What was the Spice Route?

Monday, 18. July 2016

What was the Spice Route?

In the late Middle Ages ever more exotic spices came from Asia to Europe. Since the spices were very expensive, Europeans looked for cheaper ways to get their favorite new flavors. Thus the spice route was discovered. 

The discovery of the spice route prompted a revolution that found its way to India.

The Importance of the Spice Route

Spices have been traded for a very long time. Thanks to the campaigns of Alexander the Great, who campaigned all the way to India, pepper and cinnamon have been known and have been popular in Europe for many years. Although spices have always been expensive, their prices exploded in the late Middle Ages.

During the tenth century, the spice trade was in Arab hands. At that time, spices were brought only by land to Europe, going through Arab territory. Over land, the goods migrated from middleman to middleman until they could cost one hundred times their original price in Europe.

If a direct sea route could be found to the countries where pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg grew, Europeans could bypass the middlemen and customs and make insane profits.

These considerations finally led the Portuguese to send off an expedition. In July 1497, the nobleman Vasco Gama set off to find a way around the spice road. 

The Route

Da Gama sailed from Lisbon to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, using a sea route that had already been developed by other Portuguese navigators. He then traveled along the east coast of Africa along the Arabian Sea to the West Indies.

Da Gama sailed around India and Ceylon and reached the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca and the Sunda and Banda and finally, the Spice Islands.

When Da Gama docked at the Indian Malabar Coast in May 1498, he and his men were the first Europeans who had ever made it that far. Da Gama made trade agreements in India and arrived in Lisbon with fully loaded ships in July 1499.

The Impact of this Discovery

Within a few decades, half of the Asian spice trade shifted from road to sea, giving the sea route its name: The Spice Route.

Da Gama was appointed to the royal court, raised to nobility and finally appointed Viceroy of India as thanks for his work. His journey laid the foundation for the Portuguese spice monopoly from 1506-1570. The spice trade was also one of the triggers for colonization, because other major European powers wanted to benefit the profits!