The conquest of vast areas of land and their subjection to one government automatically acts as a stimulant to commerce, Sir John Glubb says:
Both merchants and goods can be exchanged over considerable distances. Moreover, if the empire be an extensive one, it will include a great variety of climates, producing extremely varied products, which the different areas will wish to exchange with one another.
The speed of modern methods of transportation tends to create in us the impression that far-?ung commerce is a modern development, but this is not the case. Objects made in Ireland, Scandinavia and China have been found in the graves or the ruins of the Middle East, dating from 1,000 years before Christ. The means of transport were slower, but, when a great empire was in control, commerce was freed from the innumerable shackles imposed upon it today by passports, import permits, customs, boycotts and political interference.
The Roman Empire extended from Britain to Syria and Egypt, a distance, in a direct line, of perhaps 2,700 miles. A Roman of?cial, transferred from Britain to Syria, might spend six months on the journey. Yet, throughout the whole distance, he would be travelling in the same country, with the same of?cial language, the same laws, the same currency and the same administrative system. Today, some twenty independent countries separate Britain from Syria, each with its own government, its own laws, politics, customs fees, passports and currencies, making commercial cooperation almost impossible. And this process of disintegration is still continuing. Even within the small areas of the modern European nations, provincial movements demanding secession or devolution tend further to splinter the continent.
The present fashion for ‘independence’ has produced great numbers of tiny states in the world, some of them consisting of only one city or of a small island. This system is an insuperable obstacle to trade and cooperation. The present European Economic Community is an attempt to secure commercial cooperation among small independent states over a large area, but the plan meets with many dif?culties, due to the mutual jealousies of so many nations.
Even savage and militaristic empires promoted commerce, whether or not they
intended to do so. The Mongols were some of the most brutal military conquerors in history, massacring the entire populations of cities. Yet, in the thirteenth century, when their empire extended from Peking to Hungary, the caravan trade between China and Europe achieved a remarkable degree of prosperity — the whole journey was in the territory of one government.
In the eighth and ninth centuries, the caliphs of Baghdad achieved fabulous wealth owing to the immense extent of their territories, which constituted a single trade bloc. The empire of the caliphs is now divided into some twenty-?ve separate ‘nations’.