Chapter 1: General laws related to commerce

Commerce is subject to great revolutions.

We currently carry on the trade of the Indies merely through the silver which we send.

It is Nature itself that produces this effect.

Chapter 2: Africans

Most of the people on the coast of Africa are savages and barbarians.

Chapter 3: The wants of the People in the South are different from those of the North

In Europe, there is a kind of balance between the southern and northern nations.

Chapter 4: The principal Difference between the Commerce of the Ancients and the Moderns

Commerce has changed through time.

The ancient commerce was carred on from one port in the Mediterranean to another.

This does not at all contradict what I have said of our commerce to the Indies: for here the prodigious difference of climate destroys all relation between their wants and ours.

Chapter 5: Other Differences

COMMERCE is sometimes destroyed by conquerors, sometimes cramped by monarchs;

To see Colchis in its present situation, which is no more than a vast forest, where the people are every day decreasing, and only defend their liberty to sell themselves by piece-meal to the Turks and Persians;

The history of commerce, is that of the communication of people.

Chapter 6: The Commerce of the Ancients

Semiramis,had immense treasures which could not be acquired in a day.

The effect of commerce is riches.

In the empires of Asia, there was a great commerce of luxury.

Great revolutions have happened in Asia.


Eratosthenes> ‡ and Aristobulus learnt from Patroclus> *, that the merchandizes of India passed by the Oxus into the sea of Pontus.

An entire stop is now put to this communication.

The Jaxartes was formerly a barrier between the polite and barbarous nations.

Seleucus Nicator joined the Euxine to the Caspian sea.

Seleucus would have joined the two seas in the very place where Peter I. has since joined them, that is, in that neck of land where the Tanais approaches the Volga; but the north of the Caspian sea was not then discovered.

While the empires of Asia enjoyed the commerce of luxury, the Tyrians had the commerce of œconomy, which they extended throughout the world. Bochard has employed the first book of his Canaan, in enumerating the colonies which they sent into all the countries bordering upon the sea: they passed the Pillars of Hercules, and made establishments  on the coast of the ocean.

In those times their pilots were obliged to follow the coasts, which were, if I may so express myself, their compass. Voyages were long and painful. The laborious voyage of Ulysses has been the fruitful subject of the finest poem in the world, next to that which alone has the preference.

The little knowledge, which the greatest part of the world had of those who were far distant from them, favoured the nations engaged in the œconomical commerce. They managed trade with as much obscurity as they pleased: they had all the advantages which the most intelligent nations could take over the most ignorant.

The Egyptians, a people who by their religion and their manners were averse to all communication with strangers, had scarcely at that time any foreign trade. They enjoyed a fruitful soil, and great plenty. Their country was the Japan of those times; it possessed every thing within itself.

So little jealous were those people of commerce, that they left that of the Red Sea to all the petty nations that had any harbours in it. Here they suffered the Idumeans, the Syrians, and the Jews to have fleets. Solomon> † employed in this navigation the Tyrians, who knew those seas.

Josephus> ‡ says, that his nation, being entirely employed in agriculture, knew little of navigation: the Jews therefore traded only occasionally in the Red Sea. They took from the Idumeans, Eloth and Eziongeber, from whom they received this commerce; they lost these two cities, and with them lost this commerce.

It was not so with the Phœnicians; theirs was not a commerce of luxury; nor was their trade owing to conquest: their frugality, their abilities, their industry, their perils, and the hardships they suffered, rendered them necessary to all the nations of the world.

Before Alexander, the people bordering on the Red Sea traded only in this sea, and in that of Africa. The astonishment, which filled the globe   at the discovery of the Indian Sea under that conqueror, is of this a sufficient proof. I have observed,> * that bullion was always carried to the Indies, and never any brought from thence; now the Jewish fleets, which brought gold and silver by the way of the Red Sea, returned from Africa, and not from the Indies.

Besides, this navigation was made on the eastern coast of Africa; for the state of navigation at that time is a convincing proof, that they did not sail to a very distant shore. I am not ignorant, that the fleet of Solomon and Jehosaphat returned only every three years; but I do not see that the time taken up in the voyage is any proof of the greatness of the distance.

Pliny and Strabo inform us, that the junks of India and the Red Sea were twenty days in performing a voyage, which a Greek or Roman vessel would accomplish> † in seven, In this proportion, a voyage of one year, made by the fleets of Greece or Rome, would take very near three, when performed by those of Solomon.

Two ships of unequal swiftness do not perform their voyage in a time proportionate to their swiftness. Slowness is frequently the cause of much greater slowness. When it becomes necessary to follow the coasts, and to be incessantly in a different position, when they must wait for a fair wind to get out of a gulph, and for another to proceed; a good sailor takes the advantage of every favourable moment, while the other still continues in a difficult situation, and waits many days for another change.


This slowness of the Indian vessels, which in an equal time could make but one third of the way of those of the Greeks and Romans, may be explained by what we every day see in our modern navigation.

We may compare these Indian vessels to those at present made use of in ports of little depth of water.


1. They lose much time in waiting for the wind, especially if they are obliged frequently to change their course.

2. They sail much slower, because, not having a proper support from a depth of water, they cannot carry so much sail.If this be the case at a time when the arts are every where known, at a time when art corrects the defects of nature, and even of art itself; if at this time, I say, we find this difference, how great must that have been, in the navigation of the antients?The Indian vessels were small, and those of the Greeks and Romans, if we except their machines built for ostentation, much less than ours. 

Chapter 7: The Commerce of the Greeks

THE first Greeks were all pirates.

But this Athenian lordship of the sea deserves to be more particularly mentioned.


The Athenians, a people whose heads were filled with ambitious projects;


Corinth was admirably situated;


It seems, that in Homer’s time, the opulence of Greece centered in Rhodes, Corinth, and Orchomenus:

Before Homer’s time, the Greeks had scarce any trade but among themselves, and with a few barbarous nations; in proportion, however, as they formed new colonies, they extended their dominion.

What a source of prosperity must Greece have found in those games, with which she entertained, in some measure, the whole globe; in those temples, to which all the kings of the earth sent their offerings; in those festivals, at which such a concourse of people used to assemble from all parts; in those oracles, to which the attention of all mankind was directed; and, in short, in that exquisite taste for the polite arts, which she carried to such a height, that to expect ever to surpass her, would be only betraying our ignorance.

Chapter 8: Alexander's Conquest

FOUR great events happened in the reign of Alexander, which entirely changed the face of commerce:

The empire of Persia extended to the Indus. *

Ariana,> *  extended from the Persian gulf as far as the Indus, and from the South Sea to the mountains of Paropamisus, depended indeed in some measure on the empire of Persia; but in the southern part it was barren, scorched, rude, and uncultivated.


Besides, it was a received opinion,> * before the expedition of Alexander, that the southern parts of India were uninhabitable.

Alexander entered by the north.

He then formed the design of uniting India to the western nations by a maritime commerce, as he had already united them by the colonies he had established by land.

He ordered a fleet to be built on the Hydaspes, then fell down that river, entered the Indus, and sailed even to its mouth.

This prince had founded Alexandria, with a view of securing his conquest of Egypt.

It even seems, that after this discovery, he had no new design, in regard to Alexandria.

There are some who pretend that Alexander wanted to subdue Arabia,> * and had formed a design to make it the seat of his empire:

Chapter 9: The Commerce of the Greek Kings after the Death of Alexander

AT the time when Alexander made the conquest of Egypt, they had but a very imperfect idea of the Red sea, and none at all of the ocean, which joining to this sea, on one side washes the coast of Africa, and on the other, that of Arabia;

The Persians were entire-strangers to navigation.

Egypt, at the time of the Persian monarchy, did not front the Red sea;

They ascended the Nile, and hunted after elephants in the countries situated between that river and the sea;

The Greeks settled in Egypt were able to command a most extensive commerce;

The kings of Syria left the commerce of the south to those of Egypt, and attached themselves only to the northern trade, which was carried on by means of the Oxus and the Caspian sea.

I am surprized at the obstinacy with which the ancients believed that the Caspian sea was a part of the ocean.

The land army of Alexander had been on the east only as far as the Hypanis, which is the last of those rivers that fall into the Indus:

Strabo,> ‡ notwithstanding the testimony of Apollodorus, seems to doubt whether the Grecian kings> § of Bactria proceeded farther than Seleucus and Alexander.

Pliny> † informs us, that the navigation of the Indies was successively carried on by three different ways.

Pliny> † says, that they set sail for the Indies in the middle of summer, and returned towards the end of December, or in the beginning of January.

Alexander’s fleet was seven months in sailing from Patala to Susa.

Pliny says, that they set out for the Indies at the end of summer; thus they spent the time proper for taking advantage of the monsoon, in their passage from Alexandria to the Red sea.

Observe here, I pray, how navigation has by little and little arrived at perfection.

Strabo,> § who accounts for their ignorance of the countries between the Hypanis and the Ganges, says, there were very few of those who sailed from Egypt to the Indies, that ever proceeded so far as the Ganges.

Thus it is demonstrable, that the commerce of the Greeks and Romans to the Indies was much less extensive than ours.

But this commerce of the ancients was carried on with far greater facility than ours.


Chapter 10: The Circuit of Africa

WE find from history, that before the discovery of the mariner’s compass, four attempts were made to sail round the coast of Africa.

The capital point in surrounding Africa was, to discover and double the cape of Good-hope.


Thus, without making this grand circuit, after which they could hardly ever hope to return, it was most natural to trade to the east of Africa by the Red sea, and to the western coast by Hercules’s pillars.

The Grecian kings of Egypt discovered at first in the Red sea, that part of the coast of Africa, which extends from the bottom of the gulph where stands the town of Heroum,  as far as Dira,  that is, to the streight, now known by the name of Babelmandel.

Beyond this promontory, at which the coast along the ocean commenced, they knew nothing, as we learn> ‡ from Eratosthenes and Artemidorus.

Such was the knowledge they had of the coasts of Africa in Strabo’s time, that is, in the reign of Augustus.

Ptolemy the geographer flourished under Adrian and Antoninus Pius; and the author of the Periplus of the Red sea, whoever he was, lived a little after.   Yet the former limits known Africa> * to cape Prassum,  which is in about the 14th degree of south latitude; while the author of the Periplus> † confines it to cape Raptum,  which is nearly in the 10th degree of the same latitude. In all likelihood, the latter took his limit from a place then frequented, and Ptolemy his from a place with which there was no longer any communication.

What confirms me in this notion is, that the people about cape Prassum  were anthropophagi.> ‡ Ptolemy takes notice> § of a great number of places between the port or emporium Aromatum  and cape Raptum,  but leaves an entire blank between the capes Raptum  and Prassum.  The great profits of the East-India trade must have occasioned a neglect of that of Africa. In fine, the Romans never had any settled navigation; they had discovered these several ports by land expeditions, and by means of ships driven on that coast; and, as at present, we are well acquainted with the maritime parts of Africa, but know very little of the inland country;> ∥ the ancients, on the contrary, had a very good knowledge of the inland parts, but were almost strangers to the coasts.

I said, that the Phœnicians sent by Necho and Eudoxus under Ptolemy Lathryus, had made the circuit of Africa: but at the time of Ptolemy the geographer, those two voyages must have been looked upon as fabulous, since he places,> ** after the Sinus Magnus,  which I apprehend to be the gulph of Siam, an unknown   country, extending from Asia to Africa, and terminating at cape Prassum,  so that the Indian ocean would have been no more than a lake. The ancients, who discovered the Indies towards the north, advancing castward, placed this unknown country to the south.

Chapter 11: Carthage and Marseilles

THE law of nations which obtained at Carthage, was very extraordinry: all strangers, who traded to Sardinia and towards Hercules’s pillars, this haughty republic sentenced to be drowned.


Chapter 12: The Isle of Delos. Mithridates

UPON the destruction of Corinth by the Romans, the merchants retired to Delos, an island, which from religious considerations was looked upon as a place of safety: *

From the earliest times, the Greeks, as we have already observed, sent colonies to Propontis, and to the Euxine sea:

The power> § of those kings increased as soon as they subdued those cities.

Thus it is that when the Romans were arrived at their highest pitch of grandeur, and seemed to have nothing to apprehend but from the ambition of their own subjects, Mithridates once more ventured to contest the mighty point, which the overthrows of Philip, of Antiochus, and of Perseus, had already decided.

The Romans, in pursuance of a system of which I have spoken elsewhere,> § acting as destroyers, that they might not appear as conquerors, demolished Carthage and Corinth; a practice by which they would have ruined themselves, had they not subdued   the world.

Chapter 13: The Genius of the Romans as to Maritime Affairs

THE Romans laid no stress on any thing but their land forces, who were disciplined to stand firm, to fight on one spot, and there bravely to die.

They destined, therefore, to the sea only those citizens who were not> † considerable enough to have a place in their legions. Their marines were commonly freed-men.

At this time we have neither the same esteem for land-forces, nor the same contempt for those of the sea.

Chapter 14: The Genius of theRomanswith Respect to Commerce

THE Romans were never distinguished by a jealousy for trade.

In the city, they were employed only about war, elections, factions, and law-suits.

But their political constitution was not more opposite to trade, than their law of nations.

Their civil law was not less oppressive.

People had these two ideas:

Those people have believed that the Romans greatly honoured and encouraged commerce.

Chapter 15: The Commerce of theRomanswith the Barbarians

THE Romans erected a vast empire in Europe, Asia, and Africa;

Domitian was a prince of great timidity.

Upon the decline of the Roman Empire, the barbarians obliged the Romans to establish staple towns,> * and to trade with them.

Chapter 11: The Commerce of the Romans with Arabia, India

THE trade to Arabia Felix, and that to the Indies, were the two branches, and almost the only ones of their foreign commerce.

Chapter 17: Commerce after the Destruction of the Western Empire

 Commerce was destroyed after the fall of the Roman empire.

Soon was the commerce of Europe almost entirely lost.

The laws of the> † Visigoths permitted private people to occupy half the beds of great rivers, provided the other half remained free for nets and boats.


In those times were established the ridiculous rights of escheatage and shipwrecks.

In the narrow bounds which nature had originally prescribed to the people of the north, all were strangers to them;

But the Romans made laws for all the world.

Chapter 18: A particular Regulation

The Visigoths had one regulation in favour of commerce.


Chapter 19: Commerce after the Decay of theRomanPower in the East

THE Muslims appeared, conquered, extended, and dispersed themselves.