The way we interpret spices today would often be “a substance that is cheap and affordable, but it tastes good in flavoring our food….” However, when looking back to the foundation of spice and establishment of the Spice Trade, we can see that spices were truly an important phase of world history. It led to many imperative achievements such as the spreading of religions (for instance, the spread of Islam), economical benefits for European merchants, and also caused European nations to expand and bulk its region.
First off, the Spice Trade led to the spreading of religions, in which many cultural beliefs were spread across different continents. One that stands out is the spreading of Islam, the heart of the Spice Trade. Arab states were wealthy due to the fact that areas under their share stored valuable resources such as spices. During the period of the Spice Trade, there were two prime reasons of why Islamic states grew larger than ever: one out of the two, according to American TED Case Studies, was caused by the drift of the Spice Trade as, “the second, less violent, approach was that used to expand into Southeast Asia, central Asia and China, and sub-Saharan Africa. This was accomplished through the trade of spices and is what will form the crux of this study” (Unknown 1). During the time period of 1300 CE, the majority of India, the Sahara Desert, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic States were all crucial areas that supported major trade routes for the spice transportation throughout Europe, Asia, and other big nations. Muslim merchants worked together, and those who converted to Islam were able to gain valuable contacts to help expand their trade, which also benefitted them economically. Islamic beliefs dominated the spice trade throughout the time period, and through spreading across all over the three continents, the belief has developed into one of the major religions today. Overall, the spice trade played a significant part on the spreading of Islam, and shaped the religion on what it is today. However, it also provided many European and Islamic merchants with economical benefits.
The Spice Trade benefitted almost all of the European merchants economically. Spices were considered luxurious accessories to have around in Europe in the 1200s. In the Spice It Up Lesson 3.1 it stated, “Many Europeans could not afford peppercorns or any spices. Others used them only for special occasions, such as weddings. In richer homes, the spice cabinet was kept locked” (Unknown 23). This passage was significant because it shows the value of spices. Firsthand traders paid very low prices in East India, and the price rose inevitably as the product travelled through the hands of the middlemen. When European merchants received them, they sold the same spices to wealthy families for an extraordinary amount of profit, such as coinage, gold, silver, and diamonds. In another passage of the Spice It Up Lesson 3.1, it stated that, “The sale of pepper in the market-place required the same kind of protection for the commodity as one might expect for an expensive jewelry store.” (Unknown 1). From this, we are able to see that almost all the merchants benefitted strongly from spice trading at the time because by successfully giving the products to Europeans, it required a lot of protection, which resulted in them being high paid. This is significant because it raised the value and pricing of spices itself, and also inherited cultural beliefs. For instance, cinnamon was believed to be a precious gift in the Christian bible, and the trading of these vastly produced products was later exploited to America, which led to the expansion of European countries.
From this map, it clearly portrays where the merchants can trade products, and where things are mainly produced:
Lastly, as Western countries found the incoming products too expensive and lavish, they decided to politically stretch the territorial sizes of its borders. The Dutch Republic (now known as Holland) held its government in the Dutch India in the 1800s. In a primary source written on notes by George Early, it states that “Batavia is the seat of the supreme government of Dutch India, and forms the depot for the produce of all its possessions in the Eastern Archipelago… Of the three articles most in demand for European consumption, coffee, pepper, and sugar…” (Early 1). This explains why expanding the nation’s own territorial size is strongly beneficial: because it grips the most demanding products that other European countries want. Another example is the Great Britain, whom monopolized the spice industry of India in the 1850s. According to a primary source written by the grandson of Bahadur Shah, the British completely ruled the Indian Ocean by charging high taxes, and paying low values to the products that are being exported: “… [the] British government have monopolized the trade of all fine and valuable merchandise such as indigo, cloth, and other articles of shipping, leaving only the trade of trifles to people, and even in this they are not without their share of the profit” (Shah 1). Finding ways to manipulate and monopolize the Spice Trade and earning an extremely high profit from taxation, and the export of these precious spices were all earnings to the country. However, the biggest picture for the European countries in set is the expansion of land and colonizing different continents.
Through analyzing the Spice Trade using different elements of social studies, we can now better understand the causes and effects of the Spice Trade, and how that has impacted us in the 21st century. The spreading of religions, economic benefits, and the expansion of European countries were all key rudiments to what shapes our society today.
Primary Source Left from 1832 (George Early a seaman, merchant, and writer):
Map- “Trade Routes 2.” Wikipedia. N.p., 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
Spice It Up- Segade, Irene. “Big Era Six – The Convergency.” (n.d.): n. pag. World History for Us All. UCLA. Web.
Islams and Spice Trade- “Islam and the Spice Trade.” N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
“TED Case Studies Arab Spice Trade and Spread of Islam: SPICE Case.” Case Study. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
George Early Batavia observations 1832 (J. M. Gullick, Adventures and Encounters: Europeans in South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995.)
Whipps, Heather. “How the Spice Trade Changed the World.” LiveScience. TechMedia Network, 12 May 2008. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
McNamara, Robert. “A Timeline of India in the 1800s (British Raj).” History 1800s. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.