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Raua import 14. sajandi Liivimaale (lk 12–29)


Iron Import to Medieval Livonia in the 14th Century

The 12th to 14th centuries were the heyday of bloomery iron production in medieval Livonia followed by a rapid decline and a total cease of iron production in the early 15th century. Such a sharp end in bloomery iron production is unprecedented in comparison with neighbouring lands. This paper argues that extensive import of iron to Livonia in the 14th and 15th centuries could have made local iron production economically unfeasible and can thus be considered the main cause for the demise of local iron production in Livonia.

Livonia’s overseas neighbour Sweden was the main producer of iron for export in the Baltic Sea area from the 14th century onwards. Swedish osmund iron was produced from rock ore in large facilities, which made its production cheaper compared with bloomery iron. The earliest written record of iron import to Livonia dates from 10 July 1336. It is a testimony given by Florekinus de Ermennowe, a merchant and shipowner who was a burgher of Narva. Florekinus made two trips to Stockholm in 1335, exchanging Livonian grain and other unmentioned goods for copper, iron, and additional unnamed goods, which he sold in Livonia. According to his testimony, this kind of trade was clearly profitable. In 1363, Tallinn’s merchant elite was already engaged in importing osmund iron from Stockholm. By 1368 at the latest, Swedish iron was already being exported from Tallinn to Lübeck. According to 15th- and 16th-century sources, Livonia’s two main port towns, Tallinn and Riga, regularly exported Swedish osmund iron.

There are records of the import of iron to Livonia from Germany only for 1368-1369. Part of it was Swedish osmund iron shipped from Stockholm to Tallinn through Lübeck probably due to better shipping options. Such shipping of Swedish iron to Livonia via Lübeck does not appear in 15th-century sources. Additionally, unspecified kinds of iron were exported from Lübeck to Riga. The origin of this iron is impossible to determine, but such import of iron from Germany does not appear in later sources. In the 15th century, only steel and sheet-metal were imported from Lübeck.

Trade in Swedish osmund iron within Livonia is first mentioned in 1357 when the town council of Riga bought a barrel of osmund. The earliest sale of osmund recorded in Tallinn dates from 1363. Written records from Tallinn and Riga attest to a vibrant trade in Swedish osmund iron and unspecified iron during the latter half of the 14th century. Comparison of the price of osmund iron with the only known written record of the sale of bloomery iron produced in Livonia suggests that osmund was only slightly more expensive than locally produced iron.

The written records on iron import to Livonia and trade in imported iron within Livonia are not records of the beginning of iron import but should rather be read as the first recorded instances of already existing trade relations. Thus, written records do not allow the historian to determine when exactly the import of iron to Livonia really began. Nevertheless, the import of Swedish iron seems to have already been quite extensive in the 14th century. Since some Swedish iron was re-exported from Livonia, it must have been available in quantities that exceeded the demand for the material in Livonia itself. The material properties of osmund differed from those of bloomery iron blooms, which required much more preparatory work by smiths before the iron was suitable for making objects. Since osmund required less work, less charcoal, and was more-or-less in the same price-range as bloomery iron, it may have been a preferred choice for a smith. Consequently, extensive import of Swedish osmund iron could eventually have made local bloomery iron production unprofitable.