Monday, 8 October 2012

History of the World by Andrew Marr - is selling a mar to historians ?

I confess I am a fan of Andrew Marr.

His latest project Andrew Marr's history of the world is an amazing if not  an impossible task .  He has had to be very selective and leave out many things but has also brought to my attention lots I never knew. 

 His task is to condense 70,000 years of history of man's ingenuity and the great forces of nature shaping our world of today in just six BBC TV programmes.
So far 'Selling' has not been much mentioned in any direct sense.

Of course words like 'trading' , 'merchants'  'silk routes' and 'markets' have been alluded to but only as  passing references of the artifacts found or records made  of transactions by fledgling conventional professions like scribes or accountants, lawyers etc.

But then last night in episode 3 ,Andrew Marr described Paul of Tarsus as a travelling salesman ( amongst other labels).

It got me thinking.

I had not noticed the significance before, that as a tent maker,  St. Paul  supported his travelling missions to spread the Christian Gospel across the Mediterranean through selling his work and  using the network of tent makers who provided a product and service for the travelling populations in those days - there being no Holiday Inns, Marriotts and Hiltons at the time!

Reading elsewhere about Paul, apparently he was in Corinth for 18 months which means he would have been present for at least one Isthmian Games.

Like the recent London 2012 Olympic Games there are commercial opportunities presented by such an influx of competitors and spectators.

Perhaps St Paul managed some great sales during that time to support his ministry of the word.

Has anyone  produced a History of the World with Selling as the central  focus point I wonder?

Inspired by Andrew Marr  let's make a start.

Selling - its part in the History of the World
Selling is a mark of civilisation because man sells not only goods and services but ideas even dreams.
Nearly every culture shares a heritage of selling.
Man has a basic need to communicate the exchange  of goods  and services.
Instincts from human nature and common sense drive some to make a living through selling.
As the seller established economic ties with their neighbours, they travelled extensively despite geographical barriers of deserts, mountains, rivers and oceans.

The importance of Infrastructure
The development and use of roads and or water routes rivers, lakes and oceans for commercial activity were critical in the history of selling.
Early man had the option of either battling with geographical barriers like mountains and foothills, or refining the surroundings that hindered trade movements.

In prehistoric times trade followed naturally-defined routes.

 Transport of goods between neighbouring peoples of eastern Europe, for instance, was hampered by a patchwork of densely and sparsely inhabited areas covered with ridges, foothills and valley floors.
Early traders developed easily accessible routes to travel more effectively..

 Along such constructed roads the early seller  travelled with their goods.

 Even before the invention of  the wheel, the early  seller exchanged pottery, stone weapons, tools, agricultural products and raw materials with people from other lands.

 Barter, the direct exchange of goods for goods, was his principal means of trade.

Among the early civilisations, Egypt, Syria, Babylonia and India were  involved in trade.

I visited the British Museum in London to seek out some examples of artifacts that record early selling activity.

 Villages in Mesopotamia (modern day Northern Iraq and Syria) show evidence that as mankind became settled, communities developed distinctive styles of pottery and show them status through traded goods and possession.

Rare items as obsidian – volcanic glass from Turkey was traded over long distances for pottery, for blades even for mirrors.

The first cities appear in Mesopotamia around 3,500 BCE for example Uruk.

Under the governance of temples, irrigation was organised, trade networks were established and writing was invented .
An Early sales receipt
Among the clay tablets on display in the various glass cases, I came across on cabinet with a small perforated clay tablet not much bigger than a lozenge. On it was inscribed an animal.  To me it looked like a sheep. The case card described that such labels record commodities or the officials involved in a single transaction. This tablet 3,300 – 3100 BCE  Late Uruk period.

Early example of a sales enquiry
Another lager tablet is a letter of Burna –Banresh II to Amenhotep III of Egypt requesting more gold c. 1350 BC from El- Ammanei

Sales enquiry -A request for more Gold

 A complaint about the wrong grade of copper about 1750 BCE Old Babylonian Period from Ur

An early example of a customer complaint

In the Museum's gallery about ‘Money’, there was a section covering the period in Europe 2000-800 BCE. Trade and exchanges of goods took place over long distances in items of flint, bronze and livestock.

 We do not however know what they value system was but there is evidence of bulk trading.

In the case of Amphora some were marked with official stamps. Such items have been found at both ancient sites but also from shipwrecks that tell us of the development of trade and economy

Ivory and ebony were exchanged for pottery and stone vessels. Indian beads and vases, believed to have originated in remote localities, were found in Babylonia.

In Greece, the caravan trade that connected the Greek world with Asia, prospered.

Everyday articles, domestic tools, metal kitchenware and ordinary clothes were exchanged.

Markets, in their fundamental stages, were meeting places for customers and sellers.

Frequently, the  seller used the market as one of his stopping points before continuing his village-to-village journey.

Anatolia, ( Turkey), was an area in which  sellers, travelling by donkey, sold cloth to people they encountered along the way.

The purchase price was generally higher than at trading centres because of the length of the haul and the hazards of the expedition.

The early  seller seized all opportunities to trade their goods when travelling.

Fairs connected with religious feasts brought them to the armies stationed in the fields.

Crowds of salesmen procured for the troops all the goods they needed.

The  seller’s activities were influenced by the cultures from which they emerged.

As early as 2000 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi,  (Babylonian law), protected the general welfare and integrity of the Babylonian seller, who was then referred to as the “peddler.”

An example of the code is held in the collection in the Louvre , Paris.

from Case display at British Museum

 The Code stated that “the peddler shall swear the oath of God” if any enemy caused him trouble in the travels.

Votive monument figure of King Hammurabi
at British Museum, London

It also said that the merchant who sells the goods must be aptly compensated.


A good note to end this post and end the story of selling so far......

Related Links and further reading

BBC IplayerClick for  Episode 3 War and the Word

A history of the World  by Andrew Marr  ISBN 978-0-230-75595-6  PUBLISHED BY Macmillan
 8th October  Cover price £25  , Waterstones £5 off  and Tesco sells at £15 where I bought my copy. 

The British Museum Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG 

 Direct Selling 411 USA

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