As we all know, trade has been around for thousands of years. What you may not know is that from 10,000 to 5,000 B.C. cattle were the primary form of trade and currency because of their high value. They were able to procreate and eventually become useful as food and clothes. Translation services for trade came into existence as different areas starting trading together.
People started trading shells and precious materials around 1,200 B.C. During this era, cowrie shells created a reliable form of payment because they were robust, portable, and challenging to fabricate or duplicate.
At different eras and in different ways, precious metals including copper, bronze, gold, and silver were also used as money.
Markets served as gathering spaces for social, religious, and extended families.
It is thought that the first coins, like the type of money we use today, were created in Sardis, Ancient Lydia (now Turkiye) during 1,000 to 500 B.C.
Sardis served as a key crossroads for the exchange of ideas and commerce between Mesopotamia and the Greek Ionian colonies at the period. The Lydians were the first men who we are aware of to use and coin gold and silver money, and they were also the first to sell in markets. Their coins bore the likenesses of gods and emperors and were made from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver.
Markets evolved into straightforward local exchanges. As the distances grew, the first actual trading routes began to emerge. Below are a few of the first trade routes that were developed organically and intentionally as trade grew.
From around 1800 BC, navigators began to travel along the coasts between the Indian subcontinent, where spices such as black pepper and cinnamon are found, and the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, where a tree that produces incense grows.
The Incense Route is one of the earliest recognized routes. The Arabian Peninsula and its surrounding region are included in the Incense Routes. The sea incense routes had their ports at the southernmost points of the peninsula. From there, traders transported goods out of the Gulf of Aden to the West (India and China). Goods were also transported through the Red Sea to the Northern areas such as Egypt Sinai Peninsula, and the area that is now Jordan.
Along with myrrh and frankincense, numerous other sorts of items were also transported, including gold, animal skins, fabrics, silk, pearls, and feathers. Systems of thought, innovations in technology, cultural practices, languages, and diseases traveled with them.
The land incense routes transported these goods from the south in Arabia Felix (now South Arabia and Yemen) to the north region, where it connected with the silk route.
Arabic is one of the first languages that was used while trading and transporting goods took place on the Incense Route.
Source: Study Smarter. Map of the Arabian Peninsula Incense Routes. Green = Sea Route, Blue = Caravan Routes, Pink = Silk Roads
Merchant ships connected Alexandria, which Alexander the Great constructed during his conquests, to the rest of the Mediterranean basin.
Alexandria subsequently developed as a significant depot for trade between Europe and India.
Jade was found in East Turkestan, also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. This precious stone was perceived as a sign of power and wealth and was much sought after in China.
Nomads then engaged in trading jade with the Chinese, notably exchanging it for tea, a drink much appreciated in arid environments. But further north, a confederation of nomadic tribes spread, and threatened China.
The Achaemenid Empire was founded in the sixth century BC by the Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great, who marched over the Middle East and beyond, capturing territory in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Cyrus boldly proclaimed himself “King of the Four Corners of the World” and for good reason—despite him being unaware of the fact that he was connecting three continents. The world had never seen an empire as enormous as his.
The Americas were unknown to Cyrus the Great, who also could not have predicted that the tiny European states of Britain, Spain, and France would want to overthrow his position as ruler of the entire world. The Internet was not foreseen by any prophet living under Cyrus the Great.
However, Cyrus the Great was involved in a significant development in world history, a story that is so intricately entwined with reality that it even dares to be mistaken for world history itself. Unintentionally, Cyrus the Great globalized the world.
Through conquest and trade, he pulled it together, closer, and made it smaller (figuratively speaking). Every period of human history has seen globalization, expanding connections between various parts of the world.
As the various lands were brought under the Achaemenid Empire, trade routes and commerce increased along with interaction of different peoples, cultures, religions, and languages.
In 139 BC, the Chinese emperor sent Zhang Qian as an ambassador to the unknown lands in the West to propose an alliance to the Yuezhi against the Xiongnu.
But Zhang Qian was captured by the Xiongnu, and was held prisoner for 13 years.
On his return to China, he reported to the emperor all he had learned regarding the various peoples of Central Asia and their products.
He mentioned in particular a majestic race of horses unknown in China.
In order to obtain some of these horses, the emperor agreed for the first time to trade silk, which was forbidden to be exported until then.
This was the opening of the Silk Road, which gradually extended to the Middle East.
As you can see in the above graphic, traders from quite a few different cultures and languages would have interacted with each other on a regular basis. While the concept of nation states as they are today is very new, the languages spoken in these areas are quite ancient.
Below are select areas from the map and the languages that would have interacted with each other on the various trade routes.
- Athens (Greek)
- Samarkand (Uzbek)
- Isfahan/Siraf (Farsi/Persian)
- Mongols (Mongolian)
- Prague (Czech)
- Karakorum (Mongolian)
- Barcelona/Cordoba (Spanish)
- Crimea (Russian/Ukrainian)
- Konya/Aleppo (Turkish)
- Baghdad/Jeddah/Medina (Arabic)
- Calcut/Goa/Delhi/Karachi (Hindi)
- Kiev (Russian/Ukrainian)
- Alexandria (Arabic)
- Paris (French)
- Rome/Venice (Italian)
- San’a (Arabic)
As you can imagine, Hindi speaking traders would not know Uzbek. Turkish traders would not know Chinese. Russian traders would not know Spanish. And Arabic traders would not know Italian. So forth and so forth.
These early trading routes are probably where the need for translation services was first realized. And as a result, towns along these trading routes is probably where the profession of business translators and interpreters first came into being.
Over time these trading routes expanded and grew to include more countries, cultures, religions, and languages.
Egypt was absorbed by the Roman Republic, which was in the process of becoming an empire, in the West after the death of Cleopatra. Rome was now able to boost its imports of wheat from Egypt, but it still craved items from the Arabian Peninsula, particularly incense, which was used in religious rituals and as medicine. But there were many intermediaries, and the instability in the region was quite great.
The Romans traveled up the Nile to avoid the Arabian Peninsula and encountered merchants who had perfected high seas navigational techniques in the Kingdom of Aksum.
Then, far from the beaches, the Romans opened a fresh route to India. Among the items they imported were diamonds, perfume, and saffron. The quick development of the new trade route marked the beginning of the downfall of Arabian Peninsula cities.
Needless to say, a lot of people, besides translators, simply just learned new languages. Government jobs paid more money if you knew multiple languages.
That happens to be still the case even today. For example, in Florida and Texas you can demand a higher salary as a government employee if you fluently speak Spanish.
As a result, a lot of government bureaucrats view the ability to speak multiple languages as a means to earn higher salaries.
The Parthians, who bought silk from China, soon came in contact with the Romans. The Silk Road was then expanded by the Romans throughout their empire.
Although trade continued, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians as rulers in 224. Later, the Roman Empire relocated its capital to Constantinople, which developed into the new East–West economic hub.
The Byzantine and Sassanian empires were threatened by Muslim conquests starting around 630. The Arabs shut off travel between India and Constantinople by conquering Alexandria. As a result of their eastward expansion, they were at odds with China, who were seeking to annex Central Asia.
There were and still are dozens of languages spoken in Central Asia, such as Turkish, Mongolian, Chinese, Uzbek, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tatar to name just a few. Can you imagine the dire need to speak multiple languages in this region? Now imagine trading goods and services in this region if you cannot communicate fluently?
Source: unesco.org – Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi in Kazakhstan
The two empires (China and Islamic Caliphates) clashed in Talas in 751. The war shifted in favor of the Arabs as they captured Chinese prisoners and learned the techniques for making paper and silk from them.
The concept of globalization is not new. Just the ways and means are more modern for each era.
Consequently, some historians separated globalization into three separate phases. However, you may have predicted accurately that conquests and commerce made up a big portion of globalization.
I want to make a mention here about how globalization played a part in spreading religion in Southeast Asia, especially in the 13th century.
Indonesia, a nation of thousands of islands surrounded by water, did not have the greatest ground for farming and its people mostly relied on sea trade. They perceived constant threats from the Hindu empires that had flourished in Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand thanks to their extensive river plains that were excellent for the cultivation of rice.
“The people in Indonesia no longer wanted to pay tribute to Hindu and Buddhist rulers from the mainland. And so they looked for political allies in the Middle East and Africa,” says Dr. Kersten, who teaches at Kings College London and authored ‘A history of Islam in Indonesia’.
Islam spread in Indonesia due in large part to trade networks.
For instance, a sizable Hadrami Arab population from Yemen resides in Indonesia, thanks to the various trade routes such as Incense Route and Silk Road.
It is also acknowledged by most historians that Muslims controlled the world’s sea lanes after conquering Constantinople in the middle of the 15th century, and many Indonesian rajas considered becoming Muslims as a sign of pride and an opportunity to join this trade network.
In our current era, global corporations, the Internet, and capitalism now characterize globalization. Prior to the contemporary era, globalization was characterized, among other things, by trade, exploratory travel, urbanization, missionary work, and technological advancement.
Although it is practically impossible to separate each significant event in a globalization chronology into its own time period, some historians have tried and broken it down to various periods listed below.
Archaic Globalization describes the oldest attempts at globalization and spans from Classical Antiquity to the Medieval Era (a total length of 2500 years from around 1000 BC to 1450 CE). The supercontinent known as Afro-Eurasia, which is made up of the continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa, was the location of practically all of the archaic globalization.
Humanity started to settle down and practice agriculture after tens of thousands of years of nomadic homo sapiens wandering across the globe and even crossing enormous bodies of water to colonize places like Australia and beyond.
China abandoned land routes after its defeat by the Islamic caliphates and concentrated on marine routes, which were safer and involved fewer middlemen. They then welcomed foreign trade at their ports.
The Arabs quickly used this opportunity and placed themselves at the hub of a huge business network and started producing a variety of goods, including rugs, cobalt blue, and started breeding horses.
China also produced its own porcelain for domestic use. In addition to spices, they purchased precious stones from Southeast Asia and India. Gold, slaves, and ivory trade was increasing in Africa.
Finally, the Khazars and the Byzantine Empire provided them with European goods like furs, honey, wood, and slaves in the north.
Arab cities were at the center of this vast network and were expanding at a rapid rate. The nomadic Turkic tribes of Central Asia posed a threat to the Arab caliphates. The Seljuk Turks (also Muslim) took control of Jerusalem in 1076.
Pope Urban II reacted to this by launching a crusade to Jerusalem. As a result, the Italian republics that had mastered navigation saw a commercial opportunity.
When they seized cities in the Near East, they were given trade privileges and offered to serve the local Christians there. The Fourth Crusade was redirected in 1204 by the Republic of Venice towards Constantinople, which was then besieged and pillaged.
The main thing to remember is that behind these political happenings such as being victorious in a war / losing a war, multiple crusades waged by Christians against the Muslims, abandoning routes, or creating new routes etc ended up dramatically impacting trade.
As a result, some people lost opportunities, but others ended up gaining new opportunities. So trade never really stopped. Instead it just evolved to address new realities on the ground.
Do you recall Cyrus the Great, the Achaemenid Empire’s ruler mentioned above? His realm was situated in Persia, close above the Arabian Peninsula, at the center of Afro-Eurasia. His dominion evolved out of ancient Mesopotamia, one of the world’s first and most important agricultural hubs. In an effort to grow their empire, Cyrus and his successors brutally clashed with the Greeks.
Imperial expansionism has been a historical pattern for a very long time. And it hasn’t ever stopped. Classical Antiquity is rife with potential warlords and developing empires, from Ancient Babylon to the Assyrians, Persia and the Greeks, to Alexander the Great and Rome, and the Han Dynasty of China.
As a result, the world became more connected. The Roman Empire was conducting business with East Asia through the Silk Road. Diverse peoples were learning about one another from the Atlantic to the Pacific, exchanging political opinions and engaging in trade.
As a result of the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the Mediterranean trade between East and West was taken over by the Italian republics. Many trading centers in northern Europe banded together in order to establish a commercial route between the Baltic and the North Sea where textile producers sprung up in Flanders and England.
It is a common misconception that after the fall of the Roman Empire, the world once more became divided, chilly, and less connected. This period is known as the “Dark Ages” (especially in a European context). This is not at all the case. New powers emerged immediately following the demise of the Classical Empires to usher in a new era of globalization.
The Islamic Caliphates of the Middle East were the main proponents of early medieval globalization. The Abbasid Caliphate established thriving educational institutions, worldwide colleges, and sizable libraries during the Islamic Golden Age, which lasted from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries.
This attracted intellectuals from around the world and preserved classical manuscripts. The trade networks across the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean kept thriving.
In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire rose to power in the later Middle Ages. These fearsome horse-riding conquistadors created the biggest land empire in recorded history, spanning from Eastern Europe to the coasts of China.
The Mongols revived the Silk Road, started a transcontinental postal service, promoted international trade, and helped spread Chinese technologies like gunpowder, the printing press, and navigational devices to Europe.
Unprecedented levels of global connectivity existed during the Mongol Empire’s rule, but they would not persist. Invading all of Eurasia in the 14th century, the Black Death killed hundreds of millions of people and once more isolated dissimilar peoples.
However, not even the horrific remembrance of the Black Death could stop people from extending their hands once more, ready to link up with Afro-Eurasia and go beyond the boundaries of the known globe.
Early Modern Globalization
In contrast to earlier times, globalization throughout the Early Modern Period (1450–1750) took place mostly on the sea. The Western European countries sought access to China and the Indian Ocean Trade due to economic reasons, without utilizing the Islamic powers as a middleman (figuratively and literally).
Italian adventurer and navigator Christopher Columbus came into the picture at this point.
Columbus sailed over the open sea in 1492 with financial support from the Spanish monarchy.
The Caribbean Islands of the Americas, which were two completely undiscovered continents to Afro-Eurasians, were discovered by the Italian adventurer Christopher Columbus rather than India, as Columbus himself believed.
The European maritime empires and intrepid navigators heralded the Age of Discovery, a time of exploration, expansion, and exploitation.
Constantinople was taken over by the Turks in 1453, which briefly disrupted the commerce lines connecting Asia and Europe. Portugal launched its first voyages in an effort to find new maritime trade routes by developing the caravel, a light ship capable of navigating the oceans.
As a result, the Portuguese set up trading outposts along the shores of Africa, taking over the trade in both slaves and gold.
Now, getting around Africa in order to reach the Indies is the goal. The Spanish crown too has its sights set on the Indies, but instead gambled on westward exploration and accidentally found America. When Portugal did arrive in the port of Calicut, it found a vast commercial network.
At this point, a Mamluk fleet was tasked with driving the new rivals away. However, the Portuguese triumphed, soon seized control of important crossing locations, and eventually monopolized trade in the Indian Ocean.
Portugal quickly amassed wealth at the expense of the nations who controlled the route through the Middle East by sending Asian goods directly and without middlemen to Europe via Africa. Spain and Portugal decided to draw the Tordesillas meridian in 1494 in order to prevent competition over the recently acquired regions.
The territories to the east could be claimed by Portugal and those to the west by Spain.
Following the discovery of the Americas, Western European countries expanded their colonial activities all over the world. Spices from Indonesia and textiles from Persia were among the commodities that poured to Europe as mercantilism powered the developing, interconnected world economy.
A global exchange of goods between the two divided supercontinents of the Americas and Afro-Eurasia was started by Columbus. Asia received crops from the Americas while the Americas received horses, sugar, and fatal diseases.
Native Americans were treated brutally by Europeans. Conquistadors like Francisco Pizarro and Hernan Cortez overthrew the Incan and Aztec Empires by using advanced technology, political subversion, and a disease-weakened South America.
The European maritime powers bought or stole enslaved Africans and utilized them as an expendable labor in the Americas in an effort to defeat their European rivals. Millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted during the Triangular Trade which also helped to prepare the European nations for future dominance in trade and invasion.
In America, the Spanish conquistadors discovered products unknown in the ancient world, such as tomatoes, tobacco, and potatoes. However, the discovery of chocolate initially piqued their curiosity in Europe. Due to the conquests, the commerce in cocoa grew along with imports of precious metals and pearls.
Spain continued to seek a western route to the Indies. After finally avoiding America, Ferdinand Magellan and his crew arrived in the Moluccas, where cloves and nutmeg are grown. However, the Portuguese were already in the area, and following conflicts, the two nations drew a new border.
The world had never been more globalized, and the European countries were poised to govern it (for better or worse). The world was about to undergo a transition unlike any other time in history as the 19th century began.
Egypt granted France permission to construct a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea in 1854. The Pharaohs had previously constructed such a canal, but it had vanished by the eighth century.
With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, it was now possible to travel from Europe to India via steamship in 60 days as opposed to six months via sailing ship via Africa.
The European superpowers did not, however, ignore the African continent. Following inland explorations, European nations gathered in Berlin to divide Africa and control colonization. Africa’s people are oppressed, and their resources are looted. Large gold and diamond reserves were found in the south.
Illegal ivory trade occurred throughout Central Africa. Huge plantations were also being built, particularly for rubber, which is needed for the production of boots and tires for the expanding auto sector.
Plantations could be seen growing tobacco, coffee, cocoa, and other goods for the European and American markets.
The UK produced a lot of textiles at competitive prices and was searching for new markets to sell its products in. At the same time, the country became the world’s top exporter of iron as iron and steel procedures were improved.
The first railroad line connected Manchester’s textile industry with the port of Liverpool, where shipments of raw cotton from the United States and India arrived. Iron and the steam engine changed transportation.
Steamships increasingly took the place of sailing ships on the seas. The United Kingdom established a strong colonial and economic network while expanding its naval dominance and annexing other areas.
19th Century Globalization
The European imperial powers continued to rule during the 1800s. Warlords from Europe, like Napoleon Bonaparte, ran expensive campaigns at the expense of other countries.
The British Empire, which held territories on six of the seven continents and was the largest empire in history (even larger than the Mongols’), used the labor of the people in China, India, and Africa to power its imperial machinery.
Though it was frequently governed by the European empire, the world was growing increasingly interconnected.
Thanks to improvements in transportation and communication technologies, Christianity, the English language, and British culture all spread to distant parts of the world. The British were able to do what Cyrus the Great had promised.
Global maps reached their peak accuracy during the 19th century and started to resemble modern maps the most. Although the majority of the world was explored, globalization did not stop at the national or imperial level.
The United States increased its influence throughout the Americas. They purchased the abandoned inter-oceanic canal building site from the French in 1904. The marine path between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans would be significantly shortened by the canal.
Ten years later, the Panama Canal was officially opened, with the US in charge of this new, significant route.
New oil-powered weaponry appeared on land, at sea, and in the air during World War I. As the war came to a conclusion, the demand for oil soared and the auto and aviation sectors grew.
Oil was mostly imported at that time from the Caspian Sea, Mexico, and the United States. However, significant amounts were quickly discovered in the Middle East and America, particularly after World War II. All trade increased as this critical resource becomes accessible and affordable.
20th Century Globalization
Two devastating World Wars at the start of the 20th century symbolize the interwoven nature of politics and the economy in the modern world. Every major power participated as German troops moved across Tunisia, France, and Russia as ships sent hundreds of thousands of American soldiers into Europe and the Pacific.
Due to the fact that almost everyone was connected to one another through a worldwide network of information and commerce, very few people were able to avoid the effects of these wars.
After World War II, the world’s population continued to grow and change at a rapid rate. The sudden rise of the Internet in the late 20th century, combined with developments in fields like transportation and commercial aviation, led to the world we live in today, where almost everyone has a cell phone and is globally connected.
An airline ticket and a phone call from Sweden to Japan are both just a click away. Humanity has never been more interconnected as we entered the twenty-first century.
The growth of aviation has made international air commerce possible. This marked the start of globalization, or the expansion of international trade as we know it today.
However, the Middle East and Africa are experiencing an increasingly uncertain scenario. The Six-Day War occurred in 1967. The Suez Canal was then shut down for eight years, requiring ships to avoid Africa as a result of Israel’s occupation of the Sinai up to its banks.
Two oil shocks also contributed to a sharp rise in oil prices in the 1970s. Countries that relied on this “black gold” but don’t produce it instead used other forms of energy, such as nuclear power.
The resource uranium has gained a lot of popularity. New resources are being exploited all throughout the world, with the majority coming from mines in Canada and the Congo.
Electronics and computer technologies, a relatively new but incredibly promising industry, saw a boom in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. The first personal computer released by Apple is a huge success.
Japan followed the United States swiftly, starting a period of brilliant technological advancement in its automotive and electronics sectors. Japan served as an inspiration for several Far Eastern nations that are experts in the export of electronic components.
While the majority of the resources are found in China, rare earths, metals required for the production of electronics, became a strategic raw material. The World Trade Organization welcomed China as a member in 2001.
Due to its accessible labor market, the nation attracted overseas businesses to open up shop there. Foreign investors were given benefits at the same time that export quotas are eliminated. American and European markets will soon be inundated with “Made in China” textiles. And a lot of businesses moved their factories to China.
The nation’s economy is undergoing phenomenal expansion, allowing for rapid development as it steadily transformed into the world’s factory. In order to safeguard its economy, China started building new silk roads in 2013.
The goal was to enhance exports of manufactured goods, steel, and aluminum while also ensuring a steady supply of raw materials.
China started investing very heavily in building roads, trains, and seaports around the world in an effort to connect to every continent.
New projects are being proposed, such as building an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua or constructing a railroad line that would run from China to the United States through a tunnel beneath the Bering Strait.
Despite opposition from some nations, China has already persuaded around 140 nations to host the new Silk Roads, which are expected to be completed in 2049, the year the People’s Republic of China celebrates its 100th anniversary.
With an estimated yearly turnover of up to $500 billion dollars, the drug traffic is thought to be the second-largest commerce in the world behind the trade in weapons.
Criminal networks are in charge of this undercover trade. Asia, specifically the Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent, is where opium poppies are grown.
Cocaine is mostly produced in Colombia, while cannabis resin is primarily made in Morocco. The largest consumers, Europe and the United States, receive the drugs via a variety of channels.
The primary maritime commerce route today travels around the world while traversing important straits and canals. It travels through Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, North America, and the Panama Canal.
Additionally, the hunt for newer and innovative trade routes never ends. The melting of the ice at the North Pole brought on by climate change allows for the creation of new maritime routes that are shorter, requiring less fuel, and avoiding tariffs imposed when passing through the Suez or Panama canals. These new routes may be advantageous for Canada and Russia in particular.
The stakes involved in these potential future paths are clearly understood by the main nations. Free navigation is something that the US and EU are pushing for, but China wants to build a Polar Silk Road.
As you can see, existing and newer trade routes will play a major role in allowing global brands to export their products to multiple countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. While there are newer technologies making exporting easier, it should be noted that this is a work in progress.
For example, machine translation software has been in the market for nearly a decade now. It’s made great headway and there’s definitely a certain place for it in the greater scheme of things. But the need for human translators has only increased.
Why? Because machine translation services software followed by a human editor is great for informal content needing to be consumed internally. But when it comes to increasing sales of your products in foreign countries, you need human translation services that are 100% accurate for legal and marketing purposes. And this is where EPIC Translations comes into the picture. We can support 150+ languages and have 20,000+ human translators on stand by to help you increase your global market share!
- History of the Major Trade Routes – Summary on a Map by Geo History: https://youtu.be/Q7xp1-VvtZ0
- Languages in Central Asia – https://kalpak-travel.com/blog/languages-central-asia/
- Silk Roads Programme – UNESCO – About the Silk Roads – https://en.unesco.org/silkroad
- The History of Commerce: From the Silk Road to Modern Ecommerce – https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/commerce/
- Jack Weatherford, “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”
- Peter Frank Opan, “The SILK ROADS – A New History of the World”
Co-founder & CEO of EPIC Translations. Tennis player. Student of history. Award winning entrepreneur. Designated member of East Michigan District Export Council where I actively participate in assisting small and mid-sized enterprises to export products / services to foreign countries to increase global market share and to make Michigan a better place to live.