Why did Lübeck not have colonies, far away trading-posts or even more land like other strong city-states? They had a big fleet and a big army as well.

For example the city-state of Venice was rich on trade just like Lübeck. They took more land in Northern Italy, also they had colonies and trading-post like the island of Cypress and Crete. For some reason that's not the case for Lübeck.

Here is a map that shows the land of Lübeck (Yellow).

Lübeck was not a peaceful state with no foreign ambitions. They set in motion the Count's Feud in Denmark 1534-1536 and were eager to control the strait between Denmark and Scania (today Sweden). They used their fleet and their soldiers in that war.

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  • 3
    Did they really have a strong fleet and army on their own? Or only together with the other members of the Hanseatic League?
    – Jan
    Nov 16, 2021 at 13:58
  • Don't know if I'll have time to look into this (likely not), but IMHO the correct way to answer this is to answer why Venice felt they needed to do that and had the ability to do so, and compare that to Lubeck's situation.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 16, 2021 at 14:45
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    Please clarify: when (like: from when, & where did you src that map in the first place); why compare Lübeck to Venice, rather than say Hamburg or Bremen or Bergen in Norway? How much is Lübeck, in your book, 'a state', or 'city state'? Nov 16, 2021 at 15:13
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    I'd say, Venice (and its competitor, Genoa) was an exception here rather than a rule. What made Venice (and Genoa) so exceptional is an interesting question. Maybe their Mediterranean location. Nov 16, 2021 at 16:30
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    Also, in case anyone reading this might have designs on becoming a map colorist one day, please don't use land territory colors that are as similar to the color used for bodies of water as this map's are.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 16, 2021 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


The answer lies in the geographic and political situation of the Baltic Sea.

First, geography is a major factor: Take a Mercator map and loop at Europe: you'll ask your question. Now take a terrestrial globe. You'll notice that the Mediterranean Sea is bigger than the Baltic Sea. It has more and bigger islands. Now, add to this fact the fact that all the North of Baltic Sea, stuck between today's Sweden and Finland, could not be successfully used during the Midle Age. By that time, the Northern extremity of Europe was the island of Gotland. In today's Germany, land was not "free" as in Balkans for Venice, it was already occupied and under the Holy Roman Empire, that would not be in favour of war between its cities: if Lubeck had attacked, everyone would have coalized against Lubeck. So overall, there was no room for colonies nor territories.

Second factor, the political situation saw the Hanseatic League: a league of cities such as Lubeck that organized themselves for trade with other cities or countries. They used their commercial power and treaties to ensure advantages for their merchants in foreing cities, creating multiple commercial posts similar to Venitian ones in Egypt, Constantinople or the Holy Land. Again, territories in England, France or Dutch were occupied and Lubeck had no room for colonies. This idea of "room for" is not only about military strength, but also about political situation: it was easier for Venice to conquer Muslim or Byzantine held territories than for Lubeck to fight other Christian territories.

Then of course Lubeck could have "tried" and sail to Greenland, that Vikings had talked about, or even America. But this was far more risky than going to Creete or Cypress for Venice.

  • 2
    Counter-example: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Couronian_colonization
    – Tomas By
    Nov 16, 2021 at 19:20
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    Venice most certainly started with conquering other Christian territories like Zara, or more generally Dalmatia. Moreover a lot of her outposts were concessions given by the local governments (usually the Byzantines) in exchange for a military alliance. Nov 16, 2021 at 19:29
  • @TomasBy Very exotic example but not a counter example: this happened in the 17th century, with totally different long-rane naval capacities, during not the Middle Age Nov 16, 2021 at 21:07
  • @DenisNardin Well those balkanese territories were Christian, but were they catholic or orthodox? About the exchange of outposts, as I mentionned in my answer Lubeck had as well but this was more oriented in merchant's house than military outposts because of the low threat to Christian European merchants in a Christian European harbour Nov 16, 2021 at 21:08
  • 1
    @totalMongot OP does not specify time frame.
    – Tomas By
    Nov 16, 2021 at 21:38

Without absolutely necessary clarifications within the questions framing, the simple explanation may be a bit difficult to swallow: as phrased currently, the question is just based on unfounded assumptions that, as wrong headed as they are, cannot lead to an explanation for intricacies of the commonalities and differences between the histories of Lübeck compared to Venice.

The most basic wrong premise here is that one central assumption needs to be questioned as a valid axiom. Before asking 'why Lübeck did not have …' we need to ask whether that assertion 'it did not have' is anywhere true at all.

Without clarification on terms used, timeframe inquired about, it turns out to be in all probability 'not true' in the first place:

German urban colonisation owed much to Lübeck's enterprise, and many of the towns to the east of the Elbe had arisen more or less as Lübeck's colonies.

— Michael Moissey Postan & Edward Miller (Eds): The Cambridge Economic History Of Europe Volume II. Trade And Industry In The Middle Ages", Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, 1987. (Michael Postan: "The Trade of Medieval Europe: the North", p277)

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