The House of Hemp and Butter

The House of Hemp and Butter

A History of Old Riga

NIU Series in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

by Kevin C. O'Connor

Published by: Cornell University Press

342 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 0.00 mm, 13 b&w halftones

  • ISBN: 9781501747687
  • Published: November 2019



Founded as an ecclesiastical center, trading hub, and intended capital of a feudal state, Riga was Old Livonia's greatest city and its indispensable port. Because the city was situated in what was initially remote and inhospitable territory, surrounded by pagans and coveted by regional powers like Poland, Sweden, and Muscovy, it was also a fortress encased by a wall.

The House of Hemp and Butter begins in the twelfth century with the arrival to the eastern Baltic of German priests, traders, and knights, who conquered and converted the indigenous tribes and assumed mastery over their lands. It ends in 1710 with an account of the greatest war Livonia had ever seen, one that was accompanied by mass starvation, a terrible epidemic, and a flood of nearly Biblical proportions that devastated the city and left its survivors in misery.

Readers will learn about Riga's people—merchants and clerics, craftsmen and builders, porters and day laborers—about its structures and spaces, its internal conflicts and its unrelenting struggle to maintain its independence against outside threats. The House of Hemp and Butter is an indispensable guide to a quintessentially European city located in one of the continent's more remote corners.