A port in Schleswig-Holstein on the southwestern coast of the Baltic Sea.
The oldest settlement associated with Lübeck dates back to the ninth century, when a Slavic fortress was established some way inland on the river Trave. In the late eleventh century this settlement, known as Liubice (Old Lübeck), became the residence of the Abodrite king, Henry. When Henry died in 1127, parts of his realms were taken over by the expansionist German counts of Holstein and Ratzeburg.
Liubice itself was destroyed in 1138 by the Rugian prince Race, who was fighting for supremacy among the Abodrites. However, the town was refounded in 1143, when Count Adolf I of Holstein established a settlement on a small island further upstream where the rivers Trave and Wakenitz formed a natural harbor. The new settlement became known under its Germanized name, Lübeck.Merchants from Saxony now settled there in great numbers and soon profited from the ideal location close to the Baltic Sea and the trading routes between Scandinavia and the Baltic region. So great was the success of Lübeck that Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony soon found the city to be a threat to his own trade in the region. Consequently, he forcibly took over control of Lübeck in 1159. The following year Henry transferred the bishopric of Oldenburg in Holstein to Lübeck.
The city now became linked to the colonization and Christianization of the western Slavic lands and to the crusades in the Baltic region. When the first German missionaries made their way to Livonia in the early 1180s, they traveled with German merchants who sailed from either Lübeck or Visby on Gotland. The merchants journeyed to the shores of Livonia on a regular basis to trade with the local people, which made them ideal traveling companions for the missionaries. Soon afterward, the mission among the Livonians expanded into regular crusades, with most of the crusaders coming from Germany (notably Saxony, Westphalia, and Frisia) and assembling in the harbor town of Lübeck. Here they acquired ships, weapons, and supplies from local merchants and then set out to Livonia, usually via Visby. The merchants undoubtedly profited greatly from the crusaders assembling in Lübeck on an annual basis, as they did from the great number of unarmed pilgrims and ordinary travelers (especially from northern Germany and Scandinavia) who used Lübeck as a transit town on their journeys.
In addition to furnishing and manning the ships needed by the crusaders, the people of Lübeck played an active role in the crusades in the Baltic region, often taking the cross. Merchants fromLübeck are also believed to have taken part in the Third Crusade (1189-1192) and may have been involved in the foundation of the Teutonic Order at Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) in 1190, together with merchants from Bremen. The Teutonic Knights later settled in Lübeck, founding a commandery in 1228/1229. At the same time they also took over the priestly services in the Hospital of the Holy Ghost in the town. The Sword Brethren, too, were present in Lübeck; by around 1220 the order had acquired a house in the town.
The merchants of Lübeck seem to have associated themselves fairly closely with the military orders, especially the Teutonic Knights, with whom they went on crusade, and also became involved in founding towns in the newly conquered territories in the Baltic region. The importance of Lübeck for crusading in the north was recognized by the popes, who endowed the town with privileges to protect the port and crusaders using it against any form of violations from neighboring secular powers; nevertheless, on several occasions the kings of Denmark blockaded the harbor of Lübeck in an attempt to gain supremacy in the region. On such occasions the popes intervened on behalf of Lübeck, demanding that the crusaders be allowed to move freely in and out of the city.
In 1226 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II granted Lübeck the status of an imperial free town (Ger. freie Reichsstadt), ending its dependence on the secular powers in the region (notably the Danish kings) and securing favorable political and fiscal privileges for the city (that in some cases lasted until 1937). With regard to trade, Lübeck also orientated itself toward other parts of Europe; its role as an important harbor for crusaders and other travelers undoubtedly added greatly to its wealth and political influence. In the later Middle Ages Lübeck steadily increased its power and influence and soon became the most prominent town of the Hanseatic League, negotiating favorable treaties with the secular powers around the Baltic Sea and the North Sea.