The Amber-Trading-Routes of the Hansa-League

Joannes Richter

The correspondence of Hildenbrand Veckinchusen
A documentary movie Terra-X, Die Deutsche Hanse. Part 21 documents the life of the trader Hildebrand Veckinchusen2, whose biography had been reconstructed from approximately 500 letters and several notebooks. These letters3 which are now stored in Tallinn are available in a Wikisource. Around 1400-1410 Hansa-traders are using a trading route leading from the East Sea port Lübeck by Bruges (Belgium), Augsburg and the Brenner-pass to Venice. Their main trading goods are amber, textiles and furs. In order to evade the Venetian traders, who held offices at Bruges, twelve traders, including Sivert and Hildebrand Veckinchusen, at the beginning of the 15th century initiated a direct trading contact to upper-Italy. They named the trading society the „venedyesche selscop“, the “Venetian association”. For security reasons the society's members transported their trading goods overland. In Venice they bought their goods, such as spices, sugar, Brazilian timber, alum, Frankincense (incense), etc. to sell these at the markets of Flanders, England, the Holy Roman Empire and Scandinavia. On the other hand they sold amber rosaries and raw amber, textiles and furs to Venice. By 1409 the trading position of “Venetian association” developed prosperously, but for Hildebrand Veckinchusen the decline may have started at 1414. Traditionally the trading had been protected by the Teutonic Knights, but at the Battle of Grunwald or 1st Battle of Tannenberg (fought on 15 July 1410) the knights had been defeated. This lost battle severely influenced power of Prussia and the trading position of the Hansa.

Reconstruction of the trading route
The trading route as sketched in the documentary has been drawn in a Google-map Hanseatictradingroute from Lübeck straightaway to Ammerstol (a toll-station for amber-trading up to 1400) and Bruges and from Bruges by the Ardennes, Bernkastell towards Bruchsal via the Rems-valley towards the river Brenz, passing Augsburg, Ammersea (Ambersea), Oberammergau (Amberdistrict), Barm-sea, Ammersattel (Ambersaddle), Innsbruck, Brennerpass, and the Brenta-river to Venice. An alternative route leads from Bernstadt towards Innsbruck revealing the stations Fernpass (Bernpass), Fernstein (“Burning stone” → Amber) and Fernsteinsee (Bernstein-sea → Amber-sea). The words „Bern“ and „Ammer“ („Amber“) refer to the “burning” stone amber. The towns, lakes and mountain-passes probably received their names a long time before the trading era 1400-1410. Of course the trading route between Bruges and Venice had been in use before 1400 and after 1410. An overview of these routes has been documented in the German manuscript Der Brenner Codex die Bernsteinstraße. Hildebrand Veckinchusen used a route which had been in use for centuries before he started the“Venetian association”.

1 Terra X, 08.05.2011 19:30 (in German language)
2 1370 - 1426 3 in Low German language

At the end of the Middle Ages traders preferred overland routes after pirates such Nikolaus Storzenbecher, or Klaus Störtebeker 4 had been terrorizing the sea routes. Obviously a medieval tollstation for amber trading had been located at Ammerstol in the lower Rhine delta. In 1221 the village Ammerstol was recorded „Theloneum de Ambers“5, in 1233 „Theloneum suum de Ambers“ and by 1299 „in thelonio nostro Ambers“. In 1322 Count William III of Holland even reserved municipal rights for Ammerstol6, but these rights proved to be too expensive and the town refused to be promoted. Obviously the toll income already was declining. In 1401 Aelbrecht of Bavaria moved the tollstation from Ammerstol to Schoonhoven and these tollrights never returned to the village. Opposite to Ammerstol another Amberstation is located, named Great-Ammers and both towns must be considered members of the Dutch amber-routes, existing before 1400. The time stamp 1401 for the transfer of toll-rights from Ammerstol to Schoonhoven (NL) quite well correlates to the flowering episode of Hildebrand Veckinchusen's amber trading from Lübeck to Venice.

The Ardennes
The Ardennes in Belgium seemed to correlate to the Latin verb ardeo and Lapis Ardens (Amber as a “burning” stone), but on the other hand a forest named charcoal forest (Wikipedia: Silva Carbonaria) located at the west-side of the Ardennes also refers to the “ardent” coal, which may have been found in this region. The Ardennes may have been a charcoal or a Coal Forest as well. A Google map documents the location for this charcoal forest (Silva Carbonaria).

Around 1400-1410 Hildebrand Veckinchusen's Hanseatic trading routes between Lübeck, Bruges and Bruges-Augsburg-Brennerpass-Venice refer to several traditional trading stations, such as Ammerstol (→ Ambers-toll), Ammersee (→ Amber-Sea), Ammersattel (→ Amber-saddle) and Oberammergau (Amber-district), which refer to amber trading, although the Hansa-traders also exported textiles and furs from the northern countries to the Mediterranean Sea. In German language the “burner”-names Bernkastel, Brenz, Brennerpass and Brenta will also refer to amber (German: Bernstein) trading. The time stamp 1401 for the transfer of toll-rights from Ammerstol to Schoonhoven (NL) quite well correlates to the flowering episode of Hildebrand Veckinchusen's amber trading from Lübeck to Venice.

4 ca. 1360 – 1401
5 Lat. Teloneum, Gr. Telwneion = toll, tollstation 6 Info from

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