13 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day Thirteen
Agriculture and Trade in Persia
What agricultural technologies and techniques did the Persians use to produce the large surpluses they needed to feed their huge population of nonfood producers?
One of the most successful and revolutionary agricultural technologies introduced by the Persians was the qanat. Essentially an underground pipeline, the qanat was a sloped tunnel with vertical shafts at intervals to move water from an aquifer to a city or agricultural field. Much of the land of the area occupied by modern Iran is arid and unsuitable to agriculture without irrigation. The qanat was an improvement on the irrigation canal by reducing water loss due to evaporation, and making it harder to block or divert. The modern Iranian city of Gonabad still uses a qanat built around the eighth century BC. Although not the first to discover it, the Achaemenids introduced cotton to Persia, where it grows well in the arid, somewhat poor soils, given sufficient irrigation at the proper stage of cultivation. Cotton became an important trade commodity to the centrally located Persians.
The Persian Empires were noted for being part of a trade route critical to the economy of the classical world. What did the rulers do to facilitate trade? Why was Persia geographically so important?
The Achaemenid Empire was instrumental in building and improving the road system that facilitated the relatively easy transport of trade goods through its vast geographic area. The centralized government of Persia provided the political stability, well-constructed roads, and a peacekeeping military presence that made travel across the Empire safer, easier, and faster. They built inns at intervals along these highways to serve the needs of both traders and their own traveling administrators. Commercial shipping along the Arabian, Mediterranean, and Black Sea coasts flourished as the world’s first true imperial navy provided security, and the Empire built great seaports from the Balkans to the Arabian Sea. Uniform taxation made the cost of doing business more predictable, encouraging investment in long distance commercial expeditions. Although coinage existed in the Lydian empire before the Achaemenid conquest, the Persian Emperor Darius I instituted one of the most widely circulated coins of the classical world, the Daric. Archaeologists have found gold Daric coins as far away as Italy.
Being centrally located between China, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent to the east, and Africa, Egypt, the Mediterranean, Anatolia/Ionia and Greece in the west, traders that wished to travel overland between the great civilizations at the extremes of the then-known world had little choice but to cross the Achaemenid Empire. Greek exports such as olive oil, metalwork, wines, and pottery, and Egyptian glass, cotton, grain, and vegetables moved east, while Chinese silks and porcelain and Indian spices moved west. Various regional foodstuffs moved both directions, while the Persians exported semi-precious stones, cotton, grain, and prized woven carpets. At the height of the Achaemenid Empire, it was the clearinghouse of the ancient world.