Sebastian Sobecki
McGill University/Rijksuniversiteit Groningen


INTRODUCTION.  Held by the Teutonic Order since 1308, Danzig received the Order's proprietary Kulm Law in 1343.  In 1361, the city proceeded to full membership of the Hanseatic League and sided with the trade federation in its dispute with Denmark and Sweden (1367).  By 1377 Danzig had passed Elbing and Thorn to become Prussia's most prosperous city; in the early fifteenth century it would vie with Lübeck for pride of place in the League itself.  After the Teutonic Order's defeat at Grunwald (the First Battle of Tannenberg) in 1410, Danzig sought protection from the King of Poland, but the Order returned to the city in the subsequent year.  In 1416, widespread resentment of the monastic state led to open unrest in Danzig.

THE TEUTONIC ORDER.  Regeneration's scope falls squarely into an extended period of Danzig's subjection to the Teutonic Order, spanning the years 1308 to 1454 (briefly interrupted in 1410-11).  For much of the fourteenth century, the literary tastes of Danzig's increasingly confident merchant community were overshadowed by the administrative and ideological needs of the Order's vast monastic state.  The city's cultural life was shaped by the Teutonic Order, so much so that Danzig's literary traditions cannot be studied in isolation from the 'literature of the Prussian region' (a recent coinage by Ralf Päsler).  No longer strictly synonymous with Deutschordensliteratur, Prussian and Danzig writing nevertheless stood in the service of the Order.  Apart from officially sanctioned chronicles of the monastic state, literature was rarely secular during this period, and the high mobility of texts along the Order's network of its regional centres of learning makes it often difficult to attribute works exclusively to a particular location.

Texts:  The Order's industrious chroniclers dominate literary output:  Peter of Dusburg's Chronican terrae Prussiae, ca. 1326; Nicholas of Jeroschin's German translation, Di kronike von Pruzinlant, ca. 1340;  Hermann of Wartenberg's Chronicon Livoniae, ca. 1378; Peter Suchenwirt's Von Herzog Albrechts Ritterschaft, ca. 1377; Wigand of Marburg's Chronica nova Prutenica, ca. 1400; and John of Posilge's Prussian Chronicle, ca. 1420.  Besides historiography, biblical translations were prominent:  The Order may even have possessed an almost complete German translation of the Bible.  The Teutonic Knights were also instrumental in encouraging and disseminating works of (often vernacular) popular devotion, such as John of Marienwerder's Latin and German writings about Dorothea of Montau, a mystic and anchoress married to a Danzig merchant, or Philipp of Seitz's exemplar of Marian devotion, the Marienleben.

THE HANSEATIC LEAGUE.  A gateway for Poland-Lithuania's exports of fur, timber, Hungarian copper, and Polish lead, Danzig's port emerged as the largest in the Order's territory during the second half of the fourteenth century.  The city's rapidly rising position in the Hanseatic League attracted considerable numbers of English and Flemish merchants during the second half of the fourteenth century.  Textual production was largely administrative, with law and shipping regulations being the most prominent.  At around this time, Danzig began to develop and codify Prussian shipping law on the basis of imported Flemish versions of the Laws of Oleron, the Seerecht von Damme and the Ordinancie.  Throughout the fourteenth century, the prodigious output of administrative writing in Danzig and the increasingly refined tastes of the affluent merchant class laid the foundations for the later fifteenth-century reception of romances such as Flos vnde Blankeflos and other secular texts.  Nevertheless, literary - though not necessarily textual - traditions flourished in the form of the city's confraternity of St. George which erected its first Artushof between 1348 and 1350.  Later, another organization that drew its inspiration from a literary tradition, the Bank of Roland, would also gather in the Artushof.

Texts:  Various legal writings, including the Seerecht von Damme and the Ordinancie (1407); two Low German copies of Steven of Dorpat's translation of the Disticha Catonis (14th c.); a discussion of Arthurian traditions and the Brotherhood of St. George.

Arthurian Court, Gdańsk. rear view, early 15thc.

ARGUMENT. Ole Benedictow's reassessment of the Black Death's considerable and remarkably early impact on the region as a whole has not yet been taken up by Polish and German scholars, but it explains why Danzig was one of the first cities to shake off the pandemic and boom economically during a period of relative stagnation in Western Europe.  However, the Order's iron grip on the city meant that for Danzig the fourteenth century was a period of literary incubation with a delayed effect:  the city's exposure to the bureaucratic apparatus and the religious modes favoured by the Teutonic Order would only come to fruition in the self-confident literary practices of Danzig's chronicles, commissioned during the fifteenth century.  And yet, the sheer amount of missed opportunities to distance the history of Danzig from that of the Order indicates only a very gradual literary coming of age for the city.