Arabian merchants also settled along the Malabar coast, in Ceylon and in the Indian sea ports. From the eighth to the tenth century, Daybal at the mouth of the Indus was the important commercial centre and seaport of India. It was the principal emporium for the products of the Indus valley and the Punjab on the one side and of Mesopotamia, Persia and Arabia on the other. For the products of northern India, Multan on the Djelam river in the Punjab, was the first larger rallying point. It was also a place of pilgrimage that was much revered and visited by the Hindoos.
From the eighth century on, Suhar and Muscat, near the entrance of the Persian bay, developed as rival ports for Indian and Chinese commerce with occidental countries. At the same time Aden, at the entrance to the Red sea, became the principal port and commercial entre for the products from Yemen, Hedsjaz, Ethiopia and Egypt.
In addition there were caravan routes: one from India to Persia through Seistan; the other via Gazna and Kabul to Afghanistan.
Seti I. and Rameses II., Egyptian pharaohs, had during the first quarter of the fourteenth century B. C. connected the Red sea with the Mediterranean sea. In order to re-establish this sea-route, Pharaoh Necho toward the end of the seventh century B. C. tried to have a new canal constructed from Bubastis on the Nile to Patumos on the Red sea. This was not completed, however, until 500 B. C. by Darius Hystaspes and was widened and improved by the Ptolemies. Before the beginning of the Christian era it was again choked up with sand. Under the caliph Omar in the seventh century A. D. the canal from Cairo to the Red sea was again restored, but did not exist longer than a century.
From the seventh to the twelfth century there also existed several land routes across the Suez isthmus. One of these followed the course of the old canal (choked up with sand) from the Red sea to Cairo, whence the goods were shipped down the Nile and then by sea. If the passage of the goods through Alexandria was not necessary, the shorter route over the isthmus from Kolsum to Pelusium (Faramiah), was preferred. At this time Damascus and Jerusalem were also important commercial centres. Here also oriental goods were exchanged by the merchants of Mecca on the one hand and those of Tripoli, Beirut, Tyre and Acre on the other.
From the seventh to the twelfth century there existed an active coastwise trade along the north African coast, having its centres in Syria and Egypt and extending as far as Morrocco and Spain. This commerce acquired a special importance for spices and aromatics although for a time it was limited by Mohammedan laws against intercourse with Christians. Commerce also soon flourished among the Greeks, who obtained spices and aromatics, possibly also rose water and aromatized fatty oils from Antioch, Alexandria and Trapezunt and brought them to Constantinople, Thessalonica and Cherson. Already in the tenth century Trapezunt was an important emporium for the drugs of India and Arabia and for Persian perfumes. The Greeks, however, purchased these luxuries only for home consumption, which was large, without distributing them farther to other nations.
Dr. Fr. Hoffmann
Printed by Rud. Loes, Leipzig
From the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, the commerce of the Mediterranean was conducted principally by Italian cities. In the tenth and eleventh centuries Bari, Salerno, Naples, Gaeta, and above all Amalfi, Pisa and Venice were the principal commercial centres. The Levant commerce, which was in its prime from the twelfth to the fifteenth century centered in Venice and Genoa. In the Levant itself, at the time of the crusades during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Acre on the Palestine coast was the most important commercial port. When this city, the last one held by the Christians, likewise fell into the hands of the Mohammedans in 1291, Famagusta on Cyprus, and, for a longer period, Lajazza on the bay of Alexandretta, became the commercial centres of the Levant up to the fifteenth century. The latter port was the junction for the western merchants with those coming from Asia.
Toward the end of the thirteenth century, the cities of Bagdad and Basra on the Euphrates, lost their commercial supremacy which they held for several centuries to Tebriz, the new rising capital of Persia near the Caspian sea. When Egypt in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries began to levy a high toll on the finer Indian spices and aromatics, the land transportation was deviated more and more through Persia via Bagdad and Tebriz to Lajazzo and Trapezunt.
During the fourteenth century, the island port Ormuz in the Persian gulf became an emporium for the westward-bound goods from India and Ceylon. It maintained this position until its capture by the Portugese at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The more important ports along the western coast of India at that time were Mangalore, Calicut and Quilon. Ginger, cinnamon, cardamoms, pepper, cloves, nutmegs, sandalwood, lignaloes, indigo, etc., were brought to these ports from the interior. From the Chinese ports and the East Indian islands large importations of these and similar drugs were received.
Toward the close of the thirteenth and at the beginning of the fourteenth century the direct traffic between Europe and China became very active, more particularly over the land route. Under the protection of the Mongols the caravan routes through central Asia were generally safe. The greater part of the Chinese empire was also accessible to Europeans. About this time also Marco Polo, the first European world-traveler, visited China, India and the islands of the Indian ocean.
Owing to disturbances and invasions of central Asia, the overland traffic diminished after the middle of the fourteenth century. Up to the discovery of the sea route around Africa at the close of the fifteenth century, Tebriz, however, remained an important centre for transitory trade. The capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 enabled them to interrupt the trade of the Italians via Trapezunt and the Crimea and soon to cut it off altogether. About this time Cyprus also lost its former importance for the Levant trade.
Egyptian commerce, however, once more increased considerably toward the close of the fourteenth and in the course of the fifteenth century. In place of Aden, Djidda, the sea-port of Mecca, became the principal junction of commerce between the Indian seas and the Occident. The heavier goods were transported by water, the lighter by pilgrim caravans to Tor on the Sinai peninsula. The high toll levied by the Egyptians caused some of this trade to be deviated for the time being to Syria. Owing to the occupation of Lajazzo by the Turks in 1347, and the conquest of the Crimea in the fifteenth century, this traffic continued to develop for a short time.
Thus in the course of several thousand years, the commercial intercourse between the nations of Asia, later also those of Africa and of Europe underwent a variety of changes as did also the various routes of traffic. The circumnavigation of Africa by the Portugese in 1498, their conquest of Ormuz, the key to the Persian gulf, and their extended marine traffic brought about important changes in the traditional channels of traffic. The transport by means of caravans was gradually diminished; the highways, formerly well kept, got out of repair, the ocean ship displaced the "ship of the desert", the camel of the caravans.
From the sixteenth century on, the ocean became the preferred highway of international commerce. Hence the Levant commerce, which had flourished for several centuries and had enriched the commercial centres of Italy and of other Mediterranean countries, lost its importance.
Numerous ruins of magnificent buildings in cities and markets, well built high-ways covered with the sand of centuries, also caravansaries on the plateau and desert lands of western Asia and the Arabian peninsula reveal to these after-days the former greatness and the commercial prosperity of peoples who still live in history but principally in name only.
The spices and aromatics of southern Asia and the Asiatic islands, which constituted the first foundation of international commerce have retained their original value in spite of all changes in the world's history. The same spicy cinnamon, cloves, nutmegs and cardamoms, pepper and ginger and other spices used and highly appreciated since antiquity; frankincense and myrrh, benzoin and other incenses, camphor, sandalwood and lignaloes and other plant products acquiring use in ever increasing numbers thrive after thousands of years in the sunny countries and islands of the orient in primeval profusion.
However, they are no longer brought to the Occident on the backs of camels over the plateaus and deserts of Asia, but in trim sailing vessels and speedy steamships crossing the ocean; or they are transported in freight cars that hasten over steel tracks encircling the continents. They are used up to this day, in the humble hut as well as in the palace of the rich, either in their original state, or in a concentrated form, purified by the giant stills of modern chemical industry.