Early History of Spices
Early spice trade developed across the Indian subcontinent with cinnamon and black pepper, and in East Asia with herbs and pepper. The earliest uses of herbs were that of magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation by 1000 BCE. During this time, herbal systems could be found in China, Korea, and India.
The earliest written records of spices come from ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. The Ebers Papyrus from early Egypt dating from 1550 B.C.E. describes some eight hundred different medicinal remedies and many medicinal procedures.
Nutmeg originated in the Banda Islands in Southeast Asia and was introduced to Europe in the 6th century BCE.
In the Middle Ages, spices were among the most sought-after and expensive products available in Europe, the most common being black pepper, cinnamon (and cassia, which was cheaper), cumin, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
As well as being sought after by those who practiced medieval medicine, the European elite also craved spices in the Middle Ages. An example of the European elite's craving for spices comes from the King of Aragon, who invested substantial resources into bringing spices back to Spain.
From the 8th until the 15th century, the Republic of Venice had the monopoly on spice trade with the Middle East, along with neighboring Italian maritime republics and city-states. Spices were imported from Asia and Africa, which made them expensive.
Spices are used primarily as food seasonings. They are also used to perfume cosmetic products and incense. At various periods, spices have been believed to have medicinal properties. Last, since spices are expensive, rare, and exotic commodities, their conspicuous consumption has often been a symbol of wealth and social class.