Images coutesy of: ds-lands.com, herbmuseum.ca
In 1453, the Ottoman empire under Mehmet II conquered Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey). This caused a great disruption for world trade as Constantinople was the link between East and West. All trade passed through it. Now, with a new ruler, new customs and royalties were placed on all goods going from East to West. The European continent couldn’t bear the high rise in the cost of goods imported. The Europeans began producing many items locally. However, there was one category they couldn’t produce in the continent, which was in great demand. The price of these small items would sometimes reach x300 their cost (yes, three hundred times). This category was “spices.”
Imagine if you could control a product that costs say 10,000 and sell it for 3,000,000.
The problem was that the European powers didn’t know where the spices were sourced from. They had to go through difficult terrains under the Ottoman’s rule.
Whoever could find a route to the Spice sources was bound to become the richest person on earth.
So the race began.
The Portuguese began their expedition of trying to sail around Africa. After many years of trials, Bartolomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), proving it is possible to sail around Africa and dodge the Ottomans. Vasco Da Gama went on an expedition a few years later reaching Mombasa (Kenya), where he found an Arab sailor would guided them to India. Once Da Gama’s expedition reached Calcutta and Goa, they began building forts. It was clear, Portugal has done it.
In the mean time, the Spanish were shocked at the speed events were going. An Italian explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus came to the Spanish court to market his plan of sailing West in order to reach the Indies from there and gain control over the lucrative Spice Trade. The Spanish having just expelled the Moors from Grenada in 1492, their coffers were quite full and they could fund such a high risk trip.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese sent their third vicious explorer, Afonso de Albuquerque. The man had a plan. To control the route to the exact source of spices. It turned out the highly sought after spices of (nutmeg and cloves) were not sourced from India. So he continued sailing with his fleet reaching Thailand, Malaysia, and Indochina (Indonesia). There he landed on the port of Malacca and took control of it. He realized he was getting closer to the source.
He began asking and found out that nutmeg came from a few remote islands called the (Banda Islands). Albuquerque knew he was close to hitting the jackpot. He sent an expedition, which included Magellan (a young man who would later lead an expedition that would be the first to circumnavigate the globe). They landed in Banda and began trading, filling their ship with cheap nutmeg.
Image courtesy of: abercrombiekent.co.uk
Albuquerque and the Portuguese had made it and realized the great wealth that lied ahead of them. However, as with everything in life, “nothing lasts forever.” Albuquerque died in India a few years later. The Portuguese couldn’t take control of the islands. The Portuguese King got involved in a war against the Moroccan king and was killed along with most of the princes, ending the Portuguese Empire’s influence on the maritime trade.
Along came the Dutch, who realized the great potential in Spice Trade. They sent a few expeditions after the Portuguese to find where the Banda Islands were. They sent their most vicious Captain Jan Coen to seize the remote islands. The man did so. After a few riots by the locals, he executed their tribal chiefs and committed a genocide, reducing the population of the islands from 15,000 to a mere 1,500. He brought new workers from Indochina.
As the Dutch were busy taking control of the islands. A British expedition arrived in the area and took control of Run island (one of the small Banda Islands). The Dutch detested the British’s existence in such proximity from them. Coen sent his troops who killed the British captain and seized Run Island. The British were aggravated when they heard that he continued killing the British in other areas as well such as in Malacca.
As a response they decided to invade the Dutch North American colony of New Amsterdam.
The Dutch were not willing to give up Run Island. How can they have a monopoly and manipulate the price of nutmeg if they do not have total control of the supply?
After long negotiations, someone suggested that each country hold on to what they currently control.
So, the Dutch gave up New Amsterdam, which would become (Manhattan), and the British gave up their demand of small island of Run.
That was the beginning of the rise of the influential British Empire.
It was all just Spices!!!!!