Chapter 6

The Commerce of the Ancients

September 27, 2021

Semiramis had immense treasures which could not be acquired in a day. It means that the Assyrians had pillaged other rich nations, as other nations afterwards pillaged them.

  • The effect of commerce is riches.
  • The effect of riches is luxury
  • The effect of luxury is the perfection of arts

The arts were carried to great perfection in Semiramis’ time. This shows that a considerable commerce was then established.

In the empires of Asia, there was a great commerce of luxury. The luxury of the Persians was that of the Medes, as the luxury of the Medes was that of the Assyrians.

Great revolutions have happened in Asia.

  • The northeast parts of Persia are Hyrcania, Margiana, Bactria, etc. These were formerly full of flourishing cities which are now no more.
  • The north was the isthmus which separates the Caspian and the Euxine seas. It was covered with cities and nations, which are now destroyed.

Eratosthenes and Aristobulus learned from Patroclus that Indian goods passed by the Oxus into the sea of Pontus.

Marcus Varro tells us, that the time when Pompey commanded against Mithridates, they were informed, that it took 7 days to travel:

  • from India to Bactria, and
  • from Bactria to the river Icarus, which falls into the Oxus.

By this method, they were able to bring Indian goods across the Caspian sea and to enter the mouth of Cyrus; from whence it was only five days passage to the Phasis, a river that discharges itself into the Euxine sea.

The great empires of the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, had a communication, with the most distant parts of the east and west through the nations in these several countries.

An entire stop is now put to this communication.

The Mongols laid waste all these countries and are still there. The Oxus no longer runs into the Caspian sea because the Mongols changed its course, and it now loses itself in the barren sands.

The Jaxartes was formerly a barrier between the polite and barbarous nations. It had its course turned by the Mongols in the same way. It no longer empties itself into the sea. I think the Aral sea was formed from this.

Seleucus Nicator joined the Euxine to the Caspian sea. His project could have greatly facilitated the commerce of those days. But it vanished after he was killed by Ptolemy Ceraunus. We are unsure if it could have been executed in the isthmus which separates the two seas.

This country is at present very little known. It is depopulated, and full of forests. However, water is not lacking, for an infinite number of rivers roll into it from mount Caucasus. But this mountain forms the north of the isthmus and extends like two arms towards the south. It would have been a grand obstacle to such an enterprise, especially back then when they had not the art of making sluices.

Seleucus would have joined the two seas in the very place where Peter 1st has since joined them, that is, in that neck of land where the Tanais approaches the Volga; but the north of the Caspian sea was not then discovered.

While the empires of Asia enjoyed the commerce of luxury, the Tyrians had the commerce of œconomy, which they extended throughout the world. Bochard has employed the first book of his Canaan, in enumerating the colonies which they sent into all the countries bordering upon the sea= they passed the Pillars of Hercules, and made establishments on the coast of the ocean.

They founded Tartessus, and made a settlement at Cadiz.

In those times their pilots were obliged to follow the coasts, which were, if I may so express myself, their compass. Voyages were long and painful. The laborious voyage of Ulysses has been the fruitful subject of the finest poem in the world, next to that which alone has the preference.

The little knowledge, which the greatest part of the world had of those who were far distant from them, favoured the nations engaged in the œconomical commerce. They managed trade with as much obscurity as they pleased= they had all the advantages which the most intelligent nations could take over the most ignorant.

Because of their religion and manners, the Egyptians were averse to all communication with foreigners. Thus they had little foreign trade. They enjoyed a fruitful soil, and great plenty. Their country was the Japan of those times – it possessed everything within itself.

So little jealous were The Egyptians of commerce, that they left that of the Red Sea to all the petty nations that had any harbours in it. They allowed the Idumeans, Syrians, and Jews to have fleets. Solomon employed in this navigation the Tyrians, who knew those seas.

Josephus says that the Jews were entirely employed in agriculture and knew little of navigation. The Jews therefore traded only occasionally in the Red Sea. They took from the Idumeans, Eloth and Eziongeber, from whom they received this commerce. They lost these two cities, and with them lost this commerce.

The Phœnicians excelled in commerce which was not a commerce of luxury nor conquest. Their frugality, abilities, industry, perils, and hardships rendered them necessary to all nations.

Before Alexander, the people around the Red Sea traded only in this sea, and in that of Africa.

Alexander discovered the Indian Sea which astonished the globe. It is proof that bullion was always carried to India and never sent from India.

The Jewish fleets brought gold and silver through the Red Sea, returned from Africa, and not from India.

Besides, this navigation was made on the eastern coast of Africa; for the state of navigation at that time is a convincing proof, that they did not sail to a very distant shore.

The fleet of Solomon and Jehosaphat returned only every three years. This long period is not a proof of the distance travelled.

Pliny and Strabo inform us that the ships of India and the Red Sea took 20 days to travel the same distance which a Greek or Roman ships could do in 7 days. Therefore, the 1-year voyage of a Greek or Roman fleet would take very nearly three years when done by Jewish.

Two ships of unequal swiftness do not perform their voyage in a time proportionate to their swiftness. Slowness is frequently the cause of much greater slowness. When it becomes necessary to follow the coasts, and to be incessantly in a different position, when they must wait for a fair wind to get out of a gulph, and for another to proceed.

A good sailor takes the advantage of every favourable moment, while the other still continues in a difficult situation, and waits many days for another change.

This slowness of the Indian ships, which is 1/3 the speed of the Greek and Roman ones, may be explained by what we every day see in our modern navigation.

The Indian ships were built with a kind of sea-rushes. They drew less water than those of Greece and Rome, which were of wood and joined with iron.

We may compare these Indian ships to those at presently used in shallow ports such as those of:

  • Venice
  • all of Italy in general
  • the Baltic
  • Holland

Their ships are able to go in and out of port, and are built round and broad at the bottom. These can hardly sail, except when the wind be nearly in the poop. This draws little water and loses steady support. ; the wind drives the vessel, which is incapable of resistance, and can run then but with a small variation from the point opposite to the wind. From whence it follows, that broad-bottomed vessels are longer in performing voyages.

  1. They lose much time in waiting for the wind, especially if they are obliged frequently to change their course.
  2. They sail much slower, because, not having a proper support from a depth of water, they cannot carry so much sail.

Those of other nations, who have good harbours, are formed to sink deep into the water. This mechanism lets them sail much nearer to the wind. A ship that sinks deep into the water, sails towards the same side with almost every wind. This comes from the resistance which the vessel, whilst driven by the wind, meets with from the water, from which it receives a strong support; and from the length of the vessel, which presents its side to the wind, while from the form of the helm the prow is turned to the point proposed; so that she can sail very near to the wind, or, in other words, very near the point from whence the wind blows.

If this be the case at a time when the arts are every where known, at a time when art corrects the defects of nature, and even of art itself; if at this time, I say, we find this difference, how great must that have been, in the navigation of the antients?The Indian vessels were small, and those of the Greeks and Romans, if we except their machines built for ostentation, much less than ours.

The smaller the vessel, the more danger it encounters from foul weather. A tempest that would swallow up a small vessel, would only make a large one roll. The more one body is surpassed by another in bigness, the more its surface is relatively small.

Thus, in a small ship, there is a less proportion, that is, a greater difference, as to the surface of the vessel, and the weight or lading she can carry, than in a large one.

We know that it is a pretty general practice, to make the weight of the lading equal to that of half the water the vessel is able to contain. Suppose a vessel will contain 800 tons, her lading then must be 400 and that of a vessel, which would hold but 400 tons of water, would be 200 tons.

Thus, the largeness of the first ship will be to the weight she carries, as 8 to 4; and that of the second as 4 to 2.

Let us suppose then, that the surface of the greater is to the surface of the smaller, as 8 to 6= the surface of this will be to her weight as 6 to 2, while the surface of the former will be to her weight only, as 8 to 4.

Therefore, as the winds and waves act only upon the surface, the large vessel will, by her weight, resist their impetuosity much more than the small.


No comments yet. Post a comment in the form at the bottom.

All Superphysics principles in our books

The Simplified Series