What Was the Hanseatic League AP World History?

The Hanseatic League, also known as the Hansa, was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade in Northern Europe from the 13th to the 17th century.

Origin of the Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was founded in the mid-12th century by German merchants who established a trading base in Novgorod, Russia. The name “Hanseatic League” comes from the Old High German word “Hansa,” which means “guild.” The league started as a small alliance of traders, but it grew over time to become a powerful force in Northern Europe.

Membership and Organization

Membership in the Hanseatic League was restricted to cities with a significant trading presence. Initially, only German cities were allowed to join, but over time, other cities in Northern Europe became members as well. The league was led by L├╝beck, a city in modern-day Germany.

The organization of the Hanseatic League was complex. It had a system of alliances between member cities that allowed them to cooperate on trade matters and defend themselves against external threats. The league also had its own legal code and court system, which helped resolve disputes between members.

The Hanseatic League’s Economic Power

The Hanseatic League’s economic power came from its control over trade routes in Northern Europe. It dominated trade in important commodities like fish, timber, grain, and furs. The league set prices for these goods and controlled their distribution throughout Northern Europe.

To protect its economic interests, the Hanseatic League established trading posts and warehouses throughout Northern Europe. These posts allowed merchants to store goods until they could be transported to other markets.

The Decline of the Hanseatic League

The decline of the Hanseatic League began in the 16th century as European trade shifted from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The league’s power was also weakened by internal conflicts between member cities and competition from other trade organizations.

By the 17th century, the Hanseatic League had lost much of its economic and political power. Its member cities continued to trade with each other, but they were no longer a dominant force in Northern Europe.


The Hanseatic League was a powerful commercial and defensive confederation that dominated trade in Northern Europe for centuries. Its economic power came from its control over important commodities and trade routes in the region. Although its decline began in the 16th century, the legacy of the Hanseatic League can still be seen in the many historic buildings and landmarks that dot Northern Europe today.