chapter  7
21 Pages

Trade and traders

Commodities and markets The first recorded export commodity of northern Europe is the fossilised relic of ancient pine forests. The tears of a sea-goddess in Lithuanian legend, Homer’s ‘substance of the sun’, Baltic amber was known already to the Mycenaeans around 1600 BC. In return for this precious and mysterious commodity, the Stone Age peoples around the shores of the Baltic received from the workshops of central Europe prestige-goods of bronze. The skins and furs of northern Europe were also highly prized from ancient times. Jordanes, the sixth-century historian of the Goths, spoke of ‘sapphire-coloured skins’ which found their way to the Roman empire by the medium of trade between the ‘Suehans’ people of Scandinavia and numerous other peoples. Adam of Bremen, writing in the eleventh century, noted that the Prussians had

an abundance of strange furs, the odour of which has inoculated our world with the deadly poison of pride. But these furs they regard, indeed, as dung, to our shame, I believe, for we hanker after a martenskin robe as much for supreme happiness.1