Intrepid Merchant

    Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
    Curasias in Shape Quest

    Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
    When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
    And softly though the silence beat the bells
    Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

    We travel not for trafficking alone:
    By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
    For lust of knowing what should not be known
    We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

    —James Elroy Flecker, "The Golden Road to Samarkand"

    An Intrepid Merchant is a merchant that goes to the far corners of his world, bravely seeking profit. He is a treasure-hunter but the treasure is not hidden, it is in the bazaar waiting for him after he has crossed the deserts, mountains, seas, or trackless gulfs of space. The chief characteristic of an Intrepid Merchant is that he is both a merchant and an adventurer. He buys and sells like any other trader. The difference is that he goes to far distant markets to find what he is looking for. (May be fond of being In Harm's Way - after all, the more dangerous it is to get at something, the rarer and, therefore, more valuable it's likely to be.)

    On the less salubrious side of things, this character type can overlap with being a Privateer or Pirate (where the risk is the original owner fighting back), a smuggler (where the risk is that you're trading illegally), or even a slave trader.

    This trope is Older Than Feudalism, dating back in poetry, folklore and history to at least Sinbad the Sailor, continuing as a staple of adventure fiction until the present day, and finding its way into science-fiction almost as soon as the genre came into existence. It migrated to role-playing games, especially Traveller, in which it is one of the main player character types. A common space subtrope of this would be the Space Trucker. Inevitably the Intrepid Trader found new territory to explore in computer games, appearing in Elite, Wing Commander: Privateer, EVE Online, Vendetta Online and many others.

    Intrepid Merchants were arguably the foundation of the world's economy, before easy transportation and communication made his kind irrelevant. They still exist in places like Central Asia in which transportation and communication are not easy.

    When a whole culture has this as its Hat, it is a Proud Merchant Race .

    Examples of Intrepid Merchant include:

    Anime and Manga

    • Spice and Wolf: Although the story begins when Holo the wolf goddess hitches a ride in the protagonist's cart, the series primarily follows a fairly ordinary medieval merchant, whose experiences manage to be interesting without seeming unrealistic, traveling company aside.
    • Dryden in Vision of Escaflowne

    Fairy Tales

    • In the Arabian Nights: Sinbad the Sailor.
      • Who was actually based on a real person - a Chinese sailor, and Muslim, who traveled as far as Venice to bring back goods to China - only to have his deeds dashed from all records of Chinese history.


    • In Star Wars, Han Solo is one (there's often a lot of overlap with smuggling).


    • Poul Anderson's Technic History: The Nicholas van Rijn stories. In one of these stories, van Rijn's protege David Falkayn quotes a poem (attributed to "Sanders," a pseudonym Anderson used sometimes) which describes this sort of character:

    Their topmasts gilt by sunset, though their sails be whipped to rags
    Who raced the wind around the world go reeling home again
    With ivory, apes, and peacocks loaded, memories and brags
    To sell for this high profit: knowing fully they are Men!

    • In Isaac Asimov's Foundation, a subculture of these arose as a Batman Gambit to help spread the Path of Inspiration the titular society used to control its neighbors. Hober Mallow became known as the "Merchant Prince" for being successful enough—at many levels—to change the Foundation's Hat to Proud Merchant Race.
    • Niccolo, the eponymous hero of one of Dorothy Dunnett's series of novels.
    • Phlebas the Phoenician from the The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot.
    • Leland Gaunt is an evil version in Needful Things.
    • One of Kipling's most beautiful passages is the beginning of "Ballad of The King's Jest". It describes the arrival of Caravans(or "Kafilas") in "The Market Square of Peshawar Town" and goes on from there to show two Intrepid Merchants telling traveller's tales to one another.
      • Mahbub Ali, an Afghan horse-trader in Kim. Well, if his caravan is ambushed and shot at twice in one season, it's unusual, but not quite shocking.
    • Silas Fennec in China Mieville's The Scar.
    • The Free Traders of Andre Norton's Science Fiction:
      • The crew in the Moon Singer books.
      • The crew of the Solar Queen books.
      • This is what the titular organization pretends to be when on research expeditions in the Time Traders series.
    • Menedemos and Sostratos in Harry Turtledove's Over the Wine Dark Sea.
    • In C. J. Cherryh's Alliance Union series the Merchanter's Alliance is made up of families of interstellar merchants that formed an alliance and became both a major power and the sole means of commerce for the other two powers.
      • See also her Chanur series.
    • Kylara Vatta of Vatta's War
    • In Tales of the Alhambra Washington Irving describes Spanish muleteers as this and tells how they risked hardship and banditry, as well as how they sang songs about contrabandistas(smugglers)
    • In the H. Rider Haggard stories Alan Quartermain did this as one of his occupations in his backstory, as well as prospecting and ivory hunting.

    Live Action TV

    • Jang Bogo of the Korean TV epic Emperor of the Sea might do. Of course he is a member of a whole tribe of Intrepid Merchants. Which brings up a point that this can be a narrative theme as well as a character.
    • Mal and his crew from Firefly, though due to the harsh nature of the show, they struggle just to make enough money to get by. "Intrepid" doesn't guarantee "successful".
    • Cyrano Jones in Star Trek: The Original Series.


    • "Caravanserai" by Lorena McKennit is about Middle Eastsrn Merchants

    Real Life

    • Marco Polo.
    • Christopher Columbus started out this way but didn't find any markets, so instead decided to set a trend for the Conquistadors who came later.
    • The caravan merchants of the Silk Road in Central Asia were a pretty brave bunch, given that killer sandstorms, greedy local nobles, and bandits were considered normal events along the trail. And that was a good year, when the local nomads weren't on a spree.
    • The Phoenicians were also infamous merchant adventurers, and not averse to a spot of banditry and/or slavery when they thought they could get away with it. In the course of their travels, they popularized the world's first alphabet.
    • Vikings could switch from being Pirates to Intrepid Merchants to being warriors without missing a beat. They could even do that in the same voyage.

    Tabletop Games


    • The merchants in James Elroy Flecker's play: "Hassan: The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How he Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand", quoted at the top of this page.

    Video Games

    Web Comics

    Western Animation

    • Scrooge McDuck of DuckTales (1987), though most of his adventures are simply treasure seeking.
      • He built a multi-billion dollars Mega Corp thanks to his adventures, he's past the intrepid merchant: he's an intrepid mogul.
    • Inverted by Avatar: The Last Airbender's unnamed cabbage seller, who keeps moving around the world to get away from the violence that destroyed his last cart of wares, only to have the Gaang show up and plow through his cabbages once again.