200 BC to 1200 AD

The Romans control the trade.

As their empire grew to dominance, Romans started sailing from Egypt to India to trade spices. It was a difficult two-year voyage across the Indian Ocean to get pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. By the first century, a Greek merchant sailor, Hippalus, noticed that the changing winds of the monsoons blew southwest from April to October and northeast from October to April. Rather than fighting the winds, traders began to take advantage of them, and shortened their voyage to less than a year.

During Roman times, spices were available only to the upper class, who valued them as highly as gold. In 65 AD, in a show of honor, Romans burned a year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral for Nero’s wife. The Goths overran Rome in 410. Their leader, Alaric I, demanded 30,000 pounds of peppercorns along with precious gold, jewels and silk. This ransom was his price for sparing the population from death. Spice use and trading in Europe declined after the fall of the Roman Empire.