Merchants have operated for as long as industry and commerce have existed. They have been as varied as people themselves, but they share a common sense of values and goals. Their operations have taken them across the seas and into new markets. Whether in ancient Babylonia and Assyria, China, India or the Phoenician cities, merchants have sought to profit from the exchange of goods, ideas, skills and capital.
Who were the first merchant?
Renaissance merchants cultivated a more secular ethic than the aristocrats and clergy of medieval times. They regarded wealth and worldly accomplishment as honorable, even nobler than fighting or preaching merchant services fees. They believed that money was a source of both earthly and spiritual good, which could be used for the welfare of families, countries and the church as well as to support learning and art.
In addition to their own business pursuits, merchants also created a social environment that reflected their values. The urban merchant classes of the Renaissance were an exclusive group that constituted only about two percent of the residents of Italian trading towns. They were wholesalers, bankers, distributors and manufacturers. The role of women for these merchants was carefully defined in contrast to the male world of trade and business.
With the opening of Asia and the discovery of the New World, merchants started importing goods over very long distances. These included calico cloth from India, porcelain and silk from China, tea and spices from South East Asia and tobacco, sugar and coffee from the New World. These cosmopolitan merchants developed a network of relationships that crossed national boundaries, religious affiliations and family ties.