Spice Trade, Arab Traders, Italian City-States, European Colonialism, Dutch East India Company and Dutch Banking

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 10th, 2012

History 101

Venice and Genoa became the Ultimate Middlemen for those Delicious Asian Spices

The next time you cook a meal don’t use any spices.  Note how less delicious your meal is.  How much less you enjoy eating it.  And how little you eat.  Keep doing this and you’ll probably lose a lot of weight.  And be healthier.  Because your food will taste so terrible that you’ll eat less.  Which can be a good thing.  As eating less can cure cardiovascular disease and diabetes in many people.  But your food will be so bland that life itself will become bland.  And less enjoyable.  Then go out with some friends and eat some buffalo wings and nachos.  Note the difference.  Then go pay homage to the spice aisle at your grocery store.

Variety is the spice of life.  And a variety of spices to make your food taste better makes that life even better.  The ancient Egyptians knew this.  And they developed some of the earliest trade routes to Indian spice markets.  The Greeks and Romans knew it, too.  Who continued this spice trade.  Buying the spices that travelled along the Silk Road from China and the Spice Islands.  Into Constantinople.  Capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Which became the great Byzantine Empire.  Until this overland trade was interrupted by the Arabs.  Who took over the spice trade.  Especially those coveted spices from the Spice Islands.

Meanwhile in the West the Roman Empire fell.  And ushered in the European Dark Ages.  Where life became rather bland.  Until the Italian Renaissance.  Sparked by the rise of the great Italian city-states.  Such as Venice.  And Genoa.  Who developed international banking.  And merchant trade in the Mediterranean.  Based largely on that lucrative spice trade.  Where the mighty trade empires of Venice and Genoa became the ultimate middlemen for those delicious Asian spices.  A trade now dominated by the Arabs.  Who brought it to Mediterranean ports.  Where it boarded ships bound for the great Italian city-states.  The gateway to Europe.

The Quest for Asian Spices ushered in the Era of European Colonialism

Europeans tasted their food spiced with pepper.  Nutmeg.  And other spices.  They discovered a new word.  Delicious.  There was no going back to the bland days of the Middle Ages.  They wanted more.  And did not like the stranglehold the Arabs and the Italian city-states had on this trade.  They decided to do something about it.  And set their minds to finding the source of these great spices themselves.  And find a sea route directly to that source.

The Portuguese were first.  Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa and into the Indian Ocean in 1497.  Opening the first direct sea route from Europe to India for the Portuguese Crown.  While trying to find a western sea route for the Spanish Crown Christopher Columbus discovered The Bahamas in 1492.  In 1500, Portuguese Pedro Álvares Cabral accidentally discovered Brazil trying to follow the Vasco da Gama route.  He sailed a little too far west.  Which is why they speak Portuguese in Brazil today.  Ferdinand Magellan succeeded for the Spanish where Columbus failed.  He found that western route to the Spice Islands after sailing around that new continent that Columbus and Cabral bumped into.  South America.  Through the Straits of Magellan.  And back to Spain in 1522.  Well, not Magellan.  Or 4 of his 5 ships that originally sailed.  But one ship survived this voyage.  And it was full of spices.

The quest for Asian spices ushered in the era of European colonialism.  For there was big money in this spice trade.  So much that others wanted in, too.  Two of which came up with novel ways to fund this trade.  By selling stock in trading companies.  The two big ones were the British East India Company.  And the Dutch East India Company.  And it was the Dutch who showed the world what real banking was all about.  They blew away those great Italian city-states.  They were able to put greater fleets to sea.  And finance far greater trade than the Genoese or the Venetians ever dreamed.

Dutch Banking helped the Americans gain Legitimacy in the World of Nations

These trading companies did more than trade.  They settled colonies.  Negotiated international treaties.  Coined money.  Even waged war.  The Dutch and the British went to war in many places over their new colonies and the wealthy trade they produced.  In the Spice Islands.  China.  India.  Africa.  Even in the New World.  Where the Dutch traded Manhattan to the British for Run, another of the Spice Islands so the Dutch could corner the nutmeg market.

An interesting turn of events goes back to that Dutch banking.  After the United States won their independence from Britain one of the first loans the Americans secured to help pay their massive war debt was the one John Adams negotiated with the Dutch.  So Manhattan went from the Dutch to the British to the Americans.  And thanks to the Dutch it would stay American.  As the Americans were able to get their finances in order.  And gain legitimacy in the world of nations.  Not to mention becoming home of some of the finest restaurants in the world.  Serving some of the tastiest foods ever to grace a palate.

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