Traditionally, brokerage and trading services are associated with the financial markets. Early systems of credit and debit were practiced in Cairo from the eleventh century as the city benefited from being at the crossroads of the spice route from Asia to Europe. Venice, which had been an international trading centre for several centuries, rose to prominence in the twelfth century. Capitalising on its position as one of four city-states in Italy and its strategic location on the Adriatic Sea, Venice was ideally placed for trading with Byzantium and Asia Minor, which were at the western edges of the Silk Road. In 1295, the Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324) returned from his travels with unbelievable tales of distant lands and opportunities for trade with central Asia and beyond.
In northern Europe from the twelfth century, debt trading and systems of brokerage were features of commerce in France and Flanders (now parts of Belgium and Holland). In the wake of burgeoning mercantilism, bourses opened in Bruges (1309) to service the trade in wool and cloth and in Antwerp (1460) to finance the trade
in diamonds. The following century saw bourses opened in Lyon (1506), Toulouse (1549), Hamburg (1558), and London (1571). These were followed, in the seventeenth century, by bourses in Ghent, the centre for the trade in wool and cloth weaving, and Amsterdam, a centre for maritime trade. The growth of overseas trade links was accompanied by markets in commodities and futures. In 1773, London traders who had been meeting informally in the coffee houses that sprang up were able to meet in a building designated the Stock Exchange.
Trading in commodities such as natural resources has an illustrious heritage. Around 2500-2000 B. C.E. Sumerian traders in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) carved on tablets of clay records of their commerce in livestock and precious natural objects such as stones and seashells. Called cuneiform, this is said to be the earliest system of writing.