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A fleet of tall-massed ships gathered near the Denmark coast in 1368. The ships came from north German cities belonging to the Hanseatic League, which was at war with the king of Denmark. For two years, the ships harassed the Danish coasts and waters, sacked Danish cities, and carried off their treasures. At the end of that time, the king of Denmark made peace, but the terms were humiliating. The cities of the league demanded a share in the Danish revenues for 15 years, the possession of Danish strongholds, and the final voice in the selection of the Danish kings. This episode in the history of the loose confederation of north German cities known as the Hanseatic League gives an idea of the power it then possessed. The league had developed gradually. More than a hundred years before the action against Denmark, a few cities had formed alliances to protect their traders from plundering barons along land routes and from marauding pirates upon the seas. These alliances proved so useful that gradually more towns joined the strongest league, of which Lubeck was the centre, and this union became known as the Hanseatic League. No one knows just how many towns were in the league. Even its ambassadors in London, when asked for the number of towns, replied that they could not be expected to know all the places, large and small, in whose name they spoke. At the height of its power in the 14th century, it probably included nearly 100 cities, extending from Belgium to Poland.

From the details in the passage, the Hanseatic League could be described as ------ .

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