San José State University
Department of Economics

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Thayer Watkins
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Mangazeya:
A 16th Century
Arctic Trading City in Siberia

In northwest Siberia, just east of the Ural Mountains, several of the major rivers of central Asia enter the Arctic Ocean. This area has the potential for being the collection point for the products of central Asia for shipment to Europe. During most of history this locational advantage was not utilized because the Russian Czar gave Russian merchants the franchise for trading with Siberia. These merchants used more southernly routes through passes in the Urals. But during a brief period the authority of the State in the Russian Empire was not effective because of a dispute as who inherited the throne.

During the time when the Czardom did not enforce the trading franchise for Siberia a trading city did rise where the Ob, Taz and Yensisei Rivers flow into the Arctic. The city's name was Mangazeya.

The fact that the three rivers flowed into the Arctic did not mean that ocean-going ships could reach that location. The route between Mangazeya and the lands to the west was a complicated path involving stretches in which boats (not ships) had to be dragged overland. But the boats also had to sail among ice floes on other sections of the route. The route had been discovered by the Pomors (also called the Pomori), the Russians who had settled along the coast of the White Sea. The Pomors were sometimes referred to as the Arctic Vikings. The Pomors traded to the west of the White Sea with Norwegians as well as to the east in Siberia.

At Mangazeya the Pomors collected the furs, ivory from mammoth skeletons as well as walruses, precious metals and other products of Siberia and central Asia. In return they traded such things as salt and alcohol and later trade goods from the West. The British and Dutch set up trading stations at Archangel. After the initial settlement by the Pomors the Russian Czar made Mangazeya into a fort of the Russian Empire. The later trade with the West did not have the sanction of the Czar.

The furs and ivory were accumulated in warehouses in Mangazeya during the winter. During the three summer months that goods could be shipped out Mangazeya operated around the clock. By 1615 the trade volume of Mangazeya surpassed that of all the rest of Russia, yet the State was not able to collect a share of this huge volume.

When the political impasse of the succession to the crown was settled by the election of Michail Romanov by the Council of Moscow Boyards (nobles) Mangazeya was doomed. After the new Czar consolidated his power he forbade trade along the Pomor route under penalty of death. Mangazeya's economy collapsed. Soon it was like a ghost town compared to its former self. Not long after this decline Mangazeya burned. Over the years the location of Mangazeya was forgotten. Its ruins were only rediscovered in 1967.

The Czar's antipathy towards Mangazeya was not entirely a result of the influence of the Ural merchants. There was a real risk that some Western European power such as Britain would take control of Mangazeya and use it to gain control of sections of Siberia.


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