A Brief History of Trade – Part 1

With the sophisticated methods of trading in the world today and stock exchanges handling billions of dollars on a daily basis, looking back at the challenges faced by early traders and the development of the modern commercial system can be quite fascinating. Trade is likely as old as mankind itself, with commodities and services being bartered long before different forms of currency were created. Some experts, including well respected historian Peter Watson, are of the opinion that commerce likely began around 150,000 years ago. Certainly, trade has featured prominently throughout recorded human history.

The establishment of trade routes as far back as 3000 BC reveals that Sumerians in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and northeastern Syria) traded with the inhabitants of the Indus Valley on the Indian Subcontinent. The ancient Phoenicians, who were located along the coastal regions of modern day Syria, Lebanon and Israel, developed a trade route across the sea, linking up with Mediterranean nations, even traveling as far as Britain to obtain tin which they used in the manufacture of bronze. The Greeks and Romans contributed significantly to the development of trade, with the Romans creating a secure network of transportation routes that reduced the risk of piracy and facilitated the lucrative trade of spices from the Far East. This flourishing trade was dealt a virtual death-blow with the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD and the subsequent so-called Dark Ages that engulfed the western world.

While Western Europe grappled with the social problems of the time, trade continued to gain momentum in the Middle East, China, India, Southeast Asia and the kingdoms of Africa. That’s not to say that trade in Western Europe ceased to exist altogether. For example, there are records showing that a group of merchants known as the Radhanites continued to facilitate trade between the Muslim communities of the Near East, and Christian nations in Europe.

Between the 4th and 8th century AD, the Silk Road wound its way across the Asian continent, effectively connecting Asia with the Mediterranean nations, Northeast and North Africa and Europe, where there was a high demand for China’s luxurious silk products – hence the name of the trade route. During this time the Sogdians dominated the Silk Road as the primary traveling merchants of Central Asia.

Continued in Part 2