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« Tuna 4 / 2017

This Fine City will become Deserted and Destitute: Tallinn’s Economic Situation in the 1620s – 1630s

The signing of the Treaty of Stolbovo between Sweden and Russia on 17 February 1617 generated positive expectations in Sweden’s overseas possessions in Estland and Livland, above all in the towns of those provinces. This article provides an overview of the political and economic situation of one party – Tallinn – in the time before and after the signing of the Treaty of Stolbovo until the outset of the 1630s, which more or less coincides with the reign of Gustav II Adolf. This period is characterised by Tallinn’s diplomatic efforts to bring back to the city the right to be the storage depot for transit trade with Russia, Tallinn’s attempts to drive Narva and other maritime towns along the Gulf of Finland out of the competition in trade, and the customs duty rental agreement concluded with Tallinn for six years in 1623. Tallinn’s main competitor alongside Narva was Lübeck, the merchants of which preferred to channel their dealings with Russia via Narva. The merchants of Narva and Lübeck were blamed for the decline in Tallinn’s trade and for driving Russian trade from the Baltic Sea to Archangel. In Tallinn it was believed that if the centre for Russian transit trade were to be brought back to their city, trade through Archangel would decline due to the increasing interest of Western Europeans in Tallinn. The royal authority also shared this hope. However, the position of the Swedish authorities concerning the question of the storage depot had fluctuated over the first quarter of the 17th century, for which reason sometimes Narva and then again sometimes Tallinn was preferred as the broker of Russian trade. Tallinn’s diplomatic activity aimed at Stockholm concerning trade was very active, although one and the same argument was repeated from year to year. At the same time, only a few of Tallinn’s merchants were active in Russian trade. This trade was risky and required the possession of the necessary capital, which impoverished Tallinners did not have during the period of economic decline. Thus Russians were welcome to come to Tallinn with their goods, where they were conveyed to Western Europeans and vice versa. In the summer of 1622, Tallinners realised that only anti-Narva rhetoric and petitioning for the storage depot to be brought to Tallinn was not enough. Something tangible had to be offered to the royal authority. Thus the idea was arrived at to rent the customs duties of Tallinn’s competitors for a certain period as compensation to the state.