Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some spicy history...

What was the prime cause of discovery of Americas? What led to the conquest of Sindh, thereby causing the emergance of Mughal Empire? What made the discovery of one half of the globe possible? What initiated the inflow of hundreds of literary works based on sea voyage in different periods by different authors from different nationalities like Sindbad and Robinson Crusoe? And what caused us to study Geography in secondary classes? The answer is a dry berry, pungent leaves and some black twigs..

Spices caused a maritime revolution in the world. The continous flow of them from East to West from time immemorial, through different routes changed the history of mankind. But spices are not a useful or inessential commodity. They does not have any health benefits, any huge medicinal value or any aesthetical value. Then what was the reason for this humongous trade flow? The answer lies in their exotic nature, the mystery surrounding them. Spices were believed to originate from faraway lands, from the edge of the world and they were just a bit less than inaccessable. The moment this aura left them, the price came down, eventhough demand remained same.

The first known evidence of spice trade starts from the period of Greek glory. Alexander's conquest bought spices to  Greece. Then most of it came from Arabia. The trade route was by land. Arabia imported it from India and mysterious spice islands in far east, which was not discovered till another thousand years. After Greek, Romans carried forward the trade. Some historians of the time even blames the import of spices for the decline of Roman empire. After Rome, the sea routes totally fell into the hands of Persians and later Arabs. Chinese also had their share of adventure initially, but soon became bored and contented with inland trade. Portugese where the ones who put a stop to Arab monopoly, courtesy Vasco de Gama. Along with them Spanish, although they took the wrong turn and ended up in Americas suspecting the natives as Indians, courtesy Columbus and the wrong calculation of earth's circumferance by Ptolemy. The entry of Europeans introduced new dimensions to the trade- of violence, greed, plunder and religious zealotry. The colonialisation of East by West was initiated by them. Then came Dutch, English and finally French. But by then exotism of spice trade was wearing off. New novelties like chilly, tea, coffee and chocolate took their places. Slowly once invaluable pepper and cloves, took their places in sealed covers in super markets.

The Spice Route: A History by John Keay, traces back the route in which these exotic goods travelled in the last three millenia. Most part of it is not recorded, and had to be revealed from connecting the dots left by shreds of evidences, anecdotes and guess work. The best quality of the book is that, the author although narrates a serious subject, keeps his wit intact. The prose flows with relentless pace till the termination of the story and keeps the interest level intact.  One caution though, it is better to keep a dictionary by your side while reading it, if you insist to follow the history of the spice route word by word.

And the good news is that my Indirank jumped to 79 today from 74. Thanks to Indiblogger.in and indibloggers for their support.

On this occasion enjoy this romantic song from the movie Ghulami (1985), which I personally feel is the best hindi song of 80s:


  1. good, spicy post..and congrats bosss

  2. Congrats!:)

    Interesting information. :)

    Thanks for sharing about the book. :)

  3. Sounds like an interesting read.

  4. Congrats....maybe I can sit down with some spices and ask their opinion about the book...you write well...informatively and engagingly

  5. thnks for sharing the spicy information..also congrats fr ur rank jump

  6. This seems as a good book. I had recently done a project on black pepper and while doing research, I realised just how important spices were. They moved ships and empires and to a great many discoveries!
    A great review!!!!