The Ancient History of International Trading

The Ancient History of International Trading

International trade involves the exchange of goods, services and capital across territories and international borders. Its history is of great interest to Kuwaiti businessman and banking specialist, Fahad Al Rajaan. International trade took place throughout ancient times, including the Salt Road, Amber Road and Silk Road. The Fahad AlRajaan Flickr page features more details.

The Salt Road

In ancient times, salt was regarded as a precious commodity. It was distributed via the prehistoric Salt Trading Route. In the 2nd millennium BC, during the Bronze Age, fixed Salt Routes first appeared. Overland routes and roadways were constructed so that salt starved provinces could be served by those which were salt rich.

The Italian Salt Road ran from Rome to the Adriatic coast, traversing an impressive 150 miles. Germany’s Old Salt Route ran some 62 miles and was used in medieval times to link the port of Lubeck with the Lower Saxon town of Luneburg. Luneburg grew rich from its salt; the town is first mentioned in German history as far back as the 10th Century AD. Luneburg was a power house during the Hanseatic League era, the town’s importance and prosperity declining from the 1600s onwards. The salt mines of Luneburg were closed in 1980.

France’s Salt Route encompassed both inland and coastal areas, including Nice, Ventimiglia and the Saint-Martin-Vestibule as well as the Roya Valley, the Col de Tend pass and Piedmont.

In Ethiopia, Africa, blocks of salt were carved from the Afar Depression’s salt pans, particularly around the Lake Afrera area. The salt blocks were then transported by camel to the Ficho and Atsbi areas of the Ethiopian highland, from where traders would distribute the salt blocks throughout the rest of the country, transporting them as far south as the Kaffa Kingdom.

Until Tibet was annexed by China and the borders were closed in the 1950s, Tibet and Nepal traded salt. Salt trade routes led traders across Himalayan mountain passes, including the gorges of the Gandaki and Karnali rivers. Caravans would bring salt from the dry lakes of the Tibetan Plateau to Terai, Nepal, where the commodity could be exchanged for rice and other staple foods.

The rivers and ports of Europe were important in medieval times, forming an intrinsic part of the salt route. In France, the salt pans of the Camargue were a major producer of salt. Here, convoys of boats would carry salt along the Rhone River to Seyssel, where the salt would be offloaded and carried by mule to Geneva, for onward transmission all across Europe.

Fahad Al-Rajaan

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The Amber Road

Amber, sometimes known as “the gold of the north” was regarded as a precious raw material in olden times. The amber trade defined prehistoric trade routes between southern and northern Europe. Amber was transported from the Baltic and North Seas via boat, passing along Italy’s Dnieper and Vistula Rivers to Italy, Greece, Syria, Egypt and the Black Sea. Tutankhamen’s breast plate contained large Baltic amber beads. Amber has been found in ancient settlements throughout Europe, North Africa and Asia, including the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece. During the Roman era, the amber route ran from the Baltic through modern day Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and on to the Gulf of Venice.

The Amber Road included routes across:

• Poland
• Germany
• Austria
• Switzerland
• Greece
• Italy
• Belgium
• Spain
• France
• The Netherlands

The Silk Road

The Silk Road is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also known as the Silk Route, it is a network of routes which linked the ancient East and Western worlds. The Silk Road was negotiated by merchants, nomads, pilgrims and monks as well as urban dwellers and soldiers.

The Silk Road covers an extensive 6,436 kilometres. It earns its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade which was carried on along its length from the Han Dynasty (beginning in 206 BC).Silk Road trading was instrumental in the development of Chinese civilisations as well as civilisation of Persia, India, Africa, Arabia and Europe.

Though silk was the principle commodity traded along the route an abundance of other types of goods were traded together with philosophies, ideas and religions and, unfortunately, in some cases, diseases. The Silk Road was famously used by the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Syrians, Armenians, Persians, Chinese and Somalis.

In Roman times, soon after Egypt’s conquest in 30 BC, trade between Southeast Asia, China, India, Africa, the Middle East and Europe blossomed on a scale never seen before. By controlling the Silk Road, Rome’s citizens benefited from new luxuries which went on to prosper the Empire as a whole. The Romans connected the Central Asian Silk Road via their ports in Barbaricum and Barygaza, connecting the Silk Road with Western India. The Silk Road penetrated deep in to the Mediterranean during the Roman era, largely thanks to the regularisation of contracts and the reduction of middlemen, allowing international trade between the great powers to become more regular and organised.

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