Traders Guild History (book)
Traders Guild History
by Guildleader Willowbrook
The Traders Guild, as it is known today, is a relatively young institution that did not exist 300 years ago.
While records of the distant past are fragmentary at best, it is believed that before the time of the Seven Star Empire, trade was a wide-open endeavor. There was little or no restriction on who could enter into this game, assuming they had the desire and brains to succeed. It is likely that during the time of the clans, trade was a more or less a local phenomenon, with the rare extended journey that brought strange goods from far away.
With the rise of the Seven Star Empire, trade began to expand. The single political entity slowly gave rise to a unified economy, with consistent laws regarding property rights and contracts. This development gave those involved in trade greater security, allowing them to venture farther from home in search of profit.
It will come as no surprise that over time some families became very adept at business. These families came to dominate trade in their areas, both geographic and economic. One of the consequences of this development was an increasing restriction on people being able to enter into the trading business. In the vast majority of cases a youngster interested in trade went to work for one of the great families, never really having an opportunity to strike out on their own and establish their own companies.
Initially this control was simply a by-product of the resources these families managed to accumulate, but eventually their control became more "official" as first one, then others, of the great families began buying influence within the government in an effort to get laws passed that benefited them. This undoubtedly happened throughout history, and not just in the realm of trade, but at the height of the Empire, these merchant families had unrivalled wealth which they sought to maintain through any means. One example that clearly illustrates the power of these families took place during the 5th century BL. From the year 478 BL to roughly 389 BL, trade sanctions were placed on Morganae, supposedly due to her political machinations. In reality this was done to punish her for the negative impact on trade these machinations had rather than any true political motivation.
This buying of influence by the great families undoubtedly contributed to the corruption and chaos that began to build in the Empire early in the 3rd century BL. As each family tried to maintain their power and position, the Empire crumbled under the stress. This is not to say that these families were solely responsible for the decay that took place, merely that they were a significant part of the problem.
With the collapse of the Seven Star Empire and the beginning of what is known as the Time of Chaos, trade was severely disrupted. Long distance trade became virtually impossible. Few of the great families maintained the level of wealth and power they had enjoyed in the Empire at its height. The families that chose the wrong side to support, or failed to choose a side to begin with, suffered the most, but all the families lost vast amounts during this time. The exception to this, to some extent, took place in Qi where the great trading families of Reshalia were able to maintain much of their power.
From the Time of Chaos until after the time of the Dragon Empire, trade was once again mainly restricted to a local business. The few families who had managed to retain some vestige of wealth began to organize small guilds in each region, trying to at least control of these small areas. Again, the exception is on Reshalia where the families there influenced King Ruahhgi of Ratha to form the Merchant Council, which would effectively rule the island.
The small guilds provided some stability to the local areas and the towns they were based in became centers of commerce for the surrounding areas. These guilds passed local laws restricting outside merchants from doing business freely in the area. Laws prohibiting foreign merchants from taking any of their profits with them from the town were not uncommon. The local guilds also sought to maintain their own control, so that anyone from within their area who sought to enter into trade was required to be a member, and thus pay dues to the guild.
Over the next 30 years, trade once again began to flourish. It was a halting and often painful expansion, as the mass of rules restricted the flow of goods, but the goods were at least flowing again.
What would have developed out of this new flourishing of trade is impossible to determine, as it was soon crushed by the rise of the Dragon Priests and their empire. During this time, trade was more or less controlled by the Dragon Priests. The mainland fell first, but eventually most of Reshalia fell as well, with the Merchant Council either fleeing to Surlaenis or appearing to support the new regime.
The local trading guilds either supported the Dragon Priests, or soon found themselves with new leaders who did. This would of course lead to some resentment of traders in some areas for their seeming collaboration, but there was really little choice given to them.
For the ordinary people, life must have gone on much as normal. There were undoubtedly incidents that are best left unmentioned during the reign of the Dragon Priests, but life went on. There were pockets of territory that successfully held out against the Dragon Priests, but these areas were cut off, making trade there virtually impossible, in most cases even on a local scale.
After ruling for about 200 years, the Dragon Priests were overthrown, and once again trade tried to renew itself from the ashes. On Reshalia, it is the remaining merchant families who overthrow the Dragon Priests, thus re-establishing the control of the province by way of the Council of Advisors and its Patriarchs. On the mainland, the local guilds again tried to establish and maintain some semblance of control over their areas. For the next 50 years trade expanded, but with the conflicting laws and restrictions the process was slow and erratic at best. Conflicts in various areas contributed to the slow development of trade, most notably the war between Therengia and Kwarlog.
Sometime around 65 AV, the leader of the Trade guild in the Crossing, Syndic Arnile Hanskwin, began to realize that things had to change. He was a scholar as well as a successful merchant, and his studies led him to believe that the confusion and multitude of local trade restrictions had contributed to the conquest by the Dragon Priests. He believed that if there had been a more unified Trade Guild, perhaps the Five Provinces of Zoluren, Therengia, Ilithi, Qi, and Forfedhdar would not have been conquered. There was danger in too much control however, as evidenced by the fall of the Seven Star Empire and the role in that which the great trading families had played, albeit indirectly, in that. It was obvious to him that what was needed was an overarching Trade Guild that would allow for the relatively efficient flow of goods, while allowing open entry into the field by any who chose to become a member of the guild. Never again should one small group of people control the trade of the entire continent.
Over the next 10 years he developed a set of ideas that he felt would best balance out the needs of the individual trader, or group of traders, and the good of the population as a whole. In 75 AV he sent out invitations to the heads of all the local trade guilds, inviting them to come to Crossing to discuss his ideas. It took several years, but eventually all the local guilds agreed to send a representative to discuss these ideas and perhaps take action. Even the merchant families of Reshalia agreed, perhaps more to keep an eye on what the mainlanders were doing than any real agreement with Syndic Hanskwin's ideas.
In 77 AV the meeting began, and from the beginning the Reshalian representatives were disruptive. One of the key ideas discussed was that of curbing the influence of great families or large companies that might someday begin to rise. Syndic Hanskwin's belief was that the excessive concentration of wealth and power in the hands of relatively few families had contributed to the decline and collapse of the Seven Star Empire, which in turn led to the death and destruction that followed for the next 250 years. Needless to say, the Reshalian delegates did not find this idea a pleasant one. As the meeting progressed over the next few months, more and more consensus was reached on the proposals, which eventual developed into the structure and function of the Traders Guild as it is known today.
A system of contracts was established to ensure that needed goods would be available in all the trading centers. It was felt that this would serve a two- fold purpose. First it would help maintain stability and secondly would allow for an apprenticeship of sorts for those wishing to get a start in trade. With the funds generated in guild shipments, a new trader would be able to branch off into other areas and seek to make his fortune. This contract system would also ensure that there would always be new traders coming up, virtually eliminating the possibility of a single family coming to dominate basic trade, with the attendant problems that situation would create. The basic restrictions on some trade related activities were developed at this time so that a certain level of dedication to the guild had to be demonstrated before the benefits could be enjoyed.
Late in 77 AV, an agreement was signed establishing the Traders Guild as a universal entity, overseeing trade in all areas of the Five Provinces. Even the Reshalian representatives signed the agreement, though this might have been due to some misplaced fear for their own safety.
Soon after the agreement was signed, the new Guild began its contract shipments, and almost immediately conditions improved throughout the mainland area. The one troublesome area was Reshalia, from which nothing was heard after the departure of their representatives. Their true feelings on the agreement became apparent when a force from Ratha appeared to besiege the Crossing. This was the first test of the fledgling Guild. If it could not support the city where it had been founded, then it could not long survive, and trade would revert to what it had been under the Seven Star Empire, something controlled by a small group of people who would in turn control the government in their favor.
Caught unprepared and low on food supplies, it is likely that the Crossing would have fallen in the early weeks of the siege if not for the assistance received from a somewhat unlikely source. A somewhat down on his luck Halfling trader by the name of Daffelberry Tanglefoot happened to be in the city at the time it was besieged. He also happened to have a very large supply of grain stored in the city warehouses. He agreed to supply the city with the food supplies it needed to make it through the first weeks of the siege. There is some confusion over the nature of this agreement and the manner in which the city adhered to it, but the details are unclear.
Over the next year, the new Guild proved its worth. Despite the siege, contracted shipments made it through to the Crossing often with the help of the less savory elements of the city. The wealthier members of the new Guild offered its support to the city in the form of money and or mercenary troops. Even the less savory elements of the Crossing's population supported the resistance, aiding the fledgling Traders Guild in getting goods into the besieged city. Eventually the siege was broken, and the Reshalians departed back to their islands, having formally recognized the new Guild. Guildhalls are even constructed on Ratha and Surlaenis, though due to the machinations of the great Reshalian trading families, they either never opened or were eventually closed. Open contact with Reshalia dwindled and was eventually lost.
On the mainland however, trade thrived. The Traders Guild contract shipment system brings a measure of stability to the economy of the various provinces. This is not to say that conflicts did not happen or that trade was not occasionally disrupted. Riots in the Crossing in 82 AV, believed by some to have been instigated by the remnants for the great trading families both on the mainland and in Reshalia, caused a brief cessation of trade. The Faldesu Conflict between Therengia and Zoluren greatly disrupted trade between these two provinces from 106 to 108 AV. The Zoluren civil war from 196 to 198 AV virtually destroyed trade there, but somehow the Guild survived with both sides recognizing that they needed trade and the risk of losing their own wasn't worth trying to stop the other side from getting theirs. The renewal of this civil war nearly 100 years later brings similar problems.
More longstanding and far-reaching disruptions occured as well. Contact was lost with Forfedhdar with the resulting loss of trade, which has yet to be re-established. In 250 AV the gondola, which is the primary route to southern Ilithi, ceased operation and extensive trade was cut off for 100 years.
As of this writing, in 353 AV, trade in the provinces of Therengia, Zoluren and Ilithi are firmly intertwined, providing stability and prosperity to over 10 million people over a vast stretch of land. There are troublesome spots to be sure, with Reshalia and Forfedhdar being for all intents and purposes cut off from Traders Guild activity and with Therengia having closed off access to Hvaral and the S'Kra Mur city of Muspar'i.
On the whole however, the structure of the Traders Guild as it was established in 78 AV has stood the test of time. It has succeeded in balancing the varying needs of the individual trader, the people, and the various provincial governments, providing for a level of prosperity unknown since the height of the Seven Star Empire.