Zuiderzeestädte an der Ostsee

'Vitten' und 'Vögte' - Raum und städtische Vertreter im spätmittelalterlichen Schonen


  • Louis Sicking




Zuiderzee towns in the Baltic. ‘Vitten’ and ‘Vögte’ – Space and urban representatives in late-medieval Scania
The Scania peninsula in the southwest of present-day Sweden was one of the most important trading centres of medieval Northern Europe due to the seasonal presence of immense swarms of herring which attracted large numbers of fishermen and traders. Streching back from the beach of Scania were the so-called vitten, which the traders, grouped by region or city, held as their own, legally autonomous trade settlements, from the Danish King. Initially, these were seasonal trading colonies that were occupied only for the duration of the fair, which began in August and ended in November. In the late Middle Ages the vitten developed into miniature towns, modest off-shoots from the traders‘ mother city. The presence on a small peninsula (c 50 km2) of so many fishermen and merchants who did business together and came from different cities could easily have led to tensions and conflict.

What was the relationship between the spatial arrangement of the vitten at Scania and the urban representatives of the vitten, the so-called vögte or governors? This question is addressed by focusing on the vitten of the Zuiderzee towns. Their vitten, among which were numbered those of eastern Zuiderzee cities like Kampen and Zutphen as well as those of western cities like Amsterdam, Brielle and Zierikzee, were part of the Hanse. However, the vitten of these cities have been virtually neglected in historiography. The territorial or local-topographical development of these vitten was characterized by regional concentration: the Zuiderzee vitten were located close or adjacent to one another. The new vitten of Zierikzee and Amsterdam bordered on that of Kampen. Traders from cities and towns without their own vitte were housed in a vitte of a neighboring city: those of Deventer and Zwolle, for instance, in the vitte of  Kampen, those of Enkhuizen and Wieringen in the Amsterdam vitte and those from Schouwen island in the vitte of Zierikzee.

The vitten of the eastern Zuiderzee towns were founded at the beginning of the fourteenth century, that is on average half a century earlier than those of the western Zuiderzee towns. The count of Holland and Zealand initially appointed the Zierikzee vogt or governor for all his subjects. Later on, the cities in his counties then had their own governors, first appointed by the count, later by the city (with or without the count‘s approval). The development of the representation of Holland and Zeeland towns in Scania differs from what was characteristic of the eastern Zuiderzee towns. Neither the Count /Duke of Guelders nor the bishop of Utrecht (as overlord of the Oversticht) attempted to interfere with the individual towns‘ governors or the vitten.

The trend towards territorialisation in Scania was unmistakable. Although foreign traders, by reason of their origins, were subject to the jurisdiction of their mother city (the personality principle), a fact reflected in the responsibility of the vogt for the citizens in question, they were also increasingly spatially limited in Scania. This was a consequence of the limited space available, of the pursuit of control over one’s own community, and of the goal of allowing different urban groups to live together peaceably, prevent conflicts and guarantee the conduct of international trade. In this way the vitten, in particular those of the Zuiderzee towns that were further away from their mother cities, can be understood as urban colonies overseas.