Mediterranean Sea Lanes

Trade in the Mediterranean Sea Lanes was much different from trade in the Indian Ocean Sea Lanes. Unlike the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea normally had very calm waters. Trade boats had large, flat sails to pick up wind, and were larger to house the numerous oarsmen. They also had rowers and stayed close to the shore. The trade routes connected the Mediterranean civilizations together. The sea-lanes linked the port of Rome to Syria, Palestine, Spain, and North Africa. Roman mariners dominated the Mediterranean Sea lanes. Roman military and naval power kept the sea-lanes largely free from pirates. Goods that were traded include olive oil, fish, wine, cereals, and fresh and dried fruit. Salt was the major item along the Mediterranean Sea Lanes. Salt controlled the coastal saltpans and thus the supply of salt was the basis of the Phoenician trade empire. Slaves were traded as well.

Private merchants operated most of the ships that carried agricultural products and other goods. Greek city-states and ultimately the Roman state supervised the grain trade, promoting public works and storage facilities, as well as carefully regulating the vital supplies. Luxury products from the shops of urban artists or crafts workers played a major role in the lives of those in the upper classes.

There was some trade also beyond the borders of Mediterranean civilization itself, such as goods from India and China. Mediterranean peoples found themselves at a disadvantage from this trade, because their manufactured products were less sophisticated than those of eastern Asia. Therefore, they typically exported animal skins, precious metals, and even exotic African animals in return for the spices and artistic products of the east.

For all the importance of trade, merchants upheld a vague status in classical Mediterranean civilization. Leading Athenian merchants were usually foreigners, mostly from the trading peoples of the Middle East, descendants of Lydians and Phoenicians. Merchants had a somewhat higher status in Rome, forming the second most prestigious social class under the landed Patricians. But even still, the merchant’s rights were overall worse than India.