1200 AD to 1500 AD

Europeans explore passages to the East Indies.

As European culture developed in the Middle Ages, the demand for spices was a key to expanding world trade. Many of the world’s most valuable spices came from China, India, and the Indonesian islands, including the Moluccas (or Spice Islands). Europeans dealt directly with these Eastern cultures for spices, and explorers sought new worlds in their quest for exclusive trade routes.

In the late 13th century, Marco Polo’s exploration of Asia established Venice as the most important trade port. Venice remained prosperous until about 1498. At that time the Portuguese and Spanish found spice prices so high that they began searching for their own route to the spice-producing lands. Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama sailed around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to reach Calcutta, India. He returned with pepper, cinnamon, ginger, jewels, and deals for the Portuguese to continue trade with Indian princes.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in America while searching for a direct western route to the Spice Islands. Though he did not find the Spice Islands, Columbus brought allspice, vanilla, and red peppers from the West Indies back to his Spanish supporters.