Jakarta (ANTARA) - Another language of luxury -- taste -- also becomes an addiction that sometimes makes humans lose their minds.

In pursuit of this, the Romans, at the start of the reign of Emperor Octavian Augustus, around 27 BC, spent a hundred million sestertius annually to import pepper, other spices, pearls, and silk from China as well as perfume from the East.

Hundreds of merchant ships sailed from Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, to the ports of India and East Africa. They scoured the Mediterranean Sea to cross the Necho Canal from the Nile River to the Red Sea that led them to Aden Bay at the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula.

The ancient cruise line from Europe to the Indian Ocean, before the Suez Canal had been built, was mentioned in the Periplus Maris Erythraei: a text from Alexandria estimated to be created around 76 AD.

The Romans deliberately exchanged their gold and silver to enjoy the opulence of the spicy taste of pepper and other spices, although such an activity would threaten the government’s financial stability.

Apicius de re Coquinaria, an ancient European cookbook entailing special recipes for courtiers and rich people always included spices. Despite the controversy surrounding it, several scholars believed that the book was related to a wealthy gastronomic, Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived during the reign of Augustus and Tiberius Emperor around 80 BC and 40 AD.

One of the recipes in Apicius' book is Ius Album In Assum Leporem, or White Sauce for Rabbit, a recipe made from rabbit meat, pepper, lovage, cumin, celery seeds, and yolk. Those spices were mixed with yolk to make a paste as seasonings that were later added to the broth along with wine, vinegar, and minced onions.

The broth was then stirred with a bouquet of some herbs tied together to lend a faint flavor to it. As noted, every word “pepper” appearing in the ancient Romanian recipes referred to the long peppers grown in India, known as Piper longum.

Apart from pepper, the word was believed to also refer to other spices, such as nutmeg, or Myristica fragrans, which grew naturally in the Banda Islands, and “allspice” that has an indulgent aroma, akin to clovers that grew in the Caribbean Islands.

A local and global history researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) Prof. Erwiza Erman stated that the spices used were mixed with foods, perfumes, and drugs. During the Romanian Imperial, those spices were mostly used for medication and preservation.

Since spices were such an indispensable part of the Romanian lifestyle, a special warehouse for spices was built at the end of the first century AD to enable them to get those exotic commodities anytime. A true luxury during that time.

Hippalus’ notes

Hippalus, a Greek navigator living in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1 BC, wrote about several old African, Arabian, and Indian trade centers at that time in the book “The Periplus of the Erythaean Sea”.

He sailed the Red Sea to southern India named Muziris, which is presently called Kerala, Arikamedu or known as Tamil Nadu, and other places in India for 40 days during the monsoons.

With the help of the Southwest monsoons, Erman explained that the sailors were able to sail from the Red Sea to India. In contrast, the ships from India could sail to the west through the Aden Peninsula.

From there, the traders would continue to take a road trip to the eastern part of Africa or to venture through the sea route to Zanzibar and then head North to reach the port of Alexandria.

Several parties took part in the circulation of spices during the classical periods. The Jewish traders also played an important role in the trading between Muslims and Christians in 9 AD, Erman highlighted.

Meanwhile, the Arabian traders carried spices to India and Nusantara, the name before RI was founded, that led to Islamization. Indian and Sri Lankan traders thereafter brought the spices to eastern Africa, while the Kilwa traders brought them to eastern Indian and then Sri Lanka and several cities across the coasts of eastern Africa.

However, the spice trade is much more ancient than envisaged. A historian at the Universitas Indonesia (UI) Bondan Kanumoyoso, in a discussion with Antara, spoke about the research investigating clovers found in Terga, an ancient town at the Tell Ashara site located in Syria around 1752 BC.

In addition, a study conducted by Asley Scott et.al titled “Exotic Food Reveal Contact between South Asia and the near East during the Second Millennium BCE” published by PNAS on December 21, 2020, identified the remains of staple and exotic foods consumed during the Bronze Age and early Iron Age in Mediterranean.

Although various aspects of the early trades are still unknown, some remarkable discoveries leave no doubt that the Indo-Mediterranean spice trades existed since the Bronze Age.

Pepper seeds, which were used to mummify Ramses II in 1213 SM, were brought from southern India. Moreover, cloves, the Indonesian original plant from Maluku Islands, were found in Terga, Syria, in 1720 BC. They were probably brought by following the indirect routes to Mesopotamia through the South Asian trade routes. Related news: Tracking the spice trail to Banda
Related news: Indonesian farmers should boost spice production akin to past: Jokowi

Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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