Trade is as old as humanity. I was reminded of this today whilst visiting the newly opened Treasures from the Sicilian Seas exhibition at The Ashmolean.
Here were 3000 year old ingots of copper and tin – imported by some of Sicily’s earliest inhabitants in order to manufacture bronze. Greeks traded in ordinary household goods and amphorae full of wine and olive oil whilst the Romans had a taste for art and other luxuries such as perfume. The Byzantines traded in ideas as well as goods as is dramatically illustrated by the improbable presence of an entire prefabricated stone church interior. Later still, came the Arab and the Normans who between them created a multicultural centre of art, architecture and scholarship.
Inevitably there were signs of war and the remnants of the Battle of the Egadi Islands (241 BC), in which the Romans defeated the Greeks, included mercenary helmets from Italy, Spain and Gaul.
At the centre of it all was the Mediterranean linking Europe to Africa and a reminder that, then as now, most trade goods travelled by sea. A reminder, too that this most basic of economic activities involves the movement of people and, with them, the movement of knowledge, ideas and, sometimes, power.