Spices and World Trade
Can you imagine having your morning breakfast without ground pepper on your eggs? There’s a good reason why we’ve come to collectively love spices such as pepper, cinnamon and other staples of our kitchens; Spices have been used and widely traded in India since as early as 3000 B.C1. So, it stands to reason, the ancient civilizations we studied in recent past couldn’t imagine doing without them either! Between the ancients and present day, we find the spice trade of particular interest during the mid-15th century to the mid-16th.
The trade of spices from East to West, particularly India to European lands has evolved in a similar fashion to the lands themselves. Constantinople served as a gateway for the spice trade from Indian areas such as Kerala and Malabar on the country’s southwest coast. It was here that Europe acquired spices such as pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and likely a great deal of other less significant spices and herbs.
Unfortunately, much of Europe’s spice trade was greatly jeopardized when Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in the year 1453. With control of the well-established spice trade, the Turks sought to heighten their earnings by taking advantage of the Europeans’ high demand for spices. Their financial stifling of the trade had inspired many to develop alternative ways of acquiring spices. Of these entrepreneurial thinkers was Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese explorer. De Gama was the first explorer to travel to India as well as the Spice Islands “directly”. Since the Turks made the conventional spice trade inaccessible to essentially all of the Western world, Vasco de Gama sailed all the way around the continent of Africa to get there. This offers us valuable insight as to the importance of spice trade to Europe. De Gama created an infrastructure that would play an important role in world trade beginning in 1518. Perhaps more importantly, though are the achievements de Gama saw in exploring itself, paving way for like-minded individuals to take their ventures to new heights, including discovering uncharted territories and lands.
Faces of Goa: a journey through the history and cultural revolution of Goa. Pg. 392.Karin Larsen. 1998.
I’m always very excited to learn about interaction between civilizations that are altogether quite different. The convergence of the Portuguese and Indian communities via spice trade is no different. Because each satisfied a need in the other, cultural bridges were further instilled.