The Motivations of the Spice Trade

To say that there is only one motivating factor for EVERYONE who had been involved in the Spice Trade would take a bit of hubris. We should acknowledge that each country involved, and each individual involved are entitled to whatever thought process that compelled them to get themselves on a boat, or open a warehouse, or attack Venice.

That being said, once we sift through the events of time, that a pattern of specific benefits becomes established. In reading over various manuscripts, these are the two primary motivations that are repeated:

1) To get a luxury item cheaper than the next country/monarch/republic.
2) To maintain/increase/establish some level of international power.

Item 2 is a bit tricky, because at first glance, it looks like it’s little more than a result of item 1. But my argument is a little nuanced. For evidence shows that the Royalty of the middle ages didn’t think in the terms of what we consider “modern” economics. Often the success of a country/kingdom could be determined by who ruled , which in turn, determine who had to provide taxes to the royalty, or who could by plundered, or in some cases, who was morally superior. There’s a distinct group of people who viewed the spice trade, not as a means to make a boatload of money, but as a means to demonstrate that God was on their side.

This last point is key, for keep in mind that in the middle of the 1500′s, when I hope to pick up the narrative, the idea of who was morally superior is a common theme, especially in the world of religious battles between Protestants and Catholics. I’ve been seeing phrases such as “God in an Englishman!” or “God graces Spain” or some other similar phrase in many different texts.

Which brings me to my last point. Both points 1 and 2 can be (and should be) different meanings for different people, including the major players in the spice trade. Getting items cheap could mean saving money, which in turn could be used in other areas of the economy, or it could mean getting it cheap in order to turn it around and sell it at an amazing profit.

And don’t even get me started on the many interpretations of “power”. How the Dutch viewed power was different from how the Spanish viewed power.

At any rate, I’ll return to these points repeatedly in future posts.