Tin In Rome

Tin In Rome

Earlier this week I sat in our boardroom with a group of high net worth investors who were visiting Panama City searching for one of those “above the ordinary” investment opportunities.

Having already reviewed some currency and futures trading programs with other banks, they had reached our offices just in time for the late morning espresso café, brewed from select Panamanian coffee. “How would you summarize your company’s investment strategy and methodology?” came the direct opening question. “A good question, and to answer properly,” replied my colleague, “we need to take into account sector fundamentals of supply and demand, together with what is essential to modern man’s way of life and existence.”

Curious expressions appeared over the faces of our guests, so over our coffee, we began the answer by first turning back the pages of time to the Ancient Roman Empire.

In the Roman world “Tin” was effectively the “King of Commodities”. This essential commodity was crucially important to every day life. It was most prominently used in the production of the alloy “Bronze” which was widely utilized throughout the empire in most metal applications including arms and amour. In one way or another, everyone living throughout the Empire were consumers of tin; they made up the “demand” side of the tin market. Another crucial secondary commodity of the era was “Lead” which was used in the Roman water and aqueduct systems. The primary source of supply of these two important metals was Britannia (Britain).

Various historical documents record an exceedingly powerful and influential man. In parts of Britannia and in secular British histories he was identified as “Joseph of Glastonbury”, but our character “Joseph” is better known from the Biblical scriptural accounts where he is called “Joseph of Arimathea”.

In yet other Roman accounts, particularly from Jerusalem, he was referred to as “Nobilis Decurio” signifying his power and influence. The Latin Vulgate gospels call him simply “Decurio”, a name that was reserved for a minister or official of mines, while the fuller title “Nobilis Decurio” inferred that he had also earned a place of “nobility” in Roman culture, usually considered impossible for a non “Roman”.

So influential was this “Joseph” that he had the power to request an immediate audience with the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, and make the controversial demand for the body of Jesus Christ after the crucifixion, a request that Pilate quickly granted. Even the all-powerful Jewish religious Sadducees dared not oppose Joseph openly. Joseph had the body of Christ moved to his private sepulcher in inner Jerusalem, again confirming his immense wealth and influence. From all reports, this Joseph was a man of refinement, education and talent.

Importantly though, Joseph was no slouch when it came to business and investing. He is well recorded in the numerous historical accounts, as being the man that owned the majority interest in the vast tin and lead mines of Britain, and controller of the huge tin and lead trade into ancient Rome. Joseph of Arimathea controlled the “production” of these 2 vitally important and strategic commodities.

When you own the production of a strategic asset, your real wealth compounds and grows. It is inferred by several historians that Joseph ended up controlling the largest private shipping fleet in the ancient Roman world. (1)

But what does Joseph and the tin mines of ancient Britannia have to do with our guest’s question? Joseph of Arimathea did what many thousands of other successful and influential men and women investors have done over the millennia.

1) Joseph owned and invested in tangible assets
2) These tangible assets “produced” something of value
3) This “production” was a “product of the earth” and an essential commodity
4) This essential commodity was critically important in the day-to-day life of his times
5) He controlled the markets and eventually the transportation of this commodity

A rich Panamanian coffee later we began to summarize; “Our company’s investment strategy and methodology is simple. We aim at owning strategic, productive, tangible assets in numerous countries. We are not interested in trading paper markets and valueless currencies, rather we want to own the ‘Tangible Assets’ that produce ‘Essential Commodities’ in today’s world. By doing this, we protect our clients and ourselves from inflation, deflation, currency devaluations, bank fragility and geo-political uncertainty. Like Joseph, this type of positioning will bring us wealth, and in time, afford us the opportunity to have an impact and influence on the world around us.”

Philip Judge
2005

(1) Joseph of Arimathea was a key man in ancient Rome. Further, he played a significant role in Jerusalem and in Christ’s ministry. It is believed that Joseph was anointed by the Apostle John as the 1st Bishop in Britannia. Sources for article include : “The Drama of the Lost Disciples” George F. Jowett, “The Ancient Engineers” L.Sprague De Camp, UNRV History of Ancient Rome (www.unrv.com).