14th c. Hanseatic ship found in Tallinn

A 14th century merchant trading vessel of the Hanseatic League has been unearthed during construction work in downtown Tallinn, Estonia. Found under a highway, the vessel is a cog, the workhorse of the Hanseatic League’s shipping networks across the North and Baltic seas. Dendrochronological analysis dates to the wreck to 1360.

The cog was the primary ship used by Hanseatic merchants. The single-masted vessel had a flat bottom and no keel so it could move through shallow waters and was easily maneuvered by a small crew, even when laden with up to 90 tons of cargo. They could be built quickly at low expense and could even be armed for defense when pressed.

They ranged in size from 15 to 25 meters (50-82 feet) long, so at 79 feet long and 30 feet wide, the Taillinn cog is at the very top of the range. It was a clinker-built boat — made of overlapping oak planks sealed with animal hair and tar.

The area where the ship was found was underwater for centuries. When it sank near the mouth of the Härjapea River (a waterway that no longer exists today) 800 years ago, the spot was under seven feet of water, and the ship was quickly covered by the shifting sand ridges. The site was still submersed in the 18th century.

The waterlogged environments preserved the organic materials. The ship is in excellent condition with oak boards intact up to 10 feet from the bottom. Archaeologists have also recovered wool used for packing cargo, tools and leather shoes. In preservation it is comparable to the Bremen Cog, found during dredging operations in Bremen, Germany, in 1962 and now on permanent display at the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven. The Taillinn cog is larger and older than the Bremen Cog.

The ship will have to be be removed from the find site so that construction can continue. Unfortunately it is too big to be removed in one piece. It will be taken out in sections, conserved and reconstructed either at the maritime museum in Taillinn or the wreck preservation area in Tallinn Bay

One thought on “14th c. Hanseatic ship found in Tallinn

  1. Very interesting find! The conditions in the Baltic Sea itself are likewise pretty good for the conservation of wooden ships.

    In 1283, however, according to Peter of Duisburg, the Teutonic Order finalized its conquest of ‘Prussia’. The Lithuanian Crusade began in the winter of 1283. In addition to Christianisation, the aim had been a land corridor between Prussia and Livonia.

    The Danes had in the Northern Crusades taken possession of Tallinn in 1219, until the ‘Livonian Brothers of the Sword’ took it with papal consent in 1227. A decade later, they regrouped as the ‘Livonian Order’, i.e. an autonomous branch of the Teutonic Order, and Reval/ Tallinn was handed back to the Danes. In 1285, Tallinn became the northernmost part of the ‘Hanseatic League’.

    From 1297, there is a business letter from Scotland, written by Andy Murray and the “Highlander”, a.k.a. William Wallace, to the Hanseatic senate of Lübeck and Hamburg, that is still kept in Lübeck today. The extremely well preserved ‘St Bees Man’, discovered in the grounds of St Bees Priory in Cumbria, was probably Anthony de Lucy, 3rd Baron Lucy, who died in 1368, probably killed as crusader at New Kaunas, in what is now Lithuania.


    “Andreas de Morauia et Willelmus Wallensis, duces exercitus regni Scotie et Communitas eiusdem regni, providis viris et discretis ac amicis dilectis, majoribus et communibus de Lubek et de Hamburg, salutem et sincerae dilectionis semper incrementum.

    Nobis per fide dignos mercatores dicti regni Scotiae est intimatum, quod vos vestri gratia, in omnibus caufis et negociis, nos et ipsos mercatores tangentibus, consulentes, auxiliantes et favorabiles estis, licet nostra non praecesserint merita, et ideo magis vobis tenemur ad grates cum digna remuneracione, ad quae vobis volumus obligari; rogantes vos, quatinus praeconizari facere velitis inter mercatores vestros, quod securum accessum ad omnes portus regni Scotiae possint habere cum mercandiis suis, quia regnum Scotiae, Deo regraciato, ab Anglorum potestate bello est recuperatum. VALETE.

    Datum apud Badsingtonam in Scotia, undecisimo die Octobris, anno Graciae, millesimo ducentesimo nonagesimo septimo.

    Rogamus vos insuper ut negotia Johannis Burnet, et Johannis Frere, mercatorum nostrorum, promoveri dignemini, prout nos negotia mercatorum vestrorum promovere velitis. -VALETE. Datum ut prius.”

    “Andrew de Murray and William Wallace, leaders of the army of the kingdom of Scotland, and the community of the same kingdom, to their worthy, discreet and beloved friends the mayors and communes of Lübeck and Hamburg, greeting, and increase always of sincere friendship.

    It has been intimated to us by trustworthy merchants of the said kingdom of Scotland that you by your own goodwill are giving counsel, help and favour in all causes and business concerning us and our merchants, although our merits had not deserved this, and therefore all the more are we bound to you to give you thanks and a worthy recompense, to do which we are willing to be obliged to you; and we ask you that you will make it be proclaimed amongst your merchants that they can have secure access to all ports of the kingdom of Scotland with their merchandise since the kingdom of Scotland, thanks be to God, has by arms been recovered from the power of the English. Farewell.

    Given at Haddington in Scotland on the 11th day of October in the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven.

    We request moreover that you will be so kind to forward the business negotiations of John Burnet and John Frere, our merchants, just as you wish us to forward the business negotiations of your merchants. Farewell. Given as before.

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