Spice Trade


The spice trade was important during ancient times and the Middle Ages.  Spices led to the creation of vast empires and powerful cities.

When Europeans heard of spices like cinnamon, pepper, ginger and vanilla they travelled to Asia to bring them home. People used spices to flavour their food and make them taste better. Some were used to preserve food and make it last longer.

The origins of trading valuable materials go back prehistoric times. Ancient Egyptians traded with places to the south.  Greek merchants traded with India and got as far as south-eastern Asia .The Romans explored the Mediterranean Sea.

During an intensive period of trading with India they brought goods back from the east and set up a trading post in Alexandria. There goods were transferred to ships that sailed back to Rome.

Most of the trading went along the Silk Road. During the Middle Ages Arabs started taking control of the overland routes to Asia. Their influence reached as far as the Indus valley, which gave them control of large parts of India.

Marco Polo and other traders brought goods back Venice and Genoa, which became major trading hubs and powerful cities. Silk and spice trade made these cities very rich. Venetian merchants sold their goods throughout Europe.

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks started cutting off supply routes between Asia and Europe. By this time, the spice trade was an important factor in European economy.

During the Age of Discovery European navigators searched for a new routes to get to the treasures of Asia. Christopher Columbus and others sailed west and discovered America. Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama sailed around South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope. Ferdinand Magellan sailed down the coast of South America and across the Pacific in the quest for spices. In the 17th century, European nations started setting up trading posts in Asia and conquered islands and other territories.

The United States began entering the spice trade in the 18th century. When spices became more widespread, their value started to fall.


Spices at an Indian market

Spices at an Indian market - http://www.flickr.com/photos/judepics/409841087/



Related Topics



  • ancient = a long time ago
  • century = a period of a hundred years
  • cinnamon = sweet-smelling brown powder that gives cake and other sweet things a special taste
  • conquer = to take control of a country with an army
  • creation = making, formation
  • cut off = block
  • discover = to find for the first time
  • economy = the system by which  a country’s money and products are produced and used
  • empire = group of countries that are controlled by one ruler
  • enter = start to get into
  • explore = to travel around in order to find new places
  • factor = feature, element
  • flavour = give something a special taste
  • ginger = root with a strong hot taste; the powder of this root is used for cooking
  • goods = products
  • hub = central part of a system, to which other parts are connected
  • influence = power
  • intensive = very active
  • major = very important
  • merchant = person in the Middle Ages who made money by buying and selling things
  • navigator = here: person who explored the seas on a ship during the Middle Ages
  • origin = beginning, where or when something started
  • Ottoman = empire, based in today’s Turkey, which included large parts of northern Africa, western Asia and eastern Europe
  • overland route = road or other course over land
  • prehistoric = ancient, early
  • preserve = conserve, protect
  • quest = mission, journey
  • reach = get to
  • set up = create
  • silk = thin, smooth cloth made from material produced by a silkworm
  • spice = type of powder or seed taken from plants, that you put into food you are cooking to give it a special taste
  • supply route = road or course through which people transfer products that they need
  • territory = land
  • throughout = in all of
  • trade = buy and sell products
  • trading post = place where merchants come to buy and sell their products
  • transfer = change
  • treasures = riches, valuable material
  • valley = area of low land between two mountains, usually with a river flowing through it
  • valuable = costly, expensive
  • value = what something is worth
  • vast = very big
  • Venetian = from Venice
  • widespread = more popular. common