The passport is a document familiar to every traveler, and it would be an understatement to say that throughout the years I’ve become quite attached to mine. It would also be safe to say, that this little book is one of the most important possessions in my life.
For without it, I wouldn’t be able to pursue my dream of seeing the world and everything in it. Although, I’d much rather live in the society fantasied by the late, grate John Lennon. Where as an individual I was allowed to freely roam where ever I please, and a passport was not required.
Sorry John, I can Imagine that ‘there are no countries’, but I won’t be holding my breath on that thought. The world’s just to damned complex.
Anyway, I’ve carried this precious and familiar document with me for all my travelling life, but I’ve never really given much of a thought to it’s origin. Where did the passport come from, how did it evolve, and where is it heading from here?
History and Early Origins of The Passport
A passport is essentially a document issued by a national government to certify the identity of the holder for the purpose of international travel, but how long have these documents been issued to the weary traveler?
It seems that the true origin of the modern passport can not really be defined. Although there are many theories and plenty of cultures putting their hands up to say it was their invention. After doing a little research I simply feel that the passport is the cumulative evolution of a vast many societies and cultures. The document has slowly evolved over time, resulting from a mashup of many of it’s predecessors, and ending in it’s current configuration.
One of the earliest references to the passport was been made in the medieval era, and attributed to the time of the Persian Empire around 450BC.
It is said that Nehemiah, an official serving King Artaxerxes of Persia, asked to leave the Kingdom and travel to Judea. On this request the King granted him a letter requesting safe passage, as he traveled through the lands beyond the Euphrates.
The Passport Enters The Middle Ages
In the medieval Islamic world, a formal document would also be issued to those citizens whom were loyal citizens and had paid their taxes. This document would then entitle the holder to travel throughout different regions of the caliphate.
Throughout the middle ages, it seems that identity documents were not required by the sea faring traveler’s upon reaching a foreign port. Although as soon as anyone set foot outside the port, a formal document of some sort (i.e. passport) was required.
Other research points to King Henry the Fifth of England, who seems to have been credited to giving the world what some consider to be the first true passport.
This document is now the earliest surviving reference to what we all consider to be a passport, and used in the same context as it is in the modern world.
After a sitting of the parliament, it was made law that these documents could be issued to anyone, no matter who he or she was (foreign nationals would even be issued theirs free of charge).
Of course the Monarch himself did not require such a document, and I believe this law still stands to this day (but I stand to be corrected, if anyone knows).
The earliest use of the term, ‘Passport’ dates back to the regine of King Louis XIV of France , but their is no certainty to it’s exact meaning.
Many have subscribed to the idea (myself included), that the term is derived from two French words and relates to the passing through city gates or walls (or possibly sea fearing ports).
The Standardization of The Passport
Although in use, the passport was not commonly required in Continental Europe leading into World War 1. In fact the document was being used less and less during this period. People were free to cross borders in most of continental Europe without the use of a passport.
It was the beginning of the ‘Great War’ the symbolized the requirement of an identity document across the worlds borders and shores. This steered the passport on a course towards it’s current use.
The advent of photography saw the use of photographs in passports in the early decades of the twentieth century. Before the days of photograph’s in ones passport, a complete list of facial features was included in the document. Describing the shape of face, complexion, color of eyes, size of nose, color of hair and so on.
Could you imagine this going on in today’s politically correct world?
Following the Great War, the ‘League of Nations’ held a series of conferences in the 1920’s that would lay down further guidelines for the roll-out of passports to all global citizens wanting to travel internationally.
Throughout the middle to late 20th century there was still no formal and absolute guidelines on the control of the document. Until the year of 1980, where the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Authority) took control of the document. This agency (a specialized branch stemming from the United Nations) has outlaid the requirements and specifications for the standardization of the document until this day.
The Evolution of The Modern Passport
In the modern era, we have seen the passport continue it’s evolution in fits and spurts over the last 100 years. It’s morphing from a simple mainly hand written booklet into the modern and complex design of the e-Passport.
It appears the world we currently live in has seen governments around the world push the security of this little document even further, and the roll-out of the e-Passport standard throughout the world is beginning to reach far and wide.
Watch out though as big brother is watching, and there are plans to embed a monumental amount of data into the microchip in the e-Passport. The limited information currently embedded into the chip is just the beginning.
The complexity of this document will continue to evolve. After the events of September the 11th 2001, world governments will slowly push the boundaries of what many consider to be civil liberties of an individual.
We’ve moved from seals and signatures to holograms and microchips. As the technology surrounding the passport continues to grow.
Who knows, that day may come where we all have that dreaded microchip implanted in our bodies, that has been predicted in science fiction for many years!
Your Thoughts and Comments?
Do you have anything further to add to my research on this topic? Where do you think we are headed with the modern passport? What about the pushing of boundaries in relation to civil rights, all in the name of security?