Spice History


50,000 B.C. The first use of spices, archaeologists believe, dates back to 52,000 B.C. when primitive man used leaves to wrap their meat while cooking. The leaves imparted a distinct flavour to the meat and thus enabled primitive man to discriminate between plants on the basis of look and smell.
2300 B.C. Spices find reference in chiseled stone tablets of Ancient Assyrians which describe how the Gods drank sesame wine while contemplating the creation of Earth. The Chinese, at the same time, were developing medicinal remedies using spices. Fo Hi, a Chinese emperor used a wide array of spices having medicinal properties to heal the sick.
1920 B.C. Spices are also mentioned in the bible in a story where Joseph was sold to a spice caravan by his avaricious brothers.
1550 B.C. Egyptians made use of the medicinal remedies of spices to heal the sick. A papyrus document mentions the use of caraway, cassia, mustard, sesame, cardamom, anise, sesame and fenugreek by the Egyptians. Spices were also used by the Egyptians to preserve and mummify the bodies of their kings. The Babylonians, hundreds of years later, referred to these papyrus documents to develop herbal remedies to cure their sick.
1453 B.C. Champion athletes in ancient Greece were honoured by wreaths made of bay leaves.
950 B.C. The Arabs maintained a monopoly on the Spice trade. To prevent their purchasers from directly buying from the source, the Arabs concocted stories of far off lands and the dangers they had to face to buy the spices. These stories, along with the geographical advantage they enjoyed, helped the Arabs retain their strong hold on the spice trade for several centuries.
332 B.C. Alexander the Great displaced the Phoenicians who distributed spices around the Mediterranean when he conquered the city of Tyre. Alexander then founded the city of Alexandra in Egypt which would later become a converging point for spice merchants from the East and West.
80 B.C. In the years to come, Alexandria became a thriving market and port for the trade of spices.
50 B.C. The Romans introduced mustard seed to England.
65 A.D. The Romans discovered an alternate source of spices when they began sailing to India from Egypt. The voyage which initially took two years was cut down to half when they discovered the monsoon winds. Soon, the Romans were shipping cargoes of spices and had established excellent trade relations with the Indians. During this period they also discovered an overland route to China.
Interesting fact: The funeral rites for the death of Nero's wife Poppaea consumed a year's supply of cinnamon.
1305 Londoners were taxed on the spice anise to raise money for the repairs of the London Bridge.
1346-1350 Norwich enters the chronology of spice history when a local monastery made purchases of ginger, garlic, galangal, saffron, fennel, pepper, cloves etc.
1418 In the hope of finding a route to the east, Prince Henry (the Navigator) established a navigational school in southwest Portugal. However, despite sending several expeditions along the west coast of Africa, Prince Henry never met with success and died before finding an eastern route.
1492 Columbus too set out to find a direct route to the Spice Islands but landed on the coast of America, discovering a new country. However, in the process he discovered allspice and capsicum peppers.
1498 The Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama was successful in discovering a route to India and reached Calicut after a ten month voyage. He returned home with a cargo of rare spices and jewels.
1510 After battling with the Arabs for centuries, the Portuguese finally established themselves in Goa and on the island of Ceylon. Soon, they harvested cinnamon and acquired a monopoly status in spice trade.
1519-1522 Ferdinand Magellan discovered a new route to the east by traveling around South America. However, Magellan died before the voyage could be completed and only a single ship from the fleet made it to shore. This ship, laden with spices, helped pay for the expenses of the entire voyage.
1600 A charter granted by Elizabeth I helped found the British East India Company. The Company was founded primarily to trade in spices.
1602 The monopoly of the Spice Trade shifted once again when the Dutch formed the United East India Company.
1619 The Dutch and the English decided to work together and signed a treaty; an agreement to split the wealth that was generated from the Indies. The English would gain a third of the Malaccan trade for helping the Dutch fight Spain and Portugal. However, the English were not strong enough and could not uphold the agreement.
1640 The Dutch now wanted to reassert their monopoly over the spice trade and thus blockaded the Malacca to prevent the English and Portuguese to trade in spices.