The Major Players in the History of the Spice Trade (1550-1850)

So if I’m to dabble in the world of the Renaissance and Colonial Eras of Europe, it’s good to know who, exactly, I’m going to be talking about. The topic is so large and so intertwined, that the amount of people involved make it just a little less complex than A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones, for those of you who couldn’t slop your way through the books).

It should be noted that my brief overview should not be considered complete, nor should it be considered factual. More, it should be considered where I’m going to start, and perhaps I will find evidence that contradicts my points below. The task here is to find a way to keep an eye on everyone, and see how far the trade for spices, and then later coffee, tea, and chocolate, affected the world. If I’ve missed anyone, let me know in the comments.

The Main Cast

Portugal: The country that could be said to have started it all. From the creation of the tireme, to the Pope giving them half of the world, the Portuguese were one of the first to have it all, and one of the first to lose it all.

Spain: The center of the Roman Catholic world thanks to their ties to the Hapsburg dynasty, they had the difficulty of balancing bankruptcy and fighting for their souls against the Protestant world.

England: The small bit player who ended up to being the empire where the sun never set, (which was the exact opposite of what the Pope wanted), the English, ended up becoming the tea merchants of the world and a major player in the opium trade.

The Dutch Republic: The little country that could, starting out being the stepping mat of Spain, to making so much money that they could commit genocide in order to ensure the supply of nutmeg. And they never did it in the name of God. They did it all for money.

India/The Mughal Empire: When we talk about pepper, we talk about Goa, which was on the west coast of India. The quest for pepper in India would eventually lead to the British Raj. Of course getting from the 1500′s to the 1850′s will take to explaining.

China: China is a bit of a cipher to me in all of this. The Europeans were just another bunch of traders in their eyes, and the focused diplomatically instead upon their neighbors. That is, while they weren’t in the midst of their own civil wars.

Indonesia/Sultanate of Mataram: How can over one thousand islands defend themselves against interlopers with bigger ships and bigger guns? And what happens when they have several of the most valuable commodities on the planet?

The Bit Players:

France: France played at the edge of trading history for the longest time before diving into colonialism and trade. Their standing in this aspect of history was not helped by the fact that the Royalty tended to spend beyond their means.

The Hapsburgs: The origin of all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1438 and 1740, the Hapsburgs had their fingers everywhere in Europe. And some say they were the real power behind Spain.