How Ancient Trade Changed the World Research Paper


Today's world system is based on the early ideas of the six ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia, Indus River, Mesoamerica, Incas, Egypt, and China. These civilizations gave birth to many of the trade and commerce concepts that are still evident in today's modern world. Trading was a key element of their economy. In Asia, the silk road was an important trade route that connected the early civilizations to the Europeans. However, in 1453, the Ottoman empire took hold of all the trade routes and shut them down, stopping the commercialization of Asian spices, silk, and ceramics. Ottoman's regulation of trade routes was one of the reasons that prompted the Age of explorations that would allow the European powers to establish their own unregulated trade routes. This was, however, not the only reason that fueled this Era of exploration and expansion. European Monarchy powers also sort to increase their wealth, spread Christianity, and establish new colonies. This essay will thus explore how the Era of exploration resulted in the expansion of European power and wealth as well comparisons of the key commodities sugar and silver that arises from the expansion and the ramifications that resulted from their expeditions. 

The first countries that embarked on the expeditions were Spain and Portugal, and other countries such as England and France followed. The particular reason for their exploration was that they wanted to gain access to Asian spices by sea, as this was the easiest and fastest way since the Ottoman Turks had blocked the land routes and increased the prices of Asian spices. In Spain, Christopher Columbus had read Marco Polo's work and was motivated to conquer these exotic lands. This thus marked the beginning of the Era of exploration. 

The conquering of lands or rather the 'Scramble of the Americas' resulted in the exploitation of natural resources. Unlike the European countries, the New Worlds contained resources that proved to be beneficial to the civilized European societies. The Mountain of Potosi in America played a huge role in expanding the wealth of the Spanish Crown. This mountain produced silver that could be used to manufacture coins which the Spanish found beneficial as it provided them with money to finance the many wars that they engaged in. Not only did they extract silver from the mountains they also regulated the production of goods in the Americas. Using the Galleon system, the Spanish Crown produced goods in Spain and shipped them to the conquered countries, and in return, the Spanish would tax the miners and receive silver which would be transported back to Spain. Through Spain's expeditions, "pieces de Ocho," the first universal coin was invented, and it served the function of connecting and uniting the world through commerce. This actively shows that silver became the key to a new globalized economy that will transform the lives of people and the world economic system. 

Immanuel Wallerstein, an American sociologist and historical-social scientist, argues in his book World Systems. That there are only two kinds of world-systems ever since the beginning of civilization:the world-empires such as the Roman Empire and world economies. The difference between the two was that world-empires such as the Roman Empire, Aztecs, and Han China had one common political structure: a monarchy. Within this political structure, they had their own economic practices. It is evident in Coe's Chocolate book that the Aztecs were a large bureaucratic empire that had inhabited large lands, and they had their own agricultural, trade system, writing language, religion, and currency. Chocolate was one of the important commodities that they relied on. It was used to make luxurious- intoxicating drinks for the nobility, and at the same time, Chocolate beans were used as a currency for trading.

On the other hand, the world system includes multiple political structures and multiple economies that co-exist between world nations. This system came to light after the Spanish had connected global economies with the first universal coin. One similarity that stands out is that the world empire's practices influenced many of the modern economic concepts, such as the idea of currency as a valuable medium that can be used for trading purposes. 

The emergence of silver not only brought great breakthroughs for the European but it also increased the rate of human exploitation through forced labor. Countries such as China greatly depended on silver to sustain their country's economy. Without silver, their economy would collapse, and thus they needed the Spanish Crown to continuously supply them with silver. This increasing demand for silver encouraged human exploitation through the slave trade. African slaves were captured and sent to the mines to labor as well as Native Americans were also forced to work and produce silver from the mines. Due to the Spanish Crown's ability to produce large quantities of silver, they created the first wave of globalization which was known as the Atlantic trade world. The Atlantic world connected the global world economy and made the trading of goods and ideas easier. Additionally, the Atlantic world made it easier for the European powers to enslave and traffic Africans to work on their established colonies. 

Another commodity that also engaged in human exploitation was sugar. The French, British, Spanish, and Portuguese owned sugar plantations in various parts of the world. Like silver, sugar was a key commodity that also resulted in changes in the global economy. Similar to silver, sugar was also seen as a means of increasing power in terms of controlling the production and distribution of commerce. To achieve this goal, laborers were needed to work in these sugar plantations, which resulted in the illegal human trafficking that enslaved many Africans and Native Americans. The most infamous richest British Sugar Dynasty is that of the Beckford family. Slavery was the driving force of the cultivation and production of sugar that was exported to Europe. Although slaves played a crucial role in producing this commodity, they were not treated as humans. Slaves were not allowed to have children as it caused the planters losses, and it was less expensive to buy new slaves rather than raise a slave's child. According to the Sugar Dynasty documentary, slaves were viewed as mere objects meant to harvest and process sugarcane. They lived and worked in poor conditions where they were not provided with food, and they were beaten if they tried to escape.

Similarly, the "Black Count" story also gives us a snapshot of the treatment of enslaved individuals in the Saint- Domingue French Sugar colony. "Thousands of blacks were bought and sold to harvest sugar, and age-old negative stereotypes about them began to coalesce into a virulent new strain of racism. In European eyes, blacks now came to be considered uniquely destined for slavery, created by their white master's God for a life of permanent chattel servitude".  In both instances, the slaves in Charles Sugar Plantation were treated like the slaves in Beckford's plantation regarded as individuals whose sole purpose was to produce profits for the European powers.  

In conclusion, the Era of expansion transformed the world economically. It connected Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas in a globalized economy, where the transfer and selling of goods were made easier through land and sea routes. Additionally, the Era of expansion also resulted in harsh aftermath that is still evident in Modern Society. The demand for forced labor brought and encouraged the exploitation of Natives and African individuals. They stripped individuals of their origins and dehumanized them in search to fulfill their motives of wealth and power. They viewed this Era as a win-win situation, where European powers gained profits from conquering exotic, extracting silver mines, and the production of sugar from sugar cane plantations. Furthermore, they believed that they had civilized the enslaved by providing them with religion, manufactured goods. Although slavery was abolished in the late 1700s to 1800s, the aftermath of enslavement continues in the twenty-first century. Many individuals of African descent and other enslaved individuals are continuously undergoing institutional and systemic racism based on the created stereotypes and dehumanization that occurred during the Era of exploration.

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