Tag Archives: supply and demand


Happy new year! Well, we let that Rosetta Stone story take us a few thousand years ahead of our timeline. So, we’re going back to roughly 1500 bc., leaving Egypt and hieroglyphics behind so we can move along to the Phoenicians.

Phoenicians were seafaring-trading people who lived in what is now Lebanon, Syria and northern Israel on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. There wasn’t a country called Phoenicia, exactly—it was more like a federation or league of cities: Tyre, Byblos, Sidon.

The Phoenicians traded with other people around the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. The city of Byblos did a big business trading in papyrus and books. The Phoenicians sold expensive purple cloth (they got purple dye from squishing murex mollusks—ew). What drove the Phoenician economy wasn’t so much the production of goods, but buying and selling goods in the free market. You buy papyrus in Byblos where they have lots of it and it’s not so expensive, take that papyrus to somewhere—maybe Cyprus—where they don’t have very much papyrus and they’ll pay much more than it cost you. You use the profit to buy copper for cheap, because Cyprus has lots of copper. You put that copper aboard your ship and take it where they’ll pay you well for it. Buy low, sell high, gang.


Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Maps for everybody

Printing presses had been around for a while, but printing really took off after Gutenberg invented moveable type. Printing presses can generate many images on paper very quickly compared to drawing each one by hand. Suddenly ordinary people could afford to own books—and navigators could afford to have maps when they sailed.

The first printed maps were woodcuts—what’s called relief printing. This is when you take a flat piece of wood and trace the drawing onto it backwards; you carve away everything that isn’t the drawing; you roll ink onto the wood and press it onto a piece of paper; the ink leaves an impression on the paper. Showing longitude & latitude lines on a woodcut map wouldn’t be easy, because you have to carve wood away leaving the line.

Much better for accurate mapmaking was engraving. With this kind of printing, you take a flat piece of copper and draw lines onto it with a steel stylus. Steel is much harder than copper, so the stylus cuts a precise, v-shaped groove. When the drawing is finished, you rub ink all over the copper plate and into the grooves. Wipe the surface clean and leave the ink in the grooves. Run the copper plate with a damp piece of paper through a tight press and the ink stays on on the paper.

When the paper dries, you can feel the ink lines—they stand up. American paper money is engraved. You can feel the lines on a brand-new dollar bill. Copper is durable so you can make gazillions of copies from one plate.



Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space