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Medieval Sourcebook:
Privileges Granted to German Merchants at Novgorod, 1229

An early association of Hamburg, Lübeck, and Wisby obtained a factory and privileges in the city of Novgorod, the western terminus of the northern caravan route from Asia. This association, however, should not be considered as the Hanseatic League in the fullest sense of the term, though the regulations quoted in this grant may have contributed to the formation of Hanseatic Law.

In the name of God, Amen. Be it known to all the faithful of Christ seeing these presents, that according to the charters possessed in time past by the merchants living among the Ruthenians at Novgorod, the following rights and privileges of theirs are known to have existed.... When the merchants of Germany or Gothland come to Birken Island in the realm of the King of Novgorod, they will be under the peace and protection of the King and citizens of Novgorod; and the citizens of Novgorod will be responsible for whatever injury is inflicted upon them in the dominion of Novgorod. And the said merchants will have the same peace and protection both in going to their homes, and in leaving them. Moreover, when the merchants come to the water which is called Nü, they will enjoy the same liberty which they have had in all things in time past.

From the place where the boundaries of Novgorod begin the guests may have free use of the forest, cutting what timber they need, both going and coming....

Also summer guests, when they enter the land, will be under the old peace, and if the guests wish it, the King, Borchravius the duke, and the people of Novgorod will kiss the cross, just as is customary, in sign of peace, concord, and love....

When winter guests come to the torrent which is called Vorsch, information will be given to the alderman of the ferrymen, who are called Vorschkerle, so that the pilots may come in the morning; and there will be one caldron, and no more, cooked for them on that morning, and when this has been cooked and eaten, the ferrymen will help the merchants without delay; nor will any of them be taken care of in light skiffs except the men be strong and trained, so that they may take care of the goods of the guests. When the ferrymen come to the fishermen's tavern let them be paid, each one of them receiving eight martens' heads, and a pair of cloaks, or, in place of the cloaks three martens' heads, and then the guest may proceed without more delay.

Moreover, when the guests come to the place which is called gesteult, each ship will pay one mark kunen as thelony. A ship laden with food such as meat, flour, wheat, or barley, will pay half a mark kunen as thelony. But a ship laden with light food will pay nothing. The toll-gatherer will examine the goods there for what should pay thelony, but thelony will not be paid until the goods arrive at Novgorod.

When summer guests come to the torrent, which is called Vorsch the ferrymen will take them immediately, without any delay, to the fishermen's inn, where, on arrival, each boat will pay to the ferrymen four loaves of bread, and a scutella of butter: if they do not want bread, two kunen will be given in place of each loaf, and three martens' heads for the butter.

To each ferryman will be given eight martens' heads, and one pair of cloaks, or, in place of the cloaks, three martens' heads. The summer guests will observe the same law for paying thelony as is given above for winter guests.

When a guest brings skiffs into Novgorod, if such skiffs meet ships in Nü, each skiff will receive its own price and a gammon of bacon, or five marks kunen for the gammon. If the skiff meet merchants in Lake Ladoga, or in the Volga, it will receive half the price, and half the bacon, or three marks kunen. If any skiff, piloted with other skiffs, does not arrive at the appointed time, it will lose its fee. If any skiff, piloted, but not laden, is wrecked or endangered in the descent, it likewise will lose its fee. When the merchants ascend by skiffs, and perchance some dispute arise between the merchants and the ferrymen, or if an open quarrel occur, and the strife be settled by agreement, the dispute should not be aired further.

When the merchants ascend the Volga and come to Ritsagen, the servants of the merchants will not enter Ritsagen on the first day, but they will enter and leave it on the second day when they come to Dhrelleborch. When a guest has put his things into a skiff, and, because of an accident, the skiff may have been endangered or wrecked, the ferryman will not be responsible for this to the guest, but he will be responsible for the length of time spent in carrying the things. The guest will sustain the damage incurred.

When the merchants are in Nü, according to the ancient law, the guests may trade freely with the Carelians, and the men of Ingria. When guests enter Novgorod vehicles should be ready to carry their goods, and fifteen kunen will be given for each skiff load; the said fee will be paid within fifteen days. The men of Gothland will give ten kunen for the hauling of their goods.

When the guests leave the court of the Germans they will give the skiffs half a mark kunen for the descent of the river.

The courts of the Germans and of the men of Gothland and their guests will be free, so that the citizens of Novgorod cannot place any restrictions on their persons, or on their bringing, having, or selling goods. The courts of the said guests ought to be free so that if any one commit an offense, and flee to them, he should not be surrendered into the hands of any one, but he ought to be defended for it, if it be the law in his own church.

Also, no town crier, called schelke, ought to enter the courts of the men of Gothland and Germany, but a messenger of the duke can enter the court. If a Ruthenian offend a guest, the duke and the alderman of Novgorod will be informed and they will settle the case; but if a guest offend a Ruthenian, the alderman of the guests will be told, and no one will take him by force, but the alderman of the guests will offer his hand for the accused in order to bring him to reason.

Also the pleas of the guests between guests and Ruthenians must be made in the court of St. John before the duke, the alderman, and the citizens of Novgorod, and no others.

Also the guard which is called biriz has no right to enter the court, not even as far as the entrance to the court, since it is not according to the ancient law....

Also the guests can sell their goods freely and indifferently to all coming to their court because it makes little or no difference to the merchants that there be trade between a guest or a man of Novgorod. It will be the same concerning purchase and sale outside the court, and in that the said merchants will lose nothing. Guests may send their children freely and without hindrance in the land to learn the language wherever they wish.

Also from the church of St. Nicholas to the court of the guests the court must not be occupied with buildings as far as the street. The cemetery of St. Peter will be hedged in just as was customary in the past: and in the same way for the court of the Germans and the men of Gothland.

The churches of St. Peter and St. Nicholas in Upper Ladoga ought to keep their meadows according to ancient custom....

Also, no guest from Germany or Gothland is expected to go on a military expedition, nor shall he be forced to do so by law.

If a guest coming from the upper parts of the country wish to go towards Gothland he will give to the church of St. Paetniza a mark of silver and no more.

Also, if a guest must make an accusation against a Ruthenian he will have two guests and two Ruthenians (as witnesses); likewise for a Ruthenian making an accusation against a German.

If a Ruthenian and a guest disagree in their testimony, and neither wish to testify first, they will draw lots as to which will testify first, and he who does so will show the other to be guilty in the case in question.

If any Ruthenian ought to pay a debt to guests and to Ruthenians, he will pay the guest before he pays the Ruthenian; but if he have not sufficient to pay the guest, he will be forced into the servitude of the guest together with his wife and children, and if the guest wishes he may take him away, provided, however, that he offer him publicly for redemption before he take him away. But if any one intercede for him he will pay the debt to the guest.

Also, if a clerk in holy orders, an alderman, or a messenger, be killed by some mischance, which God forbid, double amends will be paid, i.e., twenty marks of silver; but if another be killed, amends will be made with ten marks of silver; but a man's servant will be atoned for by three marks of silver; the wounding of a freeman will be atoned for by the payment of two marks of silver; the wounding of a serf with half a mark. He who has slapped another will pay half a mark of silver.

Scales should be adjusted twice a year if it seem expedient, likewise for silver scales. Goods which a guest brings must be weighed in the court on the scales just as was formerly done in the weighing place, and the weigher will receive nine skins. Goods which a guest buys from a Ruthenian, the Ruthenian will present to the scales without expense to the guest, but the guest will give the weigher nine skins and not more. Whatever weigher is decreed, and on whatever scales he will weigh, he will kiss the cross that he weighs justly for both parties to the transaction. The weigher of silver will weigh without fee from the said guests. Whatever silver the assayer receives from the guests for testing he will subtract the alloy from such silver as he receives from him. When a guest has his own silver weighed the weighing must be on one scale, but there may be a second weighing if it pleases the guest. If any guest should sell his silver to the assayer of silver, and, he who receives it does not receive what the weigher of the silver weighed for him, then the citizens of Novgorod shall be responsible for this. A stater or lode, which is called cap ought to contain by weight eight Livonian talents. Also the guest should measure his goods by the rope of St. Peter.

When the summer and winter guests leave the court and come to the torrent, then, if they wish, they will take a pilot or vorschkerl, to whom they will give eight martens' heads and one loaf of bread.

Any winter or summer guests in the court, having horses, may use them freely for bringing or taking away their goods, or those of a brother using his own horses.

The court of the men of Gothland, with the church and cemetery of St. Olaf, and the adjacent meadows, will be free in all things just as they have been in ancient times.

The way from the court of the men of Gothland across the court of the King as far as the market place will be free and unoccupied with buildings in the liberty which King Constantine decreed. Also, about the court of these men of Gothland, according to ancient justice, buildings ought not to be placed nearer than eight yards, nor must a pile of timber be placed around it, nor ought anything be done there except by their consent.

Also, the court of the gild where these same men of Gothland sell their goods is not expected to assist in the repair of the bridge in any way.

The above laws and liberties, which the guest merchants in the dominion of the lord King, and in the boundaries of Novgorod, ask to be decreed, will be applied favorably to the men of Novgorod when they come to Gothland. Amen. 1229.


From: G. F. Sartorius, ed., Urkundliche Geschichte des Ursprunges der Deutschen Hanse, J. M. Lappenberg, rev., (Hamburg, 1830), Vol. II, p. 29; reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, eds., A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 225-231.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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© Paul Halsall, October 1998


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