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« Tuna 2 / 2017

The Estonian Horse — A Strategic Commodity in the Middle Ages

The horse was the primary means of transport and labour in the Middle Ages. According to Livonian sources, horses can conditionally be divided into 3–4 groups according to their price — cheap, moderately priced, expensive and very expensive. Work and draught animals prevailed amongst the cheaply priced horses, also including some carriage horses, but these were admittedly mostly for lower class travellers. Moderately priced horses were used mostly for travel pur- poses. More expensive horses were also used for travel to meetings, conferences and negotiations, but in such cases the men sitting in the saddles were gentlemen who belonged to the city’s elite. Yet this kind of animal was also a suitable gift for some more distinguished person. The more expensive steeds nevertheless circulated primarily amongst the nobility. The most expensive horses, which were primarily stallions, were given as gifts to especially high-ranking persons, but nobles also used them.

Livonia’s location at the line where the western and eastern cultural spaces met made Livonian horses a strategic commodity. For this reason, the authorities tried in every possible way to restrict and regulate their export. Only the cheaper horses were allowed to be exported. In troubled times, their export across the eastern border was completely prohibited.

Surviving sources allow the reconstruction of the procedure for exporting horses from Li- vonia. After purchasing a horse, a Russian had to appear with it before either the commander of the Teutonic Order or the commander of the fortress in Tallinn, or before the bishop’s bailiff or the town hall bailiff in Tartu. The official gave the Russian a certificate stating where the horse was from, what its price was and what the Russian’s name was. A special stamp was used to stamp an imprint (teken) on the certificate. This service, which can be considered a kind of customs duty, cost a mite. In the border town of Narva, a Russian had to appear before the bailiff or the commander of the castle and present the horse together with the certificate. Only the officials of Narva had the right to allow horses to be taken out of the country. Thereafter someone was sent to escort the Russian across the border to Russia together with the horse. For this the Russian had to give the escort a Russian silver coin — a denga.