Around North Sea and Baltic Sea
Throughout the centuries there were intens relations between the coastal states

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Dutch shipping and trade

A Dutch merchant ship on the Baltic Sea

During the 15-th century, traders and shippers from the Netherlands gained superiority over the Hanseatic League on the Baltic Sea. Among their most frequent destinations were the Polish harbours, especially Danzig (Gdansk), which accomodated the bulk of the Polish grain export.

Russia was, mainly through the port of Narva, a supplier of honey, wax, flax, spices and furs.

From Sweden they imported mainly timber, iron and copper.

Also copper from Hungary came to the Netherlands, shipped to Danzig on the Wisla river; wood and related products came from Norway, which was especially frequented by Frisian skippers.

Amsterdam and Gdansk

A dutchman in the 17-th century, who arrived on the quay of Gdansk, would think for a moment that he was back in Amsterdam. Lots of ships with flags of orange and blue, buildings in Dutch style, build out of bricks imported from Holland, and everywhere dutchmen in the streets. He would find churches with pieces of art, monuments and clergymen from his home country, and in the streets he were the sounds of the Dutch-made carillon of the Church of Maria. In that period, contacts between Poland and the Netherlands were at their highest point.

Because of the lack of natural resources, timber and grain, in their home-country, the Dutch were forced to develop fishing, trade and shipping to provide themselves with the necessities of life.

The things they wanted most, like herring, timber and grain, were plenty of in and around Poland.

So Poland, on the borders of the Baltic Sea and with a big hinterland with trade routes into Hungary, Turkey and Persia, became their ideal trading partner.

In the start of the 14-th century, Dantzig was the most important staple-town of the east, while in the west it was first Bruges, then Antwerp, and after 1585 Amsterdam who held this position in west- and southern Europe.

The language of the Baltic trade


The Dutch language has long been a binding factor wthin the Baltic trade. Everywhere around the Baltic Sea, Dutchmen had settled and kept speaking their own language. Still there are many roads and hamlets that carry the name Holland.

On their journeys, Dutch seamen hardly had any problem making themselves understood. Along a great portion of the Baltic coast, a kind of 'platt'-German was spoken, that came quite close to the Dutch language. Mostly, a conversation in Dutch didn't impose any problem at all.

Aboard many foreign ships, Dutch captains were in charge, and on those ships Dutch was the main language of communication. Manuals and maps from the Netherlands were widely used. Theatrical troups could travel around, and give performances in their own language.

The Polish city of Hollandt (Paslek now), founded in 1297

German colonization


The German advance to the east started as mission work. After that, the spread of the Christian faith paved the way for German settlers, and then the expansion of the German territory followed.

German missionaries, who came from Bremen, reached the southern coastal areas of Scandinavia around the year 1000. They travelled on into Norway and Sweden, where they founded the diocese of Lund. Missionaries from Magdeburg christianized the Poles; they were the founders of the diocese of Posen. And starting in Bamberg, there were missions to Breslau and into Pommerania. Shortly after them, farmers followed, who cleared the forests and reclaimed the marshlands. Enterprising colonists were recruited from the west of Europe – Flanders, Holland and the Rhineland. These developments were organized by the "Hagemeister", functionaries who, on behalf of the sovereign, issued the lands to the settlers.

Around the year 1100, Dutch settlers reclaimed the marshlands between the rivers Elbe and Oder, but this cultivation remained rather reduced. Around 1300 there were newly reclaimed areas: the region of the Lower-Elbe, the Wisla delta and the valley of the Netze.

Swedish expansion

In the12-th century Pomerania, then populated by Slavic tribes, was colonized and christianized by German settlers. When Bogislav XIV, the last duke of Pomerania, died in 1637, Sweden and Brandenburg got in dispute over the sovereignty of this land. In 1630 it was occupied by Swedish troups.

By the Westphalian Peace Treaty in 1648, Pomerania, mainly protestant, was divided. The part west of the river Oder became Swedish and the eastern part Prussian. This lasted into the Napoleontic time, when in 1815 Swedish Pomerania became a part of Prussia.

Do you have any information about the ancient trade between the states around the North and the Baltic Seas, that is relevant for this Griep-survey?
Then, please read on the page 'how to participate' how you can send in your contribution, or send an e-mail to

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Last update of this page (
on April 5, 2005, by
Jan Griep, Katwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands.