This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
Towards the end of this period the Phoenicians developed their maritime commerce in the Mediterranean. Established at Tylos and Arados on the Bahrein Islands (near the western shore of the Persian Gulf) and navigating the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean, they practically controlled the trade between the East and the West, the outlets of the latter being their ports of Tyre and Sidon. Much of the extensive materia medic a of the Greeks reached them through the Phoenicians, such as, for instance, gum acacia, cinnamon, cassia, indigo, etc. Rhubarb, on the other hand, probably travelled by caravan from Western China, passing south of the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea and the Bosphorus.
During the Persian Empire (600-400 B.C.) the caravan routes were carefully tended and repaired, and every effort made to divert the traffic through Persian territory. About this time Greece had risen to be an important country and carried on an extensive maritime commerce with the Black Sea countries, with Chios, Lesbos, and other islands of the Grecian Archipelago as well as with Egypt. The conquests of Alexander the Great gave a great impulse to this trade, as they brought the East into contact with the West. The foundation of Alexandria was destined to produce far-reaching results. Its situation made it the natural emporium for this commerce, and it rapidly drained the life-blood from Tyre and Sidon.
Shortly after the death of Alexander, Greece declined in importance, and the Romans, having overthrown the Carthaginians, who had succeeded the Phoenicians as the chief traders of the Western Mediterranean, rapidly extended their influence, which reached its zenith during the first two centuries of the Christian era. Rome became the centre of the world. The enormous wealth accumulated there attracted foreign merchants, who employed it as a central market for the distribution of the products from India, China, and other countries.
A trade had now sprung up between the seaports of Arabia and of the Persian Gulf with Ceylon, the Malay Archipelago, China, and Japan. Drugs and spices were landed in Arabia, and found their way thence by caravan to Alexandria, those reaching the. Persian Gulf being conveyed by similar means to Syria. From Northern China the old caravan route passing south of the Caspian Sea and through Persia and Syria was still followed.
As Rome fell the Byzantine Empire rose. Byzantium, rebuilt by Constantine a.d. 330 and renamed after himself, occupied a most favoured site. When Alexandria fell to the Arabs (a.d. 640) the Alexandrian route was closed owing to the unwillingness of the Arabs to deal with Christians. The Indian trade was consequently diverted to the caravan routes to Greek colonies on the Black Sea, and thence to Constantinople. Drugs and spices from India and the East were then distributed from Constantinople, either by sea to the Mediterranean or by land to Germany.
Wars with the Mohammedans led, however, to the decline of Byzantine commerce. The Arabs established colonies on the African coast and obtained control of the Mediterranean coast traffic. Their empire rapidly spread from the Indus to the Pyrenees. The caravan routes were revived. At first Damascus and subsequently Bagdad became the centre of this trade and amassed enormous wealth. Their merchants penetrated to Nigeria, Madagascar, Siberia, India, and China. Canton was connected with the West by a caravan route which in northern Tibet divided into three branches, the most northern reaching the Black Sea, the middle Bagdad, and the most southern Daybal at the mouth of the Indus. Daybal was also the centre of the sea-trade from India, Ceylon, the East Indies, China, and Japan, to Bussorah and Bagdad, to Aden, Cairo, and Alexandria. Cairo received caravans from all parts of Africa bringing both African and Asiatic goods, and it soon rivalled Bagdad in magnificence. Centres of learning were simultaneously established in Bagdad, Cordova, Toledo, etc.
The Arabs became enervated and were gradually driven out of Europe during the fifteenth century. Towards the end of this period the carrying and distributing trade passed into the hands of the Italians. The Pisanese wrested Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands from the Arabs, and, assisted by the Crusades, secured for Pisa a lucrative trade, which passed to Genoa and finally to Venice, the latter becoming the chief carrier of the world. She reopened the sea-trade of the Red Sea and Alexandria, which was safer and cheaper than the caravan routes; she received and distributed all the drugs and spices of the East, and thus acquired great power and great wealth, the zenith of her prosperity being reached towards the end of the fifteenth century.
About this time, however, Henry the Navigator, son of King John I. of Portugal, eager to annex the Indian trade, and convinced by information obtained from the Arabs of the possibility of reaching India by sea, explored the west coast of Africa, discovering Madeira and establishing colonies on the mainland. The way was thus paved for Vasco da Gama, who in 1498 discovered the sea route to India, and landed on the Malabar Coast. The Portuguese established ports on the coasts of India, Goa being the chief, colonised Mozambique, the Spice Islands (1511), Ceylon (1518), Java, Sumatra, and Celebes. About the same time Spain became a colonial power. In 1492 Columbus discovered San Salvador, and on his subsequent voyage the West Indies. In 1519-1521 Mexico was conquered by Cortes, and immediately afterwards (1529-1535) Peru and Chili by Pizarro. The cities of Vera Cruz, Cartagena, and Caracas on the east, and of Acapulco, Panama, and Lima on the west, were founded.
The rich commerce of India was now soon diverted to Portugal, and Lisbon succeeded Venice as the emporium for Europe, a position which it occupied for nearly a century. To Lisbon or to Portuguese merchants in Antwerp the Dutch and English repaired to obtain their supplies of spices. Antwerp became the emporium of the north. When, however, in 1580 Philip II. of Spain united Portugal with Spain, and soon afterwards declared war against England, he closed the ports of his empire to English merchants. This act was followed by the revolt of the Netherlands from Spanish dominion, and both the Dutch and the English found themselves compelled to engage in a direct trade with India.