Towns and commerce

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In the XVII century, only the port towns of Estonia could continue with international trade. The trade routes between Europe and Russia had changed and seafaring through Arkhangelsk and the White Sea had become the main route. Though, smaller trade passed through Narva and the Finnish Gulf. A land-way went from Pihkva, through Vastseliina and Aluliina (Latvian Al?ksne, German Marienburg) to Riga. For the Estonian towns this meant that Narva was in the most favourable situation and also Tallinn maintained its importance. Tartu, however, lost most of its importance as a trade town and Pärnu, Haapsalu and Kuresaare became export towns of local significance.
The independence of Town Councils diminished accordingly, Tallinn was the only town able to maintain it. Narva became the object of interest for Sweden and was even considered to be named the second capital of the country. In Tartu and Pärnu, the Town Council went to the supervision of the governor general. The rest of the towns were granted to estate owners by feudal law and more or less lost their town-status. After coining was stopped in Tallinn, the only mints in Estonia and Livonia were in Riga. The number of people living in towns at the time was up to 6% of all population - a relatively large amount. No new towns arose during the Swedish era.
Trade between Russia and the important trade countries of the time, England and the Netherlands, coursed through the White sea, but more and more English and Dutch ships could be seen sailing in the Baltic Sea. There were a lot of foreigners living in Narva: Russian, Dutch and English people. The latter also had their own clergyman there. In other towns, the merchants were still mainly Germans. The Estonians were not usually permitted to become tradesmen. The only known exeption was Hans of Pulli, who was accepted to Tartu Great Guild and was deemed a member of the town council. Estonians still formed the majority of the population of most of the towns, and that was the reason why they were held back from the trade and handicraft business.
The most important article of Estonian export was grain, followed by nautical construction materials. The main goods, transported from Russia through Estonia, were linen and hemp. The main import was salt, which was traded through Tallinn; other import goods included metal objects, luxury goods, spices and alcohol; tobacco, paper and fruit being new additions.
Specialized shopkeepers and common merchants operated in towns selling and trading necessities for farming.

Image: Narva Town Hall square

Source: Ain Mäesalu, Tõnis Lukas, Mati Laur, Tõnu Tannberg. Eesti ajalugu I. Avita, Tallinn 1995
Image source: ://

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