A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels - Volume 18 eBook

Robert Kerr (writer)
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 938 pages of information about A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels.

We have already alluded to the intercourse which was begun between Rome and China, during the reign of Marcus Antoninus, for the purpose of obtaining silk.  Of the embassy which preceded and occasioned this commercial intercourse, we derive all our information from the Chinese historians.  A second embassy seems to have been sent in the year A.D. 284, during the reign of Probus:  that the object of this also was commercial there can be no doubt; but the particulars or the precise object in view, and the result which flowed from it, are not noticed by the Chinese historians.  There can be no doubt, however, that these embassies contributed to extend the geography and commerce of the Romans towards the eastern districts of Asia.

Of the attention which some of the Roman emperors, during the decline of the empire, paid to commerce, we possess a few notices which deserve to be recorded.  The emperor Pertinax, whose father was a manufacturer and seller of charcoal, and who, himself, for some time pursued the same occupation, at that period an extensive and profitable one, preserved and exercised, during his reign, that sense of the value of commerce which he had thus acquired.  He abolished all the taxes laid by Commodus on the ports, harbours, and public roads, and gave up his privileges as emperor, especially in all those points where they were prejudicial to the freedom and extension of commerce.  It may indeed be remarked, that the very few good or tolerable princes who, at this period, filled the government of Rome, displayed their wisdom as well as their goodness by encouraging trade.  Alexander Severus granted peculiar privileges and immunities to foreign merchants who settled in Rome:  he lowered the duties on merchandises; and divided all who followed trade, either on a large or small scale, into different companies, each of which seems to have preserved the liberty of choosing their own governor, and over each of whom persons were appointed, conversant in each particular branch of trade, whose duty it was to settle all disputes that might arise.

Soon after this period the commerce of Rome in one particular direction, and that a most important one, received a severe blow.  The Goths, who had emigrated from the north of Germany to the banks of the Euxine, were allured to the “soft and wealthy provinces of Asia Minor, which produced all that could attract, and nothing that could resist a barbarian conqueror.”  It is on the occasion of this enterprise, that we first became acquainted with the maritime usages and practices of the Goths; a branch of whom, under the name of Scandinavians, we shall afterwards find contributed so much to the extension of geography and commerce.  In order to transport their armies across the Euxine, they employed “slight flat-bottomed barks, framed of timber only, without the least mixture of iron, and occasionally covered with a shelving roof on the appearance of a tempest.”  Their first object

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