Spicing the World
The quest for spices revealed entire continents to the Europeans, redrew maps and tipped the balance of world power.
We take them for granted. They are found in our kitchen closets, deposited in small jars and pots to be used as flavors in our every day food. Their availability, despite the oft-vacillation in prices, seems natural, almost as if they have always been this easy to find. For us, the people of this region, it may be true to some extent; but the history of spices for people of other continents is colored with all the drama, tact and guile of international power struggles. Spices lead nations to war, kill hundreds of thousands if not millions, and create national heroes and traitors. It won’t be an exag- geration to say that modern history, in a lot of ways, was shaped by man’s quest to find a smooth and secure supply of exotic spices like black pepper, cinnamon and clove among others.
Spices have been a part of human life since the beginning of civilizations. Historians can verifiably track the history of spices to 50,000 BC. By 2000 BC, spice trade had established a strong network of businesses throughout the Middle East. It was one of the first commodities to have been internationally traded by mankind. Unlike our contemporary private usage of spice herbs, which is more or less limited to the flavor- ing of food and to traditional alternative medicine, the use of spice, in those days was varied and, in many cases, obligatory e.g. the Egyptians used different spices to embalm their dead, so for them, spices were almost religiously important.
Spices were equally important for the Romans. They famously used spices in countless daily activities apart from food and drink. For instance, roman men would sleep on pillows sprayed with saffron in the hope that it would cure their hangover.
All major religious scriptures have mentioned various spices in, including the Ramayana, considered the