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Home -> Orville Marcellus Powers -> Commerce and Finance -> Chapter II

Commerce and Finance - Chapter II

1. Chapter I

2. Chapter II

3. Chapter III

4. Chapter IV

5. Chapter V

6. Chapter VI

7. Chapter VII

8. Chapter VIII

9. Chapter IX

10. Chapter X

11. Chapter XI

12. Chapter XII

13. Chapter XIII

14. Chapter XIV

15. Chapter XV

16. Chapter XVI

17. Chapter XVII

18. Chapter XVIII

19. Chapter XIX

20. Chapter XX

21. Chapter XXI

22. Chapter XXII

23. Chapter XXIII

24. Chapter XXIV

25. Chapter XXV

26. Chapter XXVI

27. Chapter XXVII

28. Chapter XXVIII

29. Chapter XXIX

30. Chapter XXX

31. Chapter XXXI

32. Chapter XXXII

33. Chapter XXXIII

34. Chapter XXXIV

35. Chapter XXXV

36. Chapter XXXVI

37. Chapter XXXVII

38. Chapter XXXVIII

39. Chapter XXXIX

40. Chapter XL

41. Chapter XLI

42. Chapter XLII

43. Chapter XLIII

44. Chapter XLIV

45. Chapter XLV

46. Chapter XLVI

47. Chapter XLVII

48. Chapter XLVIII

49. Chapter XLVIX

50. Chapter L

51. Chapter LI

52. Chapter LII

Ancient Commerce Continued.
The Carthaginians; The Roman Empire.

About the year 850 B. C. the Phoenicians had founded the
city of Carthage on the north coast of Africa, planting there a
colony which was destined to have a remarkable career. The
Commerce ^ v was built upon a peninsula forty-five miles

of the around, with a neck only three miles across. The

land along the adjacent coast was fertile and well
watered, producing wheat, barley, wine and oil in abundance.
A small bay in the gulf of Tunis afforded an excellent harbor
for the city's commerce. Endowed with Phoenician energy and
skill, Carthage soon gained great wealth and power, conquering
a portion of Sicily and the northwest coast of Africa, thereby
securing complete control of the western half of the Mediter-
ranean Sea.

The Carthaginians founded colonies in the South of Spain,
and the riches of the Spanish peninsula were poured into the lap
of Carthage. Her ships passed the strait of Gibraltar and con-
tinued the voyages formerly made by the Phoenicians to the
north. They also turned southward, sailing along the west
coast of Africa in search of tropical products. They sent cara-
vans into the interior of Africa and Persia and as far east as the
Persian Gulf. Hither were brought gold, ivory, slaves, ostrich
feathers, ebony and dates, and in exchange the Carthaginian trad-
ers exported wheat, meal, wine, ornaments and gaudy clothes, much
the same as worn by many of those peoples at the present day.

After the Persian conquest, many of the merchant princes of
Tyre and other Phoenician cities emigrated to Carthage, and
thus the city grew in wealth and commerce. At one time she



is said to have possessed territory having a sea line of 1,400
miles and containing 300 cities. In the silver mines of Spain
she employed not less than 40,000 men. The
Carthaginian merchants did not carry for hire,
but dealt in their own commodities, thus requiring
an extensive system of warehouses and shipping facilities. They
inaugurated a system of marine insurance and made loans on
bottomry. It has been supposed that their leathern money was
in the nature of bank bills.

Thus we see that Greece controlled the commerce of the
eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea, while Carthage dominated
that of the western half. Both of these nations reached their
golden era of prosperity, their commercial zenith, about three
hundred years before Christ; both declined and gave way to a
stronger power about the same time, and to the same power.
While these nations were thus dominating the commerce of the
Mediterranean there was growing a power in Italy that was to
conquer and supplant them both. Like the sturdy tree which
grows slowly that it may knit its fibers closely, Eome required
five hundred years before she was sufficiently strong to wrest
the commercial and political supremacy of the Mediterranean
from Greece and Carthage. She was founded about 750 B. C.
and began her conquest against Carthage and Greece about
250 B. C.

The dividing line between Greece and Carthage seemed to
bisect the island of Sicily. The western half belonged to Car-
thage and the eastern half to Greece. Carthage attempted the
conquest of the eastern half of the island. This
^ to a desperate struggle with S} r racuse and the
Greek colonies. Then Eome and Carthage began
a contest which lasted with varying results for over a hundred
years. It was in many respects the most determined and relent-
less warfare ever waged, and both parties seemed to realize that
it was a fight to the finish, and must result in the extermination


of the one power or the other. The First Punic War lasted from
264 to 241 B. C., when Carthage was defeated and compelled
to give up Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. After twenty-three
years, war was again declared between these two inveterate
enemies, and in 218 B. C., Hannihal, the great Carthaginian
general, led an army by way of Spain over the Alps into Italy,
and at one time it seemed as if Rome would be completely
crushed beneath his mighty blows. But the tide of war turned
again, and the Carthaginians were defeated and made a de-
pendent province of Rome. Finally, in the Third Punic War,
B. C. 149, the Romans utterly destroyed the city of Carthage,
carrying its inhabitants who survived the siege into captivity,
burning its houses and demolishing its temples. Not content
with even this, they plowed the land where Carthage had stood,
sowed it in salt, thus making it utterly barren, and then
pronounced a curse upon any one who should attempt to rebuild
the city. Could revenge be deeper of more complete? Un-
fortunately, for us, they also destroyed the libraries and records
of this remarkable people, so that all we know of them has come
down to us through their enemies. We are told that Carthage
was a city twenty miles in circumference, and contained not less
than one million inhabitants. The land about the city was laid
out like a vast garden, and embellished with innumerable mag-
nificent villas.

In the same year, Corinth, one of the greatest of the Greek
capitals and seaports, was captured, plundered of vast wealth
and given to the flames by the Romans. Athens and her mag-
nificent harbor of Piraeus fell into the same hands sixty years
later, and thus the seat of commercial greatness moved westward
to the banks of the Tiber.

The Romans were naturally statesmen and warriors rather
than merchants. They were better adapted to govern than to
trade or work. With Roman supremacy, set in an era of growth
and activity in trade and commerce throughout the then civil-


ized world, which lasted five hundred years. The effect of
Roman domination was to put an end to all the little wars that
had been previously waged among adjacent peo-
P^ es> ^ becoming Roman provinces they ex-
changed their independence for peace, and peace
with unrestricted commerce fostered trade in all parts of the em-
pire. The Mediterranean nations were brought closer to each
other, both politically and commercially, and became common in-
heritors of such knowledge as was then in the world. Arts, sciences,
improved agriculture and manufactures spread among them. The
city of Rome became the center of the system, and from one
quarter wheat had to be brought, from another clothing, from
another luxuries, and Rome had to pay for it all in coin. She
had nothing to export in return. How could she continue to
pay out coin? The coin was continually flowing into her treas-
ury, as tribute from all of her numerous provinces, and then it
found its way back again to the provinces in payment for mer-
chandise. By this there was a tendency to an equalization of
wealth in all parts of the empire, and a perpetual movement of

Rome, in its golden era of the Emperor Augustus, had a
population of 1,800,000 people, besides its numerous suburbs,
and to supply the needs of this vast population required a large
number of merchants and tradesmen. Besides these, extensive
industries were carried on by skilled labor to sup-
Pty the demands of the rich and idle class. Plu-
tarch tells us that there were trade-guilds in wood-
carving, moulding, dyeing, lace-making, cabinet-making, and
among workers in bronze, stucco and gold. There were extensive
establishments for the manufacture of glass and pottery, both in
Rome and other Italian cities. Cloth and clothing were made by
the weavers of Rome in large quantities, the wool coming prin-
cipally from Spain and the cotton from Egypt. The arts of
paper-making and book-binding were carried to a much higher

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degree of perfection than ever before, and in all the great abbeys
and museums there was an apartment the Scriptorium for the
copying and making of books.

In order to facilitate their military operations, the Romans
built an extensive system of highways, the finest the world had
ever seen. Beginning at the Golden Milestone, which was placed

in the Forum by Augustus to mark the central
Roman Roads point of the Roman Empire, and from which

distances were calculated, these roads extended in
a network in all directions over Italy, and reached as far as
France, Spain and Britain in the west. In Greece, the moun-
tains of Epirus and Macedon were pierced with a great highway,
and in Asia Minor, Palestine and North Africa they built roads
leading to the principal seaports. These Roman roads were
built with a view to permanency, and many of them remain as
important and useful highways of commerce to this day. Won-
derful examples of engineering skill are frequently exhibited
in their construction, being in some instances hewn out of the
mountain side and in others composed of heavy stone viaducts
and bridges which still remain to attest the skill of the builders.
These roads were as useful to Rome as railroads are to us. They
were furnished with milestones and post houses kept in perfect
order. A regular system of posts was established so that the
Emperor might have speedy information of events happening
in the different provinces. The postmen traveled according to
regular time tables, changing horses at each relay, the same as
in this country before the advent of railways. Although built
primarily for military purposes, so that troops could be con-
veyed readily to any part of the Empire, yet these roads and the
post system were highly instrumental in fostering and develop-
ing commerce as well as civilization in general.

We will now take up the consideration of the Eastern prov-
inces of Rome, and by these we mean Greece and the Greek
Islands, Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt and the north


coast of Africa. These provinces were all placed in immediate
and direct communication, not only with each other, but with
Rome, and the laws were so framed as to protect intercourse and
Roman Com- commerce generally, but especially with the seat
m 'st e e rn n the of government. Greece had become considerably
Provinces reduced in population, especially in her island

colonies, and agriculture declined. The result was that large
areas were now given to grazing and the raising of sheep and
horses. This supplied wool for cloth and horses for the Eoman
army and for the chariots and other vehicles. Athens supplied
Rome with statuary, cloth and perfumery, Corinth with bronze,
and Paros with the finest of marble. Asia Minor and ports of
the Black Sea carried on an extensive trade and manufacture,
supplying Rome with cloths of superior texture, carpets, works
of art in marble, bronze, gold and silver. Through these cities,
too, came a large portion of Roman imports from the far East
Persia, India and China slaves, precious stones, silks and per-
fumes. From Syria and Phoenicia came rugs, glass, pottery,
purple dyes, cedar-wood and woodenware. Egypt sent to Rome,
through its commercial metropolis, Alexandria, immense quanti-
ties of wheat, barley, cloth and colored glass. It also forwarded
the slaves, ivory and ostrich feathers of Africa; perfumes, in-
cense, gold and horses from Arabia; spices, cinnamon, ginger,
myrrh, precious stones, pearls and silk from India. Large
quantities of grain came from the north coast of Africa, where
the Carthaginians had formerly cultivated the rich soil, and wild
beasts from the desert farther south supplied the Roman arena.
The western provinces of Rome were also very prolific.
Spain was the richest province. Her mines yielded fabulous
Western amounts of gold and silver, as they had previously

commerce of done for the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, be-
sides large quantities of iron and copper. Spain
also produced an abundance of wool of a superior quality, besides
wheat, oil, fruit, honey, wine, dyes, pitch, salt and horses. From


France came wine, oil, wheat, millet, honey and cattle. The
rivers of France flowed chiefly in the direction which aided in
transporting products to Eome, and these, supplemented by the
excellent highways built by the Eomans, facilitated commerce.
Marseilles was then, as it is now, the principal port of shipment
from southern France. The products of the British isles were
conveyed to Eome partly by ships which rounded Gibraltar and
partly by overland routes through France. These products con-
sisted of tin and iron, cattle, leather, pearls, oysters, slaves, jet,
and far-famed hunting dogs. The mountaineers of northern
Italy and the Alps sent resin, pitch, honey and wax, while Sicily
on the south sent cattle, wool, honey, wine and valuable cloths,
made chiefly at Malta, whose weavers were far-famed for their

In commenting upon the commerce of Ancient Eome we must
remember that nearly all of the labor of the Empire was per-
formed by slaves. It had been the custom from remote antiquity
for the conqueror in war to carry off those whom he had spared,
and compel them to cultivate his fields and otherwise serve him
as slaves. Many ancient wars were instigated and
conducted for the purpose of supplying the de-
mand for labor. Eome was no exception to this
rule. Livy and Plutarch tell us that when Sicily and Greece
were subjugated by Eome portions of them were depopulated.
At the conquest of Epirus by the Eoman general, Paulus Aemil-
ius, 150,000 persons were either murdered or carried away into
slavery, and at the destruction of Carthage 50,000 persons were
carried into Eoman slavery. At the taking of Thebes large
numbers were thus disposed of, and these not the lower but of
the well-to-do and respectable classes. To these slaves the
laws of Eome were villainously unjust. A slave could be mur-
dered on the slightest provocation, or forced into the arena to
contend with wild beasts for the entertainment of the people.
One statute provided that in case a slave owner was murdered,


not only all of the slaves within his house, but even those within
a circle supposed to be measured by the reach of his voice,
should be put to death. Such laws show the small value placed
upon the lives of these unfortunates, and the facility with which
they could be replaced. The great number of slaves necessitated
a vast military system to control them. Now and then they
arose in insurrection, but usually paid the severest penalty as a
result. All kinds of labor were assigned to the slaves and regarded
as contemptible by the Romans. Slaves tilled the soil, rowed
the galleys and performed the work of manufactures. The
carpenters, masons, weavers, and, to a considerable extent, the
copyists of books were slaves. Rich men owned large numbers
of them, the price of a slave being, in the public market, only
equivalent to $25 of our currency. Slave labor was actually
cheaper than animal labor, so that much of the work which we
assign to horses and cattle was performed by men. The result
of this was to debase labor and destroy that class of intelligent,
sturdy and independent workmen and artisans in which the
strength of a nation chiefly rests. Although commerce flour-
ished for a time under the Roman empire, it had beneath it this
system of injustice and inhumanity, and could not be permanent.
It flourished principally because of the vigorous system of gov-
ernment established by the Romans, better roads and means of
intercourse between different countries and provinces, and better
protection against pirates. Thus we see the influence of govern-
ment upon commerce.

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