Economics -- The Ancient World

Figure 1.--.

Historical traties on the ancient world often neglect the economic basis of these societies. Important topics here are agriculture, textiles, and slavery. The production of textiles tended to be a much more important part of ancient economies than is the case today. The development of weaving technologies was an important step in the development of civilization. The fabeled Silk Road spanned both the ancient and Medieval era. Slavery is another important topic and was of great importance to many ancient economies.


All of the early civilizations of the ancient world developed in river valies where conditiins were most appropriate for settled agriculture. The same pattern occurred in Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, Yellow, and Indus Rivers. It was here that early hunter gatheres first settled down and began to grow and husband crops innsettled communities. Many of these crops have had profond consquences on humnan culture and society. Human agriculture used the native plants in these river valleys and as a result the crops varied from one civilization to another. Gradually plants were imported from distant regions. Agriculture provided both food and raw material for textiles. One food crop, the potato, was imported from the Americas as a result of the Spanish conquests and had a profound impact on European society including making the industrial revolution possivle. Another plant, cotton, played a major role in the industrial revolution.


Economics is especially important to HBC as theproduction of textile has been a major economic activity since the dawn of civilization. Many HBC pages on textiles include a discusion of economic factors. HBC believes that some basic material on clothing technology, provoding infoprmation on the history and production of fabrics and garments is important to understand children's clothing. While this material does not specifically deal with chilldren's clothes exclusively, it does provide some useful bavkground information. The care of washing of clothing is another important topic. This is not an area that HBC has been able to devote adequate attention to, but we hope to eventually focus more on these important topics.


In our modern world there are few human practices that inspire such profound outrage as the practice of one human being enslaving another. This is, however, a very modern sentiment. The institution of slavery probably predates civilization itself. Slavery was an accepted institution and central to the economies of most major world civilization. Slaves were were often war captives, both captured wariors and the women and children of conquered populations. The offspring of these enslaved people provided a vast slave work force. The victors in battle might enslave the losers rather than killing them. Slavery in both Greece and Rome were major components of the work force. Slaves in Greece and Rome were drawn from widly differing peoples and there was no association with race. Slaves might be blond, blue eyed Anglo-Saxons from Britania or blacks from Sahara as well as evry other racial type. Slavery in Rome had no racial basis. Even those of Italian stock were enslaved. It was thus impossible to tell from one's look id they were a slave. This complicated control. The Senate debated establishiung a destinctive dress for slaves. In the end, the Senate decided against a slave attire, partly because they decided it was dangerous vecause it would show the slaves just how numerous they were. As in the Americn South, slavery was justified on the basis of the natural inferiority of certain individuals.

The Silk Road

For nearly two millenia, the Silk Road was a key element in the world econonomy. The history of the famed Silk Road is one of many instances in which clothing and fabrics have played a major role in human history. The story of the silk road is one of military adventures and conquest, adventuresome explorers, religious pilgrims, and great philosophers. While it is silk which is often, naturally enough, most strongly associated with the silk road, the flow of ideas and religion as an almost unintended aspect of the flow of trade may have been one of the most significant impacts. Of course most of the people who traversed the silk road were not great thinkers, but common tradesmen who transported their merchandise at great risk for the substantial profits that could be made. They moved cammal caravans over some of the most hostile terraine on the planet. The ilk road tranversed deserts, mountains and the seemingly endless Central Asian steppe. Some of the great figures of history are associated with the Silk Road, including Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane. Merchandice may have moved over the Silk Road as early as the 5th century BC. The Silk Road is believed to have become an established trade route by the 1st century BC and continued to be important until the 16th century when more reliable sea routes were established as a result of the European voyages of discovery.


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Created: February 9, 2003
Last updated: 4:59 PM 3/15/2007