Thursday, December 22, 2005

“Grant: Master of Combined Operations”

One of the first officers of either side to recognize the efficacy of joint Army/Navy operations in the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant wasted no time in demonstrating that the use of Naval assets to provide both transport, and water-borne artillery in support of army operations allowed extra advantages that paid dividends for the Union war effort.

At the Battle of Belmont, Missouri, Grant planned to attack Confederate works on the west side of the Mississippi River at Belmont, and those works were protected by Confederate artillery on the east bank bluffs at Columbus, Kentucky. Transporting his force by boats, Grant landed his regiments about three miles north of Belmont. After leaving a few regiments behind as a reserve, and to guard the transports, Grant’s force set off for the short march to attack the Rebel works. Meanwhile, a few Navy gunboats steamed south to shell Columbus from the river, and divert the attention of the Confederate artillerists from Grant’s land attack.

Unfortunately for the lightly experienced Grant, his men began to celebrate after driving the Confederates from their works, rather than maintaining their ranks, and a Confederate counterstrike mounted from Columbus struck them, along with cannon shot from there as well. The Navy gunboats were unable to stop the Confederate transports. Grant’s force fought its way back to their landing spot with heavy losses.

Grant never made the same mistake twice. He used the weeks after Belmont to re-equip, shelter, and drill his men. Then he engaged Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote as his Naval partner in an expedition up the Tennessee River to capture Forts Henry and Donelson. Though Fort Henry fell to Naval forces after a brief exchange of artillery, Fort Donelson was a different matter. Foote traveled downstream to the confluence of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers and sailed up the Cumberland to Fort Donelson, where much of the Confederate garrison from Fort Henry went after its fall. Grant’s men traveled the twelve miles from Fort Henry over some muddy roads. While Donelson was not nearly as easy as Fort Henry, it fell to Grant and Foote after a three day fight.

At one point, Grant’s right wing was forced back by a massive Confederate assault. Grant reasoned that the Confederates would have moved troops from their right to support that assault, and based on this, ordered his left wing forward. While they were in action, Grant rallied his right and ordered them to counter attack, thus regaining what they had lost. Foote, after some initial difficulty in using his Naval artillery against the elevated Fort, began to lay on an effective fire against the fort. The Confederates managed to get many of their troops out toward Nashville, but Fort Donelson surrendered the next day. What was becoming clear was Grant’s ability to perceive the battle as a single event of combined Army and Navy forces, cooperating together effectively.

Grant proceeded up the Tennessee River to Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee, where he was joined by some fresh divisions, including one commanded by William T. Sherman. Here he demonstrated his abilities as an infantry commander in battle. Even though pushed back to Pittsburg Landing by a Confederate attack at the end of the first day, Grant took the offensive on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh, and forced the Confederates from the field.

Back in action some weeks later, Grant took on the prospect of dislodging the Confederates from their near impregnable position on the bluffs above the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, Mississippi. It would take him almost a year, and would require the major involvement of Foote’s Naval force, but by July 4, 1863, Grant would claim victory at Vicksburg. Before that victory, however, there were many defeats, false starts, and outright mistakes made that would have discouraged lesser men than Grant, Foote, and Sherman.

One of the major cooperative successes occurred in the late winter of 1862-63, when Grant, preparing for his final push to surround the town, wanted Foote to move his gunboats down the Mississippi River past Vicksburg. This meant running the gauntlet of Confederate artillery along the bluffs. Cooperatively, Grant ordered a series of small expeditions by his infantry up several creeks and bayous north and south of Vicksburg, causing the Confederate commander there, John Pemberton, to move 41 of his guns to seven different locations protecting those creeks and bayous, leaving Pemberton with only 27 guns still covering the river. This gave Foote’s gunboats enough relief that they safely passed south of the town.

After the fall of Vicksburg, Grant was ordered to relieve the besieged Army of the Tennessee at Chattanooga. He moved his forces by train, and by the Tennessee River to that town, where he would, in shortly more than a month, direct his forces to lift the siege, and win impressive victories at Lookout Mountain, Orchard Knob, and Missionary Ridge.

Lincoln rewarded him with a promotion to Lieutenant General, and command over the entire Union Army. Grant went east and took his headquarters to the field with the Army of the Potomac. One of the first things he did was to establish the use of Naval assets for transport, and supply. Although these assets had been used in the east prior to Grant’s assumption of command, they had not been used on such a scale, nor made such an integral part of the war effort in support of the Army as Grant made of them. Grant established his advanced base of operations along the south side of the James River at a small town called City Point. It would become an enormous base of logistical operations for the Army of the Potomac, and was located only about ten miles from the siege works at Petersburg. It offered safe passage to the interior of Virginia, and had a rail spur leading toward the siege lines and the Confederate capital of Richmond. This was Grant seeing the whole picture again, as he had learned to do at Forts Henry and Donelson. Lessons learned early in the war along the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were influential in Grant’s planning as Commander of the Union Army.

Novus Livy

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history.” – Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

“The Last Best Hope of Earth”

I have always believed that when a president is inaugurated, swears that oath and enters the Oval office for the first time, he undergoes a sea change. Suddenly, he becomes wise, and just (there have been some few exceptions, one of whom was from Pennsylvania), and this is because when they swear that oath, they don the Mantle of Constitution. It can sometimes wear very heavily, as it did with Lincoln, and as it is with our current President.

I believe Lincoln stands out as perhaps our wisest, if not greatest Chief Executive (close call among Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and the two Roosevelts). To me, his wisdom was on so much a higher plane than the others, that it is almost supernatural.

When you look at the hand he was dealt, the slavery issue, secession before he even entered office, the seizure of Southern forts and arsenals by secessionist mobs -- and he never complained, never excused, just quietly went about his work, formulating his plans, and devising a path to ultimate victory. It would not be easy, would require his most skilled persuasions, and above all, would take patience, and consistency.

He had to look into the morass of issues and divine where the vulnerabilities lay. He had to deal with those vulnerabilities, and he did so, offering reconciliation with the South for a year and a half at the start of the war. He made promises that must have galled him personally, but were agreeable Constitutionally. He became a president locked into enforcing the Constitution’s protections of slavery, at the cost of his personal beliefs.

Horace Greeley, the Radical Republican editor and owner of the New York Tribune chastised Lincoln in an editorial for not having a clear policy on the secession issue and with emancipation. Lincoln responded with a letter essentially saying he would do almost anything to re-unite the nation, no matter what effect it would have on slavery. He wrote:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the neared the Union will be "the Union as it was". If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

Many of Lincoln’s modern detractors seize on this to declare him a closet pro-slavery politician, and a racist to boot. [Lincoln, indeed, was as much a racist as most Northern white men were in the era. They were anti-slavery, but against accepting the Blacks into society as full partners. Lincoln’s stance on race was softened over time, by his relationship with Frederick Douglass, and the work of the many Blacks in uniform, who fought bravely for the Union during the Civil War.] What those detractors miss, as did many who read his printed response to Greeley, is the closing paragraph of Lincoln’s letter.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.

A. Lincoln

Here, Lincoln clearly enunciates the difference between Lincoln the man and Lincoln the President, and clearly draws the line between what he personally desires, and what he is legally, Constitutionally bound to do as President.

When this strategy did not achieve the reunification with the seceded states, he took a harder line. He got to the heart of secession by going directly at slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. His strategic thinking that early in the war showed a foresight and confidence that would have failed lesser men. The confidence that the North would prevail, and would do so completely is clearly part of his thinking when issuing that document. To go along with that, the war declaration (the Emancipation Proclamation was a Presidential War Aim Proclamation) that freed the slaves in territory then under non-US control was a masterstroke of social, military, and political strategy. In so doing, he essentially removed the slavery issue from the reconciliation/reconstruction track at the end of the war. It was delivered in a document that is layered with meaning, and cause and effect, both immediate and long term, militarily, politically and socially. In so doing, he not only created the appearance of causing labor problems at home in the South, but he also softly, indirectly began to bring his Northern constituency around to the view that the war wasn't just about the Union, it was also about slavery.

He mollified northern abolitionists, and emancipationists, and took those who were less than against slavery and began to move them toward that end. He leaked it to his cabinet in the summer of 1862, and then the issued a preliminary release after Antietam, giving the South 100 days to return to the fold WITH slavery, or do so without when forced to return later. This carefully crafted document put no direct pressure on slavery in the non-Confederate states where it was legally protected by the Constitution, yet it hit the heart of slavery, the deep South.

It was a true stroke of genius. And it is still greatly misunderstood today.

What a pity. The man had perhaps the greatest mind of any president. And to be faced with such adversity, both that of disunion and civil war, and the personal losses he faced in his family, yet he maintained his humble humanity, again and again. (After someone publicly commented that he was two-faced, Lincoln self-deprecatingly replied, “Madam, if I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”) That escapes public knowledge these days. The many nights he and Mary spent tending to the wounded at the hospitals in Washington, is a story seldom told. Neither is the fact that he spent many a late night...often until the wee hours of the morning sitting in the War Department’s telegraphic office reading stacks of daily dispatches from the armies in the field, writing responses, getting the picture of what was going on, so he could intelligently give orders to Halleck, and later to Grant. Neither is the story told that during his days, he spent hours greeting visitors to the White House (a presidential tradition long since gone), and listening to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who came to "call on the President".

When did the man sleep? When did he have time to craft these great strategies that worked? When did he have time to write those magnificent speeches, and letters? When did he even have time to mourn the death of his young son, or console his wife, or care for her in her grief and madness?

He was not just a genius, he was a great man who was also a genius, and one of our greatest communicators ever.

Witness the words of the Gettysburg Address, and try to tell me that he was not including the Confederate fallen, even though they were not included in the National Cemetery he was dedicating.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have onsecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we may take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

After four years of hard war, he gave his second inaugural address in March of 1865. The war was almost over. He knew the North had prevailed, and mightily so, and that the Confederate surrender was weeks, if not days away. His thoughts were beyond that point. 600,000 dead from both sides.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan --to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

People argue that he was, or was not a Christian. It has been my personal belief that Lincoln was a Deist, like many of our Founders and Framers. I also believe that he espoused a personal philosophy with which he faced daily life, that was the embodiment of Christianity. In other words, officially he was a Deist, but by example a Christian, and one of the greatest that ever walked the earth.

Certainly, his transformation of the United States during the period when western civilization was nationalizing, is as important to us as our founding. This Great Emancipator, this Great President, this Great Man shook a tired, worn national blanket that was rent from sectional strife, and made it whole and smooth again.

Look at his words concluding his annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862. Note that he had issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September, just after the Union victory at Antietam. The Emancipation Proclamation’s offer of restoration to the Union with guarantees for slavery and compensation for eventual emancipation was about to expire in a month, when the proclamation would become official on January 1, 1863.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

The “last best hope of earth”. What a remarkable phrase, and so accurate. It is a measure of the value he placed on the cause of Union, and emancipation, and the liberties extolled in the Declaration of Independence. “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free."
Abraham Lincoln did just that.

Novus Livy

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history.” – Abraham Lincoln

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


In ancient Rome, a conquering general would return to Rome with his conquered enemies in tow. A grand parade would lead to the Senate building. The general would ride at the head, in a chariot, while a slave, standing behind him would whisper in his ear, “Thou are mortal” repeatedly, lest the celebration swell his head. Behind his chariot, trumpeters and drummers would mark the pace of the parade. Troops, and dancers, followed by the conquered chieftain, usually in chains, and his captains followed. Any treasure captured followed along, and then came the tribute – that collection of goods and valuables assessed almost like a tax.

After a while, the tribute became the whole event, and eventually, tribute took on a whole different meaning. Tribute became an event in which praise and glory were heaped upon someone who accomplished something special. Even today, we see tributes on TV to long time entertainment or sports stars. We used to see tributes to our military leaders, in days long past, when ticker-tape parades through the great cities of the United States left no doubt who our heroes were.

I have been blessed in my life with a number of teachers who had a profound influence on me. In kindergarten many years ago, Mrs. Slavin, who had the smallest waist that I have ever seen, encouraged me to produce a performance of Snow White one week. My classmates and I rehearsed during recess. When the day of the performance came, all of us did our parts. Unfortunately, every time we rode off somewhere looking for this prince, or that dwarf, we rode out of the Kindergarten part of the playground and off into the older kids area, lost from view.

In fourth grade, dear Mrs. Campbell relied on me to lead studies, and activities. She taught me the difference between leading and being bossy. In high school, Ms. Boyle encouraged the fascination I had with every sample I collected in the pools and currents of the creek that ran behind my home. So fascinated was I that I took Biology for a second year, and considered a career in botany or biology.

And then there was my father. He taught senior English, a year of English literature, ending with an intense study of Hamlet. His insights taught me to love language, and to ask myself “Why?” when something odd stuck out. He used to say that there is a reason for everything, you just have to look for it. In Act II, Scene 2, of Hamlet, the King and Queen have a discussion with two courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. at the end of the discussion, the king says, “Thanks, Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.” The Queen follows by saying, “Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle Rosencrantz.” As my father the English teacher put it, the reversal of the names is simply due to where the two were standing in relation to the King and Queen. They would address the closest one first. Things like this taught me to look for the anomalies, and then ask “Why?” they occur. That detail taught me to look deeply into things and try to analyze them.

This kind of thinking allowed me to embrace learning through discovery – to seek things out, and delve into them, determine the what and why and how, and so on. Back then, however, we did not have the advantage of personal computers, and the Internet.

Recently I encountered two college professors that have had a profound influence on me. One was not my instructor, but the short time I spent at a conference this past spring with Dr. Tom Hanks of Baylor University was both enlightening, and thrilling. He was instructive, and encouraging, and lit a fire in me that eventually found its way into a presentation in the class of the other professor. Dr. Hanks dangled a presentation about Thomas Mallory and William Caxton, and the printing press that made both of them famous. Along the way he implanted a seed in my mind that the wonderful writers of the Elizabethan era that followed were the builders of modern English. They took the Middle English language and, when structured by the new inventions of punctuation added by Caxton and the other printers, ran with the language, in poetry, and dramas for the masses. The printers were the architects, and the writers were the builders.

The “other” professor led two semesters of exploration into the history of Western Civilization. Because I am older, and had visited many of the places we discussed, I was able to share some personal experiences. Some professors would have resented such intrusions. Not this one. He encouraged it for the depth and background it gave to the course. Indeed, he encouraged Internet research, as well. I took advantage of the course to fill in a lot of blanks, between my reading and my travels. In this, I was warmly encouraged by this educator who believes that education is not telling someone something, but showing them where to look, and what to look for in order to discover it for ones’ self. He loves history, as do I.

Each of these educators imbued in me a love of discovery. The Internet allows me to “connect the dots” of history, and even to explore across disciplines to archaeology, anthropology, and geology in order to find links between events in those disciplines that correspond to those of man’s history. I believe the days of “stove-piped science” need to end, and scientists from all disciplines need to cross-link to find these connections.

I am in eternal debt to these educators, and this is my tribute to them.

Novus Livy

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 01, 2005

12: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 12

Few of us give much thought now to the Internet. It came upon us in the 1990s with the advent of a series of advances in software and hardware technology that brought the price of a home computer, or PC, down to an affordable level. For most of us, just having a PC was truly remarkable, but there was this thing called the Internet that came with it. It allowed us to send email to our family and friends, and to join discussion groups from all over the world, and make new friends (and sometimes new family members) with which we exchanged emails. But mostly, we could buy things “online”, as it is called. Not many of us gave more than a passing “Isn’t that amazing!”, or even a simple “It’s wonderful!” to the Internet.

In fact, it is a technological marvel, perhaps on the scale of the great pyramids of Egypt, or the magnetic compass, or the steam engine, or the printing press with moveable type, or the gasoline engine, perhaps even the splitting of the atom.

An older husband washed some clothes for his wife and forgot to check pockets. When the wife could not locate her cell phone, the washer was checked. There it was. At least the suds had not reached it, but the water had. After drying it out, it was determined the battery was dead, shorted out by the water. The rest of the phone still worked with the battery from the husband’s matching phone. A search was made on the Internet, a battery was found at a reasonable price, and it was ordered late on a Sunday night. On Monday morning, the husband received an email informing him the battery had been shipped from Hong Kong that morning. On Tuesday morning the battery was delivered to his back door in the U.S. The husband had engaged in international trade on a singular level. In terms of the transaction, it rivals the speed with which our cave dwellers traded apples and boar meat for berries and fish with the people from the next cave. It was that simple. And nearly that fast.

After coming nearly full circle about trade, there are some dots left to connect. Obviously, technology drove trade, and trade drove technology. As advances were required, technology provided them. As trade was required to pay for those advances, it would then expand to require even more advances, and so on, in an endless cyclical process, from the caveman who discovered his meat tasted better cooked, to the delivery of a cell phone battery from half-way around the world in 36 hours. Technology advances in its own evolutionary process, in that most technological advances occur when there is a human need for an advance. On occasion, however, a new advance will occur before that need arises, and civilization will be advanced.

Trade brought spice and silk to the world. Spice, according to author Jack Turner in his wonderful book Spice: The History of a Temptation, was used initially as a food preservative and to enhance its flavor. By the time of King Solomon it had become an aphrodisiac, as related in the Songs of Solomon, which contains the comparison of a lover to spices. Imagine an ancient kingly house, the air perfumed with several pleasing scents, the exquisite food flavored with different spices, and the King and his consort clothed in luxurious silken robes. Even the wine has cinnamon in it. All this to please the senses, to relax a person and make them feel special, to enhance the sensual delights of love. Spice was much more than a commodity. And by recognizing this, we can begin to appreciate its value. Yes the food was bad, particularly in Europe where sanitary practices were of little importance, where, when a king’s palace or castle got filled with trash and garbage, he would move out to another castle or palace (this is called a “progress”!). But the food was not that bad that spice would be a requirement to rescue it. And spice was not for the serfs and peasants. Spice was for those who could afford it. Hence, the great national efforts of the past millennium to obtain spice in greater quantities. That effort, then, spawned the maritime exploration of the world, and colonization, and exploitation of new and not so new continents, and their native peoples.

When economies caught up, the advances would reach farther and farther down the ladder to people with lower incomes. With every advance in technology, spice, and the technological advances became less expensive and closer to the grasp of the individual -- so much so that we take for granted now that cinnamon comes from a grocery store, and not from some Indonesian Island. Where this fails to be the case is in the worlds that were exploited, or the worlds that were disrupted in their progress. Most of these tend to be the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, India, Africa, Central and South America. But even they are catching up. Note the effort to find survivors of the great tsunami of late last December in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The Internet was used to find and match missing family members separated by that catastrophe. Satellites study the geography, geology and climate of sections of the earth where people are starving, so that ways that would arrest and reverse the process of famine can be found.

But most importantly, just like ideas of philosophy and religion were shared along the Silk Road and the Spice Road, information is now being shared across the Internet, around the world. Thanks to the Internet, school children in Denmark can talk directly to Astronauts in the Space Station, and thanks to the Internet, doctors treating a young child in an African jungle can consult in real time with peers in the U.S.

As civilization has advanced because of trade and the trade routes, such as the Silk Road, the Spice Road, and the Incense Road, and because of accompanying technological advances, we have reached a point in the civilization of mankind that marks a line of departure from the older more traditional ways of commerce. The Internet has become our new Spice Road, and Information is our new spice. Let us pray that the wisdom of the ages has taught us to use it for beneficial and peaceable purposes.

This concludes the series “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade”. Look for more series and some single essays in the near future.

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

11: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 11

In 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United State Navy sailed into Tokyo Bay with four wooden ships that belched black coal smoke from one stack and white clouds of steam from another. Until that time, Japanese exposure to western ways, and ships had been limited to the wooden merchant and exploration vessels that sank in Japanese waters and cast their surviving seaman onto Japanese shores. These shipwrecked mariners, now including the occasional American, had begun appearing in the early 16th Century when Spanish ships were crossing the Pacific from the Americas to the Philippines, and beyond, and Portuguese explorers had sailed around Africa, past India, and north from the Spice Islands to the coast of China itself. On occasion, a western merchant ship would call on the Japanese Shogun in a vain attempt to negotiate a trade agreement. The Japanese would have none of it. They traded with the Indochinese, the Chinese, and the Koreans, and that was that.

Perry changed that attitude in a blink. Awed at what they saw, and recognizing the technology of the Americans as far superior to anything previously known, the Japanese succumbed and granted Perry a treaty, opening one port to American ships for trade, and promising to return any shipwrecked American seamen to any U.S. vessel visiting that port.

Over the next fifty years, the Japanese would make one of the most remarkable societal changes ever seen in world history. A feudal, closed society where the Emperor served as a titular head of state under the power of the Shogun, the Emperor Meiji wrested control from the Tokugowa Shogunate, and set a course of change that swept the island nation from the crown to the lowest peasant. By the 1880s, Japanese educators were writing essays about Japan’s role in Asia, and by the end of the half-century since Perry’s arrival, they had become a major player on the world stage, trading with the U.S., and European nations, establishing not only a political presence in the world, but a political will at home. By 1905 they were embroiled in a war with a major European power, and in the historic naval Battle of Tsushima Straits, they defeated the Russian fleet using steel ships fashioned after those of the United States Navy. Indeed, it took Theodore Roosevelt to negotiate a Treaty of Peace between the two nations. Once Russia was out of the way, there really was not another power present in the whole of the Pacific other than the U.S. Suddenly, Japan could trade with the world, instead of just the Chinese. Cramming their own Industrial Revolution (and other revolutions of equal significance) into that 50 year period, the Japanese opened up entirely and became a full fledged member of the world community.

Their appetite for trade was voracious. Trading silk, coal, timber, rice, fish and minerals, the Japanese began to import steel from the U.S., rubber from French Indochina, and oil from Dutch Indonesia. Because they were on the winning side of World War I, they were given the former German enclaves in China. It was an entry into the Chinese mainland that they would later exploit in the years leading up to World War II.

Post World War II trade began with the rebuilding process. Routes over the sea were re-established after the convoys of the war had moved them to more remote regions to escape enemy threats. By the end of the 20th century, the airplane had taken over from the ship as the chief method of making shipments of a small size between continents, or countries, even intra-national shipments.

At the end of the 20th Century, the most remarkable event in the history of trade occurred: the introduction of e-commerce.

Back: Part Ten
Next: Part Twelve
Return to History of the World Blog

Novus Livy

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.

10: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 10

In China it is known as “cha”. It is a commodity that for centuries traveled the Silk Road, the Spice Road, and the sea routes that replaced them when seafaring technology allowed it. It is neither silk, nor spice, although some say it is as smooth as silk, and some add spices to it. In English, it is known as “tea”.

Tea was a commodity brought back from China to Europe by the great traveler himself, Marco Polo. Once European exploration and colonization allowed bulk cargos of silks, spices and tea to be shipped by sea, tea became perhaps the most significant product imported into European countries, and later to the American Colonies. So high a value was placed on it that in the early 1770s, when the British placed a rather exorbitant tax on it, the good residents of the American colonies started smuggling their tea into the colonies. That act caught the attention of the British. The British then passed an act that would allow the British East India Company to land and sell tea without taxes or fees, thus enabling them to undercut American tea smugglers, like John Hancock. In what some historians feel is one of the first instances of women banding together in a common cause to influence a political situation, the ladies of the American colonies began to boycott tea imported by the British East India Company. Eventually, all the colonies but Massachusetts refused landing rights to ships carrying “Company” tea. The Sons of Liberty, as they called themselves, dumped the cargos of tea from three “Company” ships into Boston harbor one night, carefully cleaning up after themselves and ensuring that no one was hurt, and only the tea was damaged. No one simply threw away a whole cargo of tea like that! Thus, tea became one of the issues leading to the American War for Independence.

Up to the middle of the 19th century, getting from Europe, or the east coast of the United States to the South Pacific Spice Islands, or to China itself for the “cha” was a long and arduous journey. From the American Colonies, and later the United States, ships heading for India had to cross the Atlantic, sail down the west coast of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, sail up the east coast of Africa before turning east and crossing the Arabian Sea to India, where tea was produced in abundance. To travel to the East Indies (as the spice producing Islands of Indonesia were called), ships leaving from American ports had the option of going around the Cape of Good Hope, or risking the shorter but perilous passage “around the Horn”.

Notorious for its ubiquitous bad weather and harsh westerly winds, rounding Cape Horn at the Southern tip of South America was hazardous even in decent weather. The many small islands contained dangerous shoal waters, where a slip of the wind, or a moment’s loss of attention could crush a ship to pieces. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese mariner sailing for King Charles I of Spain, took just over three months to work his way through a passage he would name All Saints Channel, and history would rename as the Straits of Magellan in his honor. This narrow, dangerous passage between Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego (so named because the local indigenous tribes would line the cliffs of the passage with large fires) remained the main route to the west coast of South America used by the Spanish to transport and then supply their Conquistadors. (Their treasure, however, would go by land to Panama, and across the isthmus to the Gulf of Mexico for transport to Spain by Spanish Galleon…if Drake didn’t get it first!). Attempting to follow Magellan some 59 years after his 1520 passage through the Straits, Drake discovered that Tierra del Fuego was not a solid landmass to the south, but a large island, and some years later, the Drake Passage was fully discovered. With its ample waters, calmer (but colder) weather and a better angle of sailing into the wind (on the beam reach or the broad reach), it offered ships a respite from the winds and storms and rocky shoals of the Straits.

Enter the Clipper Ship. Gracefully beautiful, and built for speed more than anything else, these sleek, narrow, four-masted vessels with incredible amounts of sail were able to double the speed of a normal three-masted cargo ship, on the clipper’s worst days. The clippers sailed from American and European ports usually around the Horn to San Francisco. In the late 1840s the Clippers left Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans and made the run around the horn taking the Forty-Niners to the California gold fields. On their return journey they would bring tea, silk, and spices hauled across the Pacific from the Orient to San Francisco in slower merchant vessels.

Eventually, American clipper ships would become supplanted during the Industrial Revolution, and the age of steam, first by steam powered ships of greater speed and capacity, finally to the American transcontinental railroad that would make the trip to San Francisco in a matter of days, not the weeks it would require for the clipper to journey there. And there was little limit to what the railroads could haul in the way of either passengers or cargo.

That romance and mystique of the trade routes to the mysterious Orient had vanished with the sound of the steam whistle, and the clatter of steel wheels on iron tracks.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

09: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 9

The dominance over the oceans that master mariners like Sir Francis Drake and his Sea Hawk compatriots gave to England lasted for almost a century. Not long in the context of this series, but In between Drake and the 19th Century were a number of British mariners who did much to explore the “Great South Sea”, as the Pacific Ocean was called, and one Dane who sailed for Peter the Great, Czar of All the Russias.

Vitus Bering was born near the end of the 17th Century in Denmark. After a voyage to the Great South Seas for Denmark, he joined the Russian Navy and distinguished himself in several conflicts. Czar Peter I, known as the Great, and later known as Emperor, developed a plan of exploration to the east of Mother Russia. He chose the young Dane to lead the expedition. Bering was a meticulous man, and a great navigator, but, rather than sail around to the east coast of Asia, he mounted an expedition to reach there by land, across Asia on foot. Bering decided to take everything he needed to build the ship he would use, from Russia, clear across Asia. That is, everything, down to the last nail, rope, plank, beam, spar, sail, and drop of tar necessary to construct his ship of exploration, the St. Gabriel. The journey across two continents with that cargo took twelve years. Once he reached Okhotsk, he crossed to Kamchatka, and built his ship. In 1728 he set sail into the vast North Pacific Ocean on his first voyage. By the time he died in 1741 on the desolate island that would later bear his name, he had made several voyages of discovery. His Great Northern Expedition resulted in the discovery, exploration, and charting of most of the North Pacific Ocean, including Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, and many other archipelagos along the south Alaskan coast. His name is carried on sea charts for the Bering Sea, Bering Island, Bering Straits, and the Bering Land Bridge.

While his army and navy was otherwise engaged in attempting to put down a rebellion in the unruly American colonies, His Majesty King George III of England sought to expand his rule even farther by opening up new trading ports in the “Great South Sea”. And who better to accomplish this task than the fabled explorer, Captain James Cook. Cook had sailed around the world twice, becoming the first to do so on voyages from 1768-1771, and 1772- 1775. On his first voyage, he had a pair of officers along that would later go on to accomplish great things on their own, with great fetes of seamanship, and long voyages of exploration and trade. Also present was young Joseph Banks, a botanist, who would go on to become a peer, and would be responsible for several later voyages including those of Cook’s two officers, Sailing Master William Bligh and Midshipman George Vancouver.

During his first voyage, Cook discovered Australia, which the British promptly turned into a penal colony, sending their convicts there to remove them from British society. His second voyage nearly led him to discover Antarctica, but in the fog, and the ice, he turned around and sailed north, content with the discovery of some rather large islands. But his third voyage ended in disaster. After discovering the Hawaiian Islands, he sailed east to explore the west coast of North America as far north as southern Alaska. Returning south, he re-visited Hawaii. Cook got into an argument with a large group of Hawaiians over a stolen boat, and in the ensuing melee, he was stabbed with a spear, and died.

Banks, as a member of the British Royal Society and scientific advisor to King George III, was responsible for the colonization of New South Wales, as Australia was then known. Indeed, Botany Bay where the convicts were landed was probably named in tribute to Banks. Later, Banks would send Captain William Bligh on his ill-fated voyage to Tahiti, in order to obtain breadfruit trees for transport to the islands of the Caribbean in a grand experiment. Bligh’s crew would mutiny, and cast him adrift in a small open boat with 18 crewmembers, a sextant, and a pocket watch. Bligh then performed a remarkable feat. He sailed that open boat 3,618 miles in 41 days, until he reached a Dutch port on the Island of Timor. Captain George Vancouver would explore the American Northwest, and would negotiate a treaty with Spain for ownership of Vancouver Island.

In the 1840s, the United States would enter into the charting and exploration business, in particular with the voyage of Charles Wilkes, who finally put Antarctica on the map.

The explorations of these men led to the discovery and charting of the Pacific Ocean. It also led to the establishment of sea routes from Europe and the U.S. to the orient, for spice, and for a product of even greater value: tea.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

08: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 8

Things changed drastically in 1688. In that year, His Most Catholic Majesty, King Philip II of Spain, who was embroiled in a decades long war to impose Catholicism on Protestant Holland, launched a fleet of 130 ships to invade England and overthrow Elizabeth I, a protestant who had declared for Protestant Holland. Philip had the backing of Pope Sixtus V. It took over six weeks for this vast fleet of ships to sail north past France, and round into the English Channel. By the time they arrived off the southern coast of England, Elizabeth’s spies at Philip’s court had already alerted her to the attempt.

While she gathered an army and posted it along England’s channel coast, she relied most heavily on her Sea Hawks as her first line of defense. These Sea Hawks were master mariners, sea captains with a long history of exploration, and undaunting courage in “freeing the Spanish of the burden of transporting treasure from the new world.” The names of Howard, Frobisher, Drake, and Hawkins will forever live in the annals of British history for what they did to the great armada.

Queen Elizabeth gave a speech to her troops waiting for the invasion at Tilbury. On August 8, 1588, she said:

"... I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too...”

While the Sea Hawks did grave damage to the Armada, and harried its progress through the English Channel, the worst damage to the Spanish effort came at the hands of Mother Nature. Certainly the Royal Navy can lay claim to diverting the Armada from its intended action to embark troops from Holland and escort them across to England, but disease wiped out thousands of the men on both sides, from typhus, and dysentery. But the worst blows were dealt by the storms. After facing Drake and Lord Effingham’s fleets in the Channel, the fire ships off the French port of Calais, and the Battle off the Gravelines, the Spanish ships gave up all hope of executing their orders to invade England. Rather than again face the gauntlet they had just run in the Channel, they chose to sail up the North Sea, round the tip of Scotland, and, clearing Ireland, sail into the Atlantic, and south to Spain. But storms and hurricanes intervened and many more ships were lost along the way. Many of the ships foundered in heavy weather off the west coast of Ireland, with a few sailors surviving long enough to reach the rocky shoreline.

A medal was struck for Elizabeth to give to her heroes, the Sea Hawks. It was inscribed, “Flavit Deus et Dissipati Sunt” – “God blew with His wind and they were scattered”.

What does this have to do with Trade and the advance of civilization? Only this: Over the next century Britain and Spain would be embroiled in two more wars, and the Spanish would maintain supremacy over the oceans, while England would be forced to focus inwardly to deal with crises in the line of succession to the throne, and the national religion of England. But, by the end of the 17th century, the Royal Navy would be master of the seas, and despite what challenges the French could muster to that title in the Napoleonic Wars, they would remain the master of the waves for more than two hundred years. Only into the 20th century would the Royal Navy begin to lag behind the United States Navy in maritime naval supremacy. The exploits of Drake, and Hawkins, Frobisher and Howard, would serve as a basis for a proud service that allowed the tiny nation of England to grow into the largest Empire the world has ever seen, and likely will never see again. At its height, it controlled most of North America, nearly all of India, and laid claim to Australia, and quite a few smaller “Crown Colonies” along the way.

The British East India Company, and other trade houses, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company, for example, financed the follow on behind the conquest, the colonization of the new lands, and the set up of the trade arrangements. Furs, cotton, and minerals, from the Americas, spices, ivory and lumber from India, and a place to send their convicts in Australia. That trade, especially the trade with Canada and the American Colonies, and later with the United States, pushed both the U.S. and Britain into the Industrial Revolution, as goods being shipped both ways in their raw state required processing. In particular, this was the case in textiles, as mills sprung up all over both countries. That required machinery, and machinery required ever greater skills at milling metals, and refining them.

And with this supremacy new trade routes were established.

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07: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 7

With the opening and exploitation of the “New World”, the European Monarchies suddenly found themselves elbowing each other out of the way to gain an advantage over the others by discovering, exploring, then colonizing for exploitation as many new lands as they could. While the Portuguese led the way with the explorative voyages of colonization down the west coast of Africa, the Spanish soon followed with their own exploitation and colonization of South and Central America, the Caribbean, and the southernmost parts of North America. There is no way of knowing what Columbus whispered to Ferdinand and Isabella on his return to Spain, but the infamous Conquistadors were not in northern South America and Central America, and north, even into what is now Kansas looking for wheat or pelts. They were looking for treasure. In South America, it was the Amazonian city of “El Dorado”, in North America, it was the Seven Cities of Gold. When they could not find the gold-paved streets of these cities, they stripped the local indigenous populations of all their valuables, and subjugated their peoples – the Incas, and the Aztecs in particular, while farther north, they encountered a “Mexican Standoff” with the Hopis and Navajos. The Spanish eradicated the two of the three major civilizations of the pre-Columbian Americas, while the third, the Mayan, simply were already down, but never out.

The Spanish were not alone in their particular harshness in administering their newly conquered territories. The Portuguese, and later the Dutch would be particularly severe in their treatment of local populations, and eventually the lower classes of their own citizen-colonists that went along to support their exploitative policies. And they were exploitative, as the goal was to return as much wealth as possible to the royal houses of Europe.

While the Spanish and the Portuguese were very wealthy Catholic monarchies, and could afford to send their explorers around the world, with the additional help of the Vatican coffers, the English and Dutch were more hard pressed to do so; and while they were struggling to get out into the world and explore it, the rich (Spain, Portugal) got richer. Protestant England and Holland devised a novel approach to the problem: private investment. They founded the great trade houses known as the Dutch East India Company, established by charter from the Netherlands government in 1602, and its English predecessor, the British East India Company, with a royal charter dated 1600. Funded by private investment, these two companies sent ships out to the new world to trade for goods from the Americas, and to find routes to the East Indies of Asia that were not compromised by the Portuguese or the Spanish. Some sixty years after Magellan found a passage through the nightmarish weather and rocky islands of Patagonia into the “Great South Sea”, as the Pacific Ocean was then called, Sir Francis Drake tried and failed to follow the same course, being beaten back by the prevailing west winds, until he sailed still farther south and made an easier “Drake Passage” into the Pacific. Both mariners were on voyages of discovery that would see their ships circumnavigate the world, but only Drake would survive the voyage to return home, as Magellan would perish in the Philippine Islands.

Drake was looking for the western end of the fabled “Northwest Passage” in order to shorten the voyage to the Indies for the British mariners. Another of Queen Elizabeth’s Sea Hawks, Martin Frobisher, sailed far up into what is believed to be Hudson Bay, and returned with the story that he was convinced an ice free passage to the Orient, and the Great South Sea, was available through there. Drake sailed all the way up to Alaska after pillaging the Spanish cities along the west coast of South America, and capturing the treasure ship Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (known as the "Caca Fuego"). He took so much silver from her that when he later ran aground, he had to dump much of it overboard to lighten his ship enough to float free. The British would lose a few ships before deciding the Northwest Passage was not there. They also tried to find the “Northeast Passage” but lost at least two expeditions and numerous ships in the ice north of Norway and Russia.

England, and Holland both continued their explorations-funded-by-stockholders (who counted among them their national leadership), and conducted, fairly or not, trade with the new worlds to which they sailed. While they did so, the Spanish continued to conquer and exploit, simply taking the riches of the Americas, and shipping them back to Spain, or to the Philippines, where it was used to buy products from China, or the Spice Islands for shipment back to Spain.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

06: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 6

06: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 6

The ancients began trading with each other, and, as would naturally happen, someone at Point A would have a product, and would trade it with someone at Point B, and so on, until, after many iterations, the product, if it had any value at all, was being passed through many hands before it got to Point Z. It would be very easy to leave it at that, and call it an explanation of the early silk, spice, and incense trade, but if we assume that Point A is, for example, some place in Japan where silk was made, and Point Z was Paris, where the King of France wore silk stockings, and his Queen wore silk undergarments, and they used oranges from Spain, that were stuck with cloves from China to scent the air, and freshen it, then we can see a path west across Asia, and up into Europe, and to the banks of the Seine River in Paris. But the trade routes were not so simple. While they may have gone from A to B, and from B to C, they seldom continued on a straight path, for there were markets elsewhere, and much closer to Point A than Paris. Some of the routes went by sea, where products were carried by coast-hugging vessels that rarely spent the night at sea, instead putting in to the next port, or even just a sheltered inlet or a quiet beach.

Of the three ancient civilizations, the Chinese, and Indian were somewhat constant in their progress, and, while there were divergences along the way, they pretty much remained a relatively closed civilization, in that they started separate from the others, and remained identified as separate from the others throughout history. Most likely, geography had much to do with this. Separating China and India are several mountain ranges, and an enormous high desert called the Taklamakan. This also separated India from the west. China, then, was barricaded behind huge mountain walls in the south by the Shan Tien, Pamir, and Hindu Kush ranges, which contain many of the world’s tallest peaks, and in the west by the forbidding Ural Mountains which generally divide Asia from Europe. The third ancient civilization, what we now refer to as Western Civilization, started in the Fertile Crescent, and then, curiously, one mini-culture after another grew up in varying places. Egypt, was first about 5,000 years ago, then the Hittites of what is now Turkey, and then the Persians, followed by the Macedonian and Greek cultures, and finally the Romans. One dominant culture after another, often by conquest, sometimes not, but always in a different location, with one generally constant theme: Western Civilization moved west.

Two of the three ancient civilizations have provided us with at least two major organized religions. In the west, ancient Judaism has survived to the present date, long after the ancient gods of the Egyptian Nile, and the many gods of ancient Rome have disappeared. From Judaism, two other major modern religions branched off, first Christianity, and some 600 years later, Islam. Siddhartha Gautama was born sometime in the 6th century BC in the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal. He would later become known as Buddha, or the “enlightened one”. Buddhism would spread south throughout the Indian Subcontinent, and east throughout China and Japan. In India, it would compete with Hinduism. While Buddhism is more of a philosophy than a religion (there is no deity per se), it has billions of people as its adherents today. It’s principles are basic, and quite similar to the other major religions of the world. Indeed, they can be found within the Judeo-Christian “Ten Commandments”. Could it be that trade between these three regions had something to do with this fundamental standardization of religious philosophy?

Certainly, as we have mentioned previously, more than people and products traveled the Silk Road, ideas did, too. In particular, scientific and martial innovations, such as the previously mentioned war-chariots, and items like gunpowder, and rockets, which spread from the east to the west along the Silk and Spice Roads. However, some innovations went the other way, such as the abacus, an early Greco-Roman version of the calculator. Marco Polo, or his family, may have been the ones who took the abacus to China.

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Sunday, June 12, 2005

05: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 5

The Portuguese captains trained and sent out by Prince Henry the Navigator, built forts on the Ivory (modern Cote D’Ivoire), Gold (Modern Ghana) and Slave (Modern Togo, Benin, and Part of Nigeria) Coasts of Africa. The first one below the Sahara built by the Portuguese captains was on the Gold Coast, and was called Sao Jorge da Mina (Saint George of the Mine), and was built at a location where gold had been mined previously.

Each time one of the captains stopped on the relentless exploration of the West Coast of Africa, a fort or depot was left behind, to be resupplied later by following ships. These were built to provide shelter, fresh water, and food, timber (for ship repair), and at more advanced locations, a chapel for worship. Many of these forts became the great cities of Western Africa, such as Abidjan, Accra, and Lagos – names that would go down in history as the ports from which so many African slaves departed their homeland for death or lifelong servitude, starting in 1441 with the first African slaves carried to Portugal.

The Portuguese did this because it was profitable, it supplied a cheap labor source, and because Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) issued a Papal Bull on January 8, 1455 that allowed the Portuguese “to subject to servitude, all infidel peoples”. A second Papal Bull in March “granted to Prince Henry, as Grand Master of the Order of Christ in Portugal, all lands (and peoples) discovered or conquered form Cape Bojador, in Africa, to and including the Indies.”

Thus made right by Papal Bulls, the slave trade was on, and not just by the Portuguese. Spanish ships had been following the Portuguese down the west coast of Africa, looking for the Portuguese slave ports. This is why the Portuguese built forts. The Spanish were successful enough to establish several ports from which they eventually drew an untold number of slaves for the New World. Clearing land on a new continent is very hard work. Slave labor was expendable, and a nearly inexhaustible supply was at hand across the Atlantic on the underbelly of West Africa, known in particular as the Bight of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea.

Slaves provided the labor for the Portuguese gold mines in West Africa, and for the Spanish silver mines in Peru. Slaves provided the household staff for the Royal Governors of conquered territories, called colonies. Slaves did the menial work in the new worlds being conquered first by the Portuguese, then by the Spanish, and later by the English, French, and the Dutch, thus allowing the white Christians to carry more skilled laborers, artisans, and of course, monks to “spread the word of Christ.” This exploitation of human beings would continue, greatly augmented by the United States once it came into existence, until it was finally and completely outlawed in the western hemisphere in 1888, the final holdout being Brazil. Nearly four and a half centuries of slavery had robbed Africa of tens of millions of people, many of whom never even lasted to see their next landfall, once aboard a transport ship.

On occasion, some would escape, and some escapees gathered together in remote areas of the New World and created small enclaves. Indeed, on more than one occasion, when he was stealing the Spanish treasure shipments piled along the coast of Panama, Sir Francis Drake was aided willingly by some of these escaped slaves, who would do anything to hurt their hated former Spanish masters.

But the art of slave trading was reduced to a science by the Americans. An estimated 20 million Africans were transported from Africa to the West Indies or to American ports. An estimated 9 million never finished that voyage, succumbing to disease, injury, starvation, shipwreck, or just being jettisoned over the side while chained together, so the ship would have enough food and water to finish the voyage. In this triangular trade, the ships would leave their European ports and travel to Africa, where they would pick up slaves, then proceed across the Atlantic where those slaves would be exchanged for cotton, tobacco, furs, or West Indies spices, and take those cargoes back to their original European ports. Each leg of the triangle would reap generous profits for the owners of the ships, and those who sailed them. The science was divided on one issue, however. Slaves packed so tightly in ships that they could not roll over often succumbed to disease in great numbers. The alternative, “loose packing”, carried fewer slaves, but lost less to disease. The so-called “Middle Passage”, named for the portion of the trade triangle where the slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas, quickly developed a following -- sharks that had learned that human meat might soon be readily, and plentifully available.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

04: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 4

It took time, of course, over a century, in fact, to absorb the information provided by Marco Polo, process it, and figure out the possible ramifications. When the book was first circulated, European seafaring skills were probably just a bit ahead of the science they would eventually need to sail the deep blue waters of the world. Handicapped thus, they were at the mercy of the Arabs from Gibraltar to the Levant, north into Turkey, and east across the sands of the ancient Babylonian civilizations into Persia. Any trade coming from the east would almost by necessity, pass through Arab hands, in order to reach Christian Europe. And the Christians had been warring on the Arabs in the Holy Lands since the very end of the 12th Century. The price of spice, silk, and incense, just went up.

The 15th Century saw the end of almost 800 years of Moorish occupation in Spain, and science finally began catching up to the needs of Western Civilization. Use of a compass for navigation -- its first recorded use in China in the 11th Century -- slowly made its way west along the Silk Road, through Arab lands, reaching the west in the early to mid 14th Century. Used in conjunction with the ancient device known as the Astrolabe, mariners could, with some precision, finally navigate on open and unknown waters. In the Mediterranean, even if one were out of sight of land, if one sailed a straight course in any direction one would eventually make a known landfall. In the Atlantic, it was well nigh the end of the 15th Century before astronomers actually made believers out of mariners, and the royalty of Europe, finally convincing them that the Earth was round, and not flat, and that one could not sail over the edge of it. Once that particular hurdle was overcome, and in spite of what the great guardian of knowledge, the Church, was insisting, the exploration of the Earth was on in earnest.

Portuguese shipbuilders began to construct a new type of sea-going vessel, the caravel, capable of carrying slightly larger cargos than the coastal traders then in use, but with the shallow drafts necessary for traveling up estuaries. It was in these ships that Columbus made his first voyage to the New World.

But exploration started with Infante Dom Henrique, Duke of Viseu. He was the son of King John I of Portugal, and Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of Britain’s John of Gaunt (Ghent). Prince Henry acceded to a leadership position in the Order of Christ, the organization that grew from the Portuguese branch of the crusaders known as the Knights Templar. In this wealthy position, Henry started a school for navigators and cartographers at Sagres on Cape St. Vincent at the very tip of southern Portugal. Henry was then put in charge of exploration for Portugal. As an incentive, when his brother, Duarte, ascended the throne on the death of their father, Henry was promised a 1/5 share of all profits from new discoveries and ensuing trade. Thus, European exploration and colonization was born.

The first voyages were short. Rediscovery and colonization of the Madeira Islands occurred in 1420. The Azores were next in 1427, and further colonization took place. Three years later the Cape Verde Islands were discovered, but in 1434, one of Henry’s captains, Gil Eanes, became the first European to sail down the west coast of Africa past Cape Bojador. This breakthrough was crucial, and Henry’s captains began to exploit it. Using the new caravel, the captains kept pushing south along the west coast of Africa: Capo Blanco in 1441, and in 1443 a fort was built at the Bay of Arguin, an outpost for staging later expeditions to the south. By 1444 they had pushed south of Cape Vert, and were below the Sahara.

Then began one of the most horrible events in human history. Once below the Sahara Desert, Henry’s captains began rounding up Africans as slaves, and taking their gold. The riches of the gold and slaves brought the minting of the first Cruzados (Crusade) coins and financed an enormous expansion in Henry’s fleet of ships. In the next few years, Henry had forty ships sailing in and out of Lagos. More importantly, this sudden burst of riches lit the fires of exploration and colonization in the other Royal houses of Europe.

Within several decades of Prince Henry the Navigator’s death in 1460, Bartolomeo Dias sailed his caravel around the Cape of Good Hope (1488), and ten years after that, Vasco DaGama sailed to India. Shortly after that, another Portuguese explorer, Pedro Alvares Cabral crossed the Atlantic and discovered Brazil (1500). One of the captains who sailed for Henry’s school for a while after Henry’s death, sailed a voyage of exploration and adventure in 1492, and discovered the “New World”. Christopher Columbus thought he had found China. What he found instead, was a whole new world of lush vegetation, towering mountains, naked savages, and a wealth that has yet to see its limit.

And to provide the muscle for the exploration of these new lands, slaves were gathered from the coast and interior of Africa.

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03: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 3

Niccolo and his brother Maffeo Polo began their first trip to “Cathay” in 1255. It took them eleven years before they reached what is now Beijing but was then called Khanbaliq. There they became the emissaries of the Great Kublai Khan, who would send with them a letter to the Pope requesting teachers to show the great Khan’s people what life was like in the West.

In 1271 the Brothers Polo set off on a second journey to the Orient, and this time took along Niccolo’s son, Marco. Marco so enthralled the great Kublai Khan with his stories of the West, that he stayed in China for 17 years before returning to Venice as Kublai Khan’s emissary. Marco’s family finally returned from China and by 1295 had settled in Venice, where they were met with skepticism about their journeys.

In 1298, while serving in a war being fought between Venice and Genoa, Marco became a prisoner in a Genoese prison. Whiling away the months, the largely illiterate merchant dictated his wondrous tale of adventure to an out of work romance novelist named Rusticello, imprisoned with Polo. The book was later published and, as we know it, The Travels of Marco Polo was an instant success. Yet, even on his deathbed in 1324, Marco Polo was still faced with doubters and skeptics. The attending priest asked him to confess that the whole story of the trip to China had been made up, and Polo supposedly replied, "I have not told half of what I saw!"

So, what is contained in it that makes The Travels of Marco Polo such an important book? Polo describes the many sights he claimed to have seen while spending all that time in China. The book, even though greeted with great skepticism about its veracity, was still a huge success, and was quickly translated into many languages and widely circulated throughout Europe. Even today, there are doubters who reason that because Polo did not mention this or that, such as tea, or the Great Wall, and because the court clerks of Kublai Khan never mentioned Polo, he must not have made the trip. Still, there is nothing in his book that puts the lie to it, indeed, he does describe things that he would have seen had he been there, so lacking any evidence to the contrary, we take him at his word.

Most importantly to early 14th Century Europe were the book’s references to spice, silk, and incense. Putting spice into perspective, let’s take a single example, the clove (Syzygium aromaticum). Clove is a dried flower bud, primarily the product of Indonesia. It is one of the rare spices in that it can be used as an aromatic (as incense) even while being used to flavor food being cooked. Ancient Chinese emperors insisted anyone speaking to them chew several before hand to freshen their breath! Roman historian Pliny the Elder recorded, “there is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of fifty million sesterces.” That, then, is a measure of the value of the spice even before the birth of Christ.

The cost involved to bring the spice back from the caravan somewhere near the Russian Steppes was exorbitant. Not only did all the tolls, and taxes on the trip drive the price up, but every person who handled spice along the way worked for a piece of the price. By the time the Jewish merchants returned to their European cities, the price was even higher. The royals, and the noble houses, and the Church would pay for the spice, and hope it would last until the next shipment, which might not be for several years. Finally, the quantity shipped was always whittled down to sell some off here for extra cash, and there to buy someone’s way out of trouble, and in the end, by the splitting up and parceling out of the shipment all over Europe and Byzantium. It was almost prohibitively expensive, but every monarch and noble had to have it. The market was there.

Polo’s book told the world where the spice was, and how to get it. Suddenly, the crowned heads of Europe, particularly those around the Mediterranean Sea, got it into their minds that they would no longer need the Jewish merchants, the caravans, or even the Chinese…if they could find a way to go get the spice themselves. And if successful, one single shipment delivered by sea would eclipse all the spice sold in their kingdom in the past one hundred years, thus, dropping the price, even while being dramatically profitable. Never mind their scientists warned them their ships would never make the voyage without falling off the edge of the world. Never mind that none of the houses of Europe had much experience in navigating the great oceans except the Mediterranean. But if that closed sea had ancient established trade routes that had been used for millennia, certainly there had to be ships and ship masters that had ventured off into the unknown, perhaps into the great Atlantic Ocean, far beyond the little fishing boats that worked the coast.

Enter the next major player in this epic drama, Prince Henry of Portugal, also known as Henry the Navigator.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

02: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 2

Trade: the act of commerce between individuals, or peoples. Requirement: a common manner of communication, and an understanding of the economy of the other party, and a commodity or skill for sale, or barter. Communication: The transmission of ideas, messages or information between two persons.

After the clans discussed in Part 1, came the eventual villages of tribes, and later cities, then city-states, and eventually, kingdoms. With early man’s natural tendency to be profligate as part of the instinctual survival imprint, the human gene pool continued to expand, and winnow out some of the weaker elements. With the rise of civilization came the rise in personal wealth. And wealthy people have a taste for the finer things in life. That meant spice.

Old Testament passages speak of the Israelite kings and patriarchs as having spices for food, and incense, and silks from the Orient. Indeed, archaeologists have identified how spice and other goods moved west (oddly enough, it always seemed to move from east to west – more about that later) on specific roads, in particular, the Incense Road, the Spice Road, and the Silk Road. These ancient caravan routes are not just middle school text book terms, but very real roads used for millennia to move products from east to west, and riches from west to east. But that is not the only thing that traveled on these roads. Commerce and communication also meant the conveyance of ideas.

Often, we look at Biblical and ancient historical sagas such as Gilgamesh and early Babylon as being the earliest recorded civilizations. In this Occidental-centric view, the Oriental peoples are seldom given credit for reaching many of civilization’s milestones before their western counterparts did, which occurred more often than one expects. The domestication of the horse is one such example, in use on the Eurasian Steppes three thousand years earlier than the middle eastern societies began using the camel as a pack animal. One can argue that climate, and terrain had much to do with it, yet the Arabs eventually embraced the horse, in addition to the camel, and the camel was embraced by the Chinese later for use on the caravan roads.

The War Chariot, a “souped up” version of the standard horse-drawn chariot, was a product that arose in three distinct areas almost simultaneously, appearing around the same time in China, Iran, and in the Hittite Civilization of Anatolia. Only one conclusion can be drawn about this oddity when it is realized that all three civilizations sat along the Silk Road.

Interestingly, there are Indo-European mummies in the Taklamakan Desert, located in the Tarim Basin of greater China. They date from about 1200 to 1500 BC. They were located along a caravan stop on the Silk Road.

So, silks and spices and incense moved from China and other parts of the Orient westward to the Middle East first, and later to Europe, throughout the first millennium of the Christian Era. And in the process, whole peoples assumed roles in the trade of silk, spice and incense. On one end, the Chinese, and on the other end the Royal houses of Europe and the Byzantine Empire. It filtered down to the noble houses, and later to the more affluent traders and tradesmen, all of whom used the spices to flavor their foods, the incense to scent the often fetid air around them, and the silks that adorned them. Between both ends of this system of trade were the various caravan and caravanserai operators, the rulers of the lands in between, both large empires and petty fiefdoms, all of which partook of tolls and duties exacted from the caravan owners. Finally, the Jewish merchants of Europe who traveled, sometimes to the edge of the Russian Steppes, to purchase these goods and bring them back to the European noble houses (and the Christian Church as well), a business lucrative enough to eventually see their families into the European banking business.

Into this mix walked and rode a Venetian merchant’s son, and the thousands year old trade would enter a completely new phase, kicking off an historical epoch that would see the world completely change, and result in one of the worst human tragedies ever recorded.

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01: “From Caves to Warehouses: The Path of Civilization Through Trade” Part 1

The very first time one hungry caveman looked at another and saw he had a piece of food, crime was invented. At the very least, theft, robbery, and probably assault and battery as well, if not downright murder, was commited. At some point, and we have no idea how long this thought would have taken to occur, the first peaceful transfer of possessions from one individual to another, what we call “trade” or “commerce” occurred.

Around the time of this event (more likely, a series of events occurring and recurring in many places over eons before settling into mankind’s primitive brain imprint), the concept of commodities would also have been imprinted: food, skins, tools/weapons, and shelter. Man began to own things. That meant man also began to wish he had more. Ever since, man has learned from other men through trade, and the natural competitiveness of man (survival of the fittest) has made man a collector of goods. The survivors of a winter with not quite enough food stocks to go around would have learned the very important lesson of “having enough”. And, as we all know, we can absolutely never, ever, “have enough”.

The next event in the process was the day it occurred to our primitive ancestor that the fire where his meat had accidentally fallen actually made the meat easier to eat, and more tasty. If only it didn’t have the ashes all over it. An ingenious thought, “wrap it in leaves,” and throw it in the fire. Wow, not only did that protect the meat from the ashes, it made the meat even more tender, more tasty, and it lasted longer in the corner of the cave! And spice was born.

It did not take primitive man long to learn there was safety in numbers. Keeping an ever expanding family gathered about one patriarch or matriarch (who knows?), made for a powerful force, not only the strength of having so many “on one’s side”, but also the additional hunter/gatherers, and child-bearers. So it wasn’t long before the clan in one cave, who knew where to get apples and wild boar, had a banner year, and hiked a hundred yards to the next cave, where the fishers and berry-gatherers were, and offered an exchange. After all, wild boar tends to get a little old after a while, and although the fish stank, they tasted alright, but maybe this trick of cooking meat wrapped in leaves would work with the fish. While this transaction was going on, the son of the Patriarch of the Boar Clan, spotted the daughter of the Matriarch of the Fishers, and mankind’s chances for survival doubled.

So a well-worn path between the two caves became the first road, to be kept cleared as trust between the two clans increased, along with the trade -- and breeding. Maybe they branched out and tried hunting Pterodactyls. Sooner or later, a clan from a cave on the other side of the stream would come over and see the well fed people of the Fisher and Boar clans, and see how strong they were, rich in furs, and skilled at hunting, and not clubbing each other over the head all the time, except for mating rituals. The new clan had a healer, and a star gazer. All this required some form of communication, and while mankind had not developed enough to articulate more than a grunt, he could point, and use his hands to show things, so mankind added another road, and another clan and became the first “civilization”.

I do not believe it was this easy, or only happened once, or even necessarily in this way, but in many fashions, some similar, some not, and in many places around the Earth, over millions of years. But the general path was likely along these lines.

The point is, that man, by himself, could and did survive. Just. Some of the time. But when he banded together with others, his chances of survival increased exponentially. At the same time, so did his needs. He needed to communicate with the others among whom he suddenly was living. As his needs increased, innovative man, man the inventor, used the tool that distinguished him from all the other creatures great and small, his brain. As he invented, nature sometimes kept up, providing an evolutionary alteration after eons of being at the edge of it, as in the change that occurred when man, after walking erect for millennia, developed a different path through the skull for his spinal cord connection to his brain, from that of a quadruped, to that of the erect human we call man. Perhaps this is the dividing point after which mankind’s ancestors were no longer primates, but humans. And yes, I am saying that I believe that mankind’s primitive survival needs drove evolution. I think they still do. I believe something within us makes us adapt to our surroundings, forces change, but only after an incredibly long process convinces nature that it is necessary.

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"Welcome to the History of the World"

We plan to discuss history here, real history, of the real world. We may discuss some theoretical items, and some controversial matters as well. We do not intend to shy away from anything. What we will not do is create history here. Hopefully, we will also be able to incorporate the essays and discussions of others.

Novus Livy

Copyright © 2005, Novus Livy and The History of the World Blog. All Rights Reserved.