(With two maps.)
Parts of plants as well as natural plant products which have been used since antiquity on account of their agreeable odor, their pleasant taste, or their medicinal virtue, enter the world's commerce up to the present time in their original form, being either previously dried, or prepared in some other expedient manner. The essential constituents of these crude materials (drugs), the aromatic volatile oils, the resins, gum resins, bitter principles, alkaloids, and glucosides, have been recognized in the course of the development of the natural sciences. With the improvements in technology they have gradually been prepared in a purer and better condition.
Of these various products of the plant world, the spices and aromatics have from the very beginning ministered to the needs and welfare of man, and have, therefore, been appreciated by him in a special degree. As a result, they have always been a prominent and influential factor in the intercourse of nations as well as in the world's commerce. After several thousand years of knowledge and actual use of the spices in their original form, their essential constituents, the volatile oils, have since the middle ages and more particularly in modern times been successfully isolated and utilized.
In a treatise on volatile oils, a brief historical retrospect of the origin of and commerce in the bearers of these products, viz. the spices and aromatics, may be regarded as eminently proper. This all the more, since in this branch of knowledge as well as in others the historical element constitutes a valuable basis for a proper understanding and investigation.
All investigation in the realm of the history of civilization, that considers not merely a single people but mankind in general, and that goes back to the earliest historic documents, invariably leads to the wonderful orient so rich in legends - to central Asia, the traditional cradle of mankind. This is also true of the history of the trade of the oldest peoples, and especially of the source and distribution of the useful spices and aromatics.
Its geographical position and topographical configuration make Asia a very highly favored continent. Broad as it is, it extends from pole to equator. Favored by mighty mountain chains and rivers, its most beautiful and richest countries lie in latitudes where soil and climate afford all conditions favourable to luxuriant subtropical vegetation. The eastern and southern coast-lands are cleft by large bays which penetrate far inland. Many navigable rivers which flow into these bays have their origin in distant highlands. The mainland is bordered by a wreath of islands extending from the Japanese island realm through the Malay archipelago to Ceylon. These islands abound in tropical vegetation. The entire continent, therefore, reveals a diversity and richness of plant life such as no other possesses.
These advantages have made southern Asia and the islands bordering on its coast the oldest and principal scene of international traffic and commerce, spices and aromatics constituting the main articles of exchange. They not only found general use on account of their agreeable odor and aromatic taste, but were employed by most peoples in religious rites and sacrificial customs, and thus acquired symbolic meaning. With the increase of prosperity and luxury, also with the development of the sense of cleanliness and of physical wellbeing, spices and aromatics not only became more valuable, but their consumption increased.
According to documents discovered in recent years, the territory between the Indus and the Oxus was the starting point of the early commerce between the oldest peoples of central and southern Asia. Attock, Cabura, Bactra, and Maracanda seem to have been the first larger centres for storage and exchange of oriental products. These consisted of spices and aromatics, the noble metals, silk, and jewelry. To Attock were brought the products of the eastern Chinese empire, which, at an early date, closed its markets to the rest of the world.
From Attock, at the junction of the Kabul river with the Indus, the caravan road led via Cabura (the present capital Kabul of Afghanistan) to the north via Bactra, Bochara, and Maracanda (Samarkand) to the countries of the Oxus and to the Scythian tribes. Also from Cabura southward to Kandahar, thence in a western direction through the realm of the Parthians to the Pylae Caspiae (Caspian gate), and to Ecbatana in Media. Thence the land route crossed the Tigris to Babylon on the Euphrates. In a later period, after the traffic along the water routes had developed, a round-about way via Susa to the mouth of the Tigris was taken and the caravan freight shipped up the Euphrates to Babylon. Between Attock and the ports on the Black and Mediterranean seas, Babylon - existing 3000 years B. C. - was in early antiquity the most important place of traffic and commerce for westward bound Chinese and Indian merchandise. To the north-ward the caravan roads led out of Babylon through Assyria and Armenia to the Black sea (Pontus Euxinus) and westward through Syria to the Mediterranean sea (Mare Internum), thence through Palestine to Egypt. In spite of their highly developed industry the Egyptians, as is well known, closed their doors to foreign peoples as did the Chinese. As a result commercial centres were wanting in Egypt that were open to foreign merchants and to transitory commerce.
During the prime of the Babylonian empire, about 2000 to 1000 B. C, a lively caravan trade was developed which extended from China, India and Arabia to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and the Black sea.
During this period, Arabia acquired special importance by means of the sea traffic of her southern coast, which was favored by the Persian gulf and the Red sea. At an early date, the Arabian population conducted a lively intermediate trade with Indian and Egyptian goods which were brought to the Arabian ports. By means of caravans these were carried northward to Babylonia, Syria, and other countries. The principal route from southwestern Arabia to Babylon, Damascus and Egypt led from Cane on the Arabian gulf (Erythraean sea) via Saba, Macoraba, Hippos, and Onne to Elath (the present Akabah) at the north-eastern end of the Red sea. From this point the eastern route crossed the Jordan via Petra, Kir Moab, Ammonitis and Dan to Damascus; the western route to Egypt via Azab, Axomis, and Meroe.
About 15 centuries before the Christian era-, the world's commerce was gradually and, in the course of time, very greatly expanded by the Phoenicians, who lived on the narrow Syrian coast district. In the industrial and commercial field they acquired a prominent position; as mariners, however, a dominating position among the nations of their time. Besides having practical control of sea navigation, the Phoenicians were the first extensive and successful colonizing nation of antiquity. They established or extended commerce with the peoples living along the coast of the Mediterranean, they ventured through the "Pillars of Hercules" (Gibraltar) into the ocean and made accessible the products of the Madeira and Canary islands, the western coasts of Spain and France, the British islands, and the northland as far as the amber coasts of the Baltic sea.
For almost a thousand years, during which time they held their prominent position in marine traffic, the Phoenicians were the principal commercial agents between the nations of the orient and the Occident. Sidon and, since the ninth century B. C, Tyre became prominent centres of the world's commerce of that time.1)
The Phoenicians also extended their navigation to the Red sea and the Arabian gulf and from these to the Persian gulf. In the latter they established the colonies on Arados and Tylos, islands belonging to the present Bahrein group. From the twelfth century up to their decline in the fifth century B. C, these cities carried on a large transit-trade with goods from India and Ceylon to Babylon, Damascus, Tyre and Sidon, and to Egypt. A caravan route led from Gerra via Salma, Thaema and Madiana to Elath. From Elath the older routes to the north, to Damascus, Tyre and Sidon were followed, also westward to Egypt. To Babylon, on the other hand, the water route up the Euphrates or Tigris was taken from Arados and Tylos.
Carthage, a Phoenician colony established in 846 B. C, soon flourished and developed such power that it became the greatest rival of the mother country in the following century.
1) As is well known, the Phoenicians supplied King Solomon with the material for the building of the temple at Jerusalem about 1000 B. C. (1. Kings, 5, 9 and 10; also 2. Chron., 2 and 9).