Русский English Deutsch Le français Español Lingua italiana Suomi Svenska 中
Main page / Veliky Novgorod - the city of Hansa
Veliky Novgorod - the city of Hansa

The oldest city in Russia, the cradle of Russian democracy, the medieval centre of trade and crafts, the leading partner of the Hanseatic League of 12th – 17th cc., the link between medieval Europe and Russia and the borderline between two civilizations. All these are descriptions of Veliky Novgorod.

Over here people used to wear leather boots instead of bast shoes, the streets were cobbled from ancient times, the commoners were in correspondence with each other, and all the rulers were welcomed and banished whenever the Novgorodians wanted. Over here the first Russian books were written, the first birch-bark letters were found and one of the leading Hanseatic depots of Europe was founded.

St. Olavhof (“hof” for “courtyard”, German) and St. Peterhof formed the Novgorod Hanseatic depot that was located in Yaroslav’s Courtyard, the medieval marketplace. Surrounded by a log stockade, the courtyards looked like fortresses. Inside the courtyards there were churches, at the walls of which the stevens (“gatherings”) were held and all the burning issues of those days were decided; two-storied houses called dorises where the merchants with their stewards and trainees lived; klet’s, a housing for holding trade and storing goods; a great chamber, a stewards’ room, a mill, a brewery, a banja (sauna) and a hospital. Interesting enough, the Novgorod Hanseatic depot was the most isolated part of the city in which it was located. Even Novgorod officials could not interfere with the internal affairs of the Hansahof.

Due to Novgorod there was a thriving trade between old-Russia and Hansa. Thus, the leading medieval Russian exports included furs and wax, being highly valued all around Europe. There were a lot of western European monarchs and persons of distinctions wearing expensive   fur coats, and hats made of rich Novgorod furs of ermine, sable, marten; Russian wax candles were lit on the grand altars of gothic cathedrals. Sometimes hunting birds – falcons – also appear to have been exported, as well as leather and some leather items. By the way, Novgorod footwear was also highly valued.

From the East Novgorod received the goods that later appeared in the markets of all the other Russian cities and towns. And it was Russian merchants who profited from delivering them all around Russia as German tradespeople sold their goods just in Novgorod. Imported merchandise included expensive fabrics, broadcloth, and nonferrous metal, used in crafts for which Novgorodian craftsmen were famed.

Hansa merchants brought in Greek, French, Spanish and, of course, Rhine wine as well as Baltic herring, salt and even bread in years of bad harvest.

Hansa partners helped Novgorod out of difficulties more than once. Thus, according to one chronicler, in 1231 it was seed from Hansa that saved Novgorod from the serious consequences of spreading famine.

Hansa and old-Russia practiced both wholesome and barter trade. Money was used only to measure the value of goods.  By the way, the trade itself took place not at the Marketplace but in the Hansahof and in the yards of Novgorodians where Russian and German merchants examined the goods they needed, chose the best and arranged deals.

Trade relations between Hansa and Novgorod were regulated by some special agreements and the regulations of the Hansahof called “Skra”. These agreements guaranteed safe trading. Thus, the essential articles were ones about providing a “secure trade route” to Novgorod land for Hanseatic merchants and to the Baltic for Novgorodians.

In 1993 Novgorod became the first Russian member of the Hanseatic League of Modern Age and annually since then it has presented its medieval traditions at the International Hanseatic Days. In its 1150th anniversary celebration Novgorod is hosting the 29th International Forum “Hanseatic Days of the Modern Age”, being held under the motto “Expanding the borders”. 

Learn more about the history of relations of Hanseatic League and Veliky Novgorod!

Veliky Novgorod - the city of Hansa: Windows and doors

Windows and doors:

The Russian Tsar Peter I is said to "have opened a window to Europe" because he, having adopted the experience of the Northern European countries, carried out significant reforms in the country in the 18th century and turned ancient Rus into the Russia we know now. But starting from the 11th century, not windows, but doors to Europe were widely open in Novgorod for Hanseatic merchants and their goods.

These bronze gates in the St. Sophia Cathedral in the Novgorod Kremlin now are open only on holidays and serve for the solemn entrance to the temple. Their different names correlate to different cities - Magdeburg, Korsun, Plotsk, Sigtuna. Germany,

Byzantium, Poland, Sweden - 4 European countries are represented in the names. There are many versions of both the origin and the acquisition of these gates by Novgorodians. They were definitely made in Western Europe, their plates depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments, they also bear figures of their masters - Ricwin, Weismut, and between them - a figure of the Russian master Abraham, who, most probably, assembled this trophy of Novgorodians after it had been brought to Novgorod . All Hanseatic merchants, if they happened to look at these gates, began to believe in the wealth of the city and the firmness of а merchant's word.

The Gothic Yard:

It is impossible to tell the year when the Hanseatic merchants with their goods first appeared in Novgorod. But it is known for sure that the decree of Prince Yaroslav, dated in the year of 1023, already mentions Germans, Varangians and Goths who lived in a special settlement near the river. The Volkhov river divides the city into two parts: its right bank is even now called the Marketplace part, the left one - the Sofia part , after the Cathedral of St. Sophia. Foreign merchants could only live on the Marketplace part, first in homesteads, then in special settlements, or courtyards. The German colony in Visby and Gothland tried to develop relations with Russians. There was a close-knit Russian community in Visby, which even had its own church. The Gothic yard in Novgorod became the first foreign merchants' courtyard, it had its own large area and was located in the southern part of the Yaroslav Court. The Gothic yard had its own Code, the headman (titled olderman) was at the head of the court, there were living quarters, warehouses and the church where a priest served.

Saint Olaf's Church:

And, of course, the inhabitants of the Gothic yard built their own church - the St. Olaf's Church, consecrated in honour of a Scandinavian saint - King Olaf II of Norway, who visited Novgorod and even lived here for several years. Saint Olaf is also venerated in the Orthodoxy. And there even is a chapel with an icon of this saint is now in the Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Veliky Novgorod. The ancient church of St. Olaf is mentioned in Scandinavian chronicles in the story of the miraculous healing of a dumb slave in this church in Holmgard (as Novgorod was called in Scandinavia).

Saint Nicolas's Cathedral:

There were 9 churches on the territory of Yaroslav Court in ancient times, quite a lot for such a small area. And it's all because rich merchants tried to build a church there in honour of their patron saint. At the same time   the ground floor of the temple was used as a warehouse for goods. The main church of the courtyard is the St. Nicholas Cathedral. Oh yes, St. Nicholas is equally revered both in Europe and in Russia. The famous Novgorod “veche”, a meeting of city residents, at which all important issues of city life were discussed, gathered  by the walls of this very temple. The construction of the cathedral started in 1113. Having stood for almost 1000 years, during the Soviet era and during World War II, it was badly damaged. And it was restored! Funds for its reconstruction in the amount of $270 000 were raised  by the residents of 64 Hanseatic cities from 8 Europian countries , members of the Hanseatic League of ModernTimes, the new Hansa. Novgorod is grateful to all of them!

Saint Peter's Yard:

During the golden age of the Hanseatic League, so many merchants came to Novgorod that the houses and warehouses at the Church of St. Peter could no longer accommodate all visitors. So, the settlement was expanded and turned into the German courtyard or Peterhof. If the Gothic court adjoined to the Yaroslav court from the south, then the German one - from the east. The residents of the courtyard were obliged to observe the rules of order, which were called "skra" in Old German. The temple in the courtyard also served as a warehouse, dwellers slept in small private rooms, held feasts in the canteen. There were offices, trading rooms, sick quarters for infectious patients, a canteen, a bathhouse and a brewery. Apprentices learned Russian to carry out trade transactions. The history of the Gothic and German courts ended in the 15th century. Tsar Ivan III, who also subordinated Novgorod to Moscow, put his finger in this pie. And recently, archaeologists have discovered in the center of Veliky Novgorod the floorings of medieval streets, within which the German court was located. As scientists say, the length of the yard along the street was 60 meters! After the work of archaeologists is completed, it is planned to open a historical and archaeological park in this area of the city. Would you like to come and  see!

Make rich and enrich each other:

The greatness and wealth of the Hanseatic merchants and cities, and, thus, the wealth and greatness of a significant part of modern Europe were based on the  mutually beneficial trade with Rus. Trade, including transactions with  Hanseatic merchants, turned Novgorod on the Ilmen Lake, into a powerful and prosperous free city. Medieval Novgorod was the center of Russian trade, a staging post for goods from all over the world. Together with comodities, there was an exchange of technologies, knowledge and ideas in both directions. Ancient Novgorodians wore leather shoes, walked on wooden pavements, and used water supply and wastewater disposal systems. The best carpenters, blacksmiths, gunsmiths in Russia worked here. The population of ancient Novgorod was literate with no exception. Not only men, but also women and children were able to read and write. The city was named Great not only because of its wealth. And the Hanseatic trade significantly influenced the relations between Germany and Russia for many centuries.

Hanseatic Route in Veliky Novgorod

↑ Up