Leif Eriksson probably
took only a few haversacks of gold coins with him, as he thought
that he was sailing to lands whose people would be more interested
in trading pelts for the red fabrics his Vikings had stored in
those “long ships”.
Marco Polo recounts that, for their journey back to Venice, his
father and uncle received from the “Great Khan…
a gold tablet, which contained messages that, wherever they went,
they would be given whatever they needed”: a sort of
credit card with unlimited funds, but valid only in the kingdom
of the Great Khan. Elsewhere, pearls and coins sewn into their
belts and clothing allowed the young Marco and “Sir
Matteo and Sir Nicolao” to trade and provide for their
No one knows how much gold or silver Vitus Bering brought with
him, but like any expedition of the period, it was undoubtedly
a large amount, loaded on horses and guarded day and night.
Lewis and Clark packed a fair number of trinkets in crates: mirrors,
colourful cloth, knives and virtually anything that could be traded
with primitive populations. In addition to the abundant game they
found, trade was the main source of financing for the expedition:
hides and furs were exchanged for information or free access to
On my trip, I will take only a small piece of plastic measuring
a few centimetres, precisely 8 x 5. It is seemingly less valuable
than the Great Khan’s gold tablet, but wherever I show it
“I will be given whatever I need”.
I will not need letters of credit or gold coins concealed in my
belt, nor will I have to trap sables to gain passage on a ship.
All I need to do is show that little plastic rectangle: a quick
check on the fast and invisible network of the ether and, “from
the Alps to the Pyramids, from the Manzanarre to the Rhine”,
everything will be possible.
I can purchase the necessary and the superfluous, essentials and
luxuries, without having to wander into woods to set traps or
undertake exhausting shifts guarding coffers full of gold coins
to ensure my survival.
Civilisation has not always brought the advantages most people
would enthusiastically like to believe, but in this case we must
admit that “not even Merlin could have done any better”.