Trade and industry

The autonomy and prosperity of towns was founded on commerce, and was successful only under conditions of continuing peace and stable relations. The 17th century wars had a damaging effect on trade in the Baltic Sea basin — the Thirty Years’ War in Germany led to the demise of the Hanseatic League, which had already weakened long before. The Baltic trade was taken over by foreign merchants, mostly from North Germany, the Netherlands and later England. The most important Estonian trading centres during the Swedish period were still Tallinn and Narva, the first as a provincial centre and a transit harbour between Western Europe and Russia.

The most important export item was grain (about one third); flax from Russia and Estonia was the next important. Russian shipbuilding materials, furs and timber products were sent to western Europe via Tallinn. The main Estonian imports were salt (from Spain), which was then taken to Russia and Finland; also spices, wine, fruit, fabrics, etc. Iron was shipped to Estonia from Sweden and tin from England.

The Narva River served as a trading route to Pskov, Novgorod and Moscow. As a result of the busy Russian trade, the importance of Narva grew such that, in the mid-17th century, the Swedish authorities considered transferring their eastern capital to Narva, which would thus be the residence of the monarch every fourth year. Narva’s trade flourished in the 1670s. The inland towns were poor as they lay further away from the trading routes. The medieval route along the rivers in mid-Estonia (from Pärnu through Viljandi to Tartu and Pskov) was not navigable in the 17th century because of a rise in the ground level. On the initiative of Pärnu and Tartu, a plan to restore this route was considered, but the earthworks would have required technological equipment not available in the 17th century.

The economic policy of Sweden preferred the interests of the Swedish mainland: there were high customs dues in Estonian cities, from time to time there were export bans; provisions were sent out either to the army or to relieve famines.

In the 17th century, industry began to develop quickly in Sweden; the first industries were established in Estonia as well — brick-kilns, lime-kilns, lumber mills; for a time a glass factory was opened in Dagö (Hiiumaa). Narva was the manufacturing centre, with flax and hemp processing and a copper and lumber mill powered by the water from the Narva falls. In Tallinn there was a copper mill from the late 16th century; in the 17th century this was reconstructed as a paper mill.

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