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”.