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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