Day By Day

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Commerce in Antiquity

A subject of immense importance, but one seldom considered by popular historians, is trade. It is far more interesting to talk about kings and conquerors, or courtesans and palace intrigue, or (for the ideologically blindered) social structures, race relations, and class conflicts. But commercial relations and those who conducted them were an essential element of human development.

I am pleased to note this article, by Karl Moore and David C. Lewis, on "Business Models in Antiquity", excerpted from a larger work, "The Beginnings of Globalization". In it the authors briefly sketch the emergence of a vast trading network in the middle-to-late Bronze Age [roughly the second millenium BC]. This network was anchored in the Middle East and its western branch extended across the Mediterranean and North Africa as far as Spain, and perhaps up to Britain and the Baltic. The eastern branch [not discussed in the article] extended to India and Southeast Asia. They note the existence of a specialized class of merchants, its relationship to governments, the international power conditions that made such extensive trade possible as well as the internal and international legislation that supported it.

A second article [here] traces the path of commercial development in China where a more managed, collectivist model prevailed. These articles are, to my mind, deeply flawed by a relentless present-mindedness and barely serve as a general introduction to an important subject, but even so brief a treatment is welcome.