Trade involves the transfer of goods or services from one person or entity to another, often in exchange for money. A system or network that allows trade is called a market. An early form of trade, barter, saw the direct exchange of goods and services for other goods and services. Barter involves trading things without the use of money. Trade exists due to specialization and the division of labor, a predominant form of economic activity in which individuals and groups concentrate on a small aspect of production, but use their output in trades for other products and needs. Commerce is derived from the Latin commercium, from cum “together” and merx, “merchandise. Trade originated with human communication in prehistoric times.
Trading was the main facility of prehistoric people, who bartered goods and services from each other before the innovation of modern-day currency. Some trace the origins of commerce to the very start of transaction in prehistoric times. The caduceus has been used today as the symbol of commerce with which Mercury has traditionally been associated. Trade is believed to have taken place throughout much of recorded human history. There is evidence of the exchange of obsidian and flint during the stone age. Trade in obsidian is believed to have taken place in Guinea from 17,000 BCE. The earliest use of obsidian in the Near East dates to the Lower and Middle paleolithic.
Trade in the stone age was investigated by Robert Carr Bosanquet in excavations of 1901. Trade is believed to have first begun in south west Asia. Archaeological evidence of obsidian use provides data on how this material was increasingly the preferred choice rather than chert from the late Mesolithic to Neolithic, requiring exchange as deposits of obsidian are rare in the Mediterranean region. Obsidian is thought to have provided the material to make cutting utensils or tools, although since other more easily obtainable materials were available, use was found exclusive to the higher status of the tribe using “the rich man’s flint”. Obsidian was traded at distances of 900 kilometres within the Mediterranean region.
Trade in the Mediterranean during the Neolithic of Europe was greatest in this material. The Sari-i-Sang mine in the mountains of Afghanistan was the largest source for trade of lapis lazuli. The material was most largely traded during the Kassite period of Babylonia beginning 1595 BCE. Ebla was a prominent trading centre during the third millennia, with a network reaching into Anatolia and north Mesopotamia. A map of the Silk Road trade route between Europe and Asia. Materials used for creating jewelry were traded with Egypt since 3000 BCE.
From the beginning of Greek civilization until the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century, a financially lucrative trade brought valuable spice to Europe from the far east, including India and China. Roman commerce allowed its empire to flourish and endure. Romans Mercurius also god of merchants, whose festival was celebrated by traders on the 25th day of the fifth month. The fall of the Roman empire, and the succeeding Dark Ages brought instability to Western Europe and a near collapse of the trade network in the western world. Trade however continued to flourish among the kingdoms of Africa, Middle East, India, China and Southeast Asia. Some trade did occur in the west.
Tajadero or axe money used as currency in Mesoamerica. It had a fixed worth of 8,000 cacao seeds, which were also used as currency. The emergence of exchange networks in the Pre-Columbian societies of and near to Mexico are known to have occurred within recent years before and after 1500 BCE. Trade networks reached north to Oasisamerica. There is evidence of established maritime trade with the cultures of northwestern South America and the Caribbean. During the Middle Ages, commerce developed in Europe by trading luxury goods at trade fairs. Wealth became converted into movable wealth or capital.
Banking systems developed where money on account was transferred across national boundaries. Hand to hand markets became a feature of town life, and were regulated by town authorities. Western Europe established a complex and expansive trade network with cargo ships being the main workhorse for the movement of goods, Cogs and Hulks are two examples of such cargo ships. Many ports would develop their own extensive trade networks. A map showing the main trade routes for goods within late medieval Europe.
During the Middle Ages, Central Asia was the economic center of the world. From the 8th to the 11th century, the Vikings and Varangians traded as they sailed from and to Scandinavia. Vikings sailed to Western Europe, while Varangians to Russia. Vasco da Gama pioneered the European Spice trade in 1498 when he reached Calicut after sailing around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent.