Hanseatic Cogs and Baltic Trade: Interrelations between Trade Technology and Ecology
By Jillian R. Smith
PhD Dissertation, University of Nebraska, 2010
Abstract: The Hanseatic League was the major commercial power in northern Europe from the twelfth through the fifteenth centuries. During this time, it grew to encompass the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas and maintained economic influence over key areas on the European continent.
From the inception of the Hanseatic League until the mid-fifteenth century, one ship type dominated the inland and overseas trade: the Cog. Cog design remained fairly constant throughout the period in spite of the great geographical variation present within the Hanseatic League.
Cogs became increasingly larger throughout the period, requiring a greater amount of oak timber for their construction. The need for timber resources to supply the demand of the shipwrights was a driving force in the expansion of Hanseatic trade eastward into the Baltic States and Russia. Using the framework of Niche Construction Theory, the relationships and interactions between ship design, trade routes and environment will be investigated.
Introduction: Trade is an integral part of all historic periods of human history and is therefore one of the most studied topics in the discipline. In archaeology trade is also a common topic of study. Many times these studies focus upon the mechanisms and goods associated with trade in order to more completely understand regional, national, or cultural dynamics. What is not often a stand-alone topic is the trade technology: the vessels of transport, the machinery of loading and unloading, etc. These aspects of trade do appear in both the documentary and the archaeological records and are worthy of study. Ships as trading vessels have received a lot of attention in maritime archaeological contexts, but usually as singular entities with little to no connection to contemporary vessels.
It is both possible and necessary to connect trading vessels with the mercantile and cultural contexts that aided in their development. Shipwrecks provide a wealth of information regarding not only the ships themselves but can also provide a glimpse into the cargoes carried on various routes. Shipwrecks also show that ships were dynamic and were repaired, retrofitted, and maintained throughout the life of the vessel. Undoubtedly, ships represented a great deal of economic investment, but they were not merely a means of conveying passengers and cargo from one port to another. Ships contained their own microcosms of stratified societies and depending upon the level of salvage associated with a wreck, might illuminate this shipboard society that is largely ignored in the historical record.