Just as marriage by contract followed marriage by capture, so trade by barter followed seizure by raids. But a long period of piracy intervened between the early practices of silent barter and the later trade by modern exchange methods.
The first barter was conducted by armed traders who would leave their goods on a neutral spot. Women held the first markets; they were the earliest traders, and this was because they were the burden bearers; the men were warriors. Very early the trading counter was developed, a wall wide enough to prevent the traders reaching each other with weapons.
A fetish was used to stand guard over the deposits of goods for silent barter. Such market places were secure against theft; nothing would be removed except by barter or purchase; with a fetish on guard the goods were always safe. The early traders were scrupulously honest within their own tribes but regarded it as all right to cheat distant strangers. Even the early Hebrews recognized a separate code of ethics in their dealings with the gentiles.
For ages silent barter continued before men would meet, unarmed, on the sacred market place. These same market squares became the first places of sanctuary and in some countries were later known as “cities of refuge.” Any fugitive reaching the market place was safe and secure against attack.
The first weights were grains of wheat and other cereals. The first medium of exchange was a fish or a goat. Later the cow became a unit of barter.
Modern writing originated in the early trade records; the first literature of man was a trade-promotion document, a salt advertisement. Many of the earlier wars were fought over natural deposits, such as flint, salt, and metals. The first formal tribal treaty concerned the intertribalizing of a salt deposit. These treaty spots afforded opportunity for friendly and peaceful interchange of ideas and the intermingling of various tribes.
Writing progressed up through the stages of the “message stick,” knotted cords, picture writing, hieroglyphics, and wampum belts, to the early symbolic alphabets. Message sending evolved from the primitive smoke signal up through runners, animal riders, railroads, and airplanes, as well as telegraph, telephone, and wireless communication.
New ideas and better methods were carried around the inhabited world by the ancient traders. Commerce, linked with adventure, led to exploration and discovery. And all of these gave birth to transportation. Commerce has been the great civilizer through promoting the cross-fertilization of culture.