Normierung und Standardisierung im Schiffbau zur Zeit des Überganges zur Frühen Neuzeit

Eine vornehmlich auf den Frachtraum gerichtete Untersuchung und ein Beitrag zum Verständnis der tiefgreifenden Umwälzungen der Schifffahrtsverhältnisse im Ostseeraum


  • Maik-Jens Springmann



Norms and standards in ship-building on the cusp of the early modern era. Ship’s holds and fundamental changes in Baltic shipping
One of the many notions which has, over the decades, hardened into an unquestioned ‘historians’ fact’ (i.e. an axiom unsupported by the sources) is the maxim that medieval Hanseatic shipbuilding was purely a matter of tradition. Building a ship did allegedly not rely on any written records, nor did it generate written norms or instructions for later naval architects. Consequently, Hanseatic shipbuilders did not follow any particular standards and could not be required to do so. According to the prevailing school of thought, ships of this time were simply “shaped with an axe”, a view that was elevated to an axiom.

In this paper, I will question this axiom. I argue that medieval Hanseatic naval architecture was not a purely individual undertaking, based solely on tradition. I will focus on ships’ holds, since their characteristics were most likely to have been influenced by economic considerations. This will be flanked by an analysis of the changes in the character of maritime transport of goods enforced by the “Baienfahrt” (to the Bay of Bourgneuf), since the freight (principally salt) was taken aboard as bulk commodity (rather than being shipped in barrels or the like). This requires us to take into consideration the increasing size of ships, which in turn led to changes in logistics and the forms of ownership. Increasingly, the chief concern of a shipbuilder must surely have been protecting the commodities in the hold from moisture. In form, the hold resembled a barrel, being more or less circular, and this led shipbuilders to pay strict attention to the proper dimensions and hence to the early development of norms for shipbuilding. The term ‘hulk’ which comes to the fore in Hanseatic sources could be an indication of this development. This argument is buttressed not only by the evidence legal history provides, but also by analogy with the convergence of the systems of weights and measures in other branches of woodworking closely related to shipbuilding by the fact that those artisans involved, like the shipbuilders, were organized in guilds. Convergence of this sort must surely have led to much more exact planning of the dimensions and shape of ships yet to be built and consequently to more specified contracts between ship owners and naval architects. The paper closes with a consideration of whether the classic measure of ship size, the last, can, in fact, be taken to be equivalent to two tons.