Commodities throughout History
The history of commodities tells the story of civilization itself. Ever since man first appeared on earth, his existence has been defined by a perpetual and brutal quest for control over the world’s natural resources. Civilizations rise and fall, nations prosper and perish, and societies survive and subside based on their ability to harness energy, develop metals, and cultivate agricultural products — in short, based on their capacity to control commodities.
It’s interesting to note that prehistoric times are still defined today by the subsequent stages of man’s mastery of the metals production process: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Nations that have been able to master natural resources have survived, while those that failed have faced extinction. This sobering reality has led to some of the most epic clashes among civilizations.
History reveals that the most devastating battles have been fought over crude oil, gold, uranium, and other precious natural resources. When Francisco Pizarro’s first expedition to South America in 1524 led him to the discovery of vast amounts of gold deposits, his conquistadors proceeded to wipe out the whole Inca civilization that stood between them and the gold.
As a matter of fact, it’s probably unlikely that Christopher Columbus would have come across to the North American continent in the first place were it not for an unquenchable desire to find the shortest and most secure route to transport spices and other commodities from India to Europe.
A few centuries later, this continuous quest for commodities resulted in the deadly South African Boer Wars at the end of the 19th century, which pitted the British Empire’s armed forces against local fighters in a bloody battle over South Africa’s precious metals and minerals.
The 20th century, which heralded a new historical phase — the Hydrocarbon Age, shortly followed by the Nuclear Age — marks a turning point in humans’ ability to utilize and exploit the earth’s raw materials and the extent to which they will go to preserve this control.
The Persian Gulf War of 1991, which, at its essence, was an effort to stabilize global oil markets after the Iraqi invasion of oil-rich Kuwait in the Middle East, is another manifestation of this historical reality.
To this day, international players in the geopolitical world take into account access to the world’s vast deposits of oil, gold, copper, and other resources. Commodities have thus determined the fate and wealth of nations throughout history and will continue to do so in the future.