The trade between the Mediterranean area and India: Roman, Arab, Early Modern

Ghent, 12th Dec., 2014

Gent, Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde
Koningstraat 18, 9000 Gent

SDEP and UGent, Economic History Research Group

Organisers: Koen Verboven () and Michael Limberger ()

Participation is free, but for practicalities’ sake please let us know that you will be coming


9:30 Welcome

Session 1: Ancient World (chair: Koenraad Verboven)

11:00 Discussion session

11:20:mm coffee

Session 2: Arab Trade (chair: Jo Van Steenbergen)

12:10:mm Discussion session


Session 3: Early-Modern (chair: Eva De Clercq)

15:00 Discussion session (20 min.)

15:20 koffie

16:10 Discussion session

16:20 General discussion: longue durée and comparative perspective


Dario Nappo (Torino), Trying to estimate the volume of Red Sea trade

There is a general consensus among the scholars that the trade between the Roman Empire and India, during the first two centuries CE was flourishing. The ancient sources offer a good deal of information on the subject, which has been greatly increased over the last twenty years by a large number of archaeological excavations carried on in the main centers of such trade, mainly in Egypt (Myos Hormos, Berenike), Jordan (Aqaba), and India (Muziris). Such investigations have shed a considerable amount of light on the way the trade was organised and managed, and on the infrastructures used by the Romans to reach India. Also, we know a lot more about the connections between the Mediterranean World and India. What it is still missing in such picture is a possible calculation of the general amount of trade, and its real economic relevance for the life of the empire. The aim of this paper is therefore to go through the available evidence to verify the possibility to set up a (rough) calculation of the volume of trade, and its fluctuation over the first two centuries CE.

Kai Ruffing (Kassel), The Trade with India and the Crisis of the Third Century AD

There is an ongoing discussion in modern research regarding the character, dimension and consequences of the so called economic crisis of the third century AD. One part of scholars working in the field of the Roman economy and in the one of the Indo-Roman Trade in particular is inclined to accept the crisis as a given fact with farreaching impacts on structure and scale of the Indo-Roman trade. But there is even a growing number of scholars emphaszing that a lot of sources are in sharp contrast to the basic assumption of the existence of serious economic crisis for the whole third century AD. Thus in the paper first there will be a discussion of the phenomenon of economic crisis in the third century. Secondly there will be a critical assesment of the presumed structural change of the Roman India Trade in the third century.

Beaujard Philippe (EHESS), The Muslim world and India (7th-10th century)

The formation of a large Muslim empire in the 7th century allowed a growth of exchanges with India, where several kingdoms were competing for supremacy. An Arab army took the Sindh, and Muslims settled on the western coast of India. Exchanges were not limited to wars and trade, but concerned also culture and knowledge, notably in the fields of astronomy or astrology, mathematics and medicine. The disintegration of the Muslim empire and the fall of the Indian kingdoms, almost at the same time in the last part of the 9th century and in the 10th century, led to a relative decline of the trade networks. But exchanges went on, notably with the Red Sea, where the Fatimid Egypt and Yemen took a more active role. 

Michael Limberger (UGent), Patterns and players in the Early Portuguese India trade in the sixteenth century. The Antwerp Connection

The discovery of the Cape route by Vasco da Gama in 1498 affected the trading patterns between Asia and Europe profoundly. Although the monopoly for pepper and other spices the Portuguese king aimed at was not achieved on the long run, European markets were provided from that moment on via two major providers, the Venetians, on the one hand and the Portuguese on the other. The Portuguese estado da India, required a complex organization, including ships, sailors and soldiers, as well as mercantile know how, networks and financial back up. In this paper I will focus on the commercial networks behind the estado da India, the merchants which were involved and the markets for the Portuguese goods from India. In particular the role of the Antwerp market will be addressed, which served as a major distribution centre for the Western European markets, but also a provisioning market for retour goods, in particular precious metals,  which were provided by the major partners of the Portuguese, the South-German merchants.

Stefan Halikowski Smith (Swansea), Understanding the global diffusion of capsicums in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

This paper is concerned with understanding the paths of diffusion, both geographically and in terms of the agents of diffusion (botanical scholars, merchants, political authorities, the role of peasantries). While much of historiography concentrates on the piper nigrum loaded by the north European trading companies, capsicums came to dominate global consumption, because of the greater versatility of the plant to adapt to temperate climates, and because it is less labour-intensive and more inclined  to reproduce spontaneously. Today, one in four of the world population east chili daily. I try to steer between the supply theories of people like Rothermund and Kriedte, and the recent work purely on consumptive drivers (John Brewer, Maxine Berg), by focusing on plant-based explanations.

Wim De Winter (UGent), On the role of Armenian merchants, 'Curiosities destined for Presents' and 'different East-Indian wares' as aspects of the Ostend Company's 18th century India-trade

This contribution critically reflects on the significance  of several aspects of the 'Austrian-Netherlandish' Ostend Company's  early 18th century India-trade, which it investigates from the vantage  point of a 1727 account book while considering its embeddedness in a  wider 'world-historical' context of Indian Ocean-trade. It seeks to  illuminate cultural and economic aspects of the India trade beyond  mere commodity-exchange, by taking into account shadowy aspects of  trade such as import and importance of luxury commodities serving as  presents and their implication as items of cultural significance. It  also takes into account the roles and agency of personal networks and  intermediary merchants who served both as cultural and economic brokers,  specifically considering the crucial role and importance of  Armenian merchants for the India-trade.