How spice trade changed world history

The world has evolved over the years because of various events, disasters, inventions, ideas, philosophies etc. However, these changes happened in pocket areas and needed a medium to be spread around the world such that everyone could benefit from it. Now, one such medium of the spread of such phenomena is the spice trade route which allowed the east and the west to connect and exchange their ideas.


The spice trade route is marked in blue in the above image while the silk route is marked in red. As its quite evident this route is based on the water transportation as opposed to land routes used in the silk route.

Now what is the Spice trade?

Britannica encyclopaedia defines Spice trade as the cultivation, preparation, transport, and merchandising of spices and herbs, an enterprise of ancient origins and great cultural and economic significance.

Seasonings such as cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric were the most traded items of commerce in this form of trade. Their existence has been proven in the Middle East almost 4000 years ago.



A brief history of how the spice trade developed:

  • The spices found their way into the Middle East during the pre-Christian era. They were portrayed as wonders and their origin was withheld using tales and folklore. Prehistoric writings and Stone Age carvings of Neolithic age obtained indicates that India’s South West Coast path, especially Kerala had established itself as a major spice trade centre from as early as 3000 B.C, which marks the beginning of Spice Trade.
  • The Greco-Roman world followed by trading along a new route called the Incense route. The sea routes to India and Sri Lanka were controlled by the Indians and Ethiopians and soon they became maritime trading power of the Red Sea.
  • By the middle of the century, due to the rise of Islamic powers the land caravan routes were closed down making this route the paramount route of importance in the old world. Maritime trade routes led to tremendous growth in trade and commercial activities. Soon the European powers sensed great profit from the above trade and began inquiring into these sources.



  • The trade was transformed by the European Age of discover, when they started venturing into this trade with black pepper. The route from Europe to Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa was found by the Portuguese who soon landed in India and set up trading hubs in the country.
  • This trade became an interlink-agefor the global economy and became an important driver of the same. It also led to the European domination in the East channels of maritime trade. Also, due to their near unquestioned control over these routes, they ended up controlling most of the world economy and became a medium for exchange of the various cultural and economic factors between the east and the west.

Thus as we realise the importance of this route let us delve deep into the notable results or influences that was a result of the existence of this route:

  • It brought great riches to the Middle East: The early sailors and merchants would often sell their produce from the Middle East which resulted in a lot of accumulation of wealth as these spices were highly famous and in demand especially nutmeg and cinnamon. The products were produced and then shipped through India towards the west where they would be sold. The merchants would trade spices for musk, camphor, sandalwood and other such luxuries which made them richer as these in turn where a novelty back in the east and thus fetched high prices.




  • With the advent of European powers, the republic of Venice had become a big power in the eastern spice trade. Other European powers in a bid to break this hold began to develop powerful navies and also started exploring unknown territories. This led to the discovery of American Continent.
  • The Ottomans took the Byzantine Empire and became a monopolistic power over the sole spice trade route. This led to the need to search for new routes, which was done by Portugal by circumnavigating Africa. This led to the discovery of the New World by these sailors as they tried to search for new routes.


  • This also led to a lot of cultural exchanges between the east and the west. The Hindu and Buddhist religious ideas became associated with the businesses which led to formation of funds who in turn promoted coinage, art and literacy. Islam in turn spread in the east along with Christianity. There was a mixing of people and the various ideologies coalesced to form new unique lifestyles and beliefs.

Thus the trade route was responsible for the formation of a global community which was an end product of multiple beliefs coalescing into one unique form and giving way to a greater harmonious present and also allowing the benefits of each part of the world being shared with the others which has resulted in the formation of a international community today.




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