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In Session: Markets, Imperial Politics and Trans-Mobility
Ocean of Spices: Mongol Conquest of China and the Emergence of a Trans-Indian Ocean World, 1220s-1330s
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Leiden University, Netherlands
This article explores how the Mongol Conquest of China had a transformative connection with the emergence of a trans-Indian Ocean spice network connecting China and the Mediterranean World. It shows for a number of reasons, including a politically overwhelming concern to secure a trans-Indian Ocean communication with the Il-Khan in Persia, the Great Khan proactively sponsored a trading route heading from China directly to the renowned pepper coast of Malabar (Kerala) in South India. This policy, on the one hand, rendered the already fading transhipment function of Srivijaya moribund, undermined the spice hubs along the north coast of Java, and caused a hiatus between the two “Ages of Commerce” in archipelagic Southeast Asia. On the other, it also supported the expansion of an alternative spice network controlled by merchants based on the China coast. Sailing with their junks, these traders not only imported Indian Ocean pepper to China, but carried out intra-Asian trade of fine spices from the eastern Indonesian Archipelago to Malabar to meet spice traders from the Persian Gulf and Red Sea routes. As a result of these changes, a trans-Indian Ocean world emerged in the end of the thirteenth century, connecting China and the Mediterranean via rivalling spice hubs along the Malabar Coast.