General description of the Hanseatic period
The town of New-Pärnu was established on April 5, in 1265, when it was given town privileges. At that time the Hanseatic League had not yet been fully formed and its organization was still being developed. New-Pärnu was established on the territory of the Livonian Order, a separate branch of the Teutonic Order, and was granted privileges by the Master of the Order, and since the Teutonic Order was part of the creation of the league, Uus-Pärnu was also included in it. Being part of the Hanseatic League was important for trading towns, because passing merchants were made to unload and stock their goods in the town, which brought great wealth to the local merchants. In 1318 the privileges of New-Pärnu were expanded and the Town Council received the right to turn to an arbitrator – Riga Town Council – in disputes with the Lord of the Land i.e. Pärnu commander of the Teutonic Order’s Livonian branch. New-Pärnu had its own territory between Embecke river (Pärnu river as of 16th century) and the sea, the land border ran from the mouth of Reiu river up to present-day Raeküla. In 1265, a third of the town’s judicial income, and from 1318 half of the town’s judicial income, was allocated to develop and secure the town. The main church of Pärnu was St. Nicholas Church by the market square, the town relic – the Black Cross – was located in the church’s Holy Cross Chapel, the Church of the Holy Spirit was situated in the artisans’ district. During the 14th and 15th century the town’s population might have been around 400-500, during the 16th century around 600 (1,000 including the suburbs) people.
In New-Pärnu, surrounded by a rampart and defensive towers, the larger stone houses and granaries were located in the northern part of the town by the riverside – along the streets connecting the port, market square and the castle; Pikk street was the most important among these streets. Stone houses were also built by the Nikolai street, which connected the port and the market square with the Riga gate that in turn connected the town with one of the main roads leading to Riga. The rest of the town consisted mostly of wooden buildings, lots were divided by palisades, which exceeded the height of a person. The streets were paved with either stone or logs and the material could differ throughout a street depending on the lot, because the owner of the lot was responsible for the upkeep and pavement of their land.
As a rule, stone houses had one gable, larger houses had two. For example, the two-gabled Widenhovet house had a facade with a width of 23 metres. The longer walls of rectangular houses were usually directed away from the street, only the door and the stairs leading to the main floor edged with the street. In some cases there were small stores (bude) with street-facing hatches below the main floor, that were rented to artisans or merchants, and a commercial room in the back of the house. If the lot had its own water well, it was located either in the yard or in the commercial room. The guest room (diele), kitchen, a heatable living room and the chambers were on the main floor of the house. Stone houses were initially heated with hypocaust furnaces and fireplaces; during the 14th century, bowl furnace with beaker-tiles gained popularity in Old Livonia, which by the 16th century had evolved into towering glazed tile fireplaces. House owners could express their ideological views on the relief of the tiles, which became particularly popular during the Reformation, beginning in the 1520s [Stove tile with the image of Martin Luther found during archaeological excavations at Munga street 2]. The upper floors of stone houses usually consisted of storage rooms that were loaded or unloaded with the use of a winch that was located on the gable end. Inside the lot were pens and shelters for the animals and also a cess pit, the content of which was regularly transported outside of the town to the lot’s garden.
As a rule, stone houses had one gable, larger houses had two. For example, the two-gabled Widenhovet house had a facade with a width of 23 metres. The longer walls of rectangular houses were usually directed away from the street, only the door and the stairs leading to the main floor edged with the street. In some cases there were small stores (bude) with street-facing hatches below the main floor, that were rented to artisans or merchants, and a commercial room in the back of the house. If the lot had its own water well, it was located either in the yard or in the commercial room. The guest room (diele), kitchen, a heatable living room and the chambers were on the main floor of the house. Stone houses were initially heated with hypocaust furnaces and fireplaces; during the 14th century, bowl furnace with beaker-tiles gained popularity in Old Livonia, which by the 16th century had evolved into towering glazed tile fireplaces. House owners could express their ideological views on the relief of the tiles, which became particularly popular during the Reformation, beginning in the 1520s. The upper floors of stone houses usually consisted of storage rooms that were loaded or unloaded with the use of a winch that was located on the gable end. Inside the lot were pens and shelters for the animals and also a cess pit, the content of which was regularly transported outside of the town to the lot’s garden.
The wooden dwellings, the remains of which have been found from the occupation layer of the Hanseatic town of New-Pärnu, are divided into several types. The earliest wooden houses had a simple construction, wall boards were fitted onto upright posts, the heating system consisted of a simple stone fire pit and houses even lacked a timber floor. Since this was a rather impractical dwelling in our climate, cross-beam buildings that were heated with keris-stoves soon took over. The artisans’ district of New-Pärnu also had smoke huts with half-beam floors. In later centuries, people mostly built box frame buildings that were widely used in Germany. The walls of fachwerk buildings were coated with either straw, plaster or bricks. Wooden houses mostly had either one or two rooms and an artisan with a family had to have a separately located workshop. Wooden houses with open fireplaces were quite unsafe, for example, at the turn of 15th and 16th century alone there were three town-wide fires in the course of one generation (in the years 1488, 1512 and 1524).
Food and drink
The food supply of the New-Pärnu citizens depended largely on what the people grew and made themselves. This supply was supplemented by produce brought to the town market by peasants, also food products made by local craftsmen and goods imported by Hanseatic merchants.
The main food for the locals was bread. Bakers made bread by German example from wheat flour or rye-wheat mixed flour. Cheap rye bread was made for townspeople of Estonian origin and the poor. In 1533 Järva Vogt donated one load of rye flour for the poor in Pärnu. Farm animals included cattle, steers, sheep, goats and pigs. In addition to meat, cows also provided milk, which was mostly used to make butter and sour milk. In medieval Livonia butter was even offered as a separate course at feasts, even though it was not an unattainable luxury item for the common folk. Vegetables and fruit were grown in suburban gardens. Cabbage was the main vegetable, even Pärnu commandry had its own cabbage patch. Pulses were also prominent. Apples and very likely sour cherries as well were grown in the orchards of the wealthier citizens.
Pärnu’s location was perfect for fishing. A few wealthy citizens even had their own fishpond in the suburb. Due to church regulations for fasting, fish was an important food for the townspeople. Ide was one of the most valued fish in the local waters [Ide]. Pärnu commandry of the Livonian Order had the prerogative to catch ide in the mouth of the Pärnu river and in the Reiu river. Baltic herring was frequently eaten by the common folk. Salt cod was also popular, it was both imported and prepared locally. The most valued import fish was salted herring. The most common everyday drink was beer, both local and imported hops were used in beer production. Imported wines, such as Reingau, Malvasia, Poitou or sweet Spanish Bastard wine, were luxury items. Beer was imported from Germany and Prussia, the most popular kind was Einbecker beer. Vodka trade was also practised to a small degree during the 16th century.
Salt was an important import item. Salt loads were transported to Pärnu mainly from France and Germany via Hanseatic merchants. Salt was important for seasoning and preservation of food. Hanseatic merchants also brought expensive Eastern spices to town that were used to spice food and drinks only in most exquisite kitchens.
Clothes distinguished citizens of Pärnu based on their status, wealth, ethnic origin and also their occupation or line of work. Wealthy citizens preferred to wear expensive clothes made from import fabrics. The most common fabric was broadcloth, which was a felt fabric made of wool; unfelted fabrics made of cheap cotton and fine woollen were imported, as well as linen and woollen mixed fabric, i.e. saardokk, and luxury fabrics such as silk, velvet and brocade. In the Late Middle Ages Hanseatic merchants also sold extra wide blue woollen and green flowery fabrics, and bluish brown broadcloth. Poorer townspeople had to settle for cheap clothes made of local or even home-made fabrics. Wadmal, a coarse woollen fabric, was especially popular. The main fabrics traded in Pärnu were broadcloth, canvas and wadmal. Coarse fabric made of goat hair was used for packing overseas goods and also as shrouds.
Since local linen was a good raw material, Hanseatic town of Pärnu had local weavers, whose main produce was canvas. Additionally, weavers also made wadmal, but there was no suitable wool for making local broadcloth. Felt clothing items, such as hats and overcoats, were widely used. Decorating clothes with fur was very fashionable in medieval times, wealthier people preferred expensive sable, marten or lynx fur, whereas fox, wolf and sheep fur were less expensive. Clothes were also made from buff leather, for example coats, vests and trousers.
Tailors and tanners made sure to provide clothes for the townspeople. Still, much of the clothing was also home-made. Some Western European clothing items were imported by Hanseatic merchants. Millinery was particularly prosperous during the medieval times. Headwear was an important part of the outfit, women’s hats often outshone their clothes.
Outfits were completed with various accessories. Bonnet ornaments, collars, necklaces, rings, belts, buckles and beads have been most documented among Pärnu citizens. Valuable gold, gilded, silver and pearl jewellery might have been used quite heavily to decorate outfits. For example, in 1527, Claus Moller pledged eight of his wife’s precious metal bonnet ornaments, weighing about 273 grams, to the New-Pärnu Town Council. Jewellery of the poorer townspeople was less valuable, but they enjoyed dressing up as well.
There were many possibilities for townspeople to spend their free time. Men preferred to spend their leisure time drinking beer and playing various games in the meantime. People loved gambling games, most popular of which were dice and card games. Medieval gaming pieces found from Pärnu indicate that board games were known as well, for example Nine Men’s Morris and Trictrac [16th century gaming pieces. A Jew’s harp on the bottom right ]. Games of skill, such as bowling, marble and ball games, were likely also common in Pärnu, as well as in other Livonian towns. Gambling games were a thorn in the side for the Town Council, thus gambling for money was prohibited.
The so-called parrot shootings were popular in Livonia throughout the Middle Ages, it meant that contestants had to shoot a crossbow and hit a bird statue that had been set as the target. There is no doubt that even servants of the Order and townspeople took part in those demonstrative precision shooting spectacles.
Music was a huge part of leisure activities, all bigger celebrations were bound to have live music. Church services usually involved singing and organ playing, whereas secular celebrations were usually accompanied by completely different music. Bagpipes were the most loved musical instrument by the townspeople, their loud sound could be heard from a great distance. The nobility were usually entertained by trumpet, fife or drum players. Playing the Jew’s harp was also widespread. The arrival of higher authorities was usually announced by their own musicians, for example trumpeters.
Daily trading in Hanseatic Pärnu took place at the town market and in shops. There were also four big fair days every year: St. Thomas’s Day (December 21), Candlemas (February 2), first week of lent and Midsummer’s Day (June 24). Everyday commercial life in Pärnu was regulated by the Town Council. Foreign trade was influenced by decisions made during Hanseatic Days, but also decisions made by Livonian landlords, Livonian Diet and Towns Day. In the second half of the 15th century, all Livonian Hanseatic towns adopted the principle “foreigners must not trade with foreigners”. The principle was imposed in order to protect local merchants, as all transactions had to be carried out through them. Foreign trade was only allowed for citizens, merchant prentices without citizenship had restricted trading rights. For example, they were only allowed to trade 100 cubits of fabric at a time and they were also restricted from selling hops, butter, seal fat and tallow by fear of confiscation of their merchandise.
Every merchant in Pärnu had to have proper weights and measures, such as bushel and peck. The town regularly checked the accuracy of the weights and measures and was also responsible for making sure no one traded with counterfeit currency. Citizens were prohibited from lending their measurements, bushel and peck to peasants. This was to prevent peasants from trading with each other, because that would leave the citizens out of commission. When the merchandise had been measured and weighed, it also had to be paid for, this meant that the buyer could no longer back out of the deal. In order to ensure quality, the Town Council demanded that herring and broadcloth be sold under the “correct name”, this meant that the name of the herring had to exhibit where it had been caught and salted and the name of the broadcloth had to exhibit where it had been made.
Transit trade did not become as important in Pärnu as it did, for example, in Tallinn or Tartu. However, salt and fabric quantities transported to Pärnu in the 14th century were so big that they were also transported further inland and probably to the Russian markets as well. During the Late Middle Ages the town became, first and foremost, an outport for local agricultural produce. Pärnu’s merchants of that time had practically no direct contact with Russia, as a rule, they did not reach Novgorod market centre or Pskov.
Hanseatic merchants of Pärnu brought their merchandise from Western Europe themselves and also transported goods bought from peasants oversees first-hand, because this way there was no need to split the profit with wealthier merchants. Among Livonian towns, New-Pärnu had closest commercial ties with Riga and Tallinn. Most important partners outside of Livonia were Lübeck and also Rostock and Danzig. Amsterdam grew in importance in international trade during the 16th century, which also made merchants of Pärnu redirect their business in that direction.
The majority of the export of Hanseatic Pärnu comprised of local agricultural produce. Most important products were rye, oat and malt, which were highly valued in Western Europe. Large quantities of flax were exported from Pärnu already in medieval times. According to specific tax books (which kept account of a special tax collected on each pound of transported goods) from Lübeck, by the end of the 14th century, Pärnu had even passed Riga in flax commerce, but was still exceeded by Tallinn. In 1494, 189.5 barrels, about 123,175 kg, of flax were exported from Pärnu . The size of the flax barrel had been set by regulations of the Hanseatic League. By the regulation of Bremen Diet in 1498, a flax barrel in Pärnu could weigh 4 Riga shippounds, which is about 665 kg. Alongside flax, merchants also exported flax seeds, which were highly valued in Western Europe and were used partly as sowing seeds and partly in oil production. In the Late Middle Ages, flax seed export was restricted in Livonian towns due to trade bans. Citizens Regulation of New-Pärnu from the end of 15th century prohibited foreign export of flax seed by threatening one’s honour and confiscation of merchandise.
Other export goods in Pärnu were seal fat, bull and cow hides, goat horns and hemp twine. Wood was also exported to a small extent. Ash and its by-product potash were also exported. There was not much exportable local produce. One such product was a special tar, pitch and resin mix called harepois, which was used in ship caulking. A couple of Hanseatic merchants in Pärnu owned a workshop, where they made this mix for both local use and export.
Salt and broadcloth, herrings, hops and canvas were the most important imports for Hanseatic merchants in both Pärnu and the whole of Livonia. The customer base for those products was wide, including townspeople, nobility and peasants. According to written documentation, salt was imported to Pärnu mainly from French towns Baie, situated at the mouth of Loire river, and Brouage, situated at the mouth of Garonne river, whereas German salt was imported from Lüneburg by way of Trave river. Grape wines and beer formed an essential part of imports brought to New-Pärnu, expensive Eastern spices were among luxury products. Various haberdashery items were also imported, for example, belts, ribbons, hats, pouches etc.
Buildings from the Hanseatic period in Pärnu
There are no fully preserved buildings from the Hanseatic times of New-Pärnu. Only parts of buildings have been preserved:
- Red tower at Hommiku 11. Two bottom floors of the prison tower built approximately in the 15th century have been preserved, in the end of the 18th century the tower was converted into the town prison.
- 14th-16th century brick building at Nikolai 10. The basement floor and internal stairway have been preserved and are exposed on the first floor of a modern commercial building.
- 14th century River gate at Aida 3. Gate tower foundation, wooden pavement of the road leading to the port, gutters of Põhja street and gatepost fragments have been preserved. The finds are on display in the lobby of Pärnu Museum.