Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
The exchange of manufactured goods and cultivated foodstuffs has formed an integral part of human history in most every corner of the planet from the earliest days of our existence down to the present. Trading products has been such a profitable economic activity that countless merchants have been willing to travel long distances often on foot, astride a cranky animal, or inside a rickety sailing vessel to conduct business. Even in civilizations in the remote past – from 4,000 to 600 years ago – buyers and sellers trekked as far as from Mesopotamia (Iraq) to the Indus River Valley (Pakistan) in Asia, from southern Mexico to present day Vera Cruz in America, and from Mali to Morocco in Africa. As early as 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, long-distance traders moved along regularly traveled routes. The longest and the most renowned was the Silk Roads, a complex of routes that facilitated overland and maritime trade from the Mediterranean to the South China Sea. Despite all kinds of cataclysms, from falling empires in Persia, China, Guatemala, and Rome, to marauding Timurids in Asia, to ravaging plagues in Eurasia, merchant groups continued to ply their trade down to the early modern age of empire building.
Long distance commerce in this age of global engagement developed out of longstanding networks and all the financial mechanisms that made them work.