European Trade Routes 1100-1500

If there was ever an important period historians, and people could put a finger on, this would be it. This is the important period where the world’s countries, kingdoms, and dynasties established trade routes. This is the period where countries were made and countries were destroyed because of the importance of trade and the importance of building a fundamental, religious, and economical way of life. This paper will discuss the goals and functions of trades, and traders, and a historical analysis of world trade. This paper will also get into world trade patterns, of The Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, The Indian Ocean, The Silk routes, China and The South China Sea, Europe and The Mediterranean, and The Atlantic Exploration.

The goals and functions of world trade today vary from when it started. Long distance trading today is a big part of everyday life for us. Most of our products, as you can see, come from China, Japan, Italy and other places across the ocean. Where would we be today if long distance trading wasn’t a part of everyday life? Asia and Europe play a huge part in our lives, and in what we eat, function with, and for children, play with. When long distance trading first started, it wasn’t as important as it is now. Traders mostly supplied goods for the rich who could afford these valuable goods, and afford the long distance accommodations. Supplies like gold, spices, silks, and others were sold to the rich and they were valued depending on weight and distance of the trade. A large part of the exchange economy was local, dealing with crops, and local manufactured products. The only problem with this was that it wasn’t pricey and it didn’t weigh much compared to long distance supplies, which made it difficult to make any profit whatsoever. Sometimes, to help out locals and the upper echelon, goods were traded for other goods instead of money. The most important part of trade was having a market to trade with. If there was no market, there was no business, and if there is no business there was no jobs, and money coming in for locals in that area. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
Free market economy, which is still tremendously popular today, as it was when trade first started, is a big part of trade. Free market economy is when traders seek personal benefits by buying supplies and goods at a low price and sell it at a higher price to gain profit. The price in free market economy can also vary, depending on the people the trader trades with and the up and down prices day to day the products value can become. “Karl Polanyi, a historical anthropologist at Comlumbia University, argued that market economies, private profit seeking, and capitalism were a peculiar and unnatural way of structuring an economy.”(The Worlds History, Spodek, ch.12, p.375) Polanyi also discussed how back in ancient times, trading was meant to provide and benefit the whole society, not personal benefit like the free market economy was. Another historian, Philip Curtin, agreed with Polanyi is many ways; except that there was historical proof there was individual, personal trading going on in ports and throughout long distance routes back in the earliest times. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
Trade patterns in The South Americas included the Andes Mountains. When The Incas controlled the land in the early 15th century, the people generated extensive trade throughout the hundreds of miles north and south linking together a total of 32 million people. With so many mountains and zones to deal with, many products came out of this to trade, including potatoes, maize, chili peppers, squash, beans and others. Trade between these zones of the north and south, were controlled by semi-divine state rulers. In the Yucatan of Central and South America the Mayan people blossomed from 200-900 B.C.E. By the time The Spanish came in the 1520’s the Yucatan rule was diminishing. The markets had about 40-50 thousand merchants and from what the Spanish were stating, these markets were under strict government control. A big trade group, spreading across the Americas, was called The Pochteca. They were long distance traders who traveled in packs, had their own settlement, with government, temples, schools and courts, and also had the protection of royal guards. Their main god was Yicatecutli. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
In The Sub-Saharan Africa came the first introduction of the camel. The first time period, seen by written records, was the arrival of The Islam’s in the 8th century. Three empires were ruling at this time, Ghana, about 700 to around 1100; Mali, about 1100 to around 1400; and Songhay, about 1300-1600. All three kept trade routes open, which in turn gave them more power. “Gold, slaves, cloth, ivory, ebony, pepper, and kola nuts moved north across the Sahara; salt, dates, horses, brass, copper, glassware, beads, leather, textiles, clothing, and foodstuffs moved south.” (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12, p.379) In East Africa trade went through the Indian Ocean through voyages of The Arabs. The first major port was Manda, but had been succeeded by Kilwa in the 13th century. They traded gold, ivory, horns, skins, tortoiseshell, and slaves for spices, pottery, glass beads, and cloth from India. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
The Indian Ocean four of Abu-Lughod’s routes included Indian Ocean ports. Janet Abu-Lughod was a historical sociologist, who had similar arguments to Curtins, and had eight interlocking trade circuits connecting the commerce of the eastern hemisphere. The four routes linked eastern, southern, and western Asian and Africa. Rome also conquered these waters, but it wasn’t solely Roman waters. Catholics and Jews lived along the coast of The Indian Ocean. “During the period of Tang- Abbasid control over the silk route, Jews had again emerged as a preeminent trading community of the disapora.” (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12, p.382) Jews had communities in parts of India and China, and Cairo, which was one of the biggest trade centers in the world. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
Muslim trade also was a big part of The Indian Ocean. Muhammad himself was a trader as well as a caravan driver. “The Hajj (pilgrimage), encouraged for every Muslim at least during his or her lifetime, demanded international travel; trade connections flourished with it.” (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12, p.383)
After the 19th century The Asian silk route had declined tremendously. When The Mongol Empire came to power, the silk route was reborn. The Mongols divided themselves in several tribes led by a khan. For battles they were perfectionists on horsebacks, using bows and arrows. One of the most powerful leaders and men in all of history, Temujin, known as Genghis Khan, was born in 1162. Three generations before Genghis Khan was born, his ancestor Kabul Khan briefly reunited The Mongols, and this became Genghis’ mission. One by one he conquered tribes and reunited them at Karakorum, his capital. In 1206, all of the chiefs appointed him Genghis Khan (“Universal Ruler”). He mastered the mangonel and trebuchet, which catapulted giant rocks. He eventually conquered all of China, establishing The Mongol Empire again. When he died in 1227, his four sons continued to fight the battle the same way Genghis did. After the last successor to the title “Great Khan” died, they were eventually defeated and the dynasty divided permanently into four sections. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
This time period, with trading and building that was all on people’s minds, plagues and diseases also hit. As new land and new trade routes were being discovered, plagues that the immune system could not fight were also being discovered. One of the most devastating plagues to hit at this time was the Bubonic Plague. Historians believed that the Mongols trade route movement brought the bacillus Pasteurella pestis to the rodents for the first time. “Yersinia pestis is a species of rod-shaped bacterium, belonging to the family Enterobacteriaceae. It is the infectious agent of bubonic plague, and can also cause pneumonic plague and septicemic plague.”( In 1331 the infection entered China and began to spread, killing enormous amounts of people. This plague wiped out half of China since the Mongols passed through, and because this plague was so horrific, Mongol power weakened as a result of this. Europeans had no immunity toward new diseases, thus wiping out 1/3 of the population that swept across the continent. (The Worlds History, Spodek, 2001, Ch. 12)
When you talk trade, and the foundations of powerful dynasties, you think China. When Marco Polo finally arrived in China in 1275, he described the ruler, Kublai Khan as the mightiest man. China was so advanced with riches, elements, and respect from underlings, that any of these could describe the comments Marco Polo had for Kublai Khan. Still, silk, porcelain, and tea, Chinas greatest products, attracted merchants from all around the world looking to trade.