chapter  V
Pages 27

Spices were the first objects of this trade and never ceased to occupy the chief place in it down to the very end. They created the wealth not only of Venice, but of all the great ports of the Western Mediterranean. Directly navigation was re-established between the Tyrrhenian Sea, Africa and the ports of the Levant in the course of the eleventh century, they were the cargo par excellence of merchant ships. Syria, to which quantities were brought by caravans coming from Arabia, India and China, was the principal objective of European ships, until the day when the discovery of new maritime routes enabled the Portuguese to supply themselves direct. Everything combined to give spices pre-eminence, both the ease with which they were shipped and the high prices they commanded. Thus medieval trade began as a trade in luxury goods, that is to say, a trade bringing in big profits at a relatively small cost, and this character it preserved, as we shall see, almost to the end of its history. Heavy consignments of raw materials or of articles of common consumption, with the enormous freight charges and the huge accumulations of capital which they imply, were unknown in those days, and here is to be found the most striking contrast between

medieval and modern trade. The equipment of a medieval port consisted of modest wooden quays, provided with one or two cranes, alongside which ships of 200 to 600 tons could lie. This was all that was needed for The handling, loading and shipment of some hundreds of tons of pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sugar-cane, etc., which formed the precious cargo of the merchant ships.