How much gold did humans possess by century starting with Neolithic?

How much gold did humans possess by century starting with Neolithic?

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Where can I find an approximate chart of total mass of metallic gold in possession of humans by centuries starting with Neolithic?

I also would like to see this detailed by civilization/culture.

I know, it's an ancient question, but maybe somebody might still be interested in some ballpark estimates. According to the World Gold Council about 200,000 tonnes of gold have been mined in human history. Most of it in the last 70 years. Almost half of it exists in form of jewellry.

The best estimates currently available suggest that around 197,576 tonnes of gold has been mined throughout history, of which around two-thirds has been mined since 1950. And since gold is virtually indestructible, this means that almost all of this metal is still around in one form or another. If every single ounce of this gold were placed next to each other, the resulting cube of pure gold would only measure around 21 metres on each side.

Total above-ground stocks (end-2019): 197,576 tonnes

Jewellery: 92,947 tonnes, 47.0% Private investment: 42,619 tonnes, 21.6% Official Holdings: 33,919 tonnes, 17.2% Other: 28,090 tonnes, 14.2% Below ground reserves: 54,000 tonnes

Source: Metals Focus; GFMS, Thomson Reuters, US Geological Survey, World Gold Council

How much gold has been mined?

The wonderful thing about gold is that it is completely indestructible and imperishable. The gold we see today is the same gold that existed bilions of years ago. The same goes for silver. Even though gold has a boiling point, the vapor created is still gold.

A count of gold in possession by humans would be impossible. There have been large ships of gold that have sank to the bottom of the ocean during the Spanish Conquests for example. Also, such chart would require that every human possesing gold throughout the history of the world would have had to reveil it. Humans are fallible and have their own thoughts, so there is a very likely chance that a lot of these gold census reports, if such reports even existed, lack a few people due to them not wanting to participate.


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Neolithic, also called New Stone Age, final stage of cultural evolution or technological development among prehistoric humans. It was characterized by stone tools shaped by polishing or grinding, dependence on domesticated plants or animals, settlement in permanent villages, and the appearance of such crafts as pottery and weaving. The Neolithic followed the Paleolithic Period, or age of chipped-stone tools, and preceded the Bronze Age, or early period of metal tools.

What occurred during the Neolithic Period?

The Neolithic Period, also called the New Stone Age, is the final stage of cultural evolution or technological development among prehistoric humans. The stage is characterized by stone tools shaped by polishing or grinding, dependence on domesticated plants or animals, settlement in permanent villages, and the appearance of such crafts as pottery and weaving. In this stage, humans were no longer dependent on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. The cultivation of cereal grains enabled Neolithic peoples to build permanent dwellings and congregate in villages, and the release from nomadism and a hunting-and-gathering economy gave them the time to pursue specialized crafts.

When did the Neolithic Period begin?

The starting point of the Neolithic Period is much debated, as different parts of the world achieved the Neolithic stage at different times, but it is generally thought to have occurred sometime about 10,000 BCE. This point coincides with the retreat of the glaciers after the Pleistocene ice ages and the start of the Holocene Epoch. Archaeological evidence indicates that the transition from food-collecting cultures to food-producing ones gradually occurred across Asia and Europe from a starting point in the Fertile Crescent. The first evidence of cultivation and animal domestication in southwestern Asia has been dated to roughly 9500 BCE, which suggests that those activities may have begun before that date.

How did Neolithic technologies spread outward from the Fertile Crescent?

A way of life based on farming and settled villages had been firmly achieved by 7000 BCE in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys (now in Iraq and Iran) and in what are now Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. The earliest farmers raised barley and wheat and kept sheep and goats, later supplemented by cattle and pigs. Their innovations spread from the Middle East northward into Europe by two routes: across Turkey and Greece into central Europe and across Egypt and North Africa and thence to Spain. Farming communities appeared in Greece as early as 7000 BCE, and farming spread northward throughout the continent over the next four millennia. This long and gradual transition was not completed in Britain and Scandinavia until after 3000 BCE and is known as the Mesolithic Period.

How long did it take other cultures to reach the Neolithic stage of development?

Neolithic technologies also spread eastward to the Indus River valley of India by 5000 BCE. Farming communities based on millet and rice appeared in the Huang He (Yellow River) valley of China and in Southeast Asia by about 3500 BCE. Neolithic modes of life were achieved independently in the New World. Corn (maize), beans, and squash were gradually domesticated in Mexico and Central America from 6500 BCE on, though sedentary village life did not commence there until much later, about 2000 BCE.

A brief treatment of the Neolithic follows. For full treatment, see Stone Age: Neolithic and technology: The Neolithic Revolution.

The Neolithic stage of development was attained during the Holocene Epoch (the last 11,700 years of Earth history). The starting point of the Neolithic is much debated, with different parts of the world having achieved the Neolithic stage at different times, but it is generally thought to have occurred sometime about 10,000 bce . During that time, humans learned to raise crops and keep domestic livestock and were thus no longer dependent on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Neolithic cultures made more-useful stone tools by grinding and polishing relatively hard rocks rather than merely chipping softer ones down to the desired shape. The cultivation of cereal grains enabled Neolithic peoples to build permanent dwellings and congregate in villages, and the release from nomadism and a hunting-gathering economy gave them the time to pursue specialized crafts.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the transition from food-collecting cultures to food-producing ones gradually occurred across Asia and Europe from a starting point in the Fertile Crescent. The first evidence of cultivation and animal domestication in southwestern Asia has been dated to roughly 9500 bce , which suggests that those activities may have begun before that date. A way of life based on farming and settled villages had been firmly achieved by 7000 bce in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys (now in Iraq and Iran) and in what are now Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. Those earliest farmers raised barley and wheat and kept sheep and goats, later supplemented by cattle and pigs. Their innovations spread from the Middle East northward into Europe by two routes: across Turkey and Greece into central Europe, and across Egypt and North Africa and thence to Spain. Farming communities appeared in Greece as early as 7000 bce , and farming spread northward throughout the continent over the next four millennia. This long and gradual transition was not completed in Britain and Scandinavia until after 3000 bce and is known as the Mesolithic.

Neolithic technologies also spread eastward to the Indus River valley of India by 5000 bce . Farming communities based on millet and rice appeared in the Huang He (Yellow River) valley of China and in Southeast Asia by about 3500 bce . Neolithic modes of life were achieved independently in the New World. Corn (maize), beans, and squash were gradually domesticated in Mexico and Central America from 6500 bce on, though sedentary village life did not commence there until much later, at about 2000 bce .

In the Old World the Neolithic was succeeded by the Bronze Age when human societies learned to combine copper and tin to make bronze, which replaced stone for use as tools and weapons.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by John P. Rafferty, Editor.

Did Ancient People Die Young?

Many of us believe our ancestors lived much shorter lives than we do. Cutting-edge archaeology shows otherwise.

Y ou might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen sitting outside their cave knapping stone tools. One says to the other: “Something’s just not right—our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past 30.”

T his cartoon reflects a very common view of ancient lifespans, but it is based on a myth. People in the past were not all dead by 30. Ancient documents confirm this. In the 24th century B.C., the Egyptian Vizier Ptahhotep wrote verses about the disintegrations of old age. The ancient Greeks classed old age among the divine curses, and their tombstones attest to survival well past 80 years. Ancient artworks and figurines also depict elderly people: stooped, flabby, wrinkled.

T his is not the only type of evidence, however. Studies on extant traditional people who live far away from modern medicines and markets, such as Tanzania’s Hadza or Brazil’s Xilixana Yanomami, have demonstrated that the most likely age at death is far higher than most people assume: It’s about 70 years old. One study found that although there are differences in rates of death in various populations and periods, especially with regard to violence, there is a remarkable similarity between the mortality profiles of various traditional peoples.

S o it seems that humans evolved with a characteristic lifespan. Mortality rates in traditional populations are high during infancy, before decreasing sharply to remain constant till about 40 years, then mortality rises to peak at about 70. Most individuals remain healthy and vigorous right through their 60s or beyond, until senescence sets in, which is the physical decline where if one cause fails to kill, another will soon strike the mortal blow.

S o what is the source of the myth that those in the past must have died young? One has to do with what we dig up. When ancient human remains are found, archaeologists and biological anthropologists examine the skeletons and attempt to estimate their sex, age, and general health. Markers of growth and development, such as tooth eruption, provide relatively accurate age estimates of children. With adults, however, estimates are based on degeneration.

Most Hadza, traditional hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, are likely to live for about 70 years. Kiwiexplorer/Flickr

W e are all able to instinctively label people as “young,” “middle-aged,” or “old” based on their appearance and the situations in which we encounter them. Similarly, biological anthropologists use the skeleton rather than, say, hair and wrinkles. We term this “biological age,” as our judgment is based on the physical (and mental) conditions that we see before us, which relate to the biological realities of that person. These will not always correlate with an accurate calendar age, as people are all, well, different. Their appearance and abilities will be related to their genetics, lifestyle, health, attitudes, activity, diet, wealth, and a multitude of other factors. These differences will accumulate as the years increase, meaning that once a person reaches the age of about 40 or 50, the differences are too great to allow any one-size-fits-all accuracy in the determination of the calendar age, whether it is done by eye on a living person or by the peer-preferred method of skeletal aging. The result of this is that those older than middle age are frequently given an open-ended age estimation, like 40+ or 50+ years, meaning that they could be anywhere between 40 and 104, or thereabouts.

T he very term “average age at death” also contributes to the myth. High infant mortality brings down the average at one end of the age spectrum, and open-ended categories such as 󈬘+” or 󈬢+” years keep it low at the other. We know that in 2015 the average life expectancy at birth ranged from 50 years in Sierra Leone to 84 years in Japan, and these differences are related to early deaths rather than differences in total lifespan. A better method of estimating lifespan is to look at life expectancy only at adulthood, which takes infant mortality out of the equation however, the inability to estimate age beyond about 50 years still keeps the average lower than it should be.

A rchaeologists’ age estimates, therefore, have been squeezed at both ends of the age spectrum, with the result that individuals who have lived their full lifespan are rendered “invisible.” This means that we have been unable to fully understand societies in the distant past. In the literate past, functioning older individuals were mostly not treated much differently from the general adult population, but without archaeological identification of the invisible elderly, we cannot say whether this was the case in nonliterate societies.


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M y colleague Marc Oxenham and I wanted to understand early societies more fully so we developed a method for bringing to light the invisible elderly. This method is applicable only to cemetery populations that have seen little change over the life of the cemetery, and without massive inequality between the inhabitants. That way it can be assumed that the people ate similar foods and behaved in similar ways with their teeth. One such cemetery is Worthy Park near Kingsworthy, Hampshire, where Anglo-Saxons buried their loved ones some 1,500 years ago. It was excavated in the early 1960s.

W e measured the wear on the teeth of these people, and then seriated the population from those with the most-worn teeth—the oldest—to those with the least-worn. We did this for the whole population, not just the elderly, to act as a control. We then matched them against a known model population with a similar age structure and allocated the individuals with the most-worn teeth to the oldest ages. By matching the Worthy Park teeth to the model population, the invisible elderly soon become visible. Not only were we able to see how many people lived to a grand old age but also which ones were 75 years or older and which were a few years past 50.

Archaeologists Christine Cave and Marc Oxenham studied skeletal teeth such as these to gain a better understanding of how long people lived in early societies. Australian National University

S eeing the invisible elderly has led to other discoveries. It has often been suggested that more men than women lived to older age in the past because of the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth, but our study suggests otherwise. We applied our method to two other Anglo-Saxon cemeteries as well—Great Chesterford in Essex and the one on Mill Hill in Deal, Kent—and found that, of the three oldest individuals from each cemetery, seven were women and only two were men. Although not conclusive proof, this suggests that older age spans for women might be part of the human condition.

W e also looked at the treatment of the elderly in their graves. Anglo-Saxon men were often buried with weapons, while women were buried with brooches and jewelry including beads and pins. This suggests that men were identified by their martial qualities, while women were admired for their beauty. Men also maintained or increased their status in their graves well into their 60s, while women’s “value” peaked in their 30s and declined further as they aged. Intriguingly, the class of item most likely to be found in the graves of the elderly rather than younger individuals was the grooming tool. The most common of these was tweezers, and most of these were buried with old men. Did this mean that old men were concerned about their looks? Or that old women were too far from beauty for tweezers or other grooming items to help? Findings such as these provide a glimpse into the lives of people of the past—a glimpse that was impossible without identifying the invisible elderly.

The maximum human lifespan (approximately 125 years) has barely changed since we arrived. It is estimated that if the three main causes of death in old age today—cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer—were eliminated, the developed world would see only a 15-year increase in life expectancy. While an individual living to 125 in the distant past would have been extremely rare, it was possible. And some things about the past, such as men being valued for their power and women for their beauty, have changed little.


The Ice Age in the territory of present-day Latvia ended 14,000–12,000 years ago. The first human settlers arrived here during the Paleolithic Age 11,000–12,000 years ago. They were hunters, who following the reindeer herds camped along the rivers and shore of the Baltic Ice Lake. As geology of the Baltic Sea indicates, the coastline then reached further inland. The earliest tools found near Salaspils date to the late Paleolithic age, circa 12,000 years ago, and belong to the Swiderian culture.

During the Mesolithic Age (9000 – 5400 BC) permanent settlements of hunter-gatherers were established. They hunted and fished, establishing camps near rivers and lakes 25 settlements have been found near Lake Lubāns. These people from the Kunda culture made weapons and tools from flint, antler, bone and wood. [3]

Neolithic Age, 5000 – 1800 BC Edit

The early Neolithic (5400 – 4100 BC) was marked by beginnings of pottery-making, animal husbandry and agriculture.

During the Middle Neolithic (4100 – 2900 BC) the local Narva culture developed in the region. Inhabitants of this age were Finno-Ugric peoples, forefathers of Livonians who are closely related to Estonians and Finns and belonged to Pit–Comb Ware culture.

At the beginning of the Late Neolithic (2900 – 1800 BC), present day Latvia was settled by Baltic people belonging to the Corded Ware culture. They were forefathers of Latvians, who have inhabited most of Latvian territory since the third millennium BCE. [4]

Bronze Age, 1800 BC – 500 BC Edit

Iron Age, 500 BC – 1200 AD Edit

With introduction of iron tools during the early Iron Age (500 BC – 1st cent. BC) agriculture was greatly improved and emerged as the dominant economic activity. Bronze, which was traded from foreigners because Latvia has no copper or tin, was used for making a wide variety of decorative ornaments. [3]

Starting from the Middle Iron Age (400–800 AD) the local inhabitants began to form distinct ethnic and regional identities. Baltic tribesmen eventually became Curonians, Semigallians, Latgalians and Selonians, while Finno-Ugric people became Livonians, Estonians and Vends local chiefdoms emerged.

At the beginning of current era, the territory known today as Latvia became famous as a trading crossroads. The renowned trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory via Daugava to the ancient Kievan Rus' and Byzantine Empire. The ancient Balts actively participated in this trading network. Across the Europe Latvia's coast was known as a place for obtaining amber and Latvia sometimes is still called Dzintarzeme (Amberland). Up to and into the Middle Ages, amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, and the Amber Road was intensively used for the transfer of amber to the south of Europe.

During the Vendel Period near the town of Grobiņa a Scandinavian settlement was established, most likely, by people from Gotland. This colony which numbered a few hundred people existed sometime from 650 – 850 AD. Multiple chronicles mention that Curonians paid a tribute to Swedish kings.

During the Late Iron Age (800–1200 AD) the three-field system was introduced, rye cultivation began, quality of local craftsmanship improved with introduction of potter's wheel and better metal working techniques. Arab, Western European and Anglo-Saxon coins dating from this era have been found. A network of wooden hill-forts was built, which provided control and security over the land. [5]

In the 10th century, the various ancient Baltic tribal chiefdoms started forming early realms. Regional tribal cultures developed in the territory of modern-day Latvia and northern Lithuania, including the Curonians, Latgalians, Selonians, Semigallians (Latvian: kurši, latgaļi, sēļi, zemgaļi) and The Western Finnic Livonians, who united under their local chiefs.

The largest tribe was the Latgalians who also were the most advanced in their socio-political development. The main Latgalian principality, Jersika, was ruled by Greek Orthodox princes from the Latgalian-Polotsk branch of the Rurik dynasty. The last ruler of Jersika, mentioned in the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia (a document that describes events of the late 12th and early 13th centuries) was King Visvaldis (Vissewalde, rex de Gercike). When he divided his realm in 1211, part of the country was called "Lettia" (terra, quae Lettia dicitur), probably the first time this name is mentioned in written sources.

In contrast, the Couronians, whose territories extended into today's Lithuania and Curonian Spit, maintained a lifestyle of sea invasions that included looting and pillaging. On the west coast of the Baltic Sea they became known as the "Baltic Vikings."

Selonians and Semgallians, closely related to Aukštaitians and Samogitians, were known as prosperous farmers and resisted Germans the longest under such chiefs as Viestards. Livonians lived along the shores of the Gulf of Riga and were fishers and traders, and they gave the first German name to this territory – Livland.

Before the German invasions started in late 12th century, Latvia was inhabited by about 135,000 Baltic people and 20,000 Livonians.

By the end of the 12th century, Latvia was increasingly often visited by traders from Western Europe who set out on trading journeys along Latvia's longest river, the Daugava, to Kievan Rus'. Among them were German traders who came with Christian preachers who attempted to convert the pagan Baltic and Finno-Ugric tribes to the Christian faith.

In early 1180s Saint Meinhard began his mission among Daugava Livonians. They did not willingly convert to the new beliefs and practices, they particularly opposed the ritual of baptism. News of this reached Pope Celestine III in Rome, and it was decided in 1195 that Livonian Crusade would be undertaken to convert pagans by force. Meinhard was followed by Berthold of Hanover, who was killed in 1198 near the present-day Riga by Livonians.

The real founder of the German power in Latvia was Berthold's successor, Bishop Albert of Riga who spent almost 30 years conquering local rulers. Much of this period is described in the Livonian Chronicle of Henry. Bishop Albert of Riga founded Riga in 1201, and gradually it became the largest city in the southern part of the Baltic Sea.

A state known as Terra Mariana, later Livonian Confederation, was established in 1207. It consisted of various territories that belonged to the Church and Order in what is now Latvia and Estonia and was under the direct authority of the Pope of Rome. In 1228 the Livonian Confederation was established.

The Order of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword was founded in 1202 to subjugate the local population. The Livonians were conquered by 1207 and most of the Latgalians by 1214. When Brothers of the Sword were decimated at the Battle of Saule in 1236, they asked for incorporation into the Teutonic Order as the Livonian Order. In 1260, the Battle of Durbe destroyed Teuton hopes for a wide land bridge between their territories in Prussia and Courland.

By the end of the 13th century, the Curonians and Semigallians were subjugated (in 1290 the majority of Semigallians left German-conquered areas and moved to Lithuania), and the development of the separate tribal realms of the ancient Latvians came to an end as Germans introduced direct rule over subjected peoples.

In 1282, Riga (and later Cēsis, Limbaži, Koknese and Valmiera) were included in the Northern German Trading Organisation, better known as the Hanseatic League (Hansa). From this time, Riga became an important point in west–east trading, and it formed closer cultural contacts with Western Europe.

Between 1297 and 1330 the Livonian Civil War raged, which started as a conflict between the Bishop of Riga and the Livonian Order.

Native people initially retained much of their personal freedoms as the number of Germans was too small to implement a total control beyond the requirements to follow Christian rites, pay the required taxes and participate as soldier in wars. In case of Curonian Kings the former tribal nobility retained a privileged status until the proclamation of independent Latvia. During the 14th century peasants had to pay 10% to the Church and work 4 days of socage per year.

In the 15th–16th centuries, the hereditary landed class of Baltic nobility gradually evolved from the German vassals of the Order and bishops. In time, their descendants came to own vast estates over which they exercised absolute rights. At the end of the Middle Ages this Baltic German minority had established themselves as the governing elite, partly as an urban trading population in the cities, and partly as rural landowners, via a vast manorial network of estates in Latvia. The titled landowners wielded economic and political power they had a duty to care for the peasants dependent on them, however in practice the latter were forced into serfdom.

By 16th century sockage had increased to 4 – 6 days per week and various taxes to 25%. Peasants increasingly tried to escape to freedom, either by moving to Riga (they could gain freedom if they lived there for one year and one day) or another manor. In 1494 a law was passed which forbade peasants to leave their land, virtually enslaving them.

The Reformation reached Livonia in 1521 with Luther's follower Andreas Knöpken. During the Protestant riot of 1524 Catholic churches were attacked and in 1525 freedom of religion was allowed. First Latvian parishes were established and services held in Latvian. Protestants gained support in the cities, and by the middle of the 16th century the majority of the population had converted to Lutheranism.

The Livonian Confederation ceased to exist during the long Livonian War of 1558–82. The Livonian Order was dissolved by the Treaty of Vilnius in 1561. The following year, the Livonian Landtag decided to ask protection from King Sigismund II of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the end of government by the last Archbishop of Riga, William of Brandenburg, Riga became a Free Imperial City [6] and the rest of the territory was divided into Polish-Lithuanian vassal states - Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (Polish vassal) and the Duchy of Livonia (Lithuanian vassal). [7] [8]

The seal of Livonian order

Conquest of the Baltic lands

Lands of the Teutonic Order in 1410

Riga Dom construction began under Archbishop Albert

Livonian lady by Albrecht Dürer, 1521

Livonian ladies by Albrecht Dürer, 1521

Livonian war put an end to the Livonian Confederacy. Despite the very real threat of Muscovite rule over the whole Livonia, Western Christian countries managed to establish their control over this area for the next 150 – 200 years.

In September 1557 the Livonian Confederation and the Polish–Lithuanian union signed the Treaty of Pozvol, which created a mutual defensive and offensive alliance. Tsar Ivan the Terrible of Muscovy regarded this as a provocation, and in January 1558 he reacted with the invasion of Livonia that began the Livonian War of 1558–83. On August 2, 1560 the forces of Ivan the Terrible destroyed the last few hundred soldiers of the Livonian Order and the Archbishop of Riga at the Battle of Ērģeme.

In 1561 the weakened Livonian Order was dissolved by the Treaty of Vilnius. Very much following the earlier model of Prussian Homage its lands were secularised as the Duchy of Livonia (Lithuanian vassal) and the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (Polish vassal) were created. The last Master of the Order Gotthard Kettler became the first Duke of Courland and converted to Lutheranism.

Kingdom of Livonia, 1570–1578 Edit

In 1560 Johannes IV von Münchhausen, the prince-bishop of Ösel-Wiek and Courland, sold his lands to king Frederick II of Denmark for 30,000 thalers. To avoid partition of his lands, King Frederick II gave these territories to his younger brother Magnus, Duke of Holstein on condition that he renounce his rights to succession in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Magnus was recognised as sovereign by the Bishop of Ösel-Wiek and Courland and as the prospective ruler of his lands by the authorities of The Bishopric of Dorpat. The Bishopric of Reval with the Harrien-Wierland gentry took his side. Gotthard Kettler, the last Master of the Livonian Order, gave Magnus the portions of Livonia he had taken possession of, along with Archbishop Wilhelm von Brandenburg of the Archbishopric of Riga and his coadjutor Christoph von Mecklenburg.

On June 10, 1570 Duke Magnus of Holstein arrived in Moscow, where he was crowned King of Livonia. Magnus took an oath of allegiance to Ivan the Terrible as his overlord and received from him the corresponding charter for the vassal kingdom of Livonia in what Ivan termed his patrimony. The armies of Ivan the Terrible were initially successful, taking Polotsk in 1563 and Pärnu in 1575 and overrunning much of Grand Duchy of Lithuania up to Vilnius.

In the next phase of the conflict, in 1577 Ivan IV took opportunity of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's internal strife (called the war against Gdańsk in Polish historiography), and during the reign of Stefan Batory invaded Livonia, quickly taking almost the entire territory, with the exception of Riga and Revel.

In 1578 Magnus of Livonia recognized the sovereignty of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (not ratified by the Sejm of Poland-Lithuania, or recognized by Denmark). In 1578 Magnus retired to The Bishopric of Courland where he lived in Piltene Castle and accepted Polish pension. After he died in 1583, Poland annexed his territories to the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and Frederick II decided to sell his rights of inheritance. Except for the island of Œsel, Denmark was out of the Baltic by 1585.

German publication about the horrors of Livonian war

Livonia, as shown in the map of 1573 of Joann Portantius

Duchy of Livonia, 1561–1621 Edit

Jan Hieronimowicz Chodkiewicz became the first Governor of the Duchy (1566–1578) with the seat in Sigulda Castle. It was a province of Grand Duchy of Lithuania until 1569. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, it became a joint domain of the Polish Crown and the Grand Duchy. Muscovy recognized Polish–Lithuanian control of Ducatus Ultradunensis in 1582.

In 1598 Duchy of Livonia was divided onto:

Inflanty Voivodeship, 1621–1772 Edit

The larger part of the Duchy was conquered by Swedish Kingdom during the Polish–Swedish War (1626–29), and was recognized as Swedish territory in the Truce of Altmark. The Commonwealth retained southeastern parts of the Wenden Voivodeship, renamed to Inflanty Voivodeship with the capital in Daugavpils (Dyneburg). Catholicism became the dominant religion in this territory, known as Inflanty or Latgale, as a result of Counter-Reformation. During the first Partition of Poland in 1772, when it was annexed by Catherine the Great's Russian Empire and title "Grand Duke of Livonia" was added to the grand title of Russian Emperors.

Swedish Livonia, 1629–1721 Edit

During the Polish–Swedish War (1600–1629) Riga and the largest part of Duchy of Livonia came under Swedish rule in 1621. During the Swedish rule this region was known as the "Swedish Bread Basket" because it supplied the larger part of the Swedish Kingdom with wheat.

Riga was the second largest city in the Swedish Empire at the time. Together with other Baltic Sea dominions, Livonia served to secure the Swedish Dominium maris baltici. In contrast to Swedish Estonia, which had submitted to Swedish rule voluntarily in 1561 and where traditional local laws remained largely untouched, the uniformity policy was applied in Swedish Livonia under Karl XI of Sweden: serfdom was abolished in the estates owned by the Swedish crown, peasants were offered education and military, administrative or ecclesiastical careers, and nobles had to transfer domains to the king in the Great Reduction. These reforms were subsequently reversed by Peter I of Russia when he conquered Livonia.

In 1632 the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus founded Dorpat University which became the intellectual focus for population of Livonia. The translation of the whole Bible into Latvian in 1685 by Johann Ernst Glück was subsidized by the Swedish government. Schools for Latvian speaking peasantry were set up in the country parishes. In Latvian history this period is generally praised as the "good Swedish times".

Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, 1562–1795 Edit

After Gotthard Kettler became the first duke, other members of the Order became the nobility, with their fiefdoms becoming their estates. Kettler received nearly one-third of the land in the new duchy. Mitau (Jelgava) was designated as the capital and a Landtag was to meet there twice a year.

When Gotthard Kettler died in 1587, his sons Friedrich and Wilhelm became the dukes of Courland. They divided the Duchy into two parts in 1596. Friedrich controlled the eastern part, Semigalia (Zemgale), with his residence in Mitau (Jelgava). Wilhelm owned the western part, Courland (Kurzeme), with his residence in Goldingen (Kuldīga). Wilhelm regained the Grobiņa district when he married the daughter of the Duke of Prussia. Here he developed metalworking, shipyards, and the new ships delivered the goods of Courland to other countries. Wilhelm's conflict with local nobles ended with his removal from the duke's seat in 1616 and Friedrich became the only duke of Courland after 1616.

Under the next duke, Jacob Kettler, the Duchy reached the peak of its prosperity. During his travels in Western Europe, Jacob became the eager proponent of mercantilist ideas. Metalworking and ship building became much more developed, and powder mills began producing gunpowder. Trading relations developed not only with nearby countries, but also with Britain, France, the Netherlands and Portugal. Jacob established the merchant fleet of the Duchy of Courland, with its main harbours in Windau and Libau. In Windau 120 ships were built, of which over 40 were warships. The duchy owned large fleet and established two colonies — St. Andrews Island in the estuary of Gambia River (in Africa) and Tobago Island (in the Caribbean Sea). Courland related place names from this period still survive today in these places.

The last duke, Peter von Biron who ruled under heavy Russian influence founded Academia Petrina in 1775. In April 1786 he purchased the Duchy of Sagan from the Bohemian Lobkovic family, from then additionally using the title of Duke of Żagań. In 1795, Russia determined the further fate of Courland when with its allies it began the third division of Poland. Given a "nice recommendation" by Russia, Duke gave up his rights in return of large payment, signing of the final document on March 28, 1795.

Enlightenment and Latvians Edit

Enlightenment ideas influenced local Baltic Germans, two of whom played great role in the creation of Latvian nation. Gotthard Friedrich Stender wrote the first Latvian-German and German-Latvian dictionaries. He also wrote the first encyclopedia “The book of high wisdom of the world and nature” (1774) and the first illustrated Latvian alphabet book (1787).

Garlieb Merkel in 1796 published his book “The Latvians” in which exposed the horrible conditions of serfdom under which Latvians were forced to live because of cruelty of their German masters.

Postal stamp in memory of Duke Jacob

Livonia and Courland in 1705

Rundāle Palace, summer residence of Duke von Biron

Jelgava Palace, the main residence of Duke von Biron

In 1700 the Great Northern War between Sweden and Russia started largely because Peter the Great wanted to secure and enlarge Russian access to the Baltic ports. In 1710 Russians conquered Riga and Estonia and Livonia capitulated. Losses from the military actions were multiplied by the Great Northern War plague outbreak which killed up to 75% of people in some areas.

In 1713 Peter established the Riga Governorate, and after various administrative and territorial reforms, Governorate of Livonia was finally established in 1796. Latvians call it Vidzeme Governorate (Vidzemes guberņa). Sweden officially gave up its claims to Swedish Livonia with the 1721 Treaty of Nystad. The Treaty enshrined the existing privileges and freedoms of the German Baltic nobility. They were allowed to maintain their financial system, existing customs border, self-governing provincial Landtags and city councils, Lutheran religion and German language. This special position in the Russian Empire was reconfirmed by all Russian Emperors from Peter the Great (reigned 1682–1725) to Alexander II [9] (reigned 1855-1881). Only the 1889 judicial reform imposed Russian laws and a program of Russification enforced school education in Russian.

After the First Partition of Poland in 1772 Russia gained Inflanty Voivodeship which was first included in the Mogilev Governorate and after 1802 in Vitebsk Governorate. This led to increased cultural and linguistic separation of Latgalians from the rest of ethnic Latvians. A large Daugavpils fortress was built here.

After the Third Partition of Poland and financial settlement with the last Duke of Courland and Semigallia in 1795 the Courland Governorate was created in which the Germans retained their privileges and autonomy for another century. Russian empire now possessed all the territories inhabited by Latvians.

In 1812 Napoleon's troops invaded Russia and the Prussian units under the leadership of the field marshal Yorck occupied Courland and approached Riga and the Battle of Mesoten was fought. Napoleon proclaimed restoration of Duchy of Courland and Semigallia under French and Polish protectorate. The Russian governor-general of Riga Ivan Essen was expecting attack, and set the wooden houses of Riga suburbs on fire to deflect the invaders leaving thousands of city residents homeless. However, Yorck did not attack Riga and in December the Napoleon's army retreated.

Emancipation of peasantry Edit

Livonian peasant law, 1804 Edit

After the October 1802 Kauguri rebellion, czarist authorities reacted with the law of February 20, 1804 which was aimed at improving peasant condition in Livonian Governorate. Peasants no longer were tied to the land-owner, but to the land, so they could be sold only together with the land. Peasants were divided in two classes – people of manors and plowmen. Plowmen were divided into farm-owners and free people. Farms from now on could be inherited within the family. Amount and length of socage now was regulated and limited. This law was opposed by the nobles, who in 1809 secured changes in the law which again gave them more power over peasants and socage. [10]

Emancipation in Courland, 1819 Edit

In 1816 Governorate of Estonia proposed a law for emancipation of serfs which was based on the model of the Prussian reforms. Czarist authorities ordered Courland Landtag to come up with a similar proposal, which was accepted on August 25, 1817 and proclaimed in Jelgava on August 30, 1818 in presence of Czar Alexander I. Emancipation came into force in 1819 and continued until 1832 as only selected number of peasants was emancipated each year. Emancipation gave peasants personal freedom, but no land, which they had to lease from land-owners. Peasants were not completely free, as they still could not move to another governorate or city without land-lord's permit.

Emancipation in Livonia, 1820 Edit

After Emancipation in Estonia and Courland, the situation in Livonia was resolved by the law of March 26, 1819, which was very similar to the Emancipation law of Courland. It was proclaimed on early 1820 and was in force until 1832.

Emancipation in Latgale, 1861 Edit

As Latgale was part of the Russian Vitebsk Governorate, serfdom here lasted until 1861, when the Emancipation reform of 1861 was proclaimed in the Russian Empire. Initially peasants kept their land, but had to continue performing socage and rent payments. This was ended by the new law of March 1, 1863. [10]

Further reforms Edit

After 1832 peasants were allowed freedom of settlement within the governorate, but only in 1848 Courland peasants were allowed to settle in towns and cities, many of which until then had mostly German and Jewish populations.

The provisional Livonian agrarian law of July 9, 1849 which came int force on November 20, 1850 maintained German nobility's property rights, but allowed peasants to rent or buy the land. By 1856 only 23% of farmers were paying land rent, while the rest were still performing socage. In 1860 this law became permanent and allowed increasing number of farmers to purchase their homes. An 1864 law permitted creation of credit unions, and this improved access to capital for farmers wanting to buy their homes from German land-lords. Just before the start of World War I about 99% of houses in Courland were bought and 90% in Livonia. [11] This created a land-owning Latvian farmer class which increased in prosperity and sent its sons to schools of higher education.

In 1870-80's many peasants who were unable or unwilling to purchase their land, used the opportunity to emigrate to Siberia, where land was given for free. By the start of World War I approximately 200,000 Latvian farmers had moved to farming colonies in Siberia.

Giving of family names Edit

While there are records of Latvian last names going as far back as 15th century, almost all of them were inhabitants of large cities and often adopted Germanic family names. Some peasants had family names in the 17th century, but majority had only first name until the emancipation. Most people were identified by the name of their house or manor. Emancipation created the need for identity papers and with this, for family names. Livonian peasants had to choose family names by 1826, in Courland majority names were selected in the campaign that lasted from October 1834 until July 1835. Peasants were prohibited from choosing family names of German nobility and majority chose names related to animals, plants and trees, especially popular were diminutive forms – Bērzs (birch), Bērziņš (small birch), Kalns (hill), Kalniņš (small hill).

Religion Edit

Latvia was predominantly Lutheran and Catholic, but in 1729 Herrnhuter Brethren started their mission in Livonia, with center in Valmiera, their missionaries made significant headway despite the opposition of the German landlords who controlled the Lutheran clergy. The Imperial government proscribed the Moravians 1743–1764. This was the first Christian movement where Latvians become involved voluntarily. Brethren operated independently from the German landlords and their meeting houses were run by Latvians, giving them a chance to create their own communities. Brethren reached the peak of their popularity around 1820, a few years after serfdom was abolished in Livonia Governorate. 30 parishes had almost 100 meeting houses and 20,000 members.

The Imperial government sponsored the Russian Orthodox Church, as part of its program of russification, but Lutheranism remained the dominant religion, except Latgale where Catholicism was dominant. Other Protestant missions had some success including the Baptists, Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists. [12]

In 1571 the first Jews were invited to settle in Piltene and a Courland Jewish community was formed. After incorporation into Russian Empire more Jews from the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth settled here.

Latvian National Awakening Edit

Latvian national awakening could start after the emancipation of serfs and growth in literacy and education rates. Educated Latvians no longer wanted to be Germanized.

In 1822 Latviešu avīzes the first weekly in Latvian began publishing. In 1832 weekly Tas Latviešu Ļaužu Draugs began publishing. The first Latvian writers who wrote in Latvian appeared – Ansis Liventāls (1803–77), Jānis Ruģēns (1817–76) and others. In 1839 institute for the elementary school teachers led by Jānis Cimze opened in Valmiera.

By the middle of 19th century, the First Latvian National Awakening began among ethnic Latvian intellectuals, a movement that partly reflected similar nationalist trends elsewhere in Europe. This revival was led by the "Young Latvians" (in Latvian: jaunlatvieši) from the 1850s to the 1880s. Primarily a literary and cultural movement with significant political implications, the Young Latvians soon came into severe conflict with the Baltic Germans. During this time the notion of a united Latvian nation was born. Young Latvians also began to research Latvian folklore (See:Latvian dainas) and ancient beliefs.

In the 1880s and 1890s the russification policy was begun by Alexander III aimed at reducing German autonomy in the Baltic provinces. Introduction of the Russian language in administration, court and education was meant to reduce predominance of German language. At the same time these policies banned Latvian language from public sphere, especially schools, which was a heavy blow to the new Latvian culture.

With increasing poverty in many rural areas and growing urbanization and industrialization (especially of Riga), a loose but broad leftist movement called the "New Current" arose in the late 1880s. It was led by the future National poet Rainis and his brother-in-law Pēteris Stučka, editors of the newspaper Dienas Lapa. This movement was soon influenced by Marxism and led to the creation of the Latvian Social Democratic Labour Party. While Rainis remained a social democrat until his death, Stučka become allied with Lenin, established the first Bolshevik state in Latvia and died in Moscow.

1905 Revolution Edit

Latvia welcomed the 20th century with an explosion of popular discontent during the 1905 Revolution. It started with the shooting of demonstrators in Riga on January 13, progressed to mass strikes in October and armed uprising in December. The revolution was aimed not only against the czarist authorities, but against the hated German barons. For in Latvia most did not feel primarily oppressed by Russia or Russians, but by the Baltic Germans —roughly seven percent of the population— who had instituted a feudal system with themselves at the top and Latvian-speakers being left mostly poor and landless. [13] As such, it involved not only left wing social democrats and industrial workers, but also more conservative peasants and Latvian intelligentsia since —despite being second class citizens in their own country— Latvia was also a highly literate and industrialised society. Riga was behind only St. Petersburg and Moscow by the number of industrial workers, and at the turn of the century over 90% of Latvians could read. [13] In this regard, Latvia was equally primed for radical leftism and nationalism. In all, spearheaded by the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (LSDSP), the governorates making up what is now Latvia were probably the most ungovernable in the whole Russian Empire. [13]

Following the shooting of demonstrators in St. Petersburg on January 9, 1905 a wide-scale general strike began in Riga. On January 13 Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators in Riga killing 73 and injuring 200 people.

During the summer of 1905 the main revolutionary events moved to the countryside. 470 new parish administrative bodies were elected in 94% of the parishes in Latvia. The Congress of Parish Representatives was held in Riga in November. Mass meetings and demonstrations took place including violent attacks against Baltic German nobles, burning estate buildings and seizure of estate property, including weapons. In total 449 German manor houses were burned.

In the autumn of 1905 armed conflict between the German nobility and the Latvian peasants began in the rural areas of Vidzeme and Courland. In Courland, the peasants seized or surrounded several towns where they established revolutionary councils. In Vidzeme the fighters controlled the Rūjiena-Pärnu railway line. Altogether, a thousand armed clashes were registered in Latvia in 1905. [14]

Martial law was declared in Courland in August 1905 and in Vidzeme in late November. Special punitive expeditions by Cossack cavalry units and Baltic Germans were dispatched in mid-December to suppress the movement. They executed over 2000 people without trial or investigation and burned 300 houses and public buildings. The executed often were local teachers or peasant activists who had shown disrespect to German nobles, not necessarily hardened revolutionaries. 427 people were court martialed and executed. 2652 people were exiled to Siberia, over 5000 went into exile to Western Europe or the US. In 1906 the revolutionary movement gradually subsided but some local protests and actions of forest guerrillas continued until 1907. They executed some daring raids – freeing their imprisoned comrades from Riga police HQ on January 17, 1906, February 26, 1906 Helsinki bank robbery and the 1910 Siege of Sidney Street in London.

Among the exiles were activists from the left and right who in just 10 years would fight against each other over the future of Latvia, such as the future Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis, National poet Jānis Rainis and early Cheka leader Jēkabs Peterss.

Latvian workers against a Cossack, Freedom Monument

Monument to the victims of January 13, 1905

The burned Allaži manor house

On August 1, 1914 Germany declared war on Russia. Since Courland Governorate had a direct border with Germany it was immediately involved in warfare. On August 2 German warships SMS Augsburg and SMS Magdeburg shelled port city Liepāja, causing it light damage. On August 19 German navy tried to capture Užava Lighthouse but were repelled, after which German artillery destroyed it. In October British submarines HMS E1 and HMS E9 from the British submarine flotilla in the Baltic arrived in Liepāja. On November 17 German navy again shelled Liepāja and military installations of Karosta damaging some 100 buildings.

Many Latvians served in the Russian units stationed at German border and took part in Russian invasion of East Prussia. They participated in the early battles of First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes and Battle of Augustow total Latvian losses during these battles might have reached 25,000 dead. [15]

German attack and refugees Edit

By May 1915 the war reached most of Latvia. On April 30 Russian Commander-in-Chief ordered evacuation of all Jews from Courland within 24. hours. On May 2, 1915 German attack against Jelgava was repelled. On May 7 the Germans captured Liepāja and Kuldīga.

On June 29 the Russian Supreme Command ordered the whole population of Courland evacuated, and around 500,000 refugees fled to the east. Much of the crops and housing was destroyed by the army to prevent it from falling in the German hands. Some of refugees settled in Vidzeme but most continued their way to Russia where they had to settle in primitive conditions, suffering from the hunger and diseases. In August 1915 the Latvian Refugee Aid Central Committee was established in Petrograd, it was run by future politicians Vilis Olavs, Jānis Čakste and Arveds Bergs. Committee organized refugee housing, organized 54 schools, 25 hospitals and distributed aid. Many refugees returned to Latvia only after 1920, when a peace treaty was signed between Latvia and Soviet Russia. Many Latvians stayed in the new Bolshevik state, achieving high army and party offices, only to be purged and executed by Stalin during 1937–38.

On July 19, 1915 the Russian War Minister ordered the factories of Riga evacuated together with their workers. In the summer of 1915, 30,000 railway wagons loaded with machines and equipment from factories were taken away reducing the population of Riga by some 50%. This action effectively destroyed Riga as a great industrial center until the later industrialization under the Soviet regime.

On August 1, Germans captured the capital of Courland, Jelgava. A week later Battle of the Gulf of Riga started and eventually was lost by Germany. By October 23, Germans captured Ilūkste and were within the striking distance of Daugavpils with its fortress.

Latvian Riflemen Edit

After on July 17 and 18, 1915 Germans captured Dobele, Talsi, Tukums and Ventspils, a public proclamation by State Duma members, written by Kārlis Skalbe, called for the formation of volunteer Latvian Riflemen units. In August the formation of Latvian battalions started. From 1915 to 1917, the Riflemen fought in the Russian army against the Germans in defensive positions along the Daugava River, notably the Nāves sala (Island of Death) bridgehead position. In December 1916 and January 1917, they suffered heavy casualties in month-long Christmas Battles. Many of them were buried in the newly created Riga Brothers' Cemetery.

After the great offensive of 1915, the front line stabilized along the Daugava river until the Russian army started to collapse in early 1917. In February 1917 Revolution broke out in Russia and in the summer the Russian army collapsed. By this time the Riflemen had overwhelmingly transferred their allegiances to the Bolsheviks. [13] The following German offensive was successful and on September 3, 1917 they entered Riga.

In November 1917, the Communist Bolsheviks took power in Russia. Even though ethnic Latvians had become important assets in the task of securing Soviet power military (with the first ever commander-in-chief of the Red Army being Latvian Jukums Vācietis) [13] the Bolshevik government tried to end the war and in March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed which gave Courland and Livonian Governorate to the Germans, who quickly established occupational regime which lasted until November 11, 1918. During this time Germans tried to create the United Baltic Duchy in perpetual union with the Crown of Prussia.

War damages Edit

A survey in 1920 established that 56,7% of parishes had war damages. Population had decreased from 2,55 million to 1,59 million. The number of ethnic Latvians has never again reached the 1914 levels. 87,700 buildings were destroyed. 27% of the arable land laid in waste. Much of the industry was evacuated to Russia and lost forever. Ports were damaged by sunken ships, bridges blown up and railways damaged. 25,000 farms were destroyed, 70,000 horses, 170,000 cattle lost. [16]

SMS Augsburg on August 4, 1914

Ilūkste before destruction in 1915

German troops in Liepāja, May 1915

German parade in Riga, 1917

The course of World War I, which directly involved Latvians and Latvian territory, led to the idea of Latvian statehood. During the summer of 1915 German army conquered Kurzeme and Zemgale, which caused a virtual exodus of Latvians from these two provinces. Local politicians gained experience organizing refugee relief and Latvian refugee cultural life. Caught between the attacking Germans and incompetent Russians, Latvian riflemen (latviešu strēlnieki) bravely fought on the Russian side during this war and became increasingly radicalized after repeated setbacks under czarist generals. During the Russian Civil War a significant group (known as Red riflemen) fought for Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, German Empire and local Baltic Germans were planning to annex the ancient Livonian and Estonian lands to their Empire. During the chaotic period of Russian and German empire collapses, February Revolution and Bolshevik revolution, Soviet westward offensive and onset of the Russian Civil War there were various efforts to establish a state in Latvia. Not all of them were aimed at establishing an independent state or even a Latvian state.

Provisional Land Councils Edit

After the February Revolution in Russian Empire majority of Latvians were not expecting more than a federated status in a Russian state. "Free Latvia in Free Russia" was the slogan of the day. During March 12–13, 1917 in Valmiera the Vidzeme Land Congress was held which created the Provisional Land Council of Vidzeme. Courland was occupied by Germans, who increasingly supported idea of creating a puppet Duchy of Courland and Semigallia in order to annex it to Germany. Latgalian inhabited counties of the Vitebsk Governorate were demanding unity with other Latvian provinces (unification of Latgalian Latvians and Baltic Latvians), which came only after the Bolshevik revolution.

Iskolat Edit

On July 5, 1917 the Russian Provisional Government recognized the elected Land councils of Vidzeme and Kurzeme. Encouraged by the liberalism of the Provisional government, Latvians put forward proposals which envisioned a broad local autonomy. On August 12, 1917 Latvian organizations jointly asked the Provisional government for autonomy and self-determination. During this Congress from August 11–12 (July 29–30, Old Style) in Riga, the left wing Social Democrats, heavily influenced by the Bolsheviks, established Iskolat government.

After Riga was occupied by Germans on September 3, 1917 Iskolat retreated to Vidzeme, where it assumed executive powers. The so-called Iskolat Republic existed from November 21, 1917 until March 3, 1918. Under German attacks it evacuated to Cēsis, then Valka and was disbanded on March 1918 after the Brest-Litovsk treaty left Latvian lands (except Latgale) to Germany.

Democratic bloc Edit

After the preliminary meeting on September 14, on September 23, 1917, in the German-occupied Riga, the Latvian Social Democratic party together with Latvian Farmers' Union and some smaller republican and socialist parties created the Democratic bloc which petitioned Ober Ost for the restoration of elected Riga City Council, re-opening of schools and press freedoms. Democratic Bloc was not a formal organization, but a coalition of politicians, who shared similar political goals.

Latvian Social Democrats used their old contacts with the German Social Democrat Party to directly lobby politicians in Berlin. On October 19, 1918, Democratic bloc representatives delivered a petition to the German Imperial chancellor Prince Maximilian of Baden, in which they asked for the removal of occupational forces, release of POWs and recognition of independent Latvian state.

Latvian National Council Edit

In October 1917 centrist politicians met in Petrograd and agreed to create a united Council of all Latvian parties, refugee support organizations and soldiers committees. On November 29, 1917 the Latvian Provisional National Council was established in Valka. On December 2, 1917 it proclaimed the creation of Latvia's autonomy in Latvian inhabited lands and proclaimed itself to be the only representative organ of Latvians. The Council announced three main goals – convening of a Constitutional Assembly, creation of political autonomy and uniting of all ethnic Latvian inhabited lands.

The National Council, which was led by Voldemārs Zāmuēls sent a delegation, led by the future Minister of Foreign Affairs Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics to the Allied countries, to get their support for independent Latvia.

Provisional National Council existed in the same place and time as the Bolshevik controlled Iskolat – the small city of Valka, which is situated on the border between ethnic Estonian and ethnic Latvian lands and for a couple of months was the virtual capital of Latvians. Iskolat moved to ban the Provisional Council in December 1917.

On January 5, 1918, during the only meeting of democratically elected Constituent Assembly of Russia, which was abolished by Bolsheviks, Latvian deputy Jānis Goldmanis, the initiator in 1915 of creation of Latvian Riflemen units, read a declaration of separation of Latvia from Russia.

On its second meeting, which was held in Petrograd, the Latvian National Council on January 30, 1918 declared that Latvia should be an independent, democratic republic, uniting Latvian regions Kurzeme (which includes Zemgale), Vidzeme and Latgale.

On March 3, 1918 Soviet Russia signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with German Empire, by which Russia gave up Kurzeme and Vidzeme (but not Latgale). The National Council protested against the splitting of Latvian lands and annexation of Kurzeme by Germany.

On November 11, 1918 British Empire recognized Latvian National Council as de facto government, confirming a prior verbal communication of October 23 to Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics by the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, A. J. Balfour. [17]

Despite these successes, the National Council had a major problem, the Social Democrats and the Democratic Bloc refused to join it. This prevented the creation of a truly national consensus for proclaiming Independence. This was overcome only on November 17, 1918, when the People's Council (Tautas padome) was created.

United Baltic Duchy Edit

On September 22, 1918 German Emperor Wilhelm II proclaimed Baltic provinces to be free and on November 5 Germans proclaimed United Baltic Duchy headed by the Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg, however, this project (just like the similar Kingdom of Lithuania) collapsed together with the German Empire on November 9 and the Armistice of November 11.

On November 26, 1918 the new General Plenipotentiary of Germany August Winnig recognized the Latvian Provisional Government which was established by the People's Council. On November 28 the Regency Council of the United Baltic Duchy disbanded itself.

People’s Council Edit

After the German collapse on November 9, the National Council and Democratic bloc began unity talks. Social Democrats insisted that the new Latvia should be a socialistic state, which was not acceptable to other parties. They also refused to join the National Council, instead insisting on creating a new unity organization. The unity talks were led by Farmers' Union leaders Kārlis Ulmanis and Miķelis Valters, while National Council leaders Voldemārs Zāmuēls, Arveds Bergs and Ādolfs Klīve were sidelined. [18]

On November 17, 1918 competing Latvian factions finally united in the Latvia's Peoples Council (Tautas padome), which on November 18, 1918 proclaimed the Independence of Republic of Latvia and created the Latvian Provisional Government.

A few days later Soviet Russia started westward offensive aimed at regaining its western provinces and the War of Independence began.

The left wing of Latvian Social Democrats had become allied with Bolsheviks and during its conference of November 18–19, 1918 proclaimed that Latvian commune is a part of Russian Soviet Federation.

War of Independence Edit

On December 1, 1918 Soviet Russia invaded Latvia. Much of the invading army in Latvia consisted of Red Latvian Riflemen, which made the invasion easier. Soviet offensive met little resistance coming just a few weeks after the collapse of German Empire and proclamation of independent Latvia. Social Democratic party at this point decided to leave People's Council and rejoined it only in April 1918. On December 17, 1918 the Provisional government of Workers and Peasants, led by the veteran left-wing politician Pēteris Stučka proclaimed the Soviet rule. On December 18 Lenin officially recognized the new Soviet Latvia.

Riga was captured by the Soviet Army on January 3, 1919. By the end of January Provisional Government and remaining German units had retreated all the way to Liepāja, but then the Red offensive stalled along the Venta river. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was officially proclaimed on January 13 with the political, economic, and military backing of the Soviet Russia. Stučka established a radical communist regime of nationalizations, expropriations and executions of class enemies. Revolutionary tribunals were established, condemning to death German nobles, pastors, wealthy traders as well as peasants, who refused to surrender their grain, in total some 1000 people were executed. Due to food supply disruptions 8590 people starved to death in Riga.

On March 3, 1919 German and Latvian forces commenced a counterattack against the forces of Soviet Latvia. On April 16 the Baltic nobility organized a coup d'état in Liepāja and the puppet government under the leadership of Andrievs Niedra was established. The provisional national government took the refuge aboard steamship Saratov under British protection in Liepaja harbour. [19] On May 22, 1919 Riga was recaptured by Freikorps and White Terror against any suspected Soviet sympathizers began. The same time Estonian Army including the North Latvian Brigade loyal to Ulmanis government starts a major offensive against the Soviets in north Latvia. By the middle of June Soviet rule was reduced to Latgale.

In June 1919 collisions started between the Baltische Landeswehr on one side and the Estonian 3rd division, including the 2nd Cēsis regiment of North Latvian brigade on the other. [20] The 3rd division defeated the German forces in the Battle of Wenden on June 23. An armistice was signed at Strazdumuiža, under the terms of which the Germans had to leave Latvia. [20]

Instead the German forces were incorporated into the West Russian Volunteer Army. [20] On October 5 it commenced an offensive on Riga taking the west bank of the Daugava River with front line splitting Riga in half. On November 11 the Latvian counteroffensive began and by the end of the month they were driven from Latvia. During battles in Riga, Latvian forces were supported by British naval artillery.

On January 3, 1920 the united Latvian and Polish forces launched an attack on the Soviet army in Latgale and after the Battle of Daugavpils liberated Daugavpils. By the end of January they reached the ethnographic border of Latvia and peace negotiations with Soviets soon began.

Peace and international recognition Edit

During the 1919 Paris Peace conference Latvia had unsuccessfully lobbied for international de jure recognition of its independence by the Allied countries. Allies still hoped for a quick end of the Bolshevik regime and establishment of a democratic Russian state which will grant Latvia large degree of autonomy. The internal situation also was unstable, as during 1919 three different governments (Latvians, Germans-White Russians, Soviets) were fighting for the control.

According to Latvian diplomats, during that time the US and France were against recognizing Latvia, Italy and Japan supported it while the United Kingdom gave limited support and waited for the events to play out.

On August 11, 1920 according to the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty the Soviet Russia relinquished authority over the Latvian nation and claims to Latvian territory as "Russia recognizes without objection the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and forever renounces all sovereign rights held by Russia in relation to the Latvian nation and land on the basis of the previous State legal regime as well as any international agreements, all of which lose their force and effect for all future time as herein provided. The Latvian nation and land shall have no obligations arising from their previous possession by Russia."

In 1920 Latvia, together with Lithuania and Estonia, tried to join the League of Nations but was denied the membership.

As the Soviet victory in the Russian Civil War became clear and after heavy lobbying by the Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics, the Allied Supreme War Council, which included United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Italy and Japan, recognized Latvia's independence on January 26, 1921. [21] Recognition from many other countries followed soon. Latvia also became a member of the League of Nations on September 22, 1921. The US recognized Latvia only in July 1922. Before 1940 Latvia was recognized by 42 countries. [22]

After Latgale was finally liberated from the Soviets in January 1920, on April 17–18, 1920 elections to the Constitutional Assembly of Latvia were held. While the population of Latvia had fallen by almost a million, from 2,552,000 to 1,596,000 in 1920 (in Riga from 520,000 to 225,000), they were represented by 50 lists of parties and candidates that competed for 150 seats. Close to 85% eligible voters participated in elections and 16 parties were elected. Social Democratic Workers' Party won 57, Farmers' Union 26, Latgalian Peasant Party won 17 seats. This voting pattern marked all the future parliaments – high number of parties representing small interest groups required formation of unstable coalition governments, while the largest single party, Social Democrats, held the post of Speaker of the Saeima, they avoided participating in governments. Between 1922 and 1934 Latvia had 13 governments led by 9 Prime Ministers.

On February 15, 1922 the Constitution of Latvia and in June the new Law on Elections were passed, opening the way to electing the parliament – Saeima.

During the Parliamentary era, four elections were held which elected 1st Saeima (1922–25), 2nd Saeima (1925–28), 3rd Saeima (1928–31), 4th Saeima (1931–34). Three State Presidents were elected – Jānis Čakste (1922–27) who died in office, Gustavs Zemgals (1927–30) who refused to be re-elected and Alberts Kviesis (1930–36) who accepted the May 15 coup d'état.

Border conflicts Edit

The Latvian-Soviet peace treaty had set the eastern border between Latvia and Soviet Russia. After 1944 parts of Abrene District were annexed by Russia as Pytalovsky District. Latvia gave up all legal claims to these lands in 2007.

During 1919 Estonia had provided military assistance to Latvia on a condition that some of its territorial claims in Vidzeme will be met. This was refused by Latvians and Estonia withdrew its support. Estonian claims centered on Valka district as well as territories in Ape, Veclaicene, Ipiķi and Lode. On March 22, 1920 Estonia and Latvia agreed to a settlement commission led by British colonel Stephen Tallents. Latvia retained Ainaži parish, and most of other contested lands, but lost most of Valka city (now Valga, Estonia). Issue of the ethnic Swedish inhabited Ruhnu island in the Gulf of Riga was left for both countries to decide. Latvia finally renounced all claims on Ruhnu island after signing military alliance with Estonia on November 1, 1923. [23]

Latvia proposed to retain the southern border or former Courland governorate with Lithuania unchanged, but Lithuanians wanted to gain access to the sea, as at this time they did not control German lands of Klaipėda. In September 1919, during attack against the Soviets, Lithuanian army occupied much of Ilūkste Municipality and threatened to take Daugavpils as well. Between late August and early September 1920 Latvian army pushed Lithuanians out. [24] Lithuanians were weakened by Żeligowski's Mutiny and did not escalate this confrontation. On September 25, 1920 Latvia and Lithuania agreed to seek international arbitration committee led by James Young Simpson to settle this dispute. On March 1921, Lithuania was given port town Palanga, village of Šventoji, parts of Rucava Municipality and railroad junction of Mažeikiai on Riga – Jelgava – Liepāja railroad line, which meant that Latvia had to build a new railway line. Latvia received town of Aknīste and some smaller territories in Aknīste Municipality, Ukri parish and Bauska Municipality. Latvia gave up 283,3 square km, while receiving 290 km 2 . About 16–20 000 ethnic Latvians thus became Lithuanian citizens.

As a result of Polish–Soviet War, Poland secured a 105 km long border with Latvia. In July 1919 Poland announced annexation of all lands south of Daugavpils and their inclusion in Braslaw district. Latvia could not complain, as it still needed Polish military help for the decisive Battle of Daugavpils against the Soviets. The issue was solved by renewed Soviet attack against Poland, and later, by Polish-Lithuanian conflict over Vilnius. During the Soviet attack in July 1920, Polish forces retreated from this area which then was occupied by Latvian forces. After Żeligowski's Mutiny Poland wanted to have good diplomatic relations with Latvia and did not raise any serious territorial claims. The issue was solved in February 1929, when Latvian-Polish trade treaty was signed, which included a secret agreement about compensations to Polish landowners over lost properties. By 1937 Latvia had paid the full amount of 5 million golden lats. [25] Over some protests from Lithuania, Latvian-Polish border was demarcated between 1933 and 1938.

Foreign relations Edit

The earliest foreign policy goals were securing peace with Soviet Russia and Germany, gaining international recognition and joining the League of Nations. All this was achieved by the efforts of Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics.

The hope of union of Baltic countries – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland – faded after 1922. After that Latvia was the most energetic proponent of Baltic unity and Baltic Entente. On November 1, 1923 Latvia and Estonia signed a military alliance, followed by trade agreements. Latvia tried to maintain good relations with regional hegemons Russia and Germany and hoped for more support from the Great Britain. 21 foreign embassies and 45 consulates were opened in Latvia by 1928, some of these consulates were located in port cities Liepāja and Ventspils.

Latvia purchased embassy buildings in Berlin (1922), Tallinn, Warsaw (1923), London (1925), Paris (1927), Geneva (1938). [26]

Politics Edit

Social Democratic Workers' Party, as the largest party, held the position of the Speaker of the Saeima in all the interwar Saeimas. 1st Saeima was chaired by Frīdrihs Veismanis, Second, Third and Fourth Saeimas were chaired by Pauls Kalniņš. The refusal of Social Democrats to participate in governments (except twice in short-lived cabinets) meant that government was usually led by the center-right Farmers' Union, or a coalition of smaller parties, as Saeima was split among many parties with just a few MPs.

Social Democrats were split between the main Social Democratic Workers' Party led by Pauls Kalniņš, Ansis Rudevics and Fricis Menders (which first won 30 seats but had a tendency to lose votes in subsequent elections) and the splinter Social Democrat Minority Party, led by Marģers Skujenieks, who were more centrist and managed even to lead governments on two occasions. The mainstream Social Democrat party maintained strong policy of Socialist International ideals, criticized the existing capitalist system, avoided using State flag and singing National anthem, instead using the Red flag and singing the Internationale in their meetings. Their popularity increasingly fell and in the 4th Saeima they had only 21 seats.

The officially banned Communist Party of Latvia in 1928 elections managed to get 5 seats as the Left Trade Union which was banned in 1930. In 1931 elections Communists won 6 seats as the Trade Union Workers and Peasants Group, but were once again banned in 1933.

Latvian Farmers' Union was the second largest parliamentary faction with 14–17 MPs and the largest of the conservative parties. It increasingly had to compete with some smaller farmer, catholic farmer and Latgale farmer parties which won more votes in each elections. Farmer's Union was led by Kārlis Ulmanis, Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics and Hugo Celmiņš. The decreasing popularity of Ulmanis and Farmers' Union might have been one of the reasons behind the May 15, 1934 Latvian coup d'état, as Ulmanis tried to prevent further loss of his political influence and power after the elections, scheduled for October 1934.

Democratic Centre Party, led by Gustavs Zemgals represented mostly urban, middle-class office workers and state employees.

National Union, led by Arveds Bergs was nationalistic, anti-Soviet, center-right party that attracted urban followers. The extreme nationalists were represented by anti-semitic Pērkonkrusts, led by Gustavs Celmiņš.

Most of the remaining small parties were either ethnic – German, Jewish, Polish or represented single-issue economic groups – small-holders, house owners, even railroad workers. The small parties usually formed larger coalitions (blocks) and then used their influence to join governing coalition. One of the most influential was coalition of Latgale parties. [27]

Referendums Edit

During this time four referendums took place, all indicative of the issues facing the new state.

On July 19, 1922 a Concordat was signed with Vatican. This was motivated by the need to better integrate the heavily Catholic Latgale in the Lutheran dominated state. In traditionally Lutheran Riga some buildings belonging to Russian Orthodox Church were given to Catholics and the Lutheran St. James's Cathedral was transferred to Catholics as their new cathedral. On September 1–2, 1923 the Church property referendum was held in order to prevent any further forcible transfer of churches and properties from one confession to another. About 200,000 or 20% of voters participated, and it failed.

On June 2, 1927 Saeima once again changed the Citizenship law. In earlier version Latvian citizenship was granted to anyone who had lived in Latvia for 20 years before the August 1, 1914 (start of the WWI). Now this was shortened to 6 months before the August 1, 1914. This was mainly done to allow many Latvian farming colonists, who now were fleeing Soviet Russia, to receive citizenship. However, this also meant that many Soviet Jews now could claim Latvian citizenship. On December 17–18, 1927 the Latvian citizenship referendum was held to prevent these new changes, but it failed, as only 250,000 or 20% of voters participated.

The Concordate with Vatican caused another church property referendum in 1931. After the St. Jame's Cathedral was given to Catholics, Latvian Lutherans had lost their bishop's cathedral and were sharing the Riga Cathedral with Baltic German congregation, which belonged to the autonomous German Lutheran confession. The anti-German sentiment was widespread and initiative to give Riga Cathedral to Latvian Lutherans gained strength. On September 5–6, 1931 almost 400,000 voters supported this idea, but referendum failed, as it did not gather over 50% of votes. In any case, Saeima soon passed a law confiscating the church from Germans and giving it to Latvians.

On February 24–25, 1934 the Insurance Law referendum was held in order to introduce a new old-age and unemployment benefit scheme which would be funded by taxing employers, higher wage earners and municipalities. The referendum was initiated by Social Democrats, who managed to get over 400,000 votes for this idea, but referendum failed. [28]

Economy Edit

The new state had to deal with two main issues: restoration of industrial plants, especially in Riga and implementation of Land reform that would transfer most of the land from German nobles to Latvian farmers.

Constituent Assembly passed the law of the Land reform, which expropriated the manor lands. Landowners were left with 50 hectares each and their land was distributed to the landless peasants without cost. In 1897, 61.2% of the rural population had been landless by 1936, that percentage had been reduced to 18%. The extent of cultivated land surpassed the pre-war level already in 1923. [29]

Before the World War I some 2% of landowners owned 53% of land in Kurzeme and Vidzeme, in Latgale it was 38%. The Agrarian reform Law of September 16, 1920 created State Land Fund which took over 61% of all land. The German nobles were left with no more than 50 ha of land. This destroyed their manor house system. Many of them sold their possessions and left for Germany. Former manor house buildings often were used as local schools, administrative buildings or hospitals. The land was distributed to a new class of small-holding farmers – over 54,000 Jaunsaimnieki (New farmers) with average farm size of 17,1 ha, who usually had to create their farms from nothing, in process building new houses and clearing fields. Due to their small size and unfavorable grain prices, the new farmers rapidly developed dairy farming. Butter, bacon and eggs became new export industries. Flax and state owned forests were another export revenue source. [16]

On March 27, 1919 the Latvian rublis was introduced with an exchange rate of 1 Latvian rublis equal to 1 ostruble, 2 German marks and 1,5 czar rubles. On March 18, 1920 Latvian rublis was made the only legal currency. Due to high inflation, the new Latvian lats currency was introduced at a rate 1 lat to 50 rublis. In 1923 the Bank of Latvia was established and lats replaced rublis in 1925.

Between 1923 and 1930 state budget was with a surplus. On average 25,5% went to defense, 11,2% to education and 23,4% to capital investment projects. Around 15% of income was generated by state spirits monopoly.

The restoration of industry was more complicated. Before World War I 80% of industrial production was made for internal Russian Empire markets. Trade agreement with Soviet Union was signed in 1927 but did not result in high trade volumes. By the end of 1920s Latvia's largest export markets were Germany (35,6%), United Kingdom (20,8%), France, Belgium, Netherlands (22,9%). Latvia had to import almost all of modern machinery and fuels. [16]

In 1929 Latvia had 3 state owned banks, 19 private banks, 605 credit unions and many more mutual credit unions.

The Great Depression reached Latvia in the middle of 1930. Exports fell and imports were strictly limited, to save foreign exchange reserves. State monopolies of sugar and bacon were created. To prevent banks from collapse, between July 31, 1931 and September 1, 1933 a law was in force which prohibited withdrawal of more than 5% of the total deposit per week. In 1932 the trade agreement with Soviet Union expired and industrial unemployment reached its peak in January 1932. The national income fell from 600 lats per capita in 1930 to 390 lats per capita in 1932.

In place of free international trade came interstate clearing agreements which set the volumes and types of goods that states then would trade. In 1932 clearing agreements were signed with France and Germany, in 1934 with the United Kingdom, in 1935 with Sweden, Estonia and Lithuania.

Economic recovery started in 1933 as production increased by some 30%. The state budget deficit was reduced from the record 24,2 million lats in 1931/32 to 7,8 million lats in 1933/34 budget. [16]

The Evolution Of Trading: Barter System To Algo Trading

The evolution of trading is one of the most significant factors in the journey of mankind. Humans have evolved throughout the centuries and that would not have been possible if they were restricted to geographical boundaries.

Trading is a system of bringing people together for mutual benefit, though the primitive societies saw gatherings of people only in religious and cultural events which were limited by custom or kinship.

Today, trade has led to both static and dynamic gains for countries. Trade has inspired innovation of techniques which has led to faster and better communication between nations, creating a unified world for trading. Let me take you through the ‘Journey of Trade’ which has played a crucial part in shaping the modern day economy and learn how simple exchange of goods and services matured into a much more complex stock trading practices.

The Origins of Trade

Trade Before Civilization: Trading Stones

The Stone Age began roughly 2.6 million years ago during this era the stone tools were used for hunting and people were self-sufficient. They traveled in search of food and shelter, trade was conducted in relatively smaller scale, within small communities, and over a shorter distance. There was no concept of farming and merchants in the early Stone Age (Palaeolithic stage of the Stone Age). Trading was the main facility of prehistoric people, who bartered goods and services including hunting equipment and stones considered to have great value.

Currency Used: Barter system

17,000 BC to 9000 BC

The First Long-Distance Trade: Obsidian & Agriculture

Harvest is shown a wall painting in the Tomb of Menena

Obsidian was a widely used trade item post 17,000 BC because of the great desirability of this material before the use of metals. Obsidian was used to make cutting tools and was preferred over other available materials since it also signified the higher status of the tribe.

Obsidian was traded at distances of 900 kilometers within the Mediterranean region.

With the introduction of the new Stone Age era (Neolithic Phase) i.e starting 9000 BC agriculture started developing, people started domesticating animals and growing crops which led to communities settling in one location.

With agriculture and new farming tools, there was more surplus of food which was used for trading in exchange for other useful commodities (Barter System). Trading started between different communities where not only surplus of food but also farming tools (tools made from stone) and crafts were exchanged. With this, a new social class of merchants came into existence they would travel thousands of miles on foot to conduct trade with other communities.

Currency Used: Commodities in the form of livestock, salt, metal, rare stones etc

8,000 BC to 6000 BC

Matured Trading System: Civilization on the Rise

It’s 8000 BC and the world population is around 5,000,000. People have now learned the art of farming, domesticating animals, agriculture is booming and a food-producing economy has emerged.

Pottery traditions were on the rise in parts of the world now known as Asia, Japan, Korea, China, Mexico and many more. Obsidian was still an important part of trading habit but there was more to trade (barter) now including livestock, surplus production, salt, copper, cowry shells, pottery, animal skins, farming tools, seeds etc.

Korean neolithic pot, found in Busan

In the next few centuries’ people started inhabiting other parts of the world including Indus Valley, Jordan, Ireland, Anatolia, Scotland, North America, Nigeria, Turkey, Norway, Italy, Europe, Egypt etc. Ornaments (Gold & Copper) came into existence and were in huge demand around the world.

Based on the inhabitant region these cultural group of people started accommodating necessities based on the availability of natural resources in the adjacent areas. Objects were now made with an aesthetic value and not just limited to function.

Newly settled people now started importing exotic goods over distances of many hundreds of miles.

Currency Used: Money in the form of objects such as weapons, metal artifacts, pottery, copper, plant produce.

5,000 BC to 4000 BC

Important Inventions: The fast & Chronicle

The invention and development of ‘Wheel’ is an important part of the trading history. This civilization that witnessed the use of wheel had a better advantage over their ancestors because they had a greater ability to produce food, manufacture goods, and transport people and goods at a greater distance.

The earliest wheels were made of a solid piece of wood.

Communities started expanding since it became easier for them to cover greater distance within a short period of time and there was no need to stay close to food production areas. The wheel was also used in making pottery it was an important part of early civilization.

The period from 5 th Millennium to 4 th Millennium is also important because this is when proto-writing or the first form of writing was discovered. People were now able to commute and communicate better.

Clay amulet, one of the Tărtăria tablets, dated to ca. 4500 BCE

Currency Used: Barter, clay pots or tools, seeds, grains, tools etc

3,000 BC to 1000 BC

International trade on the rise: The caravans of India

Ebla (Syria) became a prominent trading center in the third millennium. Trade flourished between communities that were part of different kingdoms. With more inventions acting as a catalyst for trade related activities the flow of goods increased and the new set of occupations were acquired.

By the second millennium BC, former backwater island Cyprus had become a major Mediterranean player by ferrying its vast copper resources to the Near East and Egypt, regions wealthy due to their own natural resources such as papyrus and wool. Phoenicia, famous for its seafaring expertise, hawked it's valuable cedar wood and linens dyes all over the Mediterranean. China prospered by trading jade, spices and later, silk. Britain shared its abundance of tin.

With the domestication of camels, trade routes over land became popular and the group of traders called caravans used these trade routes to carry trades with India and Mediterranean. Towns began sprouting up like never before with pit-stop or caravan-to-ship port emerging everywhere.

A Caravan of camels travels through a starlit desert night

It was during this time that the Incense Route was used to transport frankincense and myrrh which was used as oil, perfume, incense, and medicine, which was only found in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula (modern Yemen and Oman).

Currency Used: Gold, silver, bronze, cattle, cowry shells, salt, commodity exchange etc

700 BC to 1500 AD

Trading Routes: Year of the Lord and Much More

The city of Vulci became the hub of trading and manufacturing center.

Greek colonists set up trade centers at Salona. The establishment of colonies permitted the import and export of luxury goods such as pottery, wine, oil, metalwork, and textiles.

The Han Dynasty opened up the 'Silk Road' trading route between China and Central Asia. Many different kinds of merchandise traveled along the Silk Road, it is one of the oldest routes of international trade in the world.

The first non-stop voyages from Egypt to India were initiated at the start of the Common Era. Spices from India became famous around the world and were the main exports to the western world. The spice trade fostered new diplomatic relationships between East and West, it was partly the spice trade in mind that Christopher set out in 1492 and ended up finding America)

With the start of 7 th century AD the ‘Tea Horse Road’ was used to trade Chinese tea and Tibetan warhorses. This route was spread over 6000 miles and was majorly used to export tea from China to Tibet and India.

Trading of gold, salt and cloth were also booming in Africa thanks to the Trans-Saharan Trade Route from North Africa to West Africa. These trade routes first emerged in the 4th century AD and by the 11th century AD caravans of over a thousand camels would carry goods across the Sahara desert.

Currency Used: Starting from metal in the shape of small knives and spades made of bronze to first manufactured coins in India and China, minted coins to bills of exchange.

The Evolution of Stock Exchange

1531: Belgium boasted a stock exchange in Antwerp. Brokers and money lenders would meet there to deal in business, government and even individual debt issues. There were no promissory notes and bonds or real stocks.

1600s: East India companies formed which changed the way business was done. The stock of these companies would pay dividends on all the proceeds from all the voyages the companies undertook. These were the first modern joint stock companies. This allowed the companies to demand more for their shares and build larger fleets. The profit for investors was based on the size of the companies, combined with royal charters forbidding competition.

East India House in Leadenhall Street, London

1773: The first stock exchange in London was officially formed

1780s: Japanese trader invents candlestick patterns to predict price movements in the rice market. 1790: The birth of U.S. investment markets was marked with the federal government issuing $80 million in bonds to repay Revolutionary War debt. Two years later the “Buttonwood Agreement” was signed by 24 stockbrokers and later moved to the Tontine Coffee House for trade.

1792: NYSE acquires first traded securities

1817: The constitution of NYSE is adopted

1830s: For the first time trading on corporate stocks and shares in Bank and cotton presses took place in Bombay.

1840s: During the California Gold Rush, curbstone brokers generated market opportunities for mining companies, facilitating the development of a new and rapidly growing industry.

1856: An informal group of 22 stockbrokers with a then princely amount of Rupee 1 started investing under a banyan tree opposite the Town Hall of Bombay from the mid-1850s. The same banyan tree still stands in the Horniman Circle Park in Mumbai.

1859: Oil stocks traded on the curb market after the discovery of Petroleum in western Pennsylvania.

1860: The exchange flourished with 60 brokers. In fact, the 'Share Mania' in India began when the American Civil War broke and the cotton supply from the US to Europe stopped. Further, the brokers increased to 250. An informal group of stockbrokers organized themselves as the “The Native Share and Stockbrokers Association” which in 1875, was formally organized as the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE).

Present Day Bombay Stock Exchange building in Mumbai, India

1864: Founded in part by former curbstone brokers, Open Board of Stock Brokers started functioning. It got merged with the New York Stock Exchange in 1869.

1875: BSE, on the other hand, was set up in the year 1875 and is the oldest stock exchange in Asia. It has evolved into its present status as the premier stock exchange.

1890s: The curb market moves to Broad Street near Exchange Place.

1904: Emanuel S. Mendels started to organize the curb market to encourage sound and ethical dealings. The New York Curb Market Agency was established in 1908 to codify trading practices.

1921: The New York Curb Market found a new home indoors to a new building on Greenwich Street, Lower Manhattan.

1944: The New York Curb Market was formed with a constitution that sets higher brokerage and listing standards.

1956: The Government of India recognized the Bombay Stock Exchange as the first stock exchange in the country under the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act.

1960: The online stock trading accounts did not exist in the 1960s. The order booking process was initiated by calling your broker and asking him to enter the order in his own system, on your behalf. In case the stock that was ordered is traded in the NYSE, it was called onto the floor of the NYSE e.g. order to buy 100 shares was matched with an order to sell 100 shares in the broker’s system.

If it was an over-the-counter (OTC) stock, that is, one not listed on the NYSE or AmEx but still traded, the broker called around by phone to market makers who quoted different prices to buy or sell the stock.

1969: In order to allow brokers to post offers to buy and sell stocks after regular market hours, Instinet is founded as the first Electronic Communication Network (ECN)

1970s: Founding of NASDAQ.

1971: The National Association of Securities Dealers, an association of over-the counter (OTC) market makers formed in 1939, created the first electronic stock market: the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) market.

1975: Fixed commissions are abolished by the SEC. This allowed for the rise of discounted commissions and facilitated the growth of Charles Schwab and others. The Amex launches its options market.

1976: NYSE introduces its Designated Order Turnaround (DOT) system, which allowed brokers to route 100-share order directly to specialists on the floor. These were not true electronic executions since the specialist still matched the orders, but it did bypass floor brokers.

1980s: The rise of electronic trading.

1984: NYSE adopts a more sophisticated SuperDOT system that allows orders up to 100,000 shares to be routed directly to the floor. More floor brokers cut out.

1987: The 1987 crash is blamed partly on "portfolio insurance" (shorting stock index futures against a stock portfolio). Electronic trading takes another leap forward as NASDAQ expands the Small Order Execution System (SOES), which allows dealers with small trades to enter their orders electronically rather than over the phone. This was done because during the 1987 crash many broker-dealers simply stopped answering their phones.

Stock Brokers in the 1980s

1990-95: the rise of online trading.

1994: NSE started trading on 4 November 1994. Within less than a year, NSE turnover exceeded the BSE.

1996-1999: Online trading begins to explode as Internet traffic dramatically increases. Small traders suddenly had the same access to real-time pricing as professional brokers. The word "day trader" enters the vocabulary.

The 2000s: Decimalization, algorithmic trading, and high-frequency trading.

2000: The NASD spins off NASDAQ into a publicly traded company.

2001: Stock trading in pennies begins. NYSE introduced Direct+, which facilitated immediate automatic execution of limit orders up to 1099 shares. This is real electronic trading (automated matching of buy and sell orders) and was the beginning of the end of the old floor specialist system.

2005: Reg-NMS changes everything- HFT goes prime time. The SEC consolidates all rules on the national market system into Reg-NMS, which forced the NYSE to go electronic and fostered the growth of competing ECNs and exchanges.

NYSE launches NYSE Hybrid in December, which attempts to combine the NYSE floor operations with electronic trading occurring off the floor. The 1,099 share limits on the Direct+ system were removed. Specialist participation in the marketplace started to drop drastically.

2006: NYSE demutualizes, becomes a for-profit and publicly traded company. This gives the exchanges an incentive to start managing for profit and more incentive based competition for brokers.

2007: NYSE merges with Euronext, which had been formed in 2000 through the merger of the Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris exchanges.

2008: NYSE eliminates specialists, renaming them Designated Market Makers, though still in charge of maintaining a fair and orderly market in their stocks. Algo trading begins in India.

Algorithmic Trading - Percentage of Market Volume

2009: Credit Suisse’s Advanced Execution Services (AES) unit launched algorithmic trading in Indian equities. The AES suite of algorithms included traditional algorithmic strategies that seek to divide trading volumes up over time and strategies that seek to trade at the Volume Weighted Average Price of a stock.

The Same year, a software developer Satoshi Nakamoto proposed bitcoin, which was an electronic payment system based on mathematical proof.

2010: Direct Edge, formerly an ECN, becomes an exchange. In India, National Stock Exchange (NSE) started offering additional 54 co-location server ‘racks’ on lease to broking firms from June 2010 in an effort to improve the speed in trading. Also, adapts FIX protocol. Multiple QuantInsti, Asia’s pioneer in Algo trading education is launched and started first algo trading education programme in India.

2012: NYSE created something called a single-stock circuit breaker. If the Dow drops by a specific number of points in a specific period of time, then the circuit breaker will automatically halt trading. This system is designed to reduce the likelihood of a stock market crash and, when a crash occurs, limit the damage of a crash.

At the close of 2012, the size of the world stock market (total market capitalisation) was about US$55 trillion. By country, the largest market was the United States (about 34%), followed by Japan (about 6%) and the United Kingdom (about 6%)

The 40-year evolution of the American stock market in a single GIF


2013: About 70% of US equities in 2013 were accounted for by Automated Trading. Algorithmic trading accounted for a third of the total volume on Indian cash shares and almost half of the volume in the derivatives segment.

2015: Social media integration Bloomberg Terminals incorporates live Tweets into its economic data service. Bloomberg Social Velocity tracks abnormal spiked in chatter about specific companies.

2017: Nasdaq smashes 6,000 and world stocks hit new high.

Nasdaq ended up 41.7 points at 6,025.5, having earlier hit a new lifetime high of 6,031.91. The milestone comes more than 17 years after the index touched the 5,000 mark.

As rightly quoted by Isabel Hoving “The positive aspect of the trade is that the world gets stirred up together”, for centuries we human beings have thrived by helping each other which has brought the world together. The evolution of trading was just a part of this journey but we are yet to witness what innovative approaches are to be followed in the near future which will shape the economy for the generations to come.

Next Step

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13. The Persian Civilization

Period: 550 B.C. – 331 B.C.
Original Location: Egypt in the west to Turkey in the north, through Mesopotamia to the Indus river in the east
Current Location: Modern-day Iran
Major Highlights: Royal road

A series of kings forged the Persian Empire. The first, Cyrus II, started a tradition of conquering new lands. From 550 B.C. to 331 B.C., this royal hobby of collecting new territories granted the Persians the largest empire recorded in ancient history.

Their land included modern-day Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Northern India, and regions inside Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.

The culture left behind great ruins, intricate metalworks, and invaluable golden treasures. Interestingly, they practiced “Zoroastrianism,” which remains one of the oldest religions still practiced today.

The tolerant belief system was likely the reason why Cyrus II was unusual for his time — choosing to treat his defeated enemies with respect instead of brutality. A later king, Darius I (father of the movie-famous Xerxes I, from the film 300), created the jaw-dropping Royal Road, a network that reached from the Aegean Sea to Iran and connected several cities through 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) of paving.

The Royal Road helped to establish an express mail service as well as control over a vast territory. But, unfortunately, it was also what brought Persia’s doom.

Alexander the Great from Macedonia used the convenient roads to trot along, conquering the Persians who were financially exhausted from the suppression of revolts among their captured states. Alexander was met with fierce resistance, but knuckled Persia into submission and ended its long and brutal reign.

Population Increase and Social Complexity

Increase in population necessarily results in an increase in social complexity. For example, in slightly more modern times, once there is a large population of people living together who are not related, it is necessary for courthouses, police forces, and other third parties to ease conflict resolution since it is less likely that there will be someone related to one or both parties who can mediate the conflict.

As a result, greater social complexity, such as third-party institutions, is required for groups beyond a certain size to be sustainable. It is possible that large densely populated settlements didn’t exist before about 15,000 years ago because humans had not yet developed third party institutions not based on kinship to mediate conflicts between unrelated individuals that could cause the group to disintegrate.

‘The dawn of civilization - Egypt and Chaldaea’ (1897). ( Public Domain ) Third party institutions are necessary to make the various aspects of a civilization work and to mediate conflicts.

Around 70,000-100,000 BP, the earliest art emerged in Africa and then spread to Eurasia and eventually to Australia and the Americas. It is not clear what caused this, but one hypothesis is that a rewiring of the human brain occurred without changing the physical appearance of Homo sapiens - that made Homo sapiens capable of producing art and advanced tools which do not appear earlier in the archaeological record.

It is possible that something comparable happened 15,000-20,000 years ago that allowed humans to gather into larger social groups and, therefore, allowed for large, permanent settlements. It may have been the invention of third-party social institutions not based on the family which were able to mediate conflicts within large groups of unrelated individuals. It could also have been some sort of advance in cognition enabled by cultural adaptation. Whatever it was, it appears that the increase in settlement size and social complexity were already well underway when true agriculture and animal husbandry appeared in human prehistory.

Egyptians with domesticated cattle and corn circa 1422-1411 BC. ( Public Domain )

The New York Herald reports on the Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush excited the imaginations of many thousands of Americans. Newspapers in the East commented on the gold craze that swept the country. They also printed letters from Forty-Miners who wrote back describing the potential riches in California.

New York Herald, 9 December 1848: “ The Eldorodo of the old Spaniards is discovered at last … . In every direction vessels are being prepared to carry out passengers and merchandise to California … . The mania for emigrating to California is spreading in every direction and almost puts down and suppresses the dread of cholera … . This mania or madness is only at its commencement. ”

New York Herald, 7 April 1849: “ Hurrah! Here we are at last! The Land of Promise — El Dorado of the West! Our own bright, beautiful, bountiful California lies before us — her lap full of riches … . Any strong, able bodied man who is willing to labor five or six hours a day in the broiling sun, can make from $10 to $20 per day for three or four months in the year. ”

Source: Peter Browning, ed. and comp., To the Golden Share: America Goes to California — 1849 (LaFayette, Cal: Great West Books, 1995), pp. 45, 249.

The California Economy. Even before the arrival of these large-scale operations, prices for food and clothing in California were extremely high. Though an early miner could make more than ten times as much money mining gold than working in the East, the inflated economy and the shortage of goods diminished the Forty-Niners ’ purchasing power. Sarah Royce, who went to northern California in 1849 with her husband and small daughter, found that an onion cost one dollar in the boom town of Sacramento. In fact, some migrants came to California not so much to mine gold but to mine the miners. They brought goods and services that fetched high prices in a booming economy based on gold dust. Since the scramble for gold brought conflict, it comes as no surprise that lawyers prospered. As Royce noted, some Americans came with, or developed, highly questionable schemes in order to get rich through the miners. These budding and impatient entrepreneurs tried their hand at such ventures as cattle or land speculation, but most failed. Yet some new migrants, including frustrated miners, went into other lines of work and invested in businesses that succeeded. The Royces, for example,

gave up mining and settled down and established a farm near Grass Valley, California.

The Ascendancy of the Anglos. The rush of Americans into California proved beneficial primarily for the native English-speaking people. Attacks by Anglos and the erosion of native subsistence economies in the face of the new mining regime drastically reduced the Indian population. By using law and force of arms, Americans drove Mexicans from the mines. Many Chinese men who had emigrated hoping to become rich found themselves driven out of the gold fields by racist Americans. Violence and discrimination were particularly pronounced after the placer gold diminished. White Americans believed California to be theirs alone even though the United States had only recently acquired it from Mexico.

The Golden State. The Gold Rush created the state of California. California had been part of the Spanish Empire since the late 1700s, but Mexico ceded it to the United States in 1848. It reached statehood in 1850 — only two years after gold had been discovered at Sutter ’ s Mill. Entire cities materialized throughout the state. San Francisco surfaced as the great city of the nineteenth-century Far West. In 1848 the city had only eight hundred inhabitants two years later, twenty thousand people lived there. By 1860 it held fifty thousand residents. In short, the precious yellow metal created not only big dreams, big disappointments, and a few big fortunes, but it also gave birth to the nation ’ s richest and most populous state.

Prehistoric Medicine

Before there were humans on earth, there was disease. But were the diseases of early animals the same as those of evolving humans? And how did early humans treat their illnesses? For possible clues one must search among the surviving prehistoric skeletons and artifacts.

Studies of animal fossils have shown that prehistoric creatures were subject to manifold diseases and injuries. Fractures seem to have been common, and while some healed with little deformity, others show effects of infection (osteomyelitis), poor apposition of the bony fragments, and extensive calluses (bone “scars” associated with healing). Possibly the earliest callus known is in the arm bone of a reptile of the Paleozoic Permian period. Inflammations of both the surface of bones (periostitis) and their inner substance (osteitis) have also been reported. Arthritis in dinosaurs and prehistoric bears was evidently so common that scholars have named it “cave gout.”

Paleopathology, a term given wide circulation by Sir Marc Armand Ruffer in the nineteenth century, is the study of the abnormalities which can be demonstrated in the human and animal remains of ancient times. Investigations of human remnants from historic periods have uncovered many disease entities, for instance tuberculosis and parasitic infestation in the mummies of ancient Egypt, but what of the bony remains of humans from prehistory? Clear-cut abnormalities in their skeletons and teeth also testify to the prevalence of a number of pathologic conditions. In addition, some of the bone irregularities (decalcification, overgrowths, and thickenings) may represent secondary effects of general illnesses.

Questions are still unanswered concerning some types of illness. For example, although Egyptian mummies show characteristics of tubercular disease of the spine, the same kind of infection has rarely been found in Neolithic bones. Nor is it yet incontrovertibly determined whether certain pathologic changes in ancient bones recovered in the Americas are attributable to pre-Columbian syphilis or to a different spirochetal disease, or whether the bones belong to a later period than supposed. Bone wasting (osteomalacia) has been interpreted by some as a sign of poor nutrition, but true rickets appears to have been rare, probably because living outdoors most of the time would have been preventive. Even the specimens claimed to be rickets were uncovered only in northern climes.

Fossil teeth show signs of erosion, abscess, and pyorrhea. When the first specimens were discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the now-abandoned concept that focal infections of the teeth and tonsils were a cause of arthritis was prevalent. Paleopathologists therefore linked tooth infection with the arthritis seen in prehistoric skeletons. This habit of judging the past by tenets of the present has been with us through the centuries. Cavities (caries) were also a problem by late Paleolithic and certainly Neolithic times. They became a common disorder in ancient Egypt, especially in its later history.

When it comes to prehistoric diseases of the soft parts, except for inferences drawn from changes in the bones, clear-cut evidence is absent because of failure of the tissues to survive. No bodies or organs earlier than 4000 B.C. have been discovered. Microscopic imprints on rocks seem to indicate the presence of bacteria in prehistoric periods, but since even now the vast majority of the billions of microorganisms are not harmful we have no way of knowing whether these were pathogenic (disease producing).

In the mummies of early Egypt, arteriosclerosis, pneumonia, urinary infections, stones, and parasites have been identified, which may suggest that such conditions also prevailed in earlier unrecorded epochs. We do not know whether prehistoric man suffered arteriosclerosis, but its very presence—sometimes in advanced degree—in ancient Egyptian mummies may have bearing on our modern ideas concerning its causes. If early humans existed without strains similar to those of technically advanced civilization, then stress would have an unlikely relation to arteriosclerosis. It does appear, however, that man’s illnesses, for the most part, have been mere continuations of the diseases and bodily mechanisms of the creatures who preceded or accompanied him.

What of the length and quality of life in prehistoric times? About 2600 B.C., the legendary “Yellow Emperor” of China is supposed to have said in the great Canon of Medicine, “I have heard that in ancient times the people lived to be over a hundred years, and yet they remained active and did not become decrepit in their activities.” The emperor’s rosy view of the distant past is not borne out by the findings. Bones from Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods strongly suggest that a lifetime was much shorter than in more recent epochs, averaging approximately thirty to forty years.

In virtually all reported studies, men seemed to have lived longer than women, the common assumption being that pregnancy and childbirth were responsible for the difference. Skeletons of early women have been uncovered with fetuses wedged tightly in the pelvis, and also with newborns buried beside them. However, difficult labor was probably less common in the earliest millennia, the numbers of births per woman were much fewer than often assumed, and infection after delivery was probably infrequent. Furthermore, even after childbearing age women had shorter life expectancies than men of comparable age (the opposite of recent experience). A possible explanation for the shorter life spans of prehistoric women is that chronic malnutrition, starting in infancy and continuing through childhood, made women less resistant to illness. According to this idea, men and boys, as leaders, hunters, and warriors, were considerably better fed than women and girls who were the home laborers, crop cultivators, and childbearers.

How did early humans treat their illnesses? Some writers have surmised from the self-treatment of sick animals—licking wounds, delousing one other, and eating emetic grasses—that prehistoric man also employed similar care. In the first century of the Christian Era, Pliny repeated the tall tale about the hippopotamus which when ill would plunge its knee into a sharp reed to let out blood and heal itself (another example of applying the tenets of one’s own time to other epochs—in this instance the idea that bloodletting was an effective medical treatment).

Was animal instinct a compelling force that enabled humans to find food, plants, substances, and procedures to nurture themselves? If so, it may have been the beginning of healing methods. The almost reflex rubbing of an injured part, using heat to relieve discomfort, and applying cold to deaden pain may all parallel the similar activities of animals who wallow in cool water and apply mud to irritated areas. Sucking skin that is pierced by insect stings and exerting pressure to stop bleeding possibly also could have been useful “medical” therapy performed by early man.

However, we also know that not all manipulations are beneficial. Nor were they necessarily well handled by prehistoric humans. For example, in noticing that menstruation relieved bodily tensions did prehistoric people thereby embark on the system of bloodletting that was to dominate healing practices for thousands of years? Or did phlebotomy (opening a vein) result from philosophical speculation rather than empiric observation?

We do not know whether any treatment was used by the earliest humans. Salutary outcome of sickness or injury does not necessarily mean that therapy was employed many illnesses and wounds heal themselves. In one collection of prehistoric specimens, over half of the fractured bones seem to have healed with good results, but well-aligned healing of fractured bones of wild animals has also been observed. Furthermore, we have to guess at the knowledge of the body possessed by early humans. Cave pictures have received considerable attention and a variety of interpretations. For instance, the remarkable drawing in red ochre of a mammoth in the Pindal cave in Spain, presumably of the Paleolithic period, shows a leaf-shaped dark area where the heart should be. Whether this was meant to represent the ear, the heart, some other part, or was merely a decoration is not known. If it is truly the drawing of a heart it would be the first anatomical illustration.

Did prehistoric people develop a cult of healing? A painting in the Trois Frères cave in France of an erect, possibly dancing figure with deer head or mask has been thought by some to represent the first shaman, or healing priest. Another Paleolithic fragment shows a reindeer stepping over a supine pregnant woman. Was this a ritual to transmit strength or was it a medical method to hasten labor?

In the Neolithic period (about 10,000-7,000 B.C.) humans apparently shifted from food-gathering to food-producing. One can assume that medicinal herbs were among the plants grown, but whether and when they were recognized to possess healing properties is not known. It is also possible that more secure shelter and more regularly available food led to fewer illnesses. With the use of tools Neolithic men and women became craftsmen. They may also have used implements for surgical purposes since examples of trepanation (removal of a segment of bone from the skull) dating to the Neolithic period have been discovered in France. Signs that the skull wound was healing indicate that a fair proportion survived the operation. However, each of many possible reasons for the procedure has had its advocates. That it may have been a religious rite is suggested by its performance even sometimes on the dead and by use of the removed button of bone (“rondelle”) as an amulet. It may have had a magico-medical purpose of letting out a demon, as has been observed in some primitive peoples. On the other hand, it could have been a treatment for fractures or a means of removing bone splinters. Indeed trepanation may have been employed at different times for all of the above reasons.

Although the knowledge of prehistory is considerable from fossils, paleontology, physical anthropology, paleopathology, sculpture, and cave art, the answers to many of our questions are still conjectural. Folklore, known medical practices of primitive peoples, and the archaeological and literary evidences of ancient civilizations may well give additional indications of what preceded them, but this information can also be misleading since primitive societies and ancient cultures themselves have often undergone change through the centuries.

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“An old model of a chair can be just as useful as it ever was,” he told me. “And that really sets it apart from most or at least many technologies, like, say, a smartphone, which changes every year. An old smartphone in 20 years will be just a curiosity. It won’t have any functional purpose.” (Of course, not all sitting furniture is functionally timeless. Imagine eating pasta one-handed while reclining on an ancient Roman dining couch. It helped that wealthy Romans had servants.)

The first chair Rybczynski was able to identify in the historical record was not a physical chair but a sculpture of one from the Cycladic islands in the Aegean Sea, dated to the period 2,800 - 2,700 B.C. The figurine depicts a musician playing a harp while sitting in what looks like a typical kitchen chair, with a straight back and four legs. By the time of the ancient Egyptians, sitting was a matter of status: Everyone sat on stools or on the ground, but chairs with backs or armrests were reserved for the elite.

In the fifth century B.C., the Greeks invented the klismos, which featured curved legs and a curved backrest, and which Rybczynski described to me as “one of the most beautiful chairs made by anybody.” Ever. In his book, he argues that chairs “of equal elegance” to the klismos didn’t emerge for more than 2,000 years, until the “golden age” of chairs in the 18th century, when a flurry of creative craftsmanship and global trade produced ornate items like the French Louis XV armchair and Chinese/English cabriole-legged furniture.

In ancient Greek art, “virtually everybody [is] sitting in a klismos chair. We have women, men, gods, and clearly important people, musicians, workers,” Rybczynski told me. It was a comfortable, “democratic chair,” not a throne. The klismos is also mysterious: It appeared out of nowhere, with a design that was original rather than a variation on a past style, and then disappeared for millennia, only to reemerge as part of the Greek Revival movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The fifth-century tombstone of Xanthippos, a Greek shoemaker. He’s sitting—comfortably, one imagines—on a klismos. (Wikimedia)

In the Middle Ages, sitting was once again socially stratified. (This back-and-forth between democratic and hierarchical sitting customs has been occurring throughout history. Compare the executive, manager, and secretary chairs of the 1960s with today’s standard-issue, egalitarian Aeron office chair. The technical name for my chair at work is a Mesh-Back Manager’s Chair, but it’s not just given to managers.) Ordinary people tended to possess little furniture and sat on whatever was available—a bench, a barrel, the ground. Chairs with arms and backs were reserved for Very Important People. The 16th-century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder captured these dynamics in his many depictions of peasant life.

The long benches that were common at tables in the Middle Ages, as shown in Bruegel’s “Peasant Wedding.” One man, likely the bride’s father, is sitting in a chair with a back. (Wikimedia)

Today’s iconic chairs include the made-for-TV-watching recliner, the “ergonomic task chair,” and especially the monobloc plastic chair. The latter can be mass-produced and sold cheaply, and has therefore spread rapidly around the world, becoming perhaps the most widely used chair on the planet. The chairs are a reminder of the homogenizing effect of globalization, but they also subtly testify to local innovation, according to Rybczynski. Plastic chairs are rarely imported instead, manufacturers in developing countries typically buy used plastic-molding equipment from developed countries and make chairs that “have local motifs worked into them. It may be the color of the chair. Often the backs are decorated in ways you might not find if you just go down to Home Depot.”

The future of the chair, Rybczynski writes, may lie somewhere between the ergonomic task chair and the monobloc—“between a chair that can adapt to the widest possible range of postures and body sizes, and an inexpensive chair for the masses.”

A monobloc chair in the destroyed Syrian town of Kobani (Osman Orsal / Reuters)

Rybczynski’s most striking point is that there’s nothing natural, nothing inevitable, about humans sitting on chairs, despite their 5,000-year-plus history. There are two types of people in the world, at least within the remit of Rybczynski’s study: those who sit on the floor and those who sit on chairs. In Now I Sit Me Down, Rybczynski elaborates on the distinction:

In a classic study of human posture around the world [in the 1950s], the anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes identified no fewer than one hundred common sitting positions. “At least a fourth of mankind habitually takes the load off its feet by crouching in a deep squat, both at rest and at work,” he observed. Deep squatting is favored by people in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but sitting cross-legged on the floor is almost as common. Many South Asians cook, dine, work, and relax in that position. Sedentary kneeling, that is, sitting on the heels with the knees on the floor, is practiced by Japanese, Koreans, and Eurasians, and also used by Muslims at prayer.

Rybczynski hasn’t been able to identify clear, consistent patterns for why the world cleaved into floor-sitting and chair-sitting cultures. You’d think, for example, that people in cold, wet climates would be more likely to sit on chairs, so as to avoid the unpleasant ground. But the Japanese, who endure frigid winters, have traditionally sat on floor mats, while the ancient Egyptians, who lived in a warm, dry climate, are thought to have invented the folding stool. Nor is chair-sitting necessarily a matter of lifestyle some nomadic groups move about with collapsible furniture, while others don’t. Nor is it always a product of economic or technological advancement the prosperous Japanese were long aware that people in other parts of the world sat on chairs—they just chose not to. Some societies, like China, have transitioned from being predominantly floor-sitting cultures to being predominantly chair-sitting cultures. Others, like India, idiosyncratically mix the two approaches.

An Indian woman makes bread. Her shelves are at a low height, which is common in floor-sitting cultures. (Mansi Thapliyal / Reuters)

What Rybczynski did find is that whether you live in a floor-sitting or chair-sitting society has an impact on much more than how you sit. It can influence everything from your clothing to your house layout to your muscle development, he writes:

If you sit on floor mats, you are likely to develop an etiquette that requires removing footwear before entering the home. You are also more likely to wear sandals or slippers rather than laced-up shoes, and loose clothing that enables you to squat or sit cross-legged. Floor-sitters tend not to use tall wardrobes—it is more convenient to store things in chests and low cabinets closer to floor level. People who sit on mats are more likely to sleep on mats, too, just as chair-sitters are more likely to sleep in beds. Chair-sitting societies develop a variety of furniture such as dining tables, dressing tables, coffee tables, desks, and sideboards. Sitting on the floor also affects architecture: walking around the house in bare feet or socks demands smooth floors—no splinters—preferably warm wood rather than stone places to sit are likely to be covered with soft mats or woven carpets tall windowsills and very tall ceilings hold less appeal. Lastly, posture has direct physical effects. A lifetime of sitting unsupported on the floor develops muscles not required for chair-sitting, which is why chair-sitters, unaccustomed to sitting cross-legged, soon become uncomfortable in that position. And vice versa. People in India regularly sit up on train seats and waiting-room benches in the cross-legged position, which they find more comfortable than sitting with feet hanging down.

As Rybczynski suggests, the arc of history doesn’t necessarily bend toward chairs, let alone better chairs. From the klismos to the Aeron to the mat on the floor, though, humans have shared a need to rest their weary feet. Especially after a long day at a standing desk.

Trepanation: The History of One of the World's Oldest Surgeries

During the 1860s, a United States diplomat named E.G. Squier traveled to Cuzco, Peru. While visiting the home of a wealthy woman who collected antiquities, he was shown an ancient skull. Discovered in an ancient Inca cemetery in the Valley of Yuca, the skull dated to pre-Columbian times and had a large, rectangle-shaped hole near its top front.

Squier—a well-educated polymath whose areas of expertise also included archaeology and Latin American culture—was immediately intrigued. So in 1865, Squier brought the skull to New York, where he presented it to members of the New York Academy of Medicine.

Squier believed that the skull was clear evidence that Peru’s ancient people had performed prehistoric brain surgery. The hole’s cross-hatched outlines were the work of a human hand Squier noted that they were most likely made with a burin, a tool used by engravers on wood and metal. Even more shockingly, he observed, the skull showed signs of healing—meaning the patient had survived the procedure for at least one to two weeks before they died.

Members of the medical community were skeptical, and didn't believe that the cuts were made prior to death. So Squier sought the opinion of renowned French surgeon and anthropologist Paul Broca. In turn, Broca looked at the skull, and concluded that early indigenous societies had been performing “advanced surgery” long before Europeans arrived.

The practice of drilling or scraping a hole into the skull’s cranial vault to expose the brain’s dura mater and treat brain injuries is called trepanation. First mentioned by the Hippocratic corpus, it’s one of the world’s oldest surgeries. (In fact, the word trepanation comes from Greek, and means “auger” or “borer.”) Today, the medical community would refer to it as a craniotomy.

Throughout history, trepanation has been practiced in nearly every part of the world. It was performed in ancient Greece and Rome, and is today even reportedly used in parts of Africa, South America, and the South Pacific. In ancient Greece, it was used to relieve pressure, remove skull fragments from the brain after a traumatic accident, and for drainage. From the Renaissance until the beginning of the 19th century, trepanation was routinely used to treat head wounds, and into the 18th century, it was used to treat epilepsy and mental disorders.

The Victorian physicians of Squier and Broca's time had never considered that “primitive” cultures throughout history may have attempted the procedure. Also, since survival rates from the surgery were so poor due to hospital-acquired infections, they doubted that ancient patients could have lived for long following the operation.

After Broca acknowledged Squier’s find, scientists began discovering trepanned skulls across the globe, dating back to the Neolithic period. Hole-filled heads were discovered in Western Europe, South America, and the Americas. Over the years, it became clear that trepanation was attempted by many societies across the globe, starting in the late Paleolithic period.

Techniques varied from culture to culture. Prehistoric trepanations performed in early Peru were done with a ceremonial knife called a tumi, which was used to scrape or cut through the bone. The Hippocratic school invented the trephine drill, which bored holes into the skull. In the South Pacific, they sometimes used sharpened seashells in Europe, flint and obsidian. By the Renaissance period, trepanation was routinely performed, and a range of instruments had been developed. However, due to the high infection rate, the practice soon waned.

Trepanation was performed on young and old, male and female. In many instances, the prehistoric patients had lived for years after the surgery. According to writings by Charles Gross, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, estimates for survival range from 50 to 90 percent. However, in many cases, the surgeon's motive for performing trepanation remains unclear.

John Verano, a professor of anthropology at Tulane University who studies trepanation in Peru, tells mental_floss he's convinced that “in Peru, the South Pacific, and many other parts of the world, trepanation began as a very practical treatment for head injuries. Say somebody has a head wound that’s torn up their skull. You’d clean it out and remove little broken fragments and allow the brain to swell a little bit, which it does after injuries.”

In some instances, trepanned skulls show clear evidence of trauma—meaning there must have been an underlying reason why the procedure was performed. However, archaeologists have also uncovered trepanned skulls that don’t show depressed fractures. Squier's famous skull, for instance, didn't indicate any signs of a head wound. Skulls with multiple holes have also been unearthed, revealing that patients sometimes had—and survived—more than one surgery.

According to Verano, modern eyewitness accounts from Africa and the South Pacific state that trepanation is still used to treat head wounds, headaches, or pressure on the brain. In other parts of the world, it’s thought that trepanation might have once been used to release evil spirits, or to treat insanity or epilepsy. But without any written record, we’ll never quite know why these kinds of surgeries were performed in the absence of obvious injury.

Individuals who underwent trepanation weren't administered anesthesia. Did the procedure hurt?

As Verano points out, they might have likely been unconscious during the surgery if they had suffered a head wound. Otherwise, they would have been awake. “The scalp has a lot of nerves, so it hurts to cut your scalp,” Verano says. “It also bleeds a lot, but then it stops. But the skull has very few nerves, and the brain has no nerves.” But Verano also points out that ancient trepanners weren’t cutting through the brain’s dura mater. (If they did, the patient would have gotten meningitis and died.)

In today’s modern Western hospital, trepanation is no longer viewed as its own curative procedure. It’s used to debride a wound (remove dead or infected tissue), relieve pressure in the skull, or perform exploratory surgery. However, it’s fascinating to realize that the surgery survived many millennia—and that as early as prehistoric times, humans were already connecting the brain’s functioning to the body. We can only wonder what people of the future will think of our own modern brain surgeries.

Watch the video: How Much gold is found in the human body


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