The Specific Commodities That Fueled Global Commerce In The Early Modern World And How They Connected And Affected The World

The uneven distribution of resources, whether natural or resulting from human activity, has long motivated exchange, not only within particular civilizations or regions but among the world as well. Long-distance trade became an important factor linking and shaping distant societies and people. For the most part, it was indirect, a chain of separate transactions in which goods traveled farther from their origin. A network of exchange and communication slowly came into being. Over the time, specific routes were formed including the Silk, Sea and Sand routes that promoted the trade. Commodities of everyday use, luxury items and slaves were imported and exported via these infamous channels. This essay talks about the impact of spices and fur and how its trade helped global commerce and connected the world.

For almost anyone who has lived on earth over the last four millennia, it is difficult to imagine a world without local herbs, spices, incenses, infusions, and medicines next to our hearths or in our homes. It is as if their fragrances have always been wafting into the culturally constructed spaces. The aromas of leafy herbs, dried fruits, crushed seeds, ground roots, and droplets of tree gums lodge deeply in our memories. Many of the spices that we know of today like, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, pepper, turmeric, etc originated from the Middle East where they had been used and traded well into antiquity. For centuries, spices were traded along the Silk Road, the overland trail from India through Central Asia and the Middle East into Western Europe. Researchers suggest that the traditional explanation for the spice trade is almost completely incorrect. The outlines included lacking refrigeration due to which our forebears were condemned to eat rotting, salty meat, which they smothered with overpowering spices in order to cover the taste of salt and decomposition. In fact the impulses for the trade were far more diverse. In addition to their use in cooking, spices were put to a variety of purposes, including medicine, magic, religion and sex.

Early documentation suggests that hunters and gatherers wrapped their meat in different spices to increase their shelf life and accidently discovering that it enhanced the taste of the meat. Also, in spice growing regions, people used spices for medicinal uses. As more and more people came to know about its existence, demand went up and so did prices. This quest for spice was one of the earliest drivers of globalization. Spices were prized goods in the Middle Ages. High prices, a limited supply and mysterious origins fueled a growing effort to discover spices and their source of cultivation. Thus, spices were made a global commodity centuries before European voyages. Desire for spices helped fuel European colonial empires to create political, military and commercial networks under a single power. In this sense, meeting the demand for spice implied, and required, a great deal. Where goods and money flowed, there too went people and ideas. Its expansion around the turn of the millennium from an isolated, introspective culture to a land studded by towns and crisscrossed by merchants kick started what came to be known as Globalization.

In the early modern era, furs joined silver, textiles, and spices as major items of global commerce. By 1500, European population growth and agricultural expansion had sharply diminished the supply of fur-bearing animals, such as beaver, rabbits, sable, marten, and deer. Furthermore, much of the early modern era witnessed a period of cooling temperatures and harsh winters. The decline in temperatures increased the demand for furs as well as the prices. European traders saw this as a strong economic incentive to tap the immense wealth from fur trade.

The fur trade was a highly competitive enterprise. Only a few Europeans directly engaged in commercial trapping or hunting. European merchants paid for the furs with a variety of trade goods, including guns, blankets, metal tools, rum, and brandy, amid much ceremony, haggling over prices, and ritualized gift giving. Enormous quantities of furs and deerskins found their way to Europe via silk roads, where they considerably enhanced the standard of living in those cold climates. The environmental impact of such tradiing activity lead to the depletion of fur-bearing animals.

18 March 2020
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