Which as far as I can tell is an apocryphal quote attributed to the Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, but none the less holds true for a town such as Caras Celairnen. In this post I will be considering some of the economic needs to support the town in what is a strange location.
It is an undeniable truth that trade requires goods that one place has and the other does not have in a high enough order to meet from within. Caras Celarnen must have it’s own needs to function as a town, but lets assume that is as little as food probably from the regions surrounding or at worst from the Shire and Saralainn. So aside from this what goods could flow through the town or to rephrase what do the surrounding kingdoms produce, and how far will the merchant’s travel? It is probably safe to say that Mithlond, the tower hills and the regions of Lindon are going to be pretty much self-contained with minimal leakage of Elvish craft as their involvement in humans affairs decreases (see History of Lindon). The Dwarves of Ered Luin on the otherhand will want to trade, not least to satisfy the desire for gold. Extensive seams of coal, copper (blue mountains), and finished metal products are likely to be the main exports. Equally, to the south is the shire and the fragmented mannish kingdoms of Cardolan (now lost). Here the region is rich in arable land and so we would expect there to be grain, and cattle flowing from this region.
Trade requires a market
What then of potential trade partners who would “use” the town as a transit point. As Kingdoms of major populations there is of course Arthedain in the mid-Third age, the Dwarves of Ered Luin and the Elves of Lindon. Minor populations are the Hobbits in the shire, Rivermen on the Lhun, Saralainn.
The Elvish lands of Lindon should for the most part be thought of as self sustaining, the lands are extensive, include plenty of wood and mining opportunities, and in Harlindon probably a climate conducive to good arable land. Wine might be one thing lacking, being a cooler temperate climate some might be shipped from Gondor, but this would not be passing through Caras. In all, the Elves would really only be looking for the craftsmanship of the Dwarves which matched that of the Noldor. Since there are fewer Noldor perhaps this would be a reason to trade through Caras, where a neutral ground for negotiations or even a neutral negotiator can be arranged. Certainly, in the third age, the breakdown in trust between elves and dwarves would make this true.
The Dwarven market is far easier to understand. With limited land for farming and for the more northerly communities a limited growing seasons food would be the prime consideration. In addition, if dwarves main occupation is mining or crafting the time they are able to spend on growing crops would be less. This ideas is supported in some ways by the description of Erebor in the Hobbit, where Dale was clearly the town that supplied the food needed to support the Dwarven community.
In the Third-Age Arthedain is a kingdom on a war footing. It too will be lacking in food to supply its populace. Again because of the shorter growing season, but also because of the large standing army. Most of this would be supplied from the Shire to the South, but perhaps some might come from Lindon. What would be needed in a greater quantity would be materials for building and maintaining defenses (wood and stone). Also a significant quantity of metal and leather for weapons and armour. This may be supplied as raw materials or perhaps some as better crafted weapons from the Dwarves and again possibly the Elves of Lindon.
Trade needs transportation
What makes a good trading centre is its access to various transportation links, in Middle Earth of course this is land, sea and rivers. Sea links to Arthedain and the dwarves are nonexistent so all trade conducted with this region must either pass up one of two rivers or be transported overland. From Caras Celairnen this would either be up the Uiladuin or though the lands of Noirin with a potential poor route across the northern hills of Evendim. Arthedain would also be open to the Branduin river route or an overland route from Tharbad, reasons why Caras Celairnen might be chosen as a route will be discussed later. As for Lindon, as discussed earlier, there is little that they might need that could be supplied beyond Dwarven crafts.
In our modern way of thinking transport is a given and reduced to a logistics exercise based on just in time delivery with transactions with the ultimate vendor already completed and just the vagaries of local consumers the unknown. However, delve in to the history books and suddenly transport is much less reliable. Medieval and by implication fantasy trade transport was a far riskier adventure. For example, will your chosen transport method actually get your goods to the destination? Can you repair the transport on the journey or will you be forced to abandon your goods? Is the cost of the goods less than the transportation costs (method + labour + security + damage). Further risk is from robbers, hence security, given the wildness of Middle Earth their is almost certainly a “finders keepers” type rule on goods as it would be nigh on impossible to prove ownership, especially if you or your minion in charge of the cargo is dead. If this is so then there must be preferred ways of transporting goods where risks are lower. I suspect that highest risk would be long land routes, but water based routes up rivers and by sea would be more preferable. Lets look at the evidence.
For starters the road network was awful! Yes around the major population centres the road was more apparent, but that could make it worse due to the heavy traffic use. Even if you allow for the high engineering level of the Dwarves, Elves and Dunadan to allow for Roman-like road networks. This would only account for major military transport routes. Certainly, in the third age both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings suggest the major highways are no more than grassed tracks rather than well maintained highways. So rather than get into an esoteric debate on road engineering in Middle Earth, I am going to suggest that roads aren’t great. This means carting your goods across land is a slow. I suspect the times given for travelling with a cart in MERP are on the optimistic side of travel. Fresh goods do not travel far! No fruits of the south will be making it overland to Arthedain. Yes sir we have no bananas! A second reason for land being the least favoured method is the amount of goods you could transport! A carthorse could haul around a 10th of its weight for 8 hours which is not much (150lbs, see Wagonteamster for more). Add to that you will need camp equipment and feed for the horses and suddenly you realise the idyllic image of a farmer bring his goods to town on a cart is about all you will see. The alternative would be juggernaut trains of carts moving constantly up and down roads. It makes you realise that goods going overland need to be highly portable and valuable.
Which brings us to the water-based routes; the undoubted advantage of water is, in general, the ability to carry heavy loads for a reduced effort. A river is an ideal downstream transport system for heavy loads. Timber can be rafted down with little or no effort, with the advantage that not many timber bandits are known. Using river barges on larger rivers would allow lots of goods to be transported easily and, if the barge is able to stay away from the banks, the risk of theft is low. Of course here in the UK we are very familiar with the maritime power of trade. Again long distance trade using sea is far more attractive to a merchant shipping goods than a long land trade. Pirates of course would be an issue, but really a random attack is unlikely given the size of water a single pirate would need to patrol. Which of course only leave state sponsored piracy, either by commission or omission!
Between the bastion of of Gondor and the Elves of Lindon there would be very little opportunity to operate a pirate fleet with state “backing”. However, the middle kingdoms are in ruin and the small kingdoms that have established themselves are a weaker area and Gondor and Lindon’s patrols would be less effective in the inshore regions. As a result, trade routes between Gondor and Lindon and onto Caras Celairnen will probably stick to the deeper ocean.
(quick background reference Middle Ages Trade & Commerce)
Trade is run on credit
The most important thing to remember about real trade in a medieval/fantasy environment is that rarely does money trade hands. The often misguided idea that merchants might wander around with huge crates of gold to purchase the goods that will be sold (for profit) at another location is complete nonsense.
Medieval trade was always conducted using scripts and tallies. Goods would then be sold onto middle men for distribution to redeem the credit into useable cash. All this means that merchants need to have a reputation and sufficient collateral holdings to support their involvement in the trade. That is to say unless you are planning on a risky trade venture, most merchants will be landed gentry. They in turn will recoup their debt by selling on to middle men to deliver to the local populace.
Of course Middle Earth is also a more Middle English Anglo-Saxon tradition so these more modern developments might not exist, except for the high level of civilisation attributed to the Dunedain, Dwarves and Elves.
Trade as the life blood of Caras Celairnen
So what does this all mean for our small market charter town on a river. Having established that the town itself was already pre-established for the purpose of trade between the Dwarves and the Elves and that as time passed it became subsumed into human culture until gifted to Arnor, the principle trade with the Dwarves is a vital element. However, such a trade route would probably not be sufficient to sustain the town and the opportunities afforded by close proximity to Lindon suggest that some Elvish goods would also be available. Finally, although the Gwathlo also provides a good route towards Fornost; Caras also provides a safer harbour in a more stable political region.