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COMMMENTRY—COMMERCE

Gallic and Civil wars, and of Cicero on his consulship. Different departments of the imperial administration and certain high functionaries kept records, which were under the charge of an official known as a commentariis (cf. a secretis, ab epistulis). Municipal authorities also kept a register of their official acts.

The Commentarii Principis were the register of the official acts of the emperor. They contained the decisions, favourable or unfavourable, in regard to certain citizens; accusations brought before him or ordered by him; lists of persons in receipt of special privileges. These must be distinguished from the commentarii diurni, a daily court-journal. At a later period records called ephemerides were kept by order of the emperor; these were much used by the Scriptores Historiae Augustae (see Augustan History). The Commentarii Senatus, only once mentioned (Tacitus, Annals, xv. 74) are probably identical with the Acta Senatus (q.v.). There were also Commentarii of the priestly colleges: (a) Pontificum, collections of their decrees and responses for future reference, to be distinguished from their Annales, which were historical records, and from their Acta, minutes of their meetings; (b) Augurum, similar collections of augural decrees and responses; (c) Decemvirorum; (d) Fratrum Arvalium. Like the priests, the magistrates also had similar notes, partly written by themselves, and partly records of which they formed the subject. But practically nothing is known of these Commentarii Magistratuum. Mention should also be made of the Commentarii Regum, containing decrees concerning the functions and privileges of the kings, and forming a record of the acts of the king in his capacity of priest. They were drawn up in historical times like the so-called leges regiae (jus Papirianum), supposed to contain the decrees and decisions of the Roman kings.

See the exhaustive article by A. von Premerstein in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie (1901); Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Lit. (Eng. trans.), pp. 72, 77-79; and the concise account by H. Thédenat in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquités.


COMMENTRY, a town of central France, in the department of Allier, 42 m. S.W. of Moulins by the Orléans railway. Pop. (1906) 7581. Commentry gives its name to a coalfield over 5000 acres in extent, and has important foundries and forges.


COMMERCE (Lat. commercium, from cum, together, and merx, merchandise), in its general acceptation, the international traffic in goods, or what constitutes the foreign trade of all countries as distinct from their domestic trade.

In tracing the history of such dealings we may go back to the early records found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Such a transaction as that of Abraham, for example, weighing down “four hundred shekels of silver, current with the merchant,” for the field of Ephron, is suggestive of a group of facts and ideas indicating an advanced condition of commercial intercourse,—property in land, sale of land, arts of mining and purifying metals, the use of silver of recognized purity as a common medium of exchange, and merchandise an established profession, or division of labour. That other passage in which we read of Joseph being sold by his brethren for twenty pieces of silver to “a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh to Egypt,” extends our vision still farther, and shows us the populous and fertile Egypt in commercial relationship with Chaldaea, and Arabians, foreign to both, as intermediaries in their traffic, generations before the Hebrew commonwealth was founded.

The first foreign merchants of whom we read, carrying goods and bags of silver from one distant region to another, were the southern Arabs, reputed descendants of Ishmael and Esau. The first notable navigators and maritime carriers of goods were the Phoenicians. In the commerce of the ante-Christian ages the Jews do not appear to have performed any conspicuous part. Both the agricultural and the theocratic constitution of their society were unfavourable to a vigorous prosecution of foreign trade. In such traffic as they had with other nations they were served on their eastern borders by Arabian merchants, and on the west and south by the Phoenician shippers. The abundance of gold, silver and other precious commodities gathered from distant parts, of which we read in the days of greatest Hebrew prosperity, has more the character of spoils of war and tributes of dependent states than the conquest by free exchange of their domestic produce and manufacture. It was not until the Jews were scattered by foreign invasions, and finally cast into the world by the destruction of Jerusalem, that they began to develop those commercial qualities for which they have since been famous.

There are three conditions as essential to extensive international traffic as diversity of natural resources, division of labour, accumulation of stock, or any other primal element—(1) means of transport, (2) freedom of labour Primary conditions of commerce. and exchange, and (3) security; and in all these conditions the ancient world was signally deficient.

The great rivers, which became the first seats of population and empire, must have been of much utility as channels of transport, and hence the course of human power of which they are the geographical delineation, and probably the idolatry with which they were sometimes honoured. Nor were the ancient rulers insensible of the importance of opening roads through their dominions, and establishing post and lines of communication, which, though primarily for official and military purposes, must have been useful to traffickers and to the general population. But the free navigable area of great rivers is limited, and when diversion of traffic had to be made to roads and tracks through deserts, there remained the slow and costly carriage of beasts of burden, by which only articles of small bulk and the rarest value could be conveyed with any hope of profit. Corn, though of the first necessity, could only be thus transported in famines, when beyond price to those who were in want, and under this extreme pressure could only be drawn from within a narrow sphere, and in quantity sufficient to the sustenance of but a small number of people. The routes of ancient commerce were thus interrupted and cut asunder by barriers of transport, and the farther they were extended became the more impassable to any considerable quantity or weight of commodities. As long as navigation was confined to rivers and the shores of inland gulfs and seas, the oceans were a terra incognita, contributing nothing to the facility or security of transport from one part of the world to another, and leaving even one populous part of Asia as unapproachable from another as if they had been in different hemispheres. The various routes of trade from Europe and north-western Asia to India, which have been often referred to, are to be regarded more as speculations of future development than as realities of ancient history. It is not improbable that the ancient traffic of the Red Sea may have been extended along the shores of the Arabian Sea to some parts of Hindustan, but that vessels braved the Indian Ocean and passed round Cape Comorin into the Bay of Bengal, 2000 or even 1000 years before mariners had learned to double the Cape of Good Hope, is scarcely to be believed. The route by the Euxine and the Caspian Sea has probably never in any age reached India. That by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf is shorter, and was besides the more likely from passing through tracts of country which in the most remote times were seats of great population. There may have been many merchants who traded on all these various routes, but that commodities were passed in bulk over great distances is inconceivable. It may be doubted whether in the ante-Christian ages there was any heavy transport over even 500 m., save for warlike or other purposes, which engaged the public resources of imperial states, and in which the idea of commerce, as now understood, is in a great measure lost.

The advantage which absolute power gave to ancient nations in their warlike enterprises, and in the execution of public works of more or less utility, or of mere ostentation and monumental magnificence, was dearly purchased by the sacrifice of individual freedom, the right to labour, produce and exchange under the steady operation of natural economic principles, which more than any other cause vitalizes the individual and social energies, and multiplies the commercial resource of communities. Commerce in all periods and countries has obtained a certain freedom and hospitality from the fact that the foreign merchant has something