Historical documents of Hanseatic League included in UNESCO list

  • 2023-05-19
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - The letters addressed to the merchant Hildebrand Veckinchusen and his account books from 1398-1428 kept in the Tallinn City Archives, together with other documents related to the history of the Hanseatic League, were entered into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, which gathers documentary heritage of outstanding global value, in Paris on Thursday.

"The Veckinghusen archive is the best-preserved merchant archive from the beginning of the 15th century this side of the Alps. Therefore, keeping these documents is both a special privilege and a responsible task, in order to preserve records that are important even on a global scale. UNESCO's decision is proof of the international reputation of Tallinn City Archives, it is like a quality mark that helps to recognize a good thing more easily," Kullo Arjakas, head of the City Archives, said.

"The Veckinghusen archive is the second documentation related to Estonia on the UNESCO archival heritage list. The documents for organizing the Baltic Way were the first to be transferred there in July 2009," Arjakas added.

Hildebrand Veckinchusen, a merchant from Westphalia, was probably born around 1370. He began his activities in Bruges between 1395 and 1398, then married in Riga and, after a few years' stopover in Lubeck, moved back to Bruges, where he managed his extensive business until his death in 1426.

Veckinchusen's archive consists of 12 account books and approximately 600 letters addressed to him, which reflect his activities and wide reach as a Hanseatic merchant. Veckinchusen traded from Flanders across Lubeck and the Baltics to Novgorod, he also had business connections with southern Germany and Venice, as well as in France and London. He sold broadcloth, salt and spices to the east, receiving furs and wax. The documents left behind by Veckinchusen reflect the functioning of the Hanseatic trade based on personal contacts and trade associations he formed. At the same time, they reflect how the expanding and increasingly far-reaching business was accompanied by great risks, which eventually led to Veckinchusen's bankruptcy.

It is still unknown how Veckinchusen's letters and account books ended up in Tallinn. Apparently, the Tallinn Town Council took them into custody during the inheritance process of some of Hildebrand's relatives who were active in Livonia.

In 2016, under the leadership of the Lubeck City Archives, an application was initiated for the inclusion of Hanseatic documents in the UNESCO archival heritage list. Several archives from Germany, as well as from Belgium, Latvia, Poland, Denmark and Estonia, joined the application. A representative list of documents was prepared, which would reflect the activities of the Hanseatic League as diversely as possible. Decisions of meetings of representatives of Hanseatic cities, Hanseatic trade agreements and privileges, internal regulations of Hanseatic offices, a manuscript of maritime law, documents related to Hanseatic warfare, a Russian-Low German dictionary and one merchant archive were selected.