The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva. But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808. The castle was built on rocky terrain in a marsh between the River Alster and the River Elbe as a defence against Slavic incursion. The castle was named Hammaburg, burg meaning castle or fort. The origin of the Hamma term remains uncertain, as is the exact location of the castle.
In 834, Hamburg was designated the seat of a Roman Catholic bishopric, whose first bishop, Ansgar, became known as the Apostle of the North. Two years later, Hamburg was united with Bremen as the bishopric of Hamburg-Bremen. In 1529, the city embraced Lutheranism, and Hamburg subsequently received Protestant refugees from the Netherlands and France and, in the 17th century, Sephardi Jews from Portugal.
Hamburg was destroyed and occupied several times. In 845, a fleet of 600 Viking ships sailed up the River Elbe and destroyed Hamburg which, at that time, was a town of around 500 inhabitants. In 1030, the city was burned down by King Mieszko II Lambert of Poland. Valdemar II of Denmark raided and occupied Hamburg in 1201 and in 1214. The Black Death killed at least 60% of Hamburg's population in 1350. Hamburg had several great fires, the most notable ones in 1284 and 1842. In 1842, about a quarter of the inner city was destroyed in the "Great Fire". This conflagration started on the night of the 4 May 1842 and was extinguished on 8 May. It destroyed three churches, the town hall, and many other buildings, killing 51 people and leaving an estimated 20,000 homeless. Reconstruction took more than 40 years.
In 1189, by imperial charter, Frederick I "Barbarossa" granted Hamburg the status of an Imperial Free City and tax-free access up the Lower Elbe into the North Sea. In 1265, an allegedly forged letter was presented to or by the Rath of Hamburg. This charter, along with Hamburg's proximity to the main trade routes of the North Sea and Baltic Sea, quickly made it a major port in Northern Europe. Its trade alliance with Lübeck in 1241 marks the origin and core of the powerful Hanseatic League of trading cities. On 8 November 1266, a contract between Henry III and Hamburg's traders allowed them to establish a hanse in London. This was the first time in history that the word hanse was used for the trading guild of the Hanseatic League. The first description of civil, criminal and procedural law for a city in Germany in the German language, the Ordeelbook (Ordeel: sentence) was written by the solicitor of the senate of Hamburg, Jordan von Boitzenburg, in 1270. On August 10, 1410, civil unrest forced a compromise (German: Rezeß, literally meaning: withdrawal). This is considered the first constitution of Hamburg.
When Jan van Valckenborgh introduced a second layer to the fortifications to protect against the Thirty Years War in the seventeenth century, he extended Hamburg and created a "New Town" (Neustadt) whose street names still date from the grid system of roads he introduced.
Upon the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Free Imperial City of Hamburg was not incorporated into a larger administrative area while retaining special privileges (mediatised), but became a sovereign state with the official title of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Hamburg was briefly annexed by Napoleon I to the First French Empire (1810–14). Russian forces under General Bennigsen finally freed the city in 1814. Hamburg reassumed its pre-1811 status as a city-state in 1814. The Vienna Congress of 1815 confirmed Hamburg's independence and it became one of 39 sovereign states of the German Confederation (1815–66).
In 1860, the state of Hamburg adopted a republican constitution. Hamburg became a city-state within the North German Confederation (1866–71), the German Empire (1871–1918) and during the period of the Weimar Republic (1919–33). Hamburg experienced its fastest growth during the second half of the 19th century, when its population more than quadrupled to 800,000 as the growth of the city's Atlantic trade helped make it Europe's third largest port. With Albert Ballin as its director, the Hamburg-America Line became the world's largest transatlantic shipping company around the start of the 20th century. Shipping companies sailing to South America, Africa, India and East Asia were based in the city. Hamburg was the departure port for most Germans and Eastern Europeans to emigrate to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Trading communities from all over the world established themselves here.
A major outbreak of cholera in 1892 was badly handled by the city government, which still retained an unusual degree of independence for a German city at the time. About 8,600 died in the largest German epidemic of the late 19th century, and the last major cholera epidemic in a major city of the Western world.
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