Monday, November 2, 2009

International Trade in Elephants

This is a preview of my new book, Global Business: Positioning Ventures Ahead to appear with Taylor and Francis in June of 2010. I will be posting little snippets from the book every once in a while. I encourage you to read, comment, share, and your thoughts to the comment section. And look for the book in June.

Most people, on seeing this headline will immediately think of ivory and the trade in elephant tusks. Today, governments around the world subscribe to restrictive measures in ivory trade,  in order to protect elephants from poachers.

Here, however, we want to show that that elephants in their entirety have been an important part of international trade for millennia. In many international conflicts in ancient times, elephants were the “tanks” of the battle. Even disciplined Roman legionnaires took to flight when confronted with the giants pachyderms from Africa. For hundreds of years, Roman mothers threatened their children that “Hannibal ante portas esse” meaning that Roman archenemy Hannibal (from the key trading opposition city of Carthage) was in front of the doors of Rome. He and his tanks had devastated multiple legions during the second Punic War (218 – 201 BC)  and might have taken Rome itself, had he not been ordered back home by the leaders of Carthage.

Even earlier, the Egyptians were very active in international trade. A key priority in their trade was to acquire elephants from Ethiopia, which they transported using specially constructed boats, called elefantegos, and then used to attack the Greek empire in Persia.  

Millennia later, large discussions are ongoing, trying to assess whether nations with advanced military technology should be selling weapons systems to the world.  We all know, how such sales can dramatically affect not only the trade and capital accounts of nations, but also their politics and the freedom of their citizens.

Sources: William J. Bernstein, A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World, Grove Press, New York, 2008; Titus Livius (Livy) , The History of Rome, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing ,2006; J.B. Bury, S.A. Cook and F.E. Adcock, The Cambridge Ancient History, 7,1, Cambridge University Press, 2003 

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