7

Trading companies in twentieth-century Sweden

Hans de Geer


Introduction

Scandinavia has been linked to the international trading network as long ago as the early Middle Ages. Viking raids to the east and the west can be seen as initiatives from Scandinavia to develop commercial and cultural links both with the Eastern Roman Empire, and partly in Western Europe, which began to take shape after the time of Charlemagne. The contacts were sometimes more violent than peaceful—more a matter of conquest than an exchange—even though both were often found side by side in the risky trading expeditions of those days.

Later, when the Scandinavian countries had begun to take shape, and more stable institutions had developed, often based on continental or English models in the wake of Christian missionaries, the Scandinavian market was dominated by the Hanseatic League, the federation of trading cities around the Baltic and North Seas, which stretched from Novgorod in the east to London in the west, from Bergen in the north to the English Channel coast in the south, and within which the dominant role was played by Lübeck. The Hanseatic network became established in the most important Swedish port cities, including Stockholm.

The Scandinavian role in this was on the economic periphery: raw materials, which were in demand in the more developed cities in the continental part of the network, were gathered from the extensive hinterland. Salt, spices and other precious commodities flowed back. Clear commercial control was exercised from the centre. The German influence, which was sometimes institutionalised, could constitute, be interpreted or depicted as a threat to national independence. But participation was also a learning process; within the framework of the network, both a commercial culture and a commercial maturity were established.

In the early sixteenth century, Swedish commerce freed itself from its strong dependence on Lübeck and the Hanseatic League. But international trade relationships were still in the hands of foreign merchants, who carried out their operations within the framework of a virtually mercantilist policy, which channelled the international flow of goods to certain port cities, and

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