Most profitable trade goods in the Ancient Mediterannean?

Apr 2019
109
Ireland
#1
What were the most profitable trade goods in the Ancient Mediterannean?

Which Cities or political entities excelled in the production/carrying of goods?
 
Mar 2018
748
UK
#2
One of a hell question! Or rather, questions.

The Phoenicians and then their daughter Carthage were the most famous merchant states, and probably the most successful. Latter on, Alexandria became indisputably the most famous trading port in the entire sea, As for what was traded, just about everything! Agricultural produce like grain, olive oil and wine; raw materials like copper, iron and timber; manufactured goods like pottery. bricks and nails; and luxury goods like ivory, turtle shells, dyes and spices.

Which places produced what will vary immensely in time. What kind of time frame are you talking about? There's a big difference between early Dynastic Egypt (~3000BC) to the end of the Roman empire (500AD) and it all counts as ancient Mediterranean. It's also worth noting that Mediterranean trade was not limited to that sea. It appears to have had links to the Atlantic as far up as Britain since the Bronze age at least. The Egyptians traded in the Red Sea very early on, and the Black sea was crucial for grain shipments to Athens. Even the Indian ocean were part of this trading network from Ptolemaic Egypt onward.

If you want the most profitable good as in the biggest income a merchant could make from filling a ship with it, then it will almost certainly be spices from the Horn of Africa or India. Cinamon comes to mind, it was recorded during the reign of Augustus that a kg of the stuff was worth the equivalent of 6 months wages for an average labourer. Another strong candidate would be the sea snail shells that produced the Tyrian Purple dye. I don't know how much that was worth however, and I suspect it was too rare for a merchant to specialise in just that.
 
Jan 2016
1,151
Collapsed wave
#3
Well, one of the very profitable goods was actually salt. A prehistoric town with considerable amount of gold artifacts is being studied at Varna, it looks like the people mining the salt accumulated quite a bit of gold.

The prehistoric salt-production and urban center of Provadia-Solnit...

Even in roman times salt was quite valuable. People were paid in salt, the word salary comes from that.
 
Likes: Gisco
Apr 2019
109
Ireland
#4
Even in roman times salt was quite valuable. People were paid in salt, the word salary comes from that.
That's interesting about the word salary deriving from salt. There were salt resources close to Rome on the Tiber, I guess this was a one of the factors of it's situation nearby. There was also salt close to Halstatt.
 
Apr 2019
109
Ireland
#5
Cinamon comes to mind, it was recorded during the reign of Augustus that a kg of the stuff was worth the equivalent of 6 months wages for an average labourer. Another strong candidate would be the sea snail shells that produced the Tyrian Purple dye. I don't know how much that was worth however, and I suspect it was too rare for a merchant to specialise in just that.
Wow, yes cinnamon would seem to be quite profitable from what you say here.
The Tyrian dye was obviously quite famous. Was there also some kind of fish paste, garum (not sure if this is correct)?
Also slaves were also traded widely, Delos was a centre for this trade at one time, I'm sure other centres flourished with this trade at times.
Also Amber coming from the north to the Mediterranean.
 
Apr 2019
109
Ireland
#6
Which places produced what will vary immensely in time. What kind of time frame are you talking about? There's a big difference between early Dynastic Egypt (~3000BC) to the end of the Roman empire (500AD) and it all counts as ancient Mediterranean.
Yes this whole time frame can be covered, we can even go back further in time to the Neolithic.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,820
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#7
The question would require a well wide and rich discussion ... just a brief summary:

If we think to goods which have kept their importance through history ... salt and timber come to mind [timber was the object of intense trades, overall towards areas with great populations, but without great forests: for example Ancient Egypt imported a lot of timber]. But we shouldn't forget wine ... The Mediterranean region sees not a few areas of production of good wine and it was [and it is] a very appreciated good.

An other really profitable good was ... stone. Overall marble and granite.

Then we can consider how goods changed their importance after the end of the Bronze Age [copper and tin saw their importance diminishing while iron minerals gained a lot of kudos].

An other variable factor was the presence of great cities. When Rome became a megalopolis [for its age, Imperial Rome was incredibly huge with a population estimated between 700,000 and 1,000,000] it was the pivot of the commerce in the Mediterranean Sea. Rome was a giant market for who sold food, jewels, cloths and furnitures. Also ships were very profitable goods: in the port of Rome [Ostia] there were real advertising mosaics where builders of ships of other cities underlined the quality of their production. Overall the rebuilt Carthage produced nice ships and they advertised them in the port of Rome. But the greatest naval production [as for quantity] was in the East.

A very important metal in that age was the zinc: they used it to produce the brass.

Romans imported also a lot of perfumes.

An other very precious "good" was the horse. And of course, the Mediterranean cities exported fish.

Among the goods you can put also glass: Romans produced a high quality glass [for that historical time].
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,644
Portugal
#8
If I recall correctly Egyptian scarab beetles and other kind of Egyptian jewellery were found in several corners of the Mediterranean Sea. This can lead us to think that they were luxury products with a high demand and his user used it as a symbol of status.
 
Apr 2019
109
Ireland
#10
What about weapons? Is there any evidence of mass production of weapons (in the Roman Empire or earlier), or was this mainly a cottage industry - made by local smiths? What about the famed Spanish sword (Spanish steel)?
 

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