restricted access Chapter 11. Commercial Networks and Trade Costs
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11 COMMERCIAL NETWORKS AND TRADE COSTS After the annexation of Egypt in 30 b.c.e. Berenike became an important player in a series of interconnected local, regional, and wider-ranging trade and communication systems within and beyond the Roman Empire. A brief examination of important routes in the Mediterranean world and a lengthier discussion of the Red Sea–Indian Ocean network permit a better understanding of how Berenike fit into this European-African-Asian trading system. There were two major trade and communication webs in the Roman world; portions of these were not mutually exclusive, but rather extensions of one another. First, there were the land and water networks that linked the Roman Empire internally.1 The second main category comprised avenues that continued beyond the Roman Empire as extensions of internal lines of communication and commerce. There were five important routes. These were the “Amber,” “Salt/Slave,” “Trans-Arabian Incense,” “Silk,” and “Maritime Spice” Routes (figure 11-1), examined briefly in chapter 1. The Amber Route linked the Baltic and Scandinavia with the northern Adriatic port of Aquileia; along it amber and other commodities passed to the Mediterranean world. The Salt/Slave Route thrust into sub-Saharan Africa via ports on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, like Carthage; along it flowed commodities, salt and slaves being among the more important. The TransArabian Incense Route ran parallel to the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula, binding southern Arabia to ports on the southeastern Mediterranean seaboard and Persian Gulf; this carried primarily incense. The “Silk Road” stretched from the Mediterranean basin overland into central Asia and the Far East. The Silk Road crossed the greatest 206 Sidebotham, Berenike 11/18/10 10:25 AM Page 206 figure 11-1 Map of the Amber Route, the Silk Road, the Salt-Slave Route, the Trans-Arabian Incense Route, and the Maritime Spice Route. Drawing by M. Hense. Sidebotham, Berenike 11/18/10 10:25 AM Page 207 distance of any terrestrial routes and was of great antiquity. The Maritime Spice Route,2 of which Berenike was a part, was primarily by sea to the southeast and east into the Indian Ocean and, ultimately, to points beyond. THE ROMAN EMPIRE’S INTERNAL ROUTES Some of Rome’s internal routes were long-lived and heavily used, especially on the Mediterranean littoral. Of particular importance were those carrying large volumes of basic necessities from primary production and distribution points to major nodes of consumption—necessities including grain shipped from Egypt, Sicily, and North Africa to feed not only Rome and later Constantinople,3 but other urban centers as well. Most Roman trade routes, whether water or land, were local or regional and, therefore , carried collectively the most merchandise over a prolonged period. Local and regional routes were most influenced by immediate prevailing needs and conditions and were, thus, frequently more subject to waxing and waning than water routes leading to major emporia, which required imports on a constant basis.4 The creation, alteration, rise, decline , and demise of shorter routes depended upon supply and demand and, for agricultural and some manufactured products, on the climate and political and concomitant economic situations that promoted or retarded their use. Sometimes political and economic situations favoring or impeding trade affected the entire empire, or most of it, such as the prosperity of the first and most of the second centuries c.e. and the general political, military, and economic turmoil that slowed commercial activities throughout much of the third century c.e.—except, for example, in pockets of Britain and North Africa, which experienced relative economic well-being at that time.5 Usually local or regional climatic, economic, and political conditions made a more immediate and profound impact on the degree of prosperity or malaise of a particular region. Major cities were the largest and most important commercial points. First-tier metropoleis included Rome (through Puteoli, and later Ostia and Portus), Carthage, Alexandria , Constantinople, and Antioch (through Seleucia Pieria). The city of Rome in the early second century c.e. had a population estimated to be one million; the other four metropolitan centers had maximum populations of several hundred thousand, perhaps up to a quarter of a million to half a million.6 Much bulk trade conducted to and from these urban centers was either within close proximity by land or over some greater distance by sea—in the case of Alexandria, also via the Nile; weather conditions and seasons dictated sailing schedules. Vegetius (Epitoma rei militaris...