The past formed the present and understanding it leads to a better future. This is a short study on the origins of trade and how it played an important role in the development of the first civilisations.
Trade or commerce is the exchange of goods or services between two parties, with or without a middleman. Market is the total network where trade is performed.
The Sumerians were the first to leave behind records of trade transactions, dating back to 6500BC.(dates vary according to source) The Sumerian cities were built between the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates (Mesopotamia = between the rivers). This allowed the creation of waterways functioning as a trade network for imports/exports of goods. The region was rich in agricultural products like fruits, vegetables and nuts due to its advanced irrigation system but was lacking metals, wood and precious goods. For this reason it needed to trade with other regions.
Before the creation of currency, the barter type of trade (product or service for product or service) was the way of trading. When ambitious middlemen took over the task of transporting goods from one city to another covering far and perilous distances, long-distance trade had begun. The first long-distance route was between Mesopotamia and India around 3000 BC.
Long-distance trade usually involved luxury goods like precious metals, silk and spices. Cities offering these commodities became very wealthy and advanced. A very good example is the island of Cyprus that highly prospered from the 2nd millennium BC by supplying the whole of eastern Mediterranean region with copper due to its vast reserves of the metal.
In Asia and North Africa the camel was domesticated around 1000 BC. Precious goods from Arabia were traveling to India through land with caravans that linked Asia with the Middle East. Maritime trade was developed between the Phoenicians, Greek and the Egyptians who expanded it to the coasts of Africa. The Phoenicians mainly exported luxury goods like cedar wood, fine linen and ivory.
Many new cities sprung up because of trade. The cities of Palmyra and Petra served as centers for supplying caravans and securing trade routes. They also became cultural centers where people of different ethnicities mingled. The city of Antioch, built around 300 BC, by the Greek Seleucus, served to the loading of goods arriving from Mesopotamia to ships traveling to Greece and beyond.
When a caravan left China for the first time and traveled to Persia without the goods changing hands on the way the Silk Road was opened. After the Romans took control of Syria, the terminal point of the Silk Road, a special silk market was established between China and Rome: gold for silk.
By the beginning of the first century AD, someone could begin a journey from Britain and travel across the ancient world through land and sea, all the way to Japan.
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