History Podcasts

Trade in the Ancient World

Trade in the Ancient World

Trade has been going on for as long as humans have needed or wanted something that others had and they did not. Bartering for goods and trade in kind developed into more sophisticated forms of exchanges using commonly agreed commodity currencies such as bronze or copper ingots or even cowry shells. These were often only good for largescale trade deals though, and for smaller transactions, something else was needed: coinage. Coins were often introduced in ancient cultures as a convenient way to pay soldiers, but the idea quickly spread to civilian life.

Early trade largely focused on luxury goods like precious metals, spices, and fine textiles, but eventually, as transportation by ship became faster, more reliable, and cheaper, even mundane items like olives and fish paste were exported across great distances. With the increased contact between cultures caused by trade, so too ideas and cultural practices spread, particularly in the areas of language, religion, and art. International trade led to the establishment of trade emporiums which in turn often developed into colonies. As the competition for resources and access to lucrative trade routes intensified, wars often then resulted when rulers looked to seize the riches of rival states and empires.

In this collection of resources, we look at trade across the ancient Mediterranean from Egypt to the Etruscans, find out what was transported along the Silk Road besides silk, and examine one of the great archaeological finds and indicators of international trade in the Bronze Age, the Uluburun shipwreck.

The discovery of amphorae whose origin can be identified and their quantities are helpful in determining the extent of trade in the ancient world. The Monte Testaccio in Rome is an artificial mound of pottery shards coming from some 53 million discarded amphorae; impressive testimony to the fact that the amphora was one of the most common and useful objects in antiquity.


Life in Old Babylonia: The Importance of Trade

A map of the Babylonian Empire during the time of the Kassites, roughly the 13th century BC.

Trade was critical to Old Babylonia, where many highly prized natural resources were scarce but agricultural goods were in surplus. A vibrant trading system developed, bringing manufactured goods and raw materials from as far as Turkey, and even India, 1,500 miles away. Trade became integral to the economy and the culture. In this lesson, students explore the trade industry in Old Babylonia and its far-flung influence.

Guiding Questions

What connections existed between trade and the economic, cultural, and religious life of Old Babylonia?

What is the lasting legacy of Babylonia?

Learning Objectives

Analyze the archaeological records regarding the existence of a trade network in Old Babylonia and beyond.

Examine maps and artifacts to make inferences about life in Babylonia.

Examine trade records to determine how economics, culture, and politics are interrelated.

Evaluate the ways in which life in Babylonia continues to influence the world today.

History & Social Studies

Lesson Plan Author:

Lesson Plan Details

The Old Babylonian period in Mesopotamia lasted from about 2000 BCE to 1600 BCE. By about 1760 BCE, most of Mesopotamia was brought under Babylonian rule, largely through the conquests of Hammurabi, the sixth king in Babylon's First Dynasty. A famous and important source of information about life in Old Babylonia is the so-called "Code of Hammurabi" which indicates the importance of class divisions, family life, religion, and commerce. For more on life in Old Babylonia, see the complementary EDSITEment lesson Hammurabi's Code: What Does it Tell Us about Old Babylonia?

NCSS.D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

NCSSD2.His.2.6-8. Classify series of historical events and developments as examples of change and/or continuity.

NCSSD2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.

NCSSD2.His.4.6-8. Analyze multiple factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.

NCSSD2.His.5.6-8. Explain how and why perspectives of people have changed over time.

NCSSD2.His.12.6-8. Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to identify further areas of inquiry and additional sources.

NCSS.D2.His.14.6-8. Explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past.

  • For general background information, read the section "Mesopotamian Civilization" in the essay "Ancient Western Asia and the Civilization of Mesopotamia," available through the EDSITEment-reviewed web resource Internet Public Library.
  • For a general introduction to Nippur, a major Babylonian city and the focus of the second activity, read the section "The Holy City of Nippur" from the essay The Nippur Expedition from the EDSITEment-reviewed website The Oriental Institute: The University of Chicago.
  • For more detailed information on the history of Nippur read the essay from The Oriental Institute: The University of Chicago, "Nippur – Sacred City Of Enlil, Supreme God Of Sumer And Akkad."
  • For information on the ancient Nippur map read the three paragraphs starting with the words, "The catastrophic abandonment of the heart of Babylonia." Reading the entire essay provides a detailed account of the archaeological history of Nippur.
  • Review all web sites and materials students will view. Download photographs of artifacts students will be viewing offline. Download and prepare as necessary handouts from the downloadable PDF for this lesson. If necessary, prepare overlay maps for an overhead projector as described in the first activity. Blackline versions of the map are part of the downloadable PDF for the lesson.
  • EDSITEment offers the following complementary lesson plans:

Geographical Extent

Map of Phoenicia and its trade routes (click image to enlarge) / Image by Akigka, Wikimedia Commons

Trade and the search for valuable commodities necessitated the establishment of permanent trading posts and, as the Phoenician ships generally sailed close to the coast and only in daytime, regular way-stations too. These outposts became more firmly established in order to control the trade in specific commodities available at that specific site. In time, these developed further to become full colonies so that a permanent Phoenician influence eventually extended around the whole coastline of the ancient Mediterranean and the Red Sea. Their broad-bottomed single-sail cargo ships transported goods from Lebanon to the Atlantic coast of Africa, Britain, and even the Canary Islands, and brought goods back in the opposite direction, stopping at trade centres anywhere else between. Nor was trade restricted to sea routes as Phoenician caravans also operated throughout Western Asia tapping into well-established trading zones such as Mesopotamia and India.

Phoenician sea trade can, therefore, be divided into that for its colonies and that with fellow trading civilizations. Consequently, the Phoenicians not only imported what they needed and exported what they themselves cultivated and manufactured but they could also act as middlemen traders transporting goods such as papyrus, textiles, metals, and spices between the many civilizations with whom they had contact. They could thus make enormous gains by selling a commodity with a low value such as oil or pottery for another such as tin or silver which was not itself valued by its producers but could fetch enormous prices elsewhere. Trading Phoenicians appear in all manner of ancient sources, from Mesopotamian reliefs to the works of Homer and Herodotus, from Egyptian tomb art to the Book of Ezekiel in the Bible. The Phoenicians were the equivalent of the international haulage trucks of today, and just as ubiquitous.


Contents

Tin extraction and use can be dated to the beginning of the Bronze Age around 3000 BC, during which copper objects formed from polymetallic ores had different physical properties (Cierny & Weisgerber 2003, p. 23). The earliest bronze objects had tin or arsenic content of less than 2% and are therefore believed to be the result of unintentional alloying due to trace metal content in copper ores such as tennantite, which contains arsenic (Penhallurick 1986, p. 4). The addition of a second metal to copper increases its hardness, lowers the melting temperature, and improves the casting process by producing a more fluid melt that cools to a denser, less spongy metal (Penhallurick 1986, pp. 4–5). This was an important innovation that allowed for the much more complex shapes cast in closed molds of the Bronze Age. Arsenical bronze objects appear first in the Middle East where arsenic is commonly found in association with copper ore, but the health risks were quickly realized and the quest for sources of the much less hazardous tin ores began early in the Bronze Age (Charles 1979, p. 30). This created the demand for rare tin metal and formed a trade network that linked the distant sources of tin to the markets of Bronze Age cultures.

Cassiterite (SnO2), oxidized tin, most likely was the original source of tin in ancient times. Other forms of tin ores are less abundant sulfides such as stannite that require a more involved smelting process. Cassiterite often accumulates in alluvial channels as placer deposits due to the fact that it is harder, heavier, and more chemically resistant than the granite in which it typically forms (Penhallurick 1986). These deposits can be easily seen in river banks, because cassiterite is usually black or purple or otherwise dark, a feature exploited by early Bronze Age prospectors. It is likely that the earliest deposits were alluvial and perhaps exploited by the same methods used for panning gold in placer deposits.

The importance of tin to the success of Bronze Age cultures and the scarcity of the resource offers a glimpse into that time period's trade and cultural interactions, and has therefore been the focus of intense archaeological studies. However, a number of problems have plagued the study of ancient tin such as the limited archaeological remains of placer mining, the destruction of ancient mines by modern mining operations, and the poor preservation of pure tin objects due to tin disease or tin pest. These problems are compounded by the difficulty in provenancing tin objects and ores to their geological deposits using isotopic or trace element analyses. Current archaeological debate is concerned with the origins of tin in the earliest Bronze Age cultures of the Near East (Penhallurick 1986 Cierny & Weisgerber 2003 Dayton 1971 Giumlia-Mair 2003 Muhly 1979 Muhly 1985).

Europe Edit

Europe has very few sources of tin. Therefore, throughout ancient times it was imported long distances from the known tin mining districts of antiquity. These were the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) along the modern border between Germany and Czech Republic, the Iberian Peninsula, Brittany in modern France, and Devon and Cornwall in southwestern Britain (Benvenuti et al. 2003, p. 56 Valera & Valera 2003, p. 11). There are several smaller sources of tin in the Balkans (Mason et al. 2016, p. 110) and another minor source of tin is known to exist at Monte Valerio in Tuscany, Italy. The Tuscan source was exploited by Etruscan miners around 800 BC, but it was not a significant source of tin for the rest of the Mediterranean (Benvenuti et al. 2003). Even at that time, the Etruscans themselves had to import additional tin from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, and later from Cornwall (Penhallurick 1986, p. 80).

It has been claimed that tin was first mined in Europe around 2500 BC in the Erzgebirge, and knowledge of tin bronze and tin extraction techniques spread from there to Brittany and Cornwall around 2000 BC and from northwestern Europe to northwestern Spain and Portugal around the same time (Penhallurick 1986, p. 93). However, the only Bronze Age object from Central Europe whose tin has been scientifically provenanced is the Nebra sky disk, and its tin (and gold, though not its copper), is shown by tin isotopes to have come from Cornwall (Haustein, Gillis & Pernicka 2010). In addition, a rare find of a pure tin ingot in Scandinavia was provenanced to Cornwall (Ling et al. 2014). Available evidence, though very limited, thus points to Cornwall as the sole early source of tin in Central and Northern Europe.

Brittany – opposite Cornwall on the Celtic Sea – has significant sources of tin which show evidence of being extensively exploited after the Roman conquest of Gaul during the 50s BC and onwards (Penhallurick 1986, pp. 86–91). Brittany remained a significant source of tin throughout the medieval period.

A group of 52 bronze artifacts from the late Bronze Age Balkans has been shown to have tin of multiple origins, based on the correlation of tin isotope differences with the different find locations of the artifacts. While the locations of these separate tin sources are uncertain, the larger Serbian group of artifacts is inferred to be derived from tin sources in western Serbia (e.g. Mount Cer), while the smaller group, largely from western Romania, is inferred to have western Romanian origins (Mason et al. 2016, p. 116).

Iberian tin was widely traded across the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age, and extensively exploited during Roman times. But Iberian tin deposits were largely forgotten throughout the medieval period, were not rediscovered until the 18th century, and only re-gained importance during the mid-19th century (Penhallurick 1986, pp. 100–101).

Cornwall and Devon were important sources of tin for Europe and the Mediterranean throughout ancient times and may have been the earliest sources of tin in Western Europe, with evidence for trade to the Eastern Mediterranean by the Late Bronze Age. [1] But within the historical period, they only dominated the European market from late Roman times in the 3rd century AD, with the exhaustion of many Spanish tin mines (Gerrard 2000, p. 21). Cornwall maintained its importance as a source of tin throughout medieval times and into the modern period (Gerrard 2000).

Asia Edit

Western Asia has very little tin ore the few sources that have recently been found are too insignificant to have played a major role during most of ancient history (Cierny & Weisgerber 2003, p. 23). However, it is possible that they were exploited at the start of the Bronze Age and are responsible for the development of early bronze manufacturing technology (Muhly 1973 Muhly 1979). Kestel, in Southern Turkey, is the site of an ancient cassiterite mine that was used from 3250 to 1800 BC. It contains miles of tunnels, some only large enough for a child. A grave with children who were probably workers has been found. It was abandoned, with crucibles and other tools left at the site. The next evidence of the production of pure tin in the Middle East is an ingot from the 1300 BC Uluburun shipwreck off the coast of Turkey (Hauptmann, Maddin & Prange 2002).

While there are a few sources of cassiterite in Central Asia, namely in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, that show signs of having been exploited starting around 2000 BC (Cierny & Weisgerber 2003, p. 28), archaeologists disagree about whether they were significant sources of tin for the earliest Bronze Age cultures of the Middle East (Dayton 2003 Muhly 1973 Maddin 1998 Stech & Pigott 1986).

In Northern Asia the only tin deposits considered exploitable by ancient peoples occur in the far eastern region of Siberia (Dayton 2003, p. 165). This source of tin appears to have been exploited by the Eurasian Steppe people known as the Seima-Turbino culture around 2000 BC as well as by northern Chinese cultures around the same time (Penhallurick 1986, p. 35).

Eastern Asia has a number of small cassiterite deposits along the Yellow River which were exploited by the earliest Chinese Bronze Age culture of Erlitou and the Shang Dynasty (2500 to 1800 BC). However, the richest deposits for the region, and indeed the world, lie in Southeastern Asia, stretching from Yunnan in China to the Malay Peninsula. The deposits in Yunnan were not mined until around 700 BC, but by the Han Dynasty had become the main source of tin in China according to historical texts of the Han, Jin, Tang, and Song dynasties (Murowchick 1991, pp. 76–77). Other cultures of Southeast Asia exploited the abundant cassiterite resources sometime between the third and second millennia BC, but due to the lack of archaeological work in the region little else is known about tin exploitation during ancient times in that part of the world.

Tin was used in the Indian subcontinent starting between 1500 and 1000 BC (Hedge 1979, p. 39 Chakrabarti & Lahiri 1996). While India does have some small scattered deposits of tin, they were not a major source of tin for Indian Bronze Age cultures as shown by their dependence on imported tin.

Africa Edit

While rich veins of tin are known to exist in Central and South Africa, whether these were exploited during ancient times is still debated (Dayton 2003, p. 165). However, the Bantu culture of Zimbabwe are known to have actively mined, smelted and traded tin between the 11th and 15th centuries AD (Penhallurick 1986, p. 11).

Americas Edit

Tin deposits exist in many parts of South America, with minor deposits in southern Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and northwestern Argentina, and major deposits of exploitable cassiterite in northern Bolivia. These deposits were exploited as early as 1000 AD in the manufacture of tin bronze by Andean cultures, including the later Inca Empire, which considered tin bronze the "imperial alloy". In North America, the only known exploitable source of tin during ancient times is located in the Zacatecas tin province of north central Mexico which supplied west Mexican cultures with enough tin for bronze production (Lechtman 1996, p. 478).

Australia Edit

The tin belt of Southeast Asia extends all the way down to Tasmania, but metals were not exploited in Australia until the arrival of Europeans in the 1780s.

Due to the scattered nature of tin deposits around the world and its essential nature for the creation of tin bronze, tin trade played an important role in the development of cultures throughout ancient times. Archaeologists have reconstructed parts of the extensive trade networks of ancient cultures from the Bronze Age to modern times using historical texts, archaeological excavations, and trace element and lead isotope analysis to determine the origins of tin objects around the world (Valera & Valera 2003 Rovia & Montero 2003 Maddin 1998).

Mediterranean Edit

The earliest sources of tin in the Early Bronze Age in the Near East are still unknown and the subject of much debate in archaeology (Dayton 1971 Dayton 2003 Maddin 1998 Muhly 1973 Penhallurick 1986 Stech & Pigott 1986 Kalyanaraman 2010). Possibilities include minor now-depleted sources in the Near East, trade from Central Asia (Muhly 1979), Sub-Saharan Africa (Dayton 2003), Europe, or elsewhere.

It is possible that as early as 2500 BC, the Ore Mountains had begun exporting tin, using the well established Baltic amber trade route to supply Scandinavia as well as the Mediterranean with tin (Penhallurick 1986, pp. 75–77). By 2000 BC, the extraction of tin in Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal had begun and tin was traded to the Mediterranean sporadically from all these sources. Evidence of tin trade in the Mediterranean can be seen in a number of Bronze Age shipwrecks containing tin ingots such as the Uluburun off the coast of Turkey dated 1300 BC which carried over 300 copper bars weighing 10 tons, and approximately 40 tin bars weighing 1 ton (Pulak 2001). [2] Evidence of direct tin trade between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean has been demonstrated through the analysis of tin ingots dated to the 13th-12th centuries BC from sites in Israel, Turkey and modern-day Greece tin ingots from Israel, for example, have been found to share chemical composition with tin from Cornwall and Devon (Great Britain). [1] While Sardinia does not appear to have much in terms of significant sources of tin, it does have rich copper and other mineral wealth and served as a centre for metals trade during the Bronze Age and likely actively imported tin from the Iberian Peninsula for export to the rest of the Mediterranean (Lo Schiavo 2003).

By classical Greek times, the tin sources were well established. Greece and the Western Mediterranean appear to have traded their tin from European sources, while the Middle East acquired their tin from Central Asian sources through the Silk Road (Muhly 1979, p. 45). For example, Iron Age Greece had access to tin from Iberia by way of the Phoenicians who traded extensively there, from the Erzgebirge by way of the Baltic Amber Road overland route, or from Brittany and Cornwall through overland routes from their colony at Massalia (modern day Marseilles) established in the 6th century BC (Penhallurick 1986). In 450 BC, Herodotus described tin as coming from Northern European islands named the Cassiterides along the extreme borders of the world, suggesting very long-distance trade, likely from Britain, northwestern Iberia, or Brittany, supplying tin to Greece and other Mediterranean cultures (Valera & Valera 2003, p. 11). The idea that the Phoenicians went to Cornwall for its tin and supplied it to the whole of the Mediterranean has no archaeological basis and is largely considered a myth (Penhallurick 1986, p. 123).

The early Roman world was mainly supplied with tin from its Iberian provinces of Gallaecia and Lusitania and to a lesser extent Tuscany. Pliny mentions that in 80 BC, a senatorial decree halted all mining on the Italian Peninsula, stopping any tin mining activity in Tuscany and increasing Roman dependence on tin from Brittany, Iberia, and Cornwall. After the Roman conquest of Gaul, Brittany's tin deposits saw intensified exploitation after the first century BC (Penhallurick 1986, pp. 86–91). With the exhaustion of the Iberian tin mines, Cornwall became a major supplier of tin for the Romans after the 3rd century AD (Gerrard 2000).

Throughout the medieval period, demand for tin increased as pewter gained popularity. Brittany and Cornwall remained the major producers and exporters of tin throughout the Mediterranean through to modern times (Gerrard 2000).

Asia Edit

Near Eastern development of bronze technology spread across Central Asia by way of the Eurasian Steppes, and with it came the knowledge and technology for tin prospection and extraction. By 2000 to 1500 BC Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan appear to have exploited their sources of tin, carrying the resources east and west along the Silk Road crossing Central Asia (Cierny & Weisgerber 2003, p. 28). This trade link likely followed an existing trade route of lapis lazuli, a highly prized semi-precious blue gemstone, and chlorite vessels decorated with turquoise from Central Asia that have been found as far west as Egypt and that date to the same period (Giumlia-Mair 2003, p. 93).

In China, early tin was extracted along the Yellow River in Erlitou and Shang times between 2500 and 1800 BC. By Han and later times, China imported its tin from what is today Yunnan province. This has remained China's main source of tin throughout history and into modern times (Murowchick 1991).

It is unlikely that Southeast Asian tin from Indochina was widely traded around the world in ancient times as the area was only opened up to Indian, Muslim, and European traders around 800 AD (Penhallurick 1986, p. 51).

Indo–Roman trade relations are well known from historical texts such as Pliny's Natural History (book VI, 26), and tin is mentioned as one of the resources being exported from Rome to South Arabia, Somaliland, and India (Penhallurick 1986, p. 53 Dayton 2003, p. 165).


Modern Globalization

The 19th century witnessed the advent of globalization approaching its modern form. Industrialization allowed cheap production of household items using economies of scale, while rapid population growth created sustained demand for commodities. Globalization in this period was decisively shaped by nineteenth-century imperialism. After the First and Second Opium Wars, which opened up China to foreign trade, and the completion of the British conquest of India, the vast populations of these regions became ready consumers of European exports. It was in this period that areas of sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific islands were incorporated into the world system. Meanwhile, the conquest of parts of the globe, notably sub-Saharan Africa, by Europeans yielded valuable natural resources such as rubber, diamonds and coal and helped fuel trade and investment between the European imperial powers, their colonies, and the United States. [12]

The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea, the various products of the whole earth, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep. Militarism and imperialism of racial and cultural rivalries were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper. What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man was that age which came to an end in August 1914.

Between the globalization in the 19th and in the 20th there are significant differences. There are two main points on which the differences can be seen. One point is the global trade in this centuries as well as the capital, investment and the economy.

Global Trade

19th century Great Britain becomes the first global economic superpower, because of superior manufacturing technology and improved global communications such as steamships and railroads. / Wikimedia Commons

The global trade in the 20th century shows a higher share of trade in merchant production, a growth of the trade in services and the rise of production and trade by multinational firms. The production of merchant goods in the 20th century largely decreased from the levels seen in the 19th century. However, the amount of merchant goods that were produced for the merchandise trade grew. The trade in services also grew more important in the 20th compared to the 19th century. The last point that distinguishes the global trade in the 19th century compared to the global trade in the 20th century, is the extent of multinational cooperation. In the 20th century, you can see a “quantum leap” in multinational cooperation compared to the 19th century. Before the 20th century began, there were just Portfolio investment, but no trade-related or production-relation Direct investment.

Commercial integration has improved since last century, barriers that inhibit trade are lower and transport costs have decreased. Multinational trade contracts and agreements have been signed, like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the European Union (EU) has been hugely involved in eliminating tariffs between member states, and the World Trade Organization. From 1890 and up to World War I instability in trade was a problem, but in the post war period there has mostly been economic expansion which leads to stability. Nations have to take care of their own products they have to make sure that foreign goods do not suffocate their domestic products causing unemployment and maybe social instability. Technological changes have caused lower transporting costs it takes just a few hours to transport goods between continents to-day, instead of weeks or even months in the nineteenth century.

By consideration financial crisis one key difference is the monetary regime. In the 19th century it occurred under the fixed exchange rates of the gold standard. But in the 20th century it took place in a regime of managed flexibility. Furthermore, in the 19th century countries had developed effective lenders of last resort, but the same was not true at the periphery and countries there suffered the consequences. A century later there was a domestic safety net in most emerging countries so that banking panics were changed into situations where the debts of an insolvent banking system were taken over by the government. The recovery from banking crisis is another key difference. It has tended to begin earlier in the recent period than in the typical crisis episode a hundred years ago. In the 19th century there were no international rescue packages available to emerging economies. But in the recent period such rescues were a typical component of the financial landscape all over the world.

The flows information were an important downside in 19th century. Prior to the Transatlantic cable and the Radiotelephone, it used to take very long for information to go from one place to another. So this means that it was very difficult to analyze the information. For instance, it was not so easy to distinguish good and bad credits. Therefore, the information asymmetry played a very important role in international investments. The railway bonds serve as a great example. There was also many contracting problems. It was very difficult for companies working overseas to manage their operations in other parts of the world, so this was clearly a big barrier to investment. Several macroeconomic factors such as exchange risks and uncertain monetary policies were a big barrier for international investments as well. The accounting standards in the U.S. were relatively underdeveloped in the 19th century. The British investors played a very important role in transferring their accounting practices to the new emerging markets. [13]


History of exploration I (ancient and classical)

As early as the dawn of the world's major civilizations, people developed a long-standing curiosity about their world and universe. Exploration was a means of pushing the boundaries of known lands, as well as creating a new interpretation of the workings of the cosmos. As man wandered farther from home, he found new civilizations, wide oceans , and exotic goods. Growing curiosity, the desire to enhance military might, and demand for goods linked exploration and trade.

The Egyptians were the first build sea worthy ships. The earliest expedition recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics is that of Pharaoh Snefru in about 3200 b.c. In 2750 b.c., Hannu led an expedition to explore the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea. After Hannu's voyage, Egyptian exploration declined until the first millennium b.c. In 550 b.c., Egyptian vessels circumnavigated Africa . They also constructed a canal between the Red Sea and the Nile River to facilitate trade.

The Phoenicians were perhaps the most prolific seafarers and traders of the ancient world. From their main port of Carthage, the Phoenicians dominated trade in the Mediterranean Sea. The Phoenician monopoly of trade reached from the Straits of Gibraltar to the far reaches of Persia (present-day Iran).

In 510 b.c., Greek explorer Scylax, who served in the Persian Navy, traveled to the Indus River and the mountains of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. He searched for new trade routes and a way to break the Phoenician trade monopoly. Pytheas sailed to the coast of modern France and established a Greek port and military garrison at Massalia (Marseilles). He then continued his expedition, later circumnavigating Britain and exploring the North Sea. The invention of a new ship, the bireme, which had two decks and four rows of oarsmen, aided the Greeks in assuming dominance over the Mediterranean.

The Roman Empire, which reached the height of its power from 100 b.c. to a.d. 400, commanded both sea and land. Sea vessels were largely used as battleships, and while the Romans did have a considerable trade fleet, the most ambitious expeditions used large war ships that carried soldiers, slaves, and plundered goods. The area that the Phoenicians once controlled with trade, the Romans governed over directly. The continued success of Rome depended on military conquest, territorial expansion, and the growth of the imperial economy. Rome gained dominion over lands from Northern Europe to Northern Africa, from Spain to Persia. They developed circular trade routes that insured that various regions of the empire received the goods and raw materials desired. Timber was exported the peripheral regions where trees were scarce. Slaves were transported to regions of production and building. Olive oil and wine was traded throughout the Empire. These complex trade routes that insured a steady stream of raw materials and luxury goods were the model for the Atlantic triangular trade routes of the 1700s.

The European Old World was not the only venue for world exploration. In the first century a.d., Chinese explorers made rapid technological advancements, inventing the compass and complex sailing vessels, which aided open water exploration. Most ships had to remain in sight of land in order to navigate, but the Chinese compass, as well as Phoenician astronomical charts, permitted longer voyages, sometimes beyond the sight of land. Early Chinese sailors explored many of Asia's rivers and surrounding seas . They ventured as far as India and the eastern coast of Africa. Exploration and trade aided in the creation of a powerful and far-reaching Chinese empire.

In the South Pacific, Polynesian mariners explored the regional islands even before the recorded history. In 100-ft (30.5-m) canoes with minimal sails, Polynesians hopped from island to island, as well as made long open sea voyages. By a.d. 1000, Polynesian explorers had set foot in Hawaii and New Zealand. These Pacific sailors had a deep understanding of ocean currents and prevailing winds that was not achieved in the Atlantic until the sixteenth century.

As exploration pushed the boundaries of the known world, philosophers, astronomers, and mathematicians devised new interpretations for the workings of the world and universe. Some focused on practical challenges, such as navigation, and devised complex charts of stars. Others took a universal approach, mingling religion with exploration and science to devise of theories of how the universe and Earth itself were structured. These structures, or cosmologies, dictated the bounds of scientific reasoning and exploration. The Greek mathematician, Ptolemy, devised a model for the universe that persisted for centuries, most especially through Europe's Dark and Middle Ages (496 – 1450). Not until the fifteenth century and Copernican Revolution — the reemergence of concepts of a spherical Earth, and a solar system that revolves around the Sun — did scientific exploration of the earth, and beyond, reemerge.

See also History of exploration II (Age of exploration) History of exploration III (Modern era)


The spice trade redrew the world map and came to define our global economy.

Nearly 2,500 years ago, Arab traders told stories of the ferocious cinnamon bird, or cinnamologus. This large bird made its nest from delicate cinnamon sticks, the traders said. One way to get the cinnamon was to bait the cinnamologus with large chunks of meat. The birds would fly down from their nests, snatch up the meat, and fly back. The precarious cinnamon nests would collapse when the bird returned weighted with its catch. Then quick-witted traders could gather up the fallen cinnamon and take it to market.

As enticing as the tale is, the fabled cinnamologus never existed. The story was most likely invented to ward off curious competitors from attempting to seek out the source of the spice. For many years, the ancient Greeks and Romans were fooled.

It might seem odd that something as seemingly inconsequential as a spice – a food flavouring or something to burn to add aroma to the air – would need such jealous guarding with elaborate tall tales.

But the world’s demand for spices grew throughout the Roman era and into the medieval period, defining economies from India to Europe. This demand gave rise to some of the first truly international trade routes and shaped the structure of the world economy in a way that can still be felt today. Those who controlled the spices could divert the flow of wealth around the world.

But the secret of the origins of spices such as cinnamon could only be kept for so long. In 1498, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama made the first sea voyage from Europe to India, via the southernmost tip of Africa. The mission was driven by a desire to find a direct route to the places where spices were plentiful and cheap, cutting out the middlemen. His arrival on India’s Malabar Coast, the heart of the spice trade, marked the start of direct trading between Europe and South East Asia.

Da Gama’s voyage, and that of his country, was a heavy blow to the Arab traders. As well as their financial loss, da Gama maintained a bloody attack on Arab merchants at sea in order to establish and defend the new spice route from India to Europe.

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The flow of spices from one part of the world to another sparked the need to develop extensive infrastructure on land and by the coast, says Marijke van der Veen, emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Leicester. This began in the Roman period, extending through the middle ages.

“This is very much the start of globalisation,” says Van Der Veen. “We see that even more significantly in the medieval period.”

The result was a lasting change to people’s diets in Europe, which became a lot less bland and monotonous. But more importantly, spices became another way to define what it meant to be wealthy and powerful. This came with a profound social, emotional and economic impact in Europe, says Van Der Veen.

“Spices give the elites opportunity for extravagant display,” says Van Der Veen. “And it emphasises to everybody else that it is out of reach.”

As a result, the hunger for spices went well beyond their aromatic flavour. While spices had been consumed in Asia for most likely as long as there had been people living there, in Europe they became a new symbol of high social status.

“The consequences of these trivial products – trivial in that you don't need them for nutrition – are cataclysmic,” says Paul Freedman, a historian at Yale University. “They were the first goods to have such dramatic and unanticipated consequences.”

Those consequences included the colonisation of the New World, after Christopher Columbus took a wrong turn in search of spices, heading westward instead of eastward to reach the Americas.

Compared with its turbulent beginnings, the nature of the spice trade is almost unrecognisable today. Spices are now accessible and ubiquitous, found everywhere from supermarket aisles, corner shops and take-aways to fine-dining restaurants. Where sailing Da Gama’s sea route took months, spices can now be flown across continents in a matter of hours.

But some things have remained constant throughout the centuries, including the place that has remained the heart of the trade – India.

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India’s history as a spice-producing nation is largely down to its climate, which is varied and ideal for growing a range of different spice crops. For example, turmeric, one increasingly valuable spice, grows well in India’s tropical, high-rainfall regions, whereas spices such as cumin flourish in cooler and drier subtropical areas.

Many spice farms in India are historically small and family-run. But fluctuations in the value of spices on the open market can make farmers’ incomes more precarious.

“Some of the biggest pressures on the industry are around climate change – more extreme weather patterns, flooding, hurricanes, droughts in different parts of the world,” says Anne Touboulic, a global food supply chain researcher at the Nottingham University Business School. “That will affect rural crop production, which would in turn have an effect on how much spice can be supplied, and then on prices.”

Many of the challenges for spice growers are shared by farmers of other crops. Overuse of nitrogen fertilisers, water shortages and the loss of pollinating insects. But combined with the high price of spice crops, these pressures on supply can have a knock-on effect.

Outside India, one example of this is Madagascan vanilla. Natural vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world, with ripe, high-quality vanilla exceeding the price of silver to become worth more than $600 (£445) per kilo in the summer of 2018. A cyclone in 2017 in Madagascar, which produces the majority of the world’s vanilla, hit the vanilla crop hard and caused prices to surge.

“The price of vanilla has risen because it is in high demand, and it is becoming a lot rarer because of extreme weather in Madagascar,” says Touboulic. “What that means is there are a lot of farmers going into vanilla to produce the bean and earn a living.”

But to grow the crop you need space, and the land to grow the vanilla has to come from somewhere.

“There are beautiful forests in Madagascar, home to all sorts of interesting ecosystems,” says Touboulic. “You see them being cut down.”

As well as being devastating for wildlife, including several endangered species, deforestation threatens future production of vanilla. The forests of Madagascar provide the right amount of rainfall, humidity and nutrients in the soil for the vanilla plants to grow. Disturbing Madagascar’s delicate ecosystem also disrupts the finely-balanced conditions needed for vanilla growing in the first place.

“You can't blame the vanilla growers for doing it,” says Touboulic. “All they want to do is survive.”


How has trade shaped the world?

Moving goods around the globe is such an everyday phenomenon that it has become almost invisible. But the business, policy, technology, and politics of trade have been powerful forces throughout history. William J. Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, talked with Qn about both the sweep and the intricacies of the endeavor through history.

Q: What are the key threads to follow in understanding how trade has shaped the world?
First, trade almost always benefits the nations that engage in it, but only when averaged over the entire national economy.

Second, there is always a minority that is hurt by evolving trade patterns, and they will always call for protection. As early as the sixteenth century, Madeiran sugar growers demanded, and obtained, prohibitions against cheaper sugar from Brazil. Going back even further, by the third millennium BC, there was a vigorous trade between grain-rich Mesopotamia with mineral-rich Magan (modern Oman), and Dilmun (modern Bahrain) was the focal transshipment point for this operation. Although we have no record of it, you can bet that Dilmun's farmers were not happy with the cheap barley and wheat arriving on that city's wharves.

Q: What did you discover about trade through looking at it with a long historical lens?
The urge to trade is hard-wired into our DNA, and new patterns of trade always produce stresses, strains, cracks, and discontents. If you look at the historical record, you see that this process has been going on for centuries. For example, "tea parties" protesting taxes have been much in the news lately. This is beyond irony. The historical Boston Tea Party had almost nothing to do with taxes rather, it was a protectionist backlash by middlemen and smugglers cut out of the tea trade by the decision to allow the East India Company to directly market its products in the colonies. Good for tea consumers, bad for those who had previously controlled the trade.

Q: How has the role of the trader changed? How much has business changed?
In the pre-modern world, the trader was a solitary, self-sufficient figure who more often than not sat and slept on his cargo and endured discomforts and dangers we cannot even begin to imagine. Today, the highest-value cargoes whip around the world at nearly the speed of sound on aircraft piloted by skilled specialists who end their workdays in taxis and four-star hotels. Lower-value cargoes travel on reasonably comfortable and safe vessels with well-stocked pantries and video collections, and both the aircraft and ship's crews are nearly always the employees of very large corporations.

Q: Did your understanding of globalization change in doing the book?
It could not help but do so. First, before I began the process, I hadn't realized just how relevant historical trade was to the modern story. As Harry Truman famously said, the only thing that's new in the world is the history we haven't read. You can take the stories of the opening up of the Manila Galleon route or the 1697 riots by London weavers displaced by Indian calicoes, change a few of the proper nouns and modernize the grammar, and you're reading James Fallows on the dumping of Chinese textiles or the AP coverage of the 1999 Seattle disturbances.

Second, I hadn't realized what an intrinsic part of human behavior trade was. About 50,000–100,000 years ago, a small group of our ancestors in northeast Africa acquired the genetic endowment that gave them the language, social, and, intellectual skills that enabled them to break out of that continent through a barrier of their hominid competitors and go on to dominate the six habitable continents. The desire to trade — of which there is ample evidence in the prehistoric record — was part of that repertoire.

Finally, I hadn't realized that trade's economic benefits pale in comparison to its intangible ones. In fact, you can make a pretty good case that before the mid-twentieth century, trade was not that much of an economic boon, although the post-1950 data leave little question of trade's material value.

By contrast, trade's intangible benefits are enormous and indisputable: the desire to do business with your neighbors rather than to annihilate them. To convince yourself of that, look at the twentieth century: the Smoot-Hawley Tariff probably triggered the Second World War by embittering the Germans with their inability to recover and pay the Versailles reparations. No Smoot-Hawley, no Hitler chancellorship no Hitler chancellorship, no World War II. By contrast, European free trade has made a major party conflict among western and central European powers unthinkable for the first time in history.

Q: How important has technology been in shaping trade?
Obviously, transport and communications technology played an enormously important role. Rather than mention the obvious advances — the steam engine, telegraph, aircraft, and computer — I'll focus here on a few less obvious ones that were just as important.

The first of these more subtle technologies was the decoding of the planet's wind system. One great advance was the discovery of the Indian Ocean monsoon system by mariners around the dawn of the Common Era, which transformed the cities ringing it into prosperous trading states. The second great advance was the exploitation of the prevailing "trade winds" by European sailors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which gave birth to the first flush of true "globalization" by about 1600.

Another subtle but great advance in trade history was the invention of a process for mass producing inexpensive high-quality steel by Bessemer, Siemens, and Martin in the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to that, the soft iron rails and low-pressure iron boilers of the early steam age were not up to carrying very large volumes of grain. The new blast steel process yielded high-tensile strength rails and high-pressure boilers, which made possible, for the first time, an efficient global trade in bulk commodities, particularly grain, which would in turn ignite a protectionist backlash by European farmers that endures to this day.

Finally, I can't resist mentioning the refrigerator. It's not commonly realized that by the early nineteenth century massive amounts of ice, and with it, chilled perishables, were being shipped around the world. Unfortunately, this was a one-way affair, and could originate only in places, such as New England, that had a reliable supply of it. If you were trying to ship beef from Argentina or Australia, you were out of luck. The invention of mechanical refrigeration around 1880 ignited a worldwide revolution in the growing of beef and pork for consumption halfway around the world.

Q: Did the importance of policy, regulation, and finance as supports for successful trade change at some point?
Trade has always required, and always will require, capital, which is why the Dutch were able to control it for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and why global trade volume has suffered a steep decline in the past year.

The essence of free trade is the very absence of regulation. Unfortunately, as we've already seen, free trade always produces losers, who must of necessity be bought off, lest they clog up the works. As John Stuart Mill first pointed out, and as Paul Samuelson and Wolfgang Stolper have reiterated, the benefits of free trade will always be sufficient to "bribe the suffering factor."

As a practical matter, free trade is joined at the hip with a generous social welfare system. When a worker loses his or her job to a better and/or cheaper foreign product, he or she not only deserves retraining, but should also not lose their health care coverage and all their income. Reasonable people can argue over the ethics of a generous social welfare policy, but there's no arguing over its political economy: if you don't compensate the losers, they wreck the system.

Q: Is there anything distinctive about cities that are defined by trade?
Sea transport has always been cheaper and more efficient than land transport. This was especially true in the pre-rail era. Genoa was the quintessential example of this. Hemmed in by mountains and facing the sea, it was easier to get to Lisbon or even London than to Milan or Geneva. A Genoese was more a citizen of the world than Italian, and it was perfectly natural for him to make his career abroad. Christopher Columbus, for example, spent most of his adult life in Portugal, Spain, and on the high seas.

The same was also true of all of the great medieval Indian Ocean emporium ports, tied together by the monsoons and the institutional power of Islam. The commercial upper crusts of Cambay, Malacca, Calicut, and Mombasa had more in common with each other than with their fellow countrymen.

Q: What are the relationships between legal and illicit trade?
First, where there are tariffs, there is also smuggling this is particularly true of high-value goods, whether licit or illicit: tea in the eighteenth century, heroin and cocaine today.

Second, throughout most of history, the central calculus facing most leaders in the pre-modern era was the trilemma of whether to trade, raid, or protect. Today, we take the first as a given, but as we have recently learned off the Somali coast, the latter two options are still around.

Read the introduction to the A Splendid Exchange on William J. Bernstein's website.


Ancient Babylonia by R. Russell

2 Kin 24:13-14 "And Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king's house, and he cut in pieces all the articles of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said. Also he carried into captivity all Jerusalem: all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained except the poorest people of the land."


Global Trade in the Ancient World: Cultures of Luxury 3000–300 BCE

The advent of the 3rd millennium BCE saw a rise in contact between civilisations, particularly along the great land and maritime routes which linked different centres of power. The impetus for connectivity was often a desire for rare and precious materials such as ivory, cornelian and lapis lazuli, or metals such as tin, essential for the manufacture of bronze for superior weaponry. Luxury artefacts were traded and exchanged along these routes, and ambitious rulers even sought to enhance their prestige by importing wild and exotic animals for their zoological gardens, for hunting or simply for their own amusement.

These interactions, sometimes across thousands of miles, stimulated artistic enrichment throughout the centuries. This course focuses on the flowering of arts across boundaries, apparent in Bronze Age seals and hard-stone vessels, from India to Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan. Luxury objects including virtuoso metalwork and ivories, and expensive commodities discovered on shipwrecks, all reveal connections between the ancient cultures of Egypt, the Mediterranean and the Near East. In the first millennium, the rise of Iranian empires spread new arts and ideas as far eastwards as the steppes of Central Asia, reaching beyond urban societies to the world of the nomads. In these days of international communications, we can look back to periods in antiquity when global exchange played a significant part in the development of art and culture.

List of site sources >>>


Watch the video: Trade in the Ancient World (January 2022).