Beautiful Tallinn, Pearl of the Baltic, Florence of the North, Revel, Lindanaes. The Danes, Teutonics, and the Swedes all played a part in establishing one of the largest, merchant cities in Europe.
We have often written about the history of Tallinn on our website. We have also written about its many historic sights, its inhabitants and even about its small Polish minority. However, Tallinn is also a city full of secrets. Each street, house, and church has its own private history. Some of them we already know, and some all still waiting to be retold.
Gleufum simply means amber. Although the Estonians didn’t know about its properties, they knew it was a great means of payment, and they used it as such quite often. It can, therefore be assumed that, the first inhabitants of Estonian lands were skilled tradesmen. This skill came in handy many times, especially when they send the amber to the king of Ostrogoths as a gift. This stone softened the king’s heart and in return he invited the Estonians to his kingdom.
Territories located close to large bodies of water quickly became an area of expansion for Estonia’s neighbors. The town was not strong enough to successfully defend itself from enemy incursions, and was quickly conquered by the Danes. It was not therefore the town’s destiny to wage and win wars, full of bloody casualties, but rather to trade. This was a policy adopted at the beginning of Tallinn’s existence. No one is undefeated. The Danes, who couldn’t cope with the power of the Teutonic Order, finally sold the town.
Vein of Gold
In history the medieval times are know as the Dark Ages, however, this name does not at all fit with what was happening in Europe at that time. For Tallinn the medieval times meant the rise a great power. The Hanseatic League was born. It is also possible to mention Gutenberg…and so during the medieval times trade flourished, culture developed and cities grew…Those were the Dark Ages. However, let us leave the musings as to the adequacy of the name to the times, and proceed forward.
The policy of the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, did not limit itself only to the flourishing of trade, but also to the waging of crusades. That is why in the XIII century Estonia, not without resistance, accepted Christianity. Real emigration of merchants from Westphalia and Lübeck also began at that time, at the special invitation of the Order of the Brotherhood of the Sword, mainly at the outlet of the Finnish Bay.
In 1285 Tallinn became part of the Hanseatic League. Due to the crossing of trade routes it soon became a town, integrating Ruthenia and Eastern Europe. The largest merchant transactions took place here; merchants combined their knowledge, business savvy and the city’s geographic location. The real turning point, however, was the policy concerning outgoing goods. On the grounds of the Lübeck privilege, all transported goods had to be placed by the town gates. Thanks to that, merchants could gain money on indirect trade between Ruthenia and the Western part of Europe. Tallinn, therefore had a monopoly, and became one of the main trading centers. As a souvenir it now has mighty city walls with red-roofed towers, along with a system of entrance gates. The largest one is the Sea Gate, which was supposed to make an impression on those entering the town. Everything was being traded, including amber, furs, and honey. In return salt was the most often purchased commodity.
The Brotherhood of the Balckheads was also established at that time, an association of rich, unmarried merchants, whose influence reached further than just trade (it is simply enough to look at the secular and sacral murals, which portray the Blackheads, or look for their coat of arms on the facades of houses). They were the first lobbyists, indeed. The Blackheads influenced all aspects of life, beginning with trade and ending with art.
How to become a citizen?
Thanks to the city chronicles we know that in about 1460, a merchant from Lübeck, Hans Pawels came to Tallinn. Due to his profession he joined the elite Brotherhood of the Blackheads. Luck was on his side, because shortly he became a member of the Great Guild, which gave him the exclusive right, to conduct business with far-away countries (The Great Guild brought together only the largest of merchants). Not much is known about Pawels, however what is known, provides us with a perfect example of the career path and the wide range of opportunities available to “the chosen ones”.
Tallinn is divided into two parts. Throughout the ages, the Upper Town belonged to the ruling class and the rich, and it is also the oldest part of Tallinn. Two legal systems were in force in the capital, one for the Upper City and one for the Lower. Not everyone could come and go as they pleased into and out of the Upper and Lower Town. It was necessary to have special permits – which were not easy to get.
Even today it is possible to see a large mark, left over from the locking mechanism on the gate leading into Toompea. The divided parts of town only became one in the XIX century.
The only way to become a citizen of the town was for a person to first show his worth. This, of course, wasn’t easy. During the first years, the newcomer had to work hard in order to show that he could support himself, and at the same time work in the interest of the city. There was an intense process of selection in place. However, this made sure that the people, who remained, not only increased their own wealth, but also financed projects which furthered the development of the town. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. At the end of the XV century, keeping a monopoly on the trade routes became impossible. The Hanseatic League breaks down, thanks in no small part to Russia, which perceives Estonia as a tasty morsel.
In the XVII century, those lands will belong to Great Russia, strangely enough, retaining most of their privileges. Although in the chains of slavery, the city will continue developing. In the XX century, being a part of one of the republics of the Soviet Union, it will be the apple in the eye of Kremlin. After 1991, Estonia will show the rest of Europe that the spirit of a great merchant still lives in his descendants.
Translator: Szczepan Witaszek