HANSdoc Database




HANSdoc is a database of written documents pertaining to the trade of Northern German (Hanseatic) towns with the North Atlantic islands of Iceland, Shetland and the Faroes in the 15th and 16th centuries. It aims to provide a complete overview of all documents related to this trade, if possible with transcripts and/or digital facsimiles. Furthermore, it is equipped with an extended search function that indexes persons, places, commodities, and vessels.

About the project

HANSdoc is a part of the research project Between the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea: interdisciplinary studies of the Hanse (German title: Zwischen Nordsee und Nordmeer: interdisziplinäre Studien zur Hanse) at the German Maritime Museum (Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum) in Bremerhaven, Germany. Funded by the Leibniz Association between 2015 and 2018, the project researches the late medieval German North Atlantic trade from an interdisciplinary perspective. For more information, see the project's official blog and homepage Fish and Ships.

In this project, an interdisciplinary research team drawn from the disciplines of archaeology, history and archaeozoology investigates the many facets of this trade. The four members of the core team (see: Fish and Ships: meet the team) each have their own subproject, which taken together will cover the various aspects of the connections of German merchants with the North Atlantic and provide information which cannot be supplied by focusing on one discipline alone. The main objectives include: how did trade on the North Atlantic islands operate, and how was it regulated? How were the merchants and sailors linked together? Which ship types were in operation and how did these develop? Which effect did the long and close trade relations have on both parties?

The establishment of a database with written sources was part of the historical subproject, and was designed to provide the researchers of the team, as well as other researchers, with an extensive collection of written sources to facilitate interdisciplinary research. Furthermore, it is intended to make easily accessible a collection of sources which are otherwise very dispersed in archives in various countries, or in many different editions.

Historical background

During the course of the 15th century merchants from northern Germany began to expand their trading links with the North Atlantic islands of Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland. In the following two hundred years they became the most important trading partners for the islanders. Their main interest was the great demand for stockfish, a well preservable source of protein, in the urban centres of Europe in the late Middle Ages. Other north Atlantic goods of interest for mainland Europeans were sulphur (used among other things for making gun powder), fish oil, wadmal (a coarse woolen fabric), and falcons (used by the nobility for hunting). At the same time, the inhabitants of the North Atlantic islands were dependent on foreign merchants for many commodities such as timber, metal products, cereals, beer, fine fabrics, and clothing.

Trade with regions north of Bergen in Norway, including the North Atlantic islands, was a highly controversial activity within the Hanse, and more than once forbidden by the Hanseatic Diets. This related to the position of Bergen (Norway) as a transit point for trade with northern Europe, which was dominated by the Hanse, especially by merchants from Lübeck. In spite of this, Hanseatic merchants, largely from Hamburg and Bremen, began to trade directly with the islands from the early 15th century onwards. Through these commercial links and the extensive exchange of goods and ideas, merchants influenced the economy and culture of these islands.

In the 16th century, the direct trade between Northern Germany and the North Atlantic was well established and many ships and merchants sailed north each year. Despite international competition, mainly from English merchants, the German merchants managed to dominate the trade with Iceland until 1601, when the Danish king prohibited all international trade with Iceland except for merchants from Copenhagen, Malmö and Helsingør. In Shetland, where Bremen merchants were dominant, trade continued into the early 18th century.

What can you find in HANSdoc?

The database includes contemporary documents pertaining to the trade between Northern Germany and Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Shetland from the establishment of direct trade routes (1420s) until the abolishment of these (early 17th century for Iceland/Faroes, early 18th century for Shetland). It also includes documents that refer to the former trade (e.g. attempts to restore the previous situation). Although it aims to give a complete overview, for purely practical reasons, only the following archives have been systematically searched:

Furthermore, a number of sources from archives elsewhere were also included, e.g. the city archives of Lübeck, Rostock, Gdańsk (Danzig), Braunschweig, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, Scotland and the Faroes, and the Shetland archives.

Based on these archives and collections, we believe that most of the available material for the study of the Hanseatic North Atlantic trade has been covered. Of course it is possible, indeed very likely, that some materials may have been missed. If you have any information about possible inclusions, you are always welcome to contact us.

What will you NOT find in HANSdoc?


The main language of the database is English. Because the database is aimed at an international scholarly audience, and given the international character of the subject, we found it necessary to make the material accessible for non-German speakers. However, the interface of the website is available in German as well.

HANSdoc does not supply a translation of the documents. The transcripts are therefore presented in their original language, i.e. mostly High and Low German, but also frequently Scots, Danish, Icelandic, Latin, etc. Where there is a summary or translation of the document in a modern language available in another source, it is indicated as such.

About the database

The core of the database consists of the included documents, which are searchable by date and archive. Furthermore, a document can be accessed directly by entering its unique ID number (see next section). The search results are sorted by historical date. Information about the document, the transcript and facsimiles (if available) can be accessed by clicking on the ID number in the list of search results.

Moreover, the documents are indexed by four categories:

The categories Persons and Places may be searched by both the names as they appear in the sources (in all included languages), or by their modern English or German names. Once you start typing, the system will give you a suggestion of included spellings. You can select one, but also search on just a fragment of the desired name. The system will then provide an option to continue your search with a registered historical name (by clicking on a result in the left column), or to view documents about a single person or place, regardless of spelling (by clicking on a result in the right column).

For the categories Commodities and Vessels, the system works slightly differently: For commodities, a category has to be selected by using the drop-down menu, whereupon all possible commodities and spellings within that category will be shown. The search then continues as with Persons and Places. Due to the small number of vessels mentioned in the sources, all included vessels can be selected from a drop-down menu.

Moreover, these categories are also highlighted in the transcripts and summaries of the documents, in which each category is indicated by a different colour (green: persons; blue: places; orange: commodities; purple: vessels). Clicking on these links will bring you to the selected entry in the corresponding category and thereby show you which other documents contain the selected term. Links to other documents are displayed in red.

The ID Code

Each document is identified with a unique ID code which comprises of the date and place of the document arranged in the following manner:

yyyymmddPPP## (example: 15600210KOB01)

Where the place and date are unknown, or can only be reconstructed, these elements can be chosen to reflect the document as closely as possible. E.g., a document relating to Bremen, written ca. 1500, will have the following ID: 15000000BRE00.


A digital facsimile is available for many of the documents. All documents in the State archives of Bremen and Copenhagen and Stadtarchiv Oldenburg have been included, and other archive sourced facsimiles may follow. In some instances, a document may have been preserved in more than one physical copy and/or location. These facsimiles are accessible through the "sources" section once the actual document is opened.

Digital facsimiles created by the authors of the database are available in .pdf format, and identified by an ID code which is the same as (one of) the document(s) which it contains, plus a three-letter code for the archive and a number (1 digit). These documents can be freely downloaded and used within standard public domain (Creative Commons Licensing) conditions.

The documents

Date, place and summary

The top of the document consist of the following parts:


This part describes the physical sources in which the document has been preserved, with information about the state of the physical object. Links to the digital facsimiles are also indicated if they are available. Please note that for documents copied from other editions (see below), the current whereabouts of the document have not been systematically checked, and therefore the archival information may be outdated due to archival reorganisations, war troubles or other disasters.


References to other editions of the same document can be found here. For practical purposes, literature references are presented in an abbreviated form. These refer to the following volumes:

Click here for an overview of HANSdoc documents which are also included in Diplomatarium Islandicum, Diplomatarium Norvegicum, Hanserecesse, Hansisches Urkundenbuch and A.C.Evensen, Savn til føroyinga sögu.


The last part of the document page contains the transcript of (one of) the source(s) (if available). In some cases, more than one transcript is provided, e.g. when the document exists in more than one language, or if there are multiple versions of the document which differ significantly in wording.

Many of the transcripts have been copied from older editions such as Diplomatarium Islandicum or Hanserecesse (see above). In these cases, the transcripts have only been corrected for obvious errors, but are otherwise left unchanged unless indicated as such.

For new transcripts made for the database, the following guidelines have been followed, which largely comply with Dieter Heckmann's "Leitfaden zur Edition deutschsprachiger Quellen (13.—16. Jahrhundert," Jahrbuch Preußenland 3 (2013), pp. 7—13 [online here].

For the most part, the text has been transcribed as closely as possible to the original, with the following exceptions to improve readability:


Specific characters:

Coding: XML / HTML

One of the challenges of making information available via the internet, is the question of continued access to it after a certain period of time. The rapid developments in digital technologies and the creation of new methods and standards creates the necessity that database systems need to be updated and maintained regularly to keep the information available to the public. This also depends on the guaranteed funding, which is mostly already problematic in the course of a few years, and becomes unlikely when thinking of decades or centuries. Therefore, it is very well probable that the database we have created will become unavailable in the near future. Therefore, we have taken the following measures to guarantee that the data we have gathered (digital facsimiles and transcripts of the included documents), will remain available and usable to future generations.

To safeguard the future use of digital files, the preferred standard to use is XML. This is a coding language in which the content of a document is included in so called tags, written in <pointy brackets>, which indicate the structure of the document. A tag is closed using the same signs, but including a backslash. Tags can be given any name possible. Example:

<title>This is the title</title>
<p>This is a paragraph</p>
<p>This is another paragraph</p>

The big advantage of XML coding is that a document basically consists of plain text, which is readable by machines and humans alike. So even if future technologies no longer recognise XML documents, the information is not lost and may still be read and interpreted. This is the reason why XML has become the preferred way to store digital information sustainably, and standards for the description of textual documents have been developed, such as the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).

Documents on the web, however, are usually presented in HTML, a format which is very similar to XML, but optimised to be interpreted by web browsers, and therefore presents fewer options to display the text in a way that provides the structure of the text well. For practical reasons, the transcripts of the documents on this website are therefore separate HTML documents, and will not be stored in TEI-structured XML. However, the HTML structure of the documents is the same for each document, has been kept as simple as possible, and each separate element of the text has been given an ID or class name which corresponds to a tag name in the TEI guidelines. In that way, future researchers can still access and properly interpret the documents and it will be relatively easy to convert each document into a TEI-conforming XML document. Example:

<div class="physDesc">
<div class="supportDesc">
<p class="material">paper</p>
<p class="dimensions">20x30cm</p>

corresponds to TEI XML

How to cite & Colophon

Hansdoc Database, eds. Bart Holterman and John Nicholls (Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum, 2017) URL: https://hansdoc.dsm.museum (Accessed: dd mmm yyy).

When citing individual documents, please refer to the ID Codes as described above.

HANSdoc was created by:

Advisory board:

Many thanks to Hans Martin Horst (University of Hamburg) for data input, Inga Lange (University of Bremen) for transcribing sources and preparing documents for inclusion in the database, and to Philip Lavender (University of Gothenburg) and Alessia Bauer (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich) for help with transcripts of sources written in Icelandic.