When the Genoese merchant, Marco Polo, first arrived in Dynastic China he was faced with a society far advanced of anything he had encountered in Europe. The ports were filled with commodities from all over the eastern world, while new technology was driving the economy forward. It would take another 400 years before European trade in the Atlantic eclipsed the Pacific markets.
From China's phenomenally successful Sung dynasty (c. AD 960-1279), Cargoes reveals the power of the Mughals merchants of Gujarat, who built an empire so powerful that, even in the 17th century, the richest man in the world was a Gujarat trader. It was not until the opening up of the spice routes and the discovery of South American gold that medieval Iberia came to the fore. It was only then that the Atlantic Empire of the west came to dominate world trade, first the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century, then the British Empire in the age of the Industrial Revolution, American supremacy in the twentieth century, and the development of post-war Japan.
Along the way Greg Clydesdale looks at the parallel lives and ideas of merchants and explorers, missionaries, kings, bankers and emperors. He shows how great trading nations rise on a wave of technological and financial innovation and how in that success lies the cause of their inevitable decline.