Past lives of transnational trade

One early morning in September, in the lobby of a hotel in central Berlin where I was staying, I greeted the front desk staff in bad German, picked up an apple from the fruit tray at the front desk and threw it into my backpack. A few hours later, when the hunger struck, I decided to eat the apple in the bag in the nearby Teal Garden. The fragrance of birds and flowers in this city park is so intoxicating that I almost ignored my lunch-the label on the apple: Produced in New Zealand.

Televisions in Taiwan, lettuce in Mexico, shirts in China, and tools in India are now all over the world. Everyone has become so accustomed to it that they have forgotten that such a global commerce miracle actually happened very recently. At this moment, when I eat this apple on the other side of the world, its European “cousins” are being picked. What better symbolizes this epic era of global trade?

Expensive secretions
Looking back thousands of years ago, only commodities with the highest profitability, such as silk, gold and silver, spices, jewellery, porcelain and medicine, would cross continents. After all, at that time, a commodity was enough to be mysterious, romantic and noble just because it came from a foreign land. Just as in Rome in the 3rd century AD, the most sought-after imported commodity was silk from faraway China.

Most of the great Roman emperors became famous in later generations because of their battles, urban construction, engineering, or legalization. However, the emperor Elagabalus who reigned from 218 to 222, the memory left in people’s hearts is the silk of cruel behavior and the pursuit of luxury. During his reign, from innocent pranks to recklessly killing children, he unscrupulously performed a series of unforgivable acts that shocked the knowledgeable people of Rome, the capital of the ancient Mediterranean world. What particularly attracted the attention of the Romans and even made them jealous was the countless brocade clothes owned by Elagabalus.

From the East Asian origin of silk to Rome, the final destination of its export, only the ruling class can afford to wear this tiny invertebrate—the secretions of silkworms. Modern readers of this book, who are accustomed to cheap, smooth and comfortable artificial fabrics, probably know the three main materials used to make clothes in ancient times: cheap but warm and heavy animal skins, itchy wool, and wrinkles. White linen.

Faced with such limited dress options, once anyone has experienced the soft touch of silk on the skin, it is no longer difficult to resist the temptation. Although the Romans knew Chinese silk, they knew nothing about China. They once thought that the silk grew directly on the mulberry tree, but they didn’t know that the mulberry leaves were actually the habitat and food of silkworms.

So, how did the goods from China arrive in Rome all the way?

The fact is that the transshipment of goods between the two places is very slow and full of danger, which also makes the businessmen between the two places the most difficult profession at the time. Chinese merchants loaded silk on ships in ports in southern China, and drove along the coast to the Indochina Peninsula, through the Malay Peninsula and the Bay of Bengal, and arrived at the ports of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, they sold silk to Indian merchants. After Indian merchants took over, they transported silk to Tamil ports on the southwest coast of the Indian subcontinent, such as Mugiris, Nisedah, and Comala.

In these places, a large number of Greek and Arab middlemen bought silk and sent it to Dioscottia (now Socotra). The island is full of merchants from Arabia, Greece, India, Persia and Egypt. Departing from Dioskotia Island, Silk took a Greek merchant ship into the Red Sea via the Strait of Mande, and arrived at the main port of this sea-Berenise, Egypt. Then, the silk will travel across the desert to the Nile on a humpback, and down the river to Alexandria, and then sail through the Mediterranean by Roman ships from Greece and Italy, and arrive at the port of Ptoli (today’s Illipozzo) at the end of Rome. Lee) and Ostia. Under normal circumstances, Chinese businessmen rarely venture westward to the Red Sea estuary north of Sri Lanka and India, and Alexandria south of Italy. Thus, Greek merchants were able to make huge profits from silk transshipment in a wide range from India to Italy.

In the long and arduous process of transshipment, every time the silk changes hands, the price increases sharply. Silk is already expensive in China. After arriving in Rome, the price has jumped more than a hundred times. It is equivalent to gold of the same weight. It is expensive to weigh a few ounces and it can exhaust an ordinary person’s income for a year. Only a wealthy class like Emperor Elagabalus can afford to wear a toga robe made of silk.

Another route to Rome is the world-famous “Silk Road”.

The Silk Road was first opened by Chinese envoys from the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century AD, winding through Central Asia by land. This path is more complicated in comparison, and its specific route is constantly changing with changes in the political and military situation. The vast area from the south of the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan to the southern border of Siberia has left the remains of the Silk Road. Just as the maritime transport and trade routes were controlled by Greek, Egyptian, and Indian merchants, the great cities along the land Silk Road, such as Samarkand (in present-day Uzbekistan) and Isfahan (in present-day Iran) The territory) and Herat (in present-day Afghanistan) are monopolized by Jews and middlemen between Armenia and Syria.

High-risk errands
Compared with land transportation, sea transportation is cheaper, safer and faster. In ancient times, sea transportation had an additional advantage, that is, it could bypass some unstable areas.

Silk was originally shipped to Europe by land, but the stable situation under the early Roman Empire made the Indian Ocean a more ideal east-west trade channel, and silk trade was also included. Although the Roman Empire’s trade with the East gradually declined in the 2nd century, the sea channel remained open until Islamic forces blocked it in the 7th century.

The maritime monsoon changes the direction of the wind with the seasons and becomes the driving force for the silk trade. Restricted by the speed of the monsoon, it takes 18 months for the silk to arrive in Ostia or Putori from its departure (departure from southern China). During this long journey, deadly dangers lurked at various nodes along the way, especially the waters between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The loss of life, the loss of ships and cargo is so commonplace that when tragedies do happen, the record is usually very simple: “Everyone has lost their lives.”

In that era, merchants were still a common profession. They bought and sold small amounts of goods and peddled them along the way. On the ship, they often sleep on their cargo. Although most of the merchants did not leave any text that can be tested, in the storage room of a major ancient Jewish church in the outskirts of Cairo, we stumbled upon a collection of medieval documents-Geniza documents, from which we can obtain ancient Some information on the situation of long-distance commerce.

Because the Talmud stipulates that any document containing the name of God must not be damaged, this provision covers almost most of the documents and materials in the Middle Ages, and a large number of historical records are preserved, including family members and business partners. Daily communication. From the 10th to the 12th centuries, under the rule of the Fatimid dynasty, Cairo was prosperous in business and social atmosphere. The Jewish families in the city quickly prospered and the local climate was dry, and the documents have been preserved to this day. The preserved letters outline an extensive business network from Gibraltar to Alexandria and then to India. With the help of these precious letters, we are able to understand the trade world of those businessmen who were struggling, perilous, and with a gloomy but indomitable future.

Businessmen often have to prepare hard before they officially set off.

They will never take the risk to set off, and they will prepare in advance a letter of introduction to their destination business partners and a safety pass to be submitted to the official agencies along the way. Otherwise, they are likely to suffer robbery, harassment, or deliberate money and death. In the Islamic world of the Middle Ages, rulers often let merchants and their counterparts who are familiar with the local conditions set off together in order to take care of each other and ensure safety.

In the 15th century, before light sailing and galleons appeared on the Iberian Peninsula in Europe, sailing boats were basically used to transport heavy and low-priced goods, and rowing boats were used to transport passengers and valuables. This was also the fastest and most reliable way of water transportation at the time. A 150-foot-long galley can carry 500 oarsmen. This does not count the crew, the commanders and passengers on board. With so many people crowded in a small space with inadequate sanitation facilities, these ships are simply floating stinking ditches. “I’m so fed up with the sickness of the crew and the disgusting smell.”

In addition to the lack of basic health conditions, the captain and crew themselves often threaten the safety of the ship merchants. Robbery of property and deliberate murder are commonplace. Merchant ships are also easy targets for corrupt officials along the way to make things difficult for them.

Such hardships do not only happen on Muslim merchant ships.

Some Egyptian merchants would take Italian or Byzantine ships to trade at sea, but their experience was not much better. Anyone could suffer murder, piracy, or disease. These unmanned ships drifted on the sea and became the legendary “ghost ships”. Especially on some inaccessible routes in the Indian Ocean, these “ghost ships” bear witness to the appalling and huge cost of life paid by crews and merchants in maritime trade.

But no matter how high the cost of maritime navigation in the Middle Ages, merchants preferred maritime transportation rather than land transportation. Because even on the main roads in the core area of ​​the Fatimid Empire in Egypt, the security passes held by the merchants did not guarantee that they would escape Bedouin attacks. In comparison, a few weeks of bumps on a deck full of rancid smells is far better than months of panic, always paying attention to whether there is a robber coming from behind your donkey or camel.

The Kiniza literature also recorded the high cost of land transportation at that time. According to historical records, the basic handicraft used in trade is cloth. From Cairo to Tunisia, the cost of transporting a large bag of expensive purple cloth (usually the carrying capacity of a camel, weighing about 500 pounds) overland is about 8 dinars. This amount is equivalent to the living expenses of a low-income family in medieval Egypt for 4 months. Half of this cost is used for the short-distance land transportation of approximately 120 miles from Cairo to Alexandria, and the other half is used for the 1,200-mile maritime transportation from Alexandria to Tunisia. Comparing the two, the cost of land transportation is 10 times that of sea transportation. In view of the high cost, high risk and hardship of land transportation, businessmen often choose land transportation when they cannot ship by sea, for example, when the Mediterranean Sea freezes in winter.

Why are some people willing to leave their homes and travel through mountains and mountains for years at the risk of losing their lives, land, and property for a small profit? It’s very simple, because no matter how hard the career of a businessman is, it is better than the life of the peasants who accounted for more than 90% of the population at that time, who could only barely make a living. At that time, an annual income of 100 dinars allowed people to live a life of upper-middle class. Therefore, as long as the annual profit is 100 dinars, the businessmen can lead a good life.

The miracle of transnational trade
Adam Smith once wrote in his book that humans have an inherent preference for bartering. This tendency is purely human nature, “on this point, there is no need to explain too much.”

So far, there has been a lot of historical research on all aspects of the world we live in today, and there is very little research on the origin of world trade today. For example, as early as the beginning of human civilization with historical records, there was a busy grain and metal trade in the vast area between Mesopotamia and the southern Arabian region. Continuing to look back, archaeologists already have strong evidence. As early as prehistoric times, there have been traces of long-distance transportation of obsidian, stone tools and other strategic materials. However, although species, including other primates, sometimes cultivate and share food with each other, the systematic exchange of goods and services—especially on a remote level—has never been discovered. This behavior currently only exists among us humans.

So, what drove the early human trade?

Evolutionary anthropologists trace the origin of modern human activities in eastern and southern Africa as far back as 100,000 years ago. One of these behaviors is the inherent tendency of human beings to “barter things”, which also makes human society produce unprecedented rich and diverse items. Although world trade is often accompanied by technological innovation in land and sea transportation, political stability is actually more important. For example, in 30 BC, Octavian sent his command to Cape Actin in western Greece, defeating the forces of Antony and Cleopatra, expanding the territory of the Roman Empire on a large scale and realizing the empire’s territory. Peace and stability.

After that, a large amount of pepper, exotic beasts, ivory and precious jewels flowed into Rome from the east through trade. Although no one in the entire Italian peninsula had actually seen a Chinese at that time, and even cartographers might not know the exact geographic location of China, Chinese silk still stood out among the tide of novelty products and became the most famous and most sought-after. s product.

Now, let us examine the contribution of trade to the progress of agriculture on our planet. Imagine that there are no tomatoes in Italian cuisine, no tea trees on the plateau of Darjeeling, India, no wheat bread or beef on the American table, no cafes other than Yemen, the country of coffee, or no potatoes in German cooking. Before the “Columbus Exchange”, the above assumptions were real. At that time, residents everywhere on the earth could only obtain extremely limited varieties of agricultural products. However, after the “Columbus Great Exchange”, that is, in the decades after Columbus discovered the American continent in 1492, through the great exchange of species, billions of acres of farmland were cultivated in the once inaccessible American continent.

In the seven centuries between the death of the Prophet Muhammad and the rise of the Renaissance, Islamic countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa were far more dazzling than Christian countries in the West. The followers of Muhammad firmly guard the Indian Ocean, the transit node of the world’s long-distance commerce. At the same time, they continued to spread their religion to the vast area from West Africa to the South China Sea. Later, in the decades after the navigators Bartolomeu Dias and Da Gama bypassed the Cape of Good Hope, Western powers rushed forward, made a comeback, and regained control of the global trade routes.

Those trade organizations that were once strong, such as the East India Company of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, took the lead in establishing European commercial hegemony in the world, making global trade almost monopolized by the large colonial companies. In the subsequent 20th century, monopolists were large multinational corporations. Today, these large trade organizations have become a source of wealth for cultural and economic hegemony in the Western world, especially the United States. At the same time, they have become targets of resentment and hostility.

The world’s increasing reliance on continuous trade flows brings us prosperity while also making us more vulnerable. A large-scale shutdown of the Internet may cause a disaster for the international economy. Given the short history of widespread use of the Internet, this is particularly amazing. The First World is increasingly dependent on fossil energy, and most of these energy sources are imported from the most unstable countries in the world. A considerable number of countries must pass through a narrow strait guarding the entrance to the Persian Gulf to enter. Trade history may provide us with navigation aids to guide us through these dangerous seas.

Nowadays, common sense believes that the technological changes in communications and transportation at the end of the 20th century caused countries to fall into direct economic competition for the first time in history. However, we should realize that this is not the case. As early as the 20th century, the flattening of the world triggered by trade competition had produced winners and losers. Accordingly, they respectively tend to support and oppose this flattening process. So, what enlightenment can the history of trade revolutions in the past provide us who are trapped in a large-scale political struggle against globalization?

In the ancient world, trade was so lonely, expensive, and even full of heroism that only the rare treasures with the highest rate of return would participate in long-distance trade. Today, Hyundai Trading Company allows us to enjoy Chilean wine, Korean cars and New Zealand apples freely.

Trade promotes national stability. After Octavian’s victory at the Cape of Akshin, commerce between the Roman Empire and East Asia began. This has also brought about two centuries of relative peace to the trade routes of the entire Mediterranean and Red Sea regions. Although Rome controlled 1/3 of the entire trade route in its heyday, that is, the entire region from Alexandria in Egypt to India, its influence only radiated to the Ganges River basin in India.

Although few merchants traversed the long trade routes between India and Rome on their own, there have been frequent exchanges of diplomatic envoys between many Indian states and Rome. During the years when Octavian was deified as Augustus, the rulers of the Indian states sent large-scale Chaohe missions to Rome, offering a large number of rare treasures, such as snakes, elephants, etc. Gems, jugglers. These were all proudly displayed by Octavian in his palace. In addition, the Indian states are also building large-scale construction projects in their homelands and building temples to honor Octavian. Most importantly, Roman citizens were granted free passage by the Indian states, allowing them to travel unimpeded in most parts of the South Asian subcontinent. From 1945 to 1948, archaeological evidence of a ruin found near Pondicherry in India showed that the operation of the Roman trading colony in India lasted until about 200 AD.

Old and new connection
Another major commercial development during this period came from Greek sailors who were skilled in using the summer southwest monsoon in the West Indian Ocean.

Initially, the Greeks used the monsoon to sail in the open sea far away from the coast to avoid harassment by pirates along the coast of the Persian Empire. By about 110 BC, they began to take risks and try to use the convenience brought by the summer monsoon to sail directly in the ocean, through the Mande Strait in the Red Sea, through the Arabian Gulf to the east, and reach the southernmost tip of India and even farther. . The entire voyage can be completed in only 6 weeks or less. Although the “Arabian Gulf Trade Wind” has long been well known among Indian and Arab sailors, it is said that it was first discovered and named by a navigator named “Sipalus”. The Greeks spontaneously faced the terrible monsoon that could bring huge waves, and went directly through the vast Indian Ocean instead of slowly sailing along the endless coast of thousands of miles. This was the main reason for the expansion of ocean trade at that time.

If humans’ instinctive desire to challenge nature has been rewarded richly in maritime trade, then the decision of humans to challenge nature on land has also been rewarded in the same way, that is, the slow, bulky, and defenseless camel. Saved from the forgotten edge time and time again.

Camels have become extinct in North America and have become endangered animals in Eurasia. People’s use of camels can be traced back to about 6000 years ago, initially only because of its milk. It wasn’t until about 2500 years later, that is, 1500 BC, that people began to use the load capacity of camels to carry hundreds of pounds of goods through inaccessible areas. If the camels were not domesticated, then the subsequent silk trade across Asia and the spice trade across the Arab region would be difficult to achieve.

What is less known is that the ancestors of modern camels and horses originally originated in the North American continent and then migrated to the Asian continent through the Bering Strait Continental Bridge. However, this is also limited to the herd of camels or horses. After all, they are fast moving, able to cross thousands of mountains and rivers in just a few decades, overcome difficulties and obstacles, and migrate from the heart of the North American continent to the Eurasian region. The same migration is even more severe for the more vulnerable plant species in the temperate regions of North America. After all, whether it is sailing through the waves or the gradual reproduction that lasted for thousands of years, from the temperate zone of North America, through the severely cold land bridge section, and then to the temperate zone of Eurasia, plant species are in such a risky transcontinental migration. The survival probability is very small. Therefore, only animals can complete the great migration across the Bering Strait during the ice age, and crops can only be sighed.

In 1493, Christopher Columbus’s second ocean voyage changed all of this and subverted the agricultural and economic patterns of the New World and the Old World.

The 17 ships of Columbus are like Noah’s Ark from the Iberian Peninsula, bringing 1,300 colonists to the New World and the crops and domesticated livestock species accumulated over the years in the West. They multiply in the New World as quickly as wildfires on the grasslands, and the exchange of even the tiniest crop species has produced huge economic benefits. These crops include winter squash, pumpkin, papaya, guava, avocado, pineapple and cocoa from the Western Hemisphere, grapes and coffee from Europe, and a series of fruit and nut trees.

Among the animal and plant species spread during Columbus’s second ocean voyage, the pig that has the greatest influence on future generations. The pigs at that time looked more like ferocious, lean, and fast-moving wild boars than modern farm pigs in terms of appearance and habits. Compared with cattle that can only convert 6% of the feed into protein, the conversion rate of pigs is as high as 20%. Facing the thriving forages, fruits and plant rhizomes in the tropical regions of the New World, the herbivorous pigs with high reproduction rate multiply rapidly. In addition, with the landing of the first “Americans”, large carnivores almost disappeared in the North and South American continents. In addition, there was never any large-scale epidemic at that time, and the New World suddenly became a paradise for pigs. Pigs have gradually separated from the pig herd raised by colonial explorers and reproduced rapidly. The breeding range includes not only Hispaniola, but also Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other small islands in the Caribbean.

In the decades after the colonial conquest of Cortez and Pizarro, the number of cattle on the American continent occupied by Spain almost doubled every 15 years. From Mexico to the Pampas of Argentina, the vast land of the New World is crowded with large numbers of livestock. However, the population in the colony is not large and can only consume a very small part of the beef piled into the mountains. Therefore, almost all cattle are discarded on the spot after removing the skins and hooves that are the easiest to sell, until they rot. As of 1800, Argentina alone exported about 1 million skins each year.

It was not until the end of the 19th century that the emergence of refrigerated ships ended the huge waste on the New World and allowed people on the European continent to eat cheap steaks. Of course, just as cheap Asian textiles and electronics hit American manufacturers in the 20th century, the influx of cheap beef also destroyed the business of local butchers in Europe. If Thomas Friedman, a best-selling columnist for The New York Times, had started writing as early as 1800, he could effortlessly explain to European tanners how world trade flattened the world. Similarly, European ranchers could quickly grasp this concept in 1900.

When the moon is full, it will lose, and when the water is full, it will overflow.

For 4,000 years, Europeans have been living with their domesticated domestic animals day and night, and they have been immune to any pathogen. However, the Indians on the American continent suffered. Iron swords and rifles, combined with smallpox and measles, helped European colonists easily conquer the American Indians. In many cases, smallpox and measles had already conquered Indian tribes hundreds of miles away before the arrival of the white colonists. A Spanish colonist once described the horror of the Indians: “Death on top of each other like a fish in a basket.” To make matters worse, the colonists also caused catastrophic damage to the ecosystem of the Americas. Overgrazing has severely damaged the surface ecology. Large-scale planting of single crops imported from Europe replaced the original diversified planting.

The food reserves of Americans in the New World, especially potatoes and corn, changed the eating habits of all of Europe. Compared with wheat, these two crops can provide more calories. Potatoes can grow even in the poorest soils. Potatoes can also adapt to a variety of growing environments, whether it is sea level or thousands of feet of altitude. Corn is a bit picky and requires fertile soil and a long-term warm climate, but corn can effectively fill the gap between rice and wheat.

Corn and potatoes not only allowed Europe to escape the deadly Malthus trap, but also directly promoted trade prosperity. In the place where the Industrial Revolution took place, these crops provided Europe with ample food supply. On the one hand, Europe could obtain handicraft products through grain trade, and on the other hand, it liberated a large amount of labor from agriculture, enabling them to engage in more efficient production. Manufacturing industry. The increase in crop yields, in turn, has led to a sharp increase in the demand for fertilizer, which was previously used as manure from seabirds peeled off the rock walls of Latin America and the Pacific islands. Similarly, after yam, corn, tobacco, and peanuts were introduced to China one after another, the Qing dynasty, which had an unstable foothold at that time, reached its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries.

All this shows that globalization is not a single event or a collection of a series of events, but a slow development process after a long time.

The world did not become “flat” overnight when the Internet was born, and commerce was not suddenly dominated by large companies worldwide at the end of the 20th century. From the trade of rare and exotic treasures at the beginning of the history, which can be verified by writing, to the trade of commodities with relatively low prices, larger volumes and lower durability, the market scope of the Old Continent has been continuously integrated. As the first Europeans sailed to the New World, the process of global market integration was accelerated. Today, huge container ships, jet aircraft, the Internet, and increasingly globalized supply and production networks are just the latest developments in the 5,000-year globalization process. Therefore, the best way to understand the “present life” of today’s rapidly changing global trade model is to understand its “past life”.