Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Importance of Spice Trade

Spice Trade was made up of the four lenses of social studies, which are geography, economics, cultural anthropology, and history. Spice Trade helped the development of human race, which is also an important milestone in the history.  Throughout the years, scholars have studied the four lenses together to analysis the past events. All of the four lenses interacted together and made many short-term and long-term impact, which formed our modern society.

(Map of the Silk Road)

Geography was a significant factor in the Spice Trade. During the fifteenth centuries, traders wanted to start trading across places such as Guangzhou, Xi’an, Barbaricon, and Calcutta, however, there were deserts, mountains, and weather changes that were causing trouble and cancelling transactions. In order to solve this problem, there were different trade routes built, and the map above is now what we call the Silk Road. Looking at the trade routes of the Silk Road, traders would often pass different countries with their cultures. Since many foreign traders travel to many different countries, culture and religion was passed on by the foreign merchants to many countries and empires. For example, Buddhism was a widely spread religion in the countries that involved with trade. Buddhism spread because of the architecture that were built on the route and their goods that were traded with traders and merchants with different ethnicity and language. This was how the major religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam spread to countries in Asia and Europe through spice trade. However, countries that weren’t involved with the spice trade due to their location wanted to gain control. For example, Europe does not produce any spices, so they wanted to monopolize the trade world and gain control. The Dutch started a company called the Dutch East Indies and governed an area called Batavia. A man named George Early, a British merchant seaman, made observations when he stopped at Batavia during a return journey to England from Australia in 1832. In his observations, he wrote how the government was charging the spices such as coffee, pepper, and sugar way more than its actual value. Unlike the places that produced spices, the government for Batavia was much more harsh than places in South East Asia due to the fact the government for Batavia was desperate for power, which just shows how important geography was for the Spice Trade.

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(Observations from George Early)

Economy was also a huge part of the Spice Trade. Spices such as; pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and so on were some of the most valuable items during the middle ages. In the age of discovery, little quantity of just pepper was worth the same as gold or jewellery at the time. People were willing to buy spices in high price not only because they improve the taste of food but could also be used for medical purposes. For example, Europeans had to buy spices for a much higher price than others because the spices had gone through many middlemen that increased the price over time before it reached Europe. This shows how Geography and Economy interact with each other, because, as a result, people around South East Asia became a lot wealthier because of their location.



Batavia Primary Source: J.M.Gullick, Adventures and Encounters: Europeans in South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995.

Other Class Sources Used:

Student Handout 3.1 “Spice It Up”