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Forum LockedAncient opium trade routes

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Post Options Post Options   Quote St. Andrew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Ancient opium trade routes
    Posted: 17-Feb-2008 at 21:39

For several years, I've explored the theory that opium trade routes have played a significant, though largely unrecorded, role in the history of civilization. I created an image to illustrate this theory, which is available here:

 

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/OpiumTradeRoutes.jpg

 

This image is a map that overlays ancient trade routes and sources of opium over an "Earth at Night" satellite image to show how civilizations across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia are linked by these routes. I believe this map provides useful insights into how civilizations are formed and why conflicts arise between them.

 

I’ve found that the opium theory provides simple explanations for several important historical events. A few of these include:

 

            Why Alexander the Great conquered Afghanistan

            Why Rome became the center of a powerful empire

            Why the Huns dominated Central Asia and Europe

            Why the Mongols successfully challenged the Khwarezm

            Why British power rose based on trade with India and China

 

Here are some basic principles of the theory, which help to explain the significance of the routes shown on the map.

 

 - There are three specific locations in Asia where soil conditions are optimal for growing opium. Opium grown in other locations is insufficiently potent to warrant trade. These three locations are all situated in remote mountainous regions, and all are less than 10,000 square kilometers in area. Opium cultivation began at each of these locations at different times in history.

 

            1. Afghanistan, near Bagram

            Cultivated since approx. 5000 BCE

 

            2. Myanmar, near Lawnghong, Shan Province

            Cultivated since approx. 1000 BCE

 

            3. North Korea, near Chongjin

            Cultivated since approx. 1000 CE

 

 - Opium grown in these specific locations is a valuable commodity which has been traded over great distances almost since the beginning of civilization. It is a commodity available in such short supply and enjoying such high demand that it has formed the basis for a very lucrative, yet largely clandestine, trade. The opium trade is so profitable that it exerts significant influence on the development of civilizations where it appears.

 

 - Distribution routes are shown radiating outward from source points in ways determined by the geography of each source location. For example, local topographies are such that there are five routes leading out from the source in Afghanistan and only two routes leading out from the source in Myanmar. In both cases, specific local conditions determine the number and the initial direction of the routes.

 

 - Because of the influence of the opium trade, civilizations along each route have a strategic interest in protecting or controlling the route that most directly supplies them with opium. The routes are color coded to show this influence.

 

 - Generally speaking, civilizations that are further from source locations are dependent upon trade with those that are closer. However, where routes that originate from the same source intersect at a remote location, powerful city-states tend to form. These states may become more powerful than the individual sources supplying them. This is because individual routes are less able to exert influence in locations where they must compete with other routes.

 

 - When two routes that originate from different sources intersect, they tend to form a cooperative relationship where they intersect, and merge into single multi-sourced routes. Multi-sourced routes tend to be very durable and may cross large amounts of inhospitable terrain, such as the Himalayas, the Tarim Basin, or Siberia.

 

 - Exceptionally powerful city-states tend to form at points where three or more routes intersect. Examples at different times in history include Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, Paris and London.

 

Obviously, it's difficult to prove or disprove a theory that posits hidden influences. However, the more I study the opium theory, the more I find it explains – particularly with respect to the places where empires form and the reasons why conflicts and alliances develop between them. I've developed this theory over the last six years using a variety of Internet resources, including AllEmpires.com, so I'm very interested to hear critiques from experts participating in this forum.

 

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Feb-2008 at 01:00
Thanks to share your theory with us. I hope you'll forgive me for speaking frankly, but I see no actual theory in it. A theory would include an estimate of the potential markets, a likely reason for the start of the trade, a likely reason for the interruption of that trade. You should also explain why the conquerors decided to invade the producing areas instead of trading with them.

More problematic: what makes opium more important that spices, silk and precious metals? Why do you think that the opium trade routes are more important than those used for precious stones or exotic animals/

Finally, I'd like to hear what type of evidence you imagine have existed (or even better still exist) of the importance of that trade?

My most important problem with your focus on opium is the fact that it is not such an important produce. I mean only a limited elite could have access to it, so there is no way for the trade to have been important enough and durable enough to influence the events you describe.

So in my opinion, opium may have been a commodity trade through Eurasia for centuries and might even have been an important source of revenue for individual traders or entire regions, but it would never have been able to be the foundation of an economy-world as Braudel used to say.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote St. Andrew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Feb-2008 at 04:35
Thank-you for being frank in your comments, that is what I was hoping for when I wrote my post. Here  is a response to the questions and suggestions you offered.
 
1. Estimate of market size:
 
Here is a URL to one well-documented essay on the subject of market size. I think these numbers are very hard to arrive at, but this source is consistent with most of what I have found and since it covers the topic thoroughly, it seems like a good choice:
 
 
We know the market for opium is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year today. It is also well documented that opium taxes supplied a substantial portion of the income of the British Empire during the Victorian era. Essentially, this is the equivalent of hundreds of billions of dollars in today's currency. Going farther back in time, it gets harder and harder to arrive at these estimates, but I think it's safe to assume that the opium trade was highly profitable for centuries, possibly millenia prior to that.
 
If you try to find evidence of the opium trade hundreds or thousands of years ago, there are many interesting suggestions of its existence, but little that is concrete. For example, the Holy Ampulla of the Capetian kings contained a sacred oil that was said to cure disease and required constant replenishment. It was said to be the basis of the Capetian dynasty. This isn't proof of anything, except that the opium theory provides a rational explanation for what the Holy Ampulla might have been ... opium. Without opium, it is either superstition or true magic.
 
At this point in history, I think opium was used primarily to gain or maintain power, and not specifically as a commercial commodity that earns money. Therefore estimates of market size may be less relevant the farther back you go.
 
2. Why the trade started.
 
I suspect that mammals have had a symbiotic relationship with opium for a very long time, since biochemistry does not change quickly. However, I think the oldest branch of the trade, the one that originated in Afghanistan, probably started up after the end of the last ice age. The fields were covered in glaciers prior to that.
 
3. Why the trade was interrupted?
 
I don't think it was. There is still an illicit trade in opium and it still comes from the same places, and it is still highly profitable.
 
I think the trade has changed greatly over the last two hundred years due to the development of mechanized transportation and the refinement of morphine and other more powerful derivitives of opium.
 
The map I provided is intended to illustrate the influence of thousands of years of opium trading prior to the time of the Enlightenment. These routes may have less significance today, though I do not believe they are irrelevant, since history forms who we are.
 
4. Why conquor instead of trade?
 
I think that various civilizations have tried both approaches. The Greeks, the Hepthalites, and the Ghaznavids all succeeded in conquoring Bagram. The Britsh and the Russians both tried to conquor Afghanistan and failed to hold it. I believe they settled for trading with those who did control the source locations.
 
5. Value of opium vs. spice, silk, etc.
 
I think opium is plainly more valuable than spices or silk on a pound for pound basis. It is a painkiller and highly addictive euphoric. In the case of the French Holy Ampulla, it may have also had religious significance. Since there were no other highly effective painkillers (beyond perhaps salicilic acid?) in ancient times, I can only belive that opium was extremely valuable to those who had access to it.
 
6. How influential can opium be if there was only enough for the elite?
 
Very. In ancient times, the secular, religious and miltary elite controlled everything. Consider the value of opium as a painkiller to the military class alone and I think it becomes clear that even if there was only enough for a small number of people to value it, that small number of people could wield tremendous influence in ancient times.
 
 
As I mentioned, I've spent years working through this idea (I agree it's not really a theory, since it is so hard to test or to prove/disprove) and the map I provided is intended as a quick introduction or summary. I consider the map very informative ... it explains many things that have not been easily explainable in the past.
 
I recommend looking that the map and considering major historical movements, such as the westward movement of the Mongols, or the campaigns of Alexander the Great, or the growth of Russia into Siberia. There are many interesting examples to be found ...
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Feb-2008 at 05:54
St. Andrew, thank you very much for this thread. I think you theory is very interesting and worse discussing.
 
However, I have a question. If opium trade has been indeed so important through centruries, why do we actually see the first known really significant involvenment of opium in the world history only in the 19th century, I mean "opium wars"? What are the reasons for the lack of the opium trade in historical documents?
 
For example we know a lot about silk and spices and their importance from the very ancient times. We know that silk was also an extremely precious and rare commodity especially in the beginning. We know that other civilization attempted and started to produce silk by themselves (Byzantine Empire and Central Asian states). However, AFAIK we don't have any indications of such significance of opium, at least before the 19th century.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Feb-2008 at 17:43

While pound for pound opium may be more valuable than many products and substances, the key point to consider is the total value of the opium trade. Has there been any research done on the value of the opium trade compared to the silk trade, for instance? When one considers trade routes in general, a common pattern is that for most commodities, the flow goes from peripheral regions to core cities. By the time one gets to a core city, the trade is usually composed of several commodities, so it is seldom that one can attribute the rise of a great empire to solely one commodity. When that happens though, the commodity is more often than not a metal (gold, silver and tin among others). I guess what I am getting at is that the difficulty with this theory is proving that opium was so important that it eclipsed other commodities in overall value and so it was such a determinant factor in the history of the world.

Your theory is certainly very interesting, but there are some weak points in it.

1. You are trying to attribute the rise of city states for instance to the intersection of opium trade routes. But aren't these cities also at the intersection of other trade routes, or alternatively, couldn't we say that these trade routes are also used for other commodities than opium?

2. The historical events you refer to (possibly with the exception of the British trade with China), have numerous and complex explanations and couldn't be attributed solely to the opium trade. For instance the Hun domination of Central Asia and Europe can be simply explained by the excellent skills of the Huns as soldiers, rather than them controlling the opium routes (which incidentally were also used to transport silk, glass, gold, silver, chinaware, etc.)

3. You refer to opium as the only good painkiller that the army would have, but this is false imho. The most universal painkiller used until the modern age was probably alcohol.

I concur with Maharbbal in saying that opium was probably one of many commodities whose flow determined world economics, but certainly not the most important one.


P.S. One area you may want to look at, is the "spice" trade which flourished for millenia between Asia and Europe. While today we understand spices to be exclusively restricted for eating, the word initially covered much more than that, including things like perfumes, incense and probably opium. I don't know if you speak Spanish, but you may want to read Historia general de las drogas by Antonio Escohotado, whic I have heard is excellent. If you don't, I believe that there is an abbreviated English version as well.


 

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Feb-2008 at 17:53
I'd also like to point out that your vision is way too much influenced by modern days interpretations.

For instance, before the 1970s, Turkey was the main producer of opium for the so-called French Connection. Other regions were famous for being major producers. During the colonial period French Indochina and I reckon India under the Brits were important producers.

Secondly, some of your interpretation are next to impossible to support with hard evidence but still plausible (high consumption of opium during Antiquity). On the other hand for what ever we can actually document for later periods (at least for Europe) indicate that there was no trace of opium. For instance, I've recently completed a masters about the English trade with the Levant in the 17th century, I've handled more papers you care to imagine dealing with European commerce with Aleppo, Alexandria, Istanbul, Smyrna, etc and not once did I come across a transaction involving opium nor did I read a single anecdote involving the consumption of opium by Europeans (I have plenty about gambling, fornicating, changing religion, drinking, stealing, murder even).

This coupled with a number of other factors (the lack of mention of opium on Roman and Greek tombs for instance) makes me believe that for most of the period after the 1st century AD, and until the 19th century, opium was next to unknown to Europeans, and known or not its consumption was definitely minimal.

As such, at least the European side of your analysis is certainly incorrect. For the non-European side, I'd also point out the lack of sources referring to opium in Muslim commercial papers during the Middle Ages.

Finally, I'd advise you to proceed another way. Coming out with grand theories with next to nothing to back it up is not a smart strategy. Concentrate on one single event you think has been triggered by men's thirst of opium and try your very best to prove it. Once this is done, you can say: "was was true in this case may very well be true in that other one".

If I were you I'd start by what you call the "British power rose triggered by the trade with India and China". To tell you the truth, I doubt you have ever considered what other historians say about that, but, I'd be happy to read the result of your research and change my opinion if necessary. Here is a good place to start, it's a reading note I've recently posted about the rise of England as a world commercial power.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Feb-2008 at 18:15
While thinking about it I came across a few logical problems with your theory. One of the most natural things to do for human beings is to try to acquire what they want at the cheapest price as possible.

For most of the period before 1800, this meant to produce the stuff you want as close as possible from home. Indeed, it is considered that more or less every 100km the price of a product would double (traveling, was slow, inefficient and dangerous). In these condition, better than importing opium from other places, one would try to produce it himself.

Experience has proven that Anatolia, West Africa, South and South East Asia and the Northern part of South America are all potential producing regions for opium. It is likely that opium could grow more or less anywhere in the world.

Thus it comes as a surprise that a commodity (in your opinion) so important as opium was never grown domestically. Why would people manage to acclimate silkworms, cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane but not opium? In my opinion, this alone proves the lack of interest for this drug.

There may have been a few consumers for their pleasure as early as the 18th century (T. de Quincey and Alexandre Dumas are famous 19th cent examples) and medicinal use is documented even earlier, but the market must have been so small that nobody risked labour and capital in trying growing it closer from Europe. Whether it was obviously no worth it or the challenge simply never occurred to anyone (proving again the little interest Europeans of the time had for opium).

PS: saying that all these great events were cause by opium is not enough for a theory, I'd like to know how you think this happened. I'm not asking you to prove it, just to theoretically and logically explain what opium and the Huns have in common.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Aelfgifu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Feb-2008 at 10:34
Originally posted by Decebal

3. You refer to opium as the only good painkiller that the army would have, but this is false imho. The most universal painkiller used until the modern age was probably alcohol.

 
Another avalable painkiller used in Europe was poppyseed. An opiate that is native to Europe, and used for piankillin uses at least since the Roman Age, perhaps longer. Being available locally it would have cost a fraction of expensive imported opium, which would make it a lot more interesting for use, in spite of it somewhat less intensive effects.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote St. Andrew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Feb-2008 at 23:24

Once again, thanks for the direct comments and constructive criticism. I'm at a stage where I need to hear and respond to what others who study history have to say and this forum is an excellent choice.

Here are some specific responses to questions raised in earlier posts:

1. Why were the Opium Wars the first concrete example of the opium trade influencing world events?

I don't believe the Opium Wars were the first example, but they are certainly the clearest.

Although the subject of the opium trade is rarely emphasized in historical accounts, there is a substantial body of evidence that opium was known, valued and widely traded in ancient times. The conclusions I've come to from my research differ from other scholarship in this area primarily with respect to the direction opium traveled along trade routes, and not the existence of the trade or the routes.

Many who have studied the subject find the first evidence of widespread opium use in bronze age Greece. This research paper provides a great deal of detail on opium use in ancient Greece.

www.poppies.org/news/99502023966018.shtml

My thinking has been influenced by a book called On the Trail of the Ancient Opium Poppy by Mark David Merlin, who attempted to compile a comprehensive history of opium as a commodity in ancient times, focusing primarily on the botany of the poppy plant and historical evidence of trade. This is the most thorough and best documented source I've seen on the subject.

Merlin asserts that poppies which had been processed for the extraction of opium were found preserved in Swiss peat bogs dating to 5000 BCE. He concludes, with some reservations, that the opium trade originated there at about that time.

He goes on to document extensive use of opium in bronze age Greece, Crete and Egypt. He cites archeological evidence of mass distribution of opium in small clay vials, which were manufactured in Crete and found widely discarded in Egypt. He also indicates that many upper class Greek homes had rooms in the basement where opium smoking paraphernalia can be found.

Based on archeological and historical evidence, Merlin describes many of the same trade routes I've included in my map, but he generally believes that opium moved in the opposite direction, i.e. from Europe to the Middle East and China. This is due to his premise that opium cultivation originated in Switzerland, which he acknowledges throughout the book is speculative.

Though I don't know the original source, it is frequently stated that Alexander the Great introduced opium to Persia and India from Greece. For example, the timeline at the URL below includes this reference.

http://opioids.com/timeline/index.html

I believe Alexander actually went to Persia and India to gain control of the primary source at Bagram. The route Alexander's army took pretty closely follows the green route on the map I posted, which traces the most direct pathways from Bagram to Greece. After reaching the fields of Bagram, Alexander secured the neighboring provinces, made a pact with the local tribes, sealed by his marriage to a chieftain’s daughter, and returned with his army towards Greece. If this is accurate, it would be one of the earliest and one of the most significant examples of opium influencing major world events.

A few hundred years after Alexander, the physician Galen, who started his career in medicine patching up wounded gladiators in Asia Minor, included opium in various preparations. He became personal physician to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180CE), who became addicted to it.

The Knights Hospitaller are said to have introduced the use of opium in surgery to Europe, sometime in the 12th or 13th century. There is evidence that Portuguese sailors who traveled to India early in the 16th century brought opium back with them. The notion that opium disappeared from use in Europe at this time appears to be false, as is evidenced in this document:

linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0531513102010968

Opium use became increasingly more public in the 17th century in Europe as its use became widespread in the form of Laudanum.

During this same time, the Qing dynasty came to power in China. I believe this was based on its proximity of Manchuria to the Korean source, which had probably come under cultivation in about 1000 CE. The Qing imperial symbol features a tiger with a ball of opium in its mouth.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchuria

In addition to well documented historical instances of opium use, there are stories and legends dating back to very ancient times that describe mystical oils or resins acquired from the east, which I believe may be credibly interpreted as signs of opium's influence, though I acknowledge they are not widely attributed in this way.

Starting in the Fifth Dynasty (c2500 BCE), Egyptians east from the Red Sea on expeditions to the unknown land of Punt in order to acquire sacred oils used in religious rites. Most scholars believe the land of Punt was in Africa, but a minority argues it was in India. I speculate that it was in the direction of India, and that among the sacred oils was an opium derivative; and that the land of Punt is the area in the Indus Valley known in modern times as the Punjab.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_of_punt

The Punjab was also closely associated with the sacred plant, Soma, as described in the Rig Veda and the Arvesta (where it is called Haoma). These two religious texts are among the oldest known and are related in many ways. They originate from the regions to the south and north of Bagram respectively. There is no universal agreement on which plant Soma refers to, and strangely, opium is rarely if ever mentioned as a candidate. Presumably this is because Soma is described as a stimulant, whereas opium is a narcotic. But many of the other properties of Soma are similar to those of opium and it's not unusual to add a stimulant such as ephedra to opium preparations.

This historical thread of mystical substances continues with the food of the Greek gods, Ambrosia (which may be etymologically related to Hoama), the sacred oil of the medieval French kings which I referred to earlier, and the Philosopher's Stone, an element in alchemy that was said to bring enlightenment and immortality to those who knew how to use it. (Note that Galen referred to opium resin as the "Stone of Immortality"). Paracelsus, a 17th century alchemist who was obsessed by the Philosopher's Stone traveled extensively in the east before beginning his medical practice in Switzerland, where his theories and experiments laid the groundwork for today's pharmaceutical industry. Paracelsus was the first to produce Laudanum in Europe, a mixture of opium and alcohol.

 

2. What is the value of opium as a commodity? How does it compare to other commodities?

As I've stated earlier, it can be reasonably estimated that the current value of the worldwide opium trade is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars annually. It is also well established that during the time of the opium wars, it was roughly equivalent to this amount, providing a significant component of the British Empire's income from trade (10-20%) at a time when it was the most powerful empire in history.

As you go further back in time, it gets harder to make these estimates, and the nature of trade economies begins to change. I believe opium's influence has always been approximately as significant as the size of its market today and in the recent past indicates. Certainly, if I am correct about Alexander, it was equally if not more important in those times.

 

3. Can it be proven that opium was more important than other commodities?

I don't know if opium was more economically important than silk or tea or gold, or any other widely traded commodity, and I wouldn't necessarily assert that it was.

I've come to believe it was a very important commodity among many, but that trade in opium was unique because it was almost always conducted secretly due to opium's unique combination of beneficial features, addictive nature, and extreme scarcity. There was never enough to satisfy those who did know about it, so they were reluctant to publicize its existence. Certainly, the trade may have been considered exploitive and not something wealthy beneficiaries were proud to publicize.

It's the aspect of secrecy that makes the opium trade so interesting -- it has the potential to explain things that history has yet to satisfactorily explain, if you can disentangle it from the secrecy that has always characterized it.

 

4. The intersections of opium trade routes coincide with other intersections of other trade routes. Why is opium of any particular importance at these intersections?

The importance of the map I created, which is color-coded to highlight relationships between opium sources and routes, is that it adds useful structure to our understanding of multi-commodity trade routes, most of which are already known to exist.

As an example, consider the silk route. About two thousand years ago, cultural influence primarily evidenced by the spread of Buddhism traveled east across the steppes, around the Tarim basin and through the Hexi corridor as far as Japan. A few hundred years later, trade diminished for several centuries before resuming. When it resumed, Chinese cultural influences including language and customs tended to travel west along the silk route.

There may be many explanations for this, but if I am correct about the source locations and their importance, early silk route trade reflects the influence of the Bagram source, while later trade reflects the emergence of Chinese sources and the westward movement of opium from these sources.

I've observed intresting effects at intersections in several locations, including Xian, Benares, Rome and others. My best attempt to explain why things happen as they do is included in an earlier post.

 

5. Wasn't opium just one painkiller among many others in ancient times?

Obviously, alcohol is a painkiller that has been known since the dawn of time. However, it is not good for long term pain management since it also induces unconsciousness at dosages that numb pain. Salicylic acid (e.g. aspirin) was too weak for serious pain management. There may have been others, but even today medical science has not improved on the effectiveness of opium derivatives.

This question relates to determining the value of opium. I believe it's clear that opium was unsurpassed as a painkiller, both for acute pain and for chronic pain. This is in addition to its euphoric, spiritual, and addictive qualities.

 

6. There have been source locations in the past, such as Turkey, that are not included on the list of three primary sources. Why not? Also, if opium was important, why didn't people just grow it in their own locations?

The short answer is soil conditions. In the three locations I described, opium grows in a far more powerful form. I have found it difficult to document the reason for this, though I do not believe the general point is disputed.

From what I've been able to determine, the factor is approximately 25x. In other words, a single acre in the region around Bagram yields the same amount of active ingredient as 25 acres elsewhere. Various weak opium preparations, primarily tea, were known for thousands of years throughout Eurasia, but they were mild and did not have the properties that made opium from the primary source locations valuable enough to warrant trade over long distances.

Ottoman Turkey's role in the opium trade is fascinating. Here's why I believe it is often regarded as a primary source. When morphine was discovered in the early 19th century, I believe it radically altered the opium trade. Before the refinement of morphine, the resinous material produced in most locations was so impure as to be impractical. However, morphine distills the active ingredient into nearly pure form, and as a consequence growing opium outside of the traditional locations became simply a matter of dedicating more acreage. The resulting product was chemically the same regardless of where it the poppies were grown.

Anatolia, due to its unique geographic characteristics, was always an important location in the opium trade, so the opium trade was part of the culture there since before the time of the Greeks. I believe morphine may have been produced on a large scale during the 19th and 20th centuries, but ultimately it proved far more practical to revert to growing opium in the traditional locations. In addition to the inherent efficiency of growing poppies in these locations, it's also easier to keep the extent of the trade secret if the fields are concentrated in small, remote mountainous locations.

 

7. Please explain how the opium trade could have driven the westward movement of the Huns?

I believe the opium trade first emerged from a source near Bagram in Afghanistan sometime around 5000 BCE. It slowly radiated outward in all directions over the next 3-4000 years.

When the second source, which is located in present-day Myanmar, became involved in the trade, it disrupted established patterns. I believe this source was discovered by people who were connected to the Indus Valley trade via the Ganges, and as a consequence, opium immediately began flowing West into India along well-established routes that had previously transported opium eastward.

One immediate effect of this was to substantially increase the westward flow of opium from Bagram. Since there was no point in shipping opium eastward any more, the amount of opium flowing westward increased quickly. I believe this development accelerated the emergence of Bronze Age civilization in the Middle East, Mediterranean and Europe, feeding the growth of Persian and Greek culture, as well others such as the Phoenicians, the Celts, and the Sea People.

A secondary effect of the discovery of a new source in southeast Asia was the development of a northern route out of Myanmar into China. I believe this developed much more slowly than the Indian branch did because the opium trade had not previously existed in southern China at that time.

However, I believe the blue route shown on my map did extend into northern China at that time and after about 1000 years, routes coming from the new source in Myanmar had crowed the blue route out of northern China and further north into Siberia and Mongolia, where it is now shown on the map.

This is where the migration of the Huns comes in. I believe it was caused by the growing power of Southern China pushing existing routes to the north. This had two effects: 1) it diminished the prosperity of the eastern branch of the blue route, since the northern territories were far less hospitable than those of central and northern china, and it pushed silk route trade back on itself, the same way that India had been impacted a thousand years earlier.

This left a large population located in the Steppes, which I believe was descended from the Western Han of Sinkiang, dislocated from once profitable trade routes originating in Bagram and extending to the east. In the area north of Bagram, travel to the east is much easier than travel to the west. However, once you get west of the Caspian, there is very fertile territory. I believe the Huns were confronted with a growing supply of opium from two sources and a dwindling market for it, and they discovered that the solution was to migrate along the western branch of the blue route, carrying Chinese and Afghan opium with them and gaining power rapidly as a result.

I believe a similar effect occurred about 900 years later after the Korean source was discovered. The Mongols were the first military power to control the Korean source and they ultimately parlayed that into an assault on Bagram, leading to Mongol control of 2 out of 3 primary sources and tremendous power, which was evidenced in there westward movement and unparalleled military dominance.

 

I hope that I have answered all of the questions that came up in the last few days. I apologize for the length of this post. There were some comments earlier to the effect that my ideas are "based on nothing" which I consider unfair.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Feb-2008 at 07:16
Hi, thanks a lot for your answer I'm starting to see a bit more clearly what it is you mean.

- I continue to think your attempt to explain major political and military events through the opium factor is slightly useless and as you are aware yourself quite impossible.

- I think you should concentrate your efforts on the most promising part of the topic: production, trade and consumption, because you can account for these.

I've read with great interest Papadakis and Kritikos' article. It shows that (contrarily to what you said) after being originally imported in vases (from Crete?), opium was cultivated in Egypt. Other parts of their article suggest that Egypt itself started exporting it over the Mediterranean and that Greece was also a producer (otherwise why would Demeter be involved?).

What you started to do in your previous post was truly exciting. What is the dimensions necessary for a field to yield 1 kg of opium in the Central Asia? in Egypt? in Greece? What is the quantity of opium necessary to turn 1 liter of wine into a drug? I reckon a good first step would be to try to answer these theoretical questions somewhat precisely.

Besides if opium has been traded for 7,000 years, trying to show where and when it was produced and consumed would certainly be an exciting feat as it would show what trading routes where opened. I assume that trade was somewhat flicking: a century a region may have been in contact with producing areas but not the next.

For instance, there is an old debate about the consequences of the barbaric invasions and the rise of Islam over the economic state of Western Europe. Some claim that the former destroyed the trade routes and other say that the latter isolated the continent. If you can show when opium stopped being used in Europe, you may help answer that question.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote DayI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Feb-2008 at 00:53
The city where my parents came from is called Afyon (in Turkey) and it comes from latin word Opium, that city was known in the history for his opium :)
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Post Options Post Options   Quote rhodanus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Feb-2008 at 01:13
I don't have a hypodermic needle Emoticon, so just envisiage one.
 
I enjoyed your writing very much.  For years, I've been interested in the unregulated history of drugs in America, especially during the early 20th century.  As a former cancer patient, I was for a time taking morphine, an opiate derivative as you're aware.  Not to get too personal, but after about a month, I threw the remaining liquid in the toilet and proceeded to spend the next 110 hours in pure, unadulterated agony.  Having been an athelete in both HS and University, and having run a 4 minute mile at the age of 22, I never indulged in drugs.  Yet that opiate based medication changed me beyond all comprehension for that period I required it for pain.  Truth told, it than morphed into a need, very quickly, as opposed to a requirement for pain.  Again, I remember being told by my physician that I was an utter fool to stop the use of the morphine so abrubtly.  In retrospect, I think him wrong.  Were it not for the incredible pain and agony and the feeling of having the flu to the 9th power, I may have tried it again when my pain did return.  Luckily, I was able to adapt my body and dopamine production to my own pain.  Luckily.  Some are not so blessed, and I understand that heroin is even worse. 
 
Quick question:  Was the opiate derived from the poppy back then traded primarily as a medicinal product, or a pleasure product.  I suspect the latter, but you'd know better than I.  Please respond if you have the time.
 
So it is in that vein that I enjoyed reading your work on the trade routes and history.  Of course, I was taught about the "Opium Wars" and such at University and some in HS, but paid no mind. 
 
Thanks for an interesting read.  Also, I understand that since the invasion of Afg. by U.S. and British forces, in an effort to placate the local war-lords, Afg. had a bumper Poppy crop in 2007.  My son tells me it is now easier to get heroin than the other scourge, meth.  And though he is not a drug user, he says that many of his peers are now addicted to heroin.  Good ole U.S. war on drugs.  Or, is it the war on terror?  I've forgotten which is killing more of our youth now.  Not to get political, just a side bar.
 
Again, thanks for the interesting information.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote conon394 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Feb-2008 at 03:13

As you go further back in time, it gets harder to make these estimates, and the nature of trade economies begins to change. I believe opium's influence has always been approximately as significant as the size of its market today and in the recent past indicates. Certainly, if I am correct about Alexander, it was equally if not more important in those times.

 

I've come to believe it was a very important commodity among many, but that trade in opium was unique because it was almost always conducted secretly due to opium's unique combination of beneficial features, addictive nature, and extreme scarcity. There was never enough to satisfy those who did know about it, so they were reluctant to publicize its existence. Certainly, the trade may have been considered exploitive and not something wealthy beneficiaries were proud to publicize.

It's the aspect of secrecy that makes the opium trade so interesting -- it has the potential to explain things that history has yet to satisfactorily explain, if you can disentangle it from the secrecy that has always characterized it.

 

 

That seems very unlikely the modern market is very much not a good model of the ancient one. Opium is a controlled substance in the modern world and as such the value of the product is vastly inflated.

 

I don’t think you can demonstrate that for say Classical Athens (or any other major Greek center of trade). The trade in opiates would be similar to the market for curse tables and magic and medicine – things the Athenian state was manifestly not interested in regulating or controlling aside from the typical import export duties.



Edited by conon394 - 28-Feb-2008 at 03:14
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Post Options Post Options   Quote St. Andrew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Mar-2008 at 17:11

Thank you Maharbbal for your suggestions on future research. I think my current plan is similar to what you’ve recommended. I’d like to tell you where I plan to go with this research, but to do so I should first explain how I got to this point.

 

It started in 2002 when I wanted to learn more about the historical relationship between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. This eventually led me to read about the Crusades and I became particularly interested in the military orders, i.e. the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaler. That's when I first came across a mention of the Hospitalers importing opium to Europe.

 

At this point, the general concept of the opium theory occurred to me, though I had no idea of its scale. I felt it had the potential to explain the great wealth and extraordinary power that accrued to the military orders during the Crusades, and possibly the abrupt and violent dissolution of the Templars. But I was also skeptical, since I had never heard any mention of an ancient trade in opium. I used the Internet to explore the idea and this yielded a series of insights that I considered valuable.

 

For example, at an early point in my research I set out to trace the opium trade as far back as I could. If I was right that Afghanistan was the original primary source, and that opium played an important role in the development of civilization, then I would expect to find the earliest evidence of civilization located in the area around Afghanistan.

 

Previously, I believed (as I think most do) that civilization emerged independently at about the same time in Sumer and in Egypt. However, when I looked into it, I found credible evidence that the Indus Valley civilization, which was located just southeast of Afghanistan, might be even older. Ancient ruins in the Indus Valley were only discovered in the 1920's, so the area has not been studied as extensively as Egypt and Sumer. While the existing ruins known in the Indus Valley are a little younger than the archeological record of civilization in Egypt and Sumer, it turns out there is a high degree of organization in Indus Valley ruins suggesting that the known cities were built by a civilization that had previously built other cities. So it's possible, even likely, that civilization in the Indus Valley pre-dates the civilizations of Egypt and Sumer.

 

I considered this fascinating, since ancient Egypt and Sumer were very similar, yet their cultures do not appear to be directly modeled on one another. Sumerian ziggurats and Egyptian pyramids are similar types of structures, but they were built in seemingly unrelated styles. Hieroglyphics are a form of writing and so are cuneiform tablets, but they are also very different. I reached the conclusion that the Indus Valley civilization may have been the common original source for both Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations.

 

In this context, the location of Egypt and Sumer as colonies of the Indus Valley makes sense. If there was an ancient opium trade originating in the Indus Valley and extending into the northern Arabian Sea, it would probably follow the cyclical seasonal winds that exist in that area, which blow west towards the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea in the fall and then back ahead of the monsoons in the spring. It also seems logical that a river-based culture would establish colonies along the largest rivers it encountered as it explored lands to the west. Mesopotamia and the Nile valley both fit the bill.

 

After several years of this kind of investigation, I ended up with a large but disorganized collection of information and some very broad ideas about how the opium trade may have influenced the development of civilization. Since I hadn't expected to follow the idea this far, I had not set out in an organized way to survey the field and document my thinking.

 

Therefore, once it developed into an idea I believed in and considered important, I wanted to take a more organized approach. In doing so, I ran into the problem that I have mentioned a few times already in this forum. It's very difficult to prove a theory that posits a hidden influence. Because of this inherent difficulty, and because I am not an experienced historian with the resources and training to attack the problem through primary research, I chose a different approach.

 

I believed it might be possible to build a simple economic model of how the opium trade must have worked and then apply this model to world geography and see how it plays out. If the model can be developed that provides consistent and meaningful results, then it may be able to serve as a framework for understanding the trade and its influence throughout history.

 

At about this time, Google Earth became available so I was able to develop ideas about ancient trade routes and then actually zoom in on the terrain and instantly see what's there. So I dove in and began mapping routes.

 

The end result is the trade route map and simple set of principles I included in my first post. I realize that the significance of the map and the set of rules I described may not be immediately clear to others, so hopefully, this explains it a little better.

 

Many aspects of this approach are consistent with Maharbbal’s advice. For example, as part of the modeling process, I’ve done rough calculations on production, consumption and transportation. For the purpose of modeling, I’ve concluded that a single pack animal (such as a mule, horse, or camel) could carry enough opium to supply 100 addicts for a year. I believe an acre of land in a primary source location could yield this amount. I also estimated 100 individuals secretly addicted to opium could be enough to control the resources a country the size of the England or France -- provided those 100 individuals were influential members of the nobility, clergy and/or military classes.

 

The next step I want to take is to develop a series of historical maps that show how the routes evolved over time. I believe there are dynamic interactions between the routes, especially on the perimeter, that explain many of the great movements in history.

 

Rhodanus asked: "Was the opiate derived from the poppy back then traded primarily as a medicinal product, or a pleasure product?"

 

I think opium was used for 4 main purposes:

 

1. Medicinal. It was used primarily as a pain killer, for both acute and chronic pain. It also had other medical uses, such as a cure for insomnia or as a sedative. I do not believe it was widely available as a medicine, though at some times and in some places (such as Bronze Age Egypt or Ottoman Turkey) it may have been common.

 

2. Spiritual. I think opium was used by ancient priests and shamans to demonstrate to initiates that they possessed sacred wisdom. For example, I believe that opium was at the center of the rituals that made up the Egyptian mystery schools and other ancient religious traditions.

 

3. Recreational. Opium has been used throughout history purely as a euphoric, primarily by the upper classes.

 

4. Control. In each of the above cases, addiction was a likely result of use, and addicts would then become dependent upon the supplier of opium. Rhodanus' description of his battle with addiction to opium-based painkillers is a good illustration of the power the drug can have. And if you think about this power as a mechanism that can be used to control people, I think you can fully appreciate its influence. If you wish to control others with opium, you don’t need to monitor them, or imprison them in any way, or punish them for disobedience. They will always come back willing to do whatever is asked of them, lest they slip into the sheer hell Rhodanus described with such intensity. Grueling as the experience must have been, at least Rhondonus knew he would survive. In ancient times the experience of withdrawal may have been ascribed to demons, adding mortal fear to the equation.

 

I think the legend of the Assassins is a good example of how opium may have been used to control people. (It is widely said that the Assassins used cannabis to facilitate initiation and control of their members, but I find it likely that opium was also involved since it is far more addictive.)

 

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashshashin

 

I have referred several times to three important classes: the military, clergy and nobility. I believe that members of each class have always been subject to addiction due to one or more of the first three uses described above. Specifically, some members of the military became addicted because they were injured in fighting and became exposed to opium as a painkiller. Some members of the priesthood became addicted through initiation and ritual usage. Members of the nobility became addicted through recreational and other uses.

 

This is the essence of how I believe trade, economics and opium addiction interacted to form a worldwide network operating largely in secret, generating tremendous wealth, and wielding important but largely undocumented influence over the course of civilization's development.

 

Thanks again for your feedback. It’s helped me to refine my thinking and it has provided directions for further research into a subject that I find endlessly fascinating.

 

 

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Chilbudios Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Mar-2008 at 20:03
This is a fascinating thread but I must join the skepticism shared by some of the contributors and point out that from my knowledge the benefits of opium poppy were shared by a number of plants (like mandrake, hemlock, henbane, cannabis, etc.) and even mushrooms (fly agaric is the most notable example which comes now into my mind) which were known in Europe at least for points 1-3 described in St. Andrew's last post (I don't know of any clear evidence used for mass-manipulation) and we even have written testimonies they were used as such. We have even treaties on the description and use of these plants like Pliny's Historia naturalis or Dioscorides' De materia medica or Pseudo-Apuleius' De medicaminibus herbarum. Opium poppy is present in some of these works (certainly it was mentioned by Dioscorides, I'm not sure about the other two), but it does not seem to have any emphasis to justify the thesis that many world powers yearned to have it only for themselves.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote rhodanus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Mar-2008 at 21:20

St. Andrew:

Most interesting and certainly a well developed and outlined theory, complete with pure logic and time-line illustrations.  I would very much like to view a physical map, of which you made reference to on several occasions in your work.  Have you a copy or PDF which I might view, to better allow me to visualize your theory?  By the by, after reading and re-reading your "paper," St. Andrew, I have come to the conclusion that  your conclusions & suppositions are absolutely right-on. 

 
Have there been other in-depth studies related to this matter, perhaps published by an Oxford or similar scholar to which you could refer me?  I understand that many British scholars are well informed, some having spent their entire lives studying Middle Eastern, Indian, Afghan, Arabian, Mesopotanian, etc.  history and trade.  You get the picture.  Further, have you submitted your thesis, treatsie, paper... to any professional journals?  I ask from an author's interest only. 
 
I write specifically for outdoor magaizines and publications, most with an emphasis on rock climbing, mountain climbing, "in-deep" civilian rescue and some military covert related rescue and recon type formats.  Indeed, if "Skunk,"  formerly of the Doobie Brothers and a Steely Dan regular studio guitarist is able to write a paper on the Aegis Missle System, and the potential use of said system as a defensive weapon as opposed to a strictly offensive weapon for which it was designed, then secure himself a position at a renowned government funded Think Tank, certainly, if you're not employed as an author or scholar already (which I suspect you may be)  -- as in a tenured professor or the likes -- you must consider publishing your work.  Should you require a name or number to facilitate such a move, just advise and I'd be happy to oblige with several West Coast contacts I use.  I do not use East Coast representatives as I've found them to be elitest, supporting twenty-somthing wunderkinds who's work is then published in the likes of Harpers or the back pages of Cosmopolitan.  I was appalled at the last month's fiction submission in Harpers, a trite, boring and pretentious story of a female kleptomaniac.  It never ceases to amaze me what the Manhattan crowd considers genius, with their bow ties and Capote-ist indulgences.  I digress.
 
In point of fact, I sincerely enjoy(ed) your writings, and hope that you will continue to update us readers and followers on this thread.  This topic, as it relates to the establishment of civilizations and cities and trade points is truly enlightening, and I am somewhat surpised, being a formidable history "buff" (God, I really hate that word - it's as though a strong interest in a subject from an "amateur" status relegates one to nothing more than a guy/gal that shoots hoops on the weekend or plays in a volleyball league every Wednesday night) and having B.A.'s in both Political Science and History that I have not been introduced to or even heard/read about your current theory.  Indeed, very, very intriguing.  Please continue with the thread, should you be so inclined, and keep us all updated, St. Andrew.
 
Best regards,
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Decebal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Mar-2008 at 15:23

While I continue to find your theory interesting, I think you may be going a bit too far with it and I'm still very skeptical of all the implications you ascribe to it. Let's assume for a moment that you are correct, and that a substantial proportion of the elites all over Eurasia were addicted to opium. The elites also happen to be the ones whose tombs supply us with the largest amount of archeological clues, since in many cultures (especially in antiquity) they were buried with the implements which they used in daily life. To my knowledge, there are no opium-smoking paraphernalia that have been discovered in ancient tombs of the elites. This is very important, because opium does require special equipment to be smoked. So I don't consider your theory to be backed by archeological evidence.

As for the whole idea of Egypt, Sumer and the Indus Valley Civilization being colonies of a supposed civilization based on Central Asia, I am again skeptical. In fact I am skeptical of most diffusionist theories which assume that humans are as a rule of thumb unimaginative and that civilization arose in one spot only and then spread to other areas. Egypt, Sumer and the IVC are different yet have similarities because they evolved in somewhat similar conditions from different cultures. There's only so many ways to build large buildings for example, given the technology available at the time.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Mar-2008 at 06:06
Hi everybody, I found a very interesting source about opium trade in the 18th century.

The source: Le dictionnaire universel de commerce by Jacques Savary, published in 1741 and downloadable freely on gallica.fr (for those interested in primary sources it is a great site and it will soon be entirely renewed). As far as I can tell it has never been translated in English, so I'll give you a quick translation of the article about opium which is available in the 3rd volume, pages 607 and 608. This dictionary was intended as a textbook for merchants so as to teach them techniques and give them informations they could rely on, it is a form of guide.

The document: [the parts in brackets are my comments, mostly on translation issues, I added other options for the words I wasn't sure how to translate] " OPIUM. Juice coming from poppy. Poppy's too famous for a description to be necessary: all our gardens are full of it; and there is the double kind, the simple kind and the varied kind.
Botanists are nonetheless divide them between cultivated poppy and wild poppy. The wild kind is called in French coquelicot, ponceau, and confaon. There is a third kind called horned poppy, because of its pods [tr: clove] where the seed is held, which are curved like horns; and a fourth type named Foamy [Ecumant], due to its stem and its branches that are covered in a sort of white foam.
It is from the head of the black poppy that opium is drawn. When the juice comes out through the cut that is done, it keeps its name of opium, but it is pressed out, it is called Meconium.
There is a great variety of qualities and of virtues between these two juices, and opium is preferable to Meconium in many regards: hence it is very rare to see in France opium from the first kind; the Turks who, as everybody knows, use it a lot, and call it Amphiam, don't allow it to be moved and keep it for themselves.
It is only Meconium that the merchants grocers-mongers sell usually as Opium. It comes through the Levant, and chiefly Cairo through Marseilles, still it is not perfect nor pure; the Middle Easterners [Levantins] to be done quickly, and to multiply their juice, also get it through the pressing out technique from the poppy's head and leaves, and then they turn it into an essence using fire to do so.
This drug thus is badly cooked, it comes in black-ish blocks, rolled in poppy leaves; that is why opium can be found in France so cheaply; and there is no wonder, specially if it turns out that they do often mix it with Glaucium juice, a plant quite similar to horned poppy.
In any case, one ought to pick the driest, the smoothest and the darkest as possible Meconium, or to speak like common people, Opium, the smell ought to so to speak quite drowsy, and it ought to be neither gritty, nor sticky, nor too hard.
It is untrue that there is such thing as white Opium; as even if the juice from the cut on the poppy's head is initially of milk-like colour, it is sure that as it thickens this colous changes, and becomes very brown. It is true that in the boxes that the merchants get there are some yellowy ones; but it is only because the juice hasn't been cooked enough; which is also true of the soft kind which is like that because the cooking was less than perfect,  or that it was not mature enough.
Prepared Opiumis called Laudanum. There is a simple kind mixed with rain water and wine spirit; and there is the composite kind called Laudanum Opiatum, where there are many ingredients.
Opium and simple Laudanum are two drugs that are dangerous to use without some gifted physicians' advices; and it may be feared, as it happens only too often, that instead of merely reminding you of sleep, it provides one that lasts for ever.
The black and white poppies' heads from around Paris are sometimes used to get a juice resembling the Opium of the Levant, but it is not as strong, it is called simple Diacodum.
There is also a syrup of Diacodum that is used in many medicines, as well as complex Diacodum.
There is a huge consumption and an important trade of Opium in the Levant. Smyrna gets some 1000 ocos [1 oco or ocque = 1280 grammes, I think the quantities mentioned aboves refers to what the European traders can get from Smyrna, not the consumption of the whole city], even more from Cairo, and the same more or less depending from the other ports.
Opium is bought in France according to the 1664 rules, 20 pounds with 1% taxes; and from the custom of Lyon 4 pounds per quintal [I don't remember what's an Ancient Regime quintal but it is not 500kg] for the old taxation, 40 sous [French money of the time] for the new, 3 pounds, 2 sous 6 deniers for the old 4%, and 5 pounds for the new one.
This drug is one of the Levant wares that are taxed at 20% following the decision of August 15, 1685.
Opium is sold in Amsterdam by the pound, they often cheat on the weight: one should diminish the price by 2%, and for fast payment 1%. The price is between 75 up to 80 sous per pound."

Somewhere else in the dictionary, it is said that Opium was sold 1 piaster per ocque (p 338, 1st volume).

Hope it helped
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Post Options Post Options   Quote St. Andrew Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Mar-2008 at 18:13
Wow, thanks! This information is great ... thank-you for finding it and translating for us. I have several thoughts about this, which I'll share briefly.
 
1. I would have guessed this information came from 1841, not 1741. Although it appears small, there is definitely a well established and open trade in opium at this time. Laundenum became popular in the 17th century, so it makes sense that there would be trade in the main ingredient.
 
2. It mentions that trade and consumption are significant in Cairo, the Levant and Asia Minor, which is consistent with my expectations.
 
3. There are several references to various quality grades and processing techniques. One key to the importance of trade with the specific source points I mentioned is that the quality is exceptionally high in those locations. I was particularly intrigued by the comment that the Turks keep all the good stuff for themselves.
 
4. It's interesting that the author is aware that opium can be lethal, but he doesn't mention its addictive qualities.
 
5. The reference to "white opium" is also fascinating. It may be exactly what the author says, a rumor based on the initial color of the opium resin. Or, it might be a reference to morphine, which is a white powder. Morphine enters the scientific literature in about 1805, but I suspect it was the outcome of a much older alchemical tradition centered in Turkey and it may have been in use earlier than 1800.
 
Rhodanus, thanks for your comments. The only map I have produced that I have confidence in is this one:
 
 
I'll email you directly regarding your offer. I'm not sure this idea is ready for publishing, but I'm still working on it, so maybe we'll get there one day.
 
Many thanks to AllEmpires for this forum. I've used it as a reference source in the past, and now I'm very gald that I wrote in. The quality, tone, and helpfulness of the comments are beyond my expectation.
 
Drew
 
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Maharbbal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Mar-2008 at 01:32
One thing, when it comes to the relative weight of opium in the East-West trade routes:
Savary mentions that there is something like 3000 ocos of opium available for trade every year in the Ottoman ports. So that's something around 60,000 pounds worth of drugs. If we assume that the Ottoman's consumption is ten times the one of Europe and that - due to its quality - the price is three times higher, we reach an hypothetical total consumption of 1,860,000 millions pounds trade.
That's a total approximation, but lets say that the opium trade to the west represents something like 1 to 2.5 million pounds a year. Lets compare it to the main intercontinental trade of the time (textile). The English alone around 1730 brought something like 3 millions worth of cloth to the Ottoman Empire. The whole English textile export trade may be estimated at 12 to 15 millions pounds a year. The English traders may have controlled anything between a half and a third of the whole European international trade as far as textile were concerned. That brings us anywhere from 24 to 45 millions pounds. If we estimate very generously that the textile represented about half of the European exports and that the imports' value equaled the exports' (not true but never mind), we get something inbetween 48 and 95 millions for the total European international trade (very very roughly).

All that to say that the opium trade could not have represented more than 5% (and actually certainly much much less) of the European trade. So, opium is a very interesting and potentially revealing topic, but once more I beg to differ: not a primo mobile.
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