. We can well conceive the great trading
cities, founded at the mouth of navigable rivers or estuaries —
Liverpool, Bristol, London, Hull — forming a Hansa of their
own and, under the presidency of London, drawing in the
central cities that had no outlet for their produce. For that
was evidently part of the greatness of the German combination.
But royalty was too strong and well founded in England. The
barons were never allowed to be robber chieftains in their
castles, and the country and the merchants found in the king
a strong protector against the violence of local magistrates
and the audacious monopolies demanded by foreign powers
and traders. Hence there was no need for a Hansa in England.
But the elements of it were there, and all the materials which
could have produced and made it very powerful in Europe.
Even here the Hinterland was as nothing compared to that of
the German League, which reached as far as Novgorod ! It
was the discovery of America that altered the centre of gravity
and gave the ultimate victory to the English traders. But is it
indeed ultimate? Is it not possible that the trade of Hamburg
may overtake that of London, and by playing tariff against
free trade, with the aid of a great military power, reassert
North Germany as the commercial centre of the world ?

It is not easy to estimate the moral value of these great
commercial combinations in the progress of the world. There is
undoubtedly great room for, and great encouragement of,
selfishness, for greed, for overreaching of others, for wild specu-
lation that leads to great disorders. But, on the other hand, no
walk of life shows more clearly the great and permanent value
of honesty, of the strict performance of obligations, of sturdy
independence, or, in fact, of high moral virtues. Hence, just
as in the case of religion, though both have caused many wars
and been guilty of shocking cruelties, the great aim of both
is to promote peace and good-will among mankind. Probably
the ideal man of commerce will never be so high as the ideal
saint or the ideal warrior. The great shopkeeper has never
dazzled the imagination of men like the great territorial


magnate or the brilliant knight-errant. But such varieties of
sentiment may be the mere relics of the feelings of another age.
And there are symptoms that human energy and human success
in commerce will ultimately take their place as one of the true
sources of nobility — long maintained wealth and ability, which
Aristotle saw long ago to be the only justification of what
the world knows as a hereditary aristocracy.

J. P. Mahaffy.