The Caravans

“From the confines of the country which produces cinnamon and cassia, cancamumand tarum are imported; but these substances are brought by way of the Nabatæan Troglodytæ, a colony of the Nabatæi.” (Pliny 12.44).

The Nabatean Empire, stretching through Arabia, controlled the caravans of spices from the Far East. The Nabateans served as the middlemen between the Indian Subcontinent and the budding Roman Empire (Nair 1). Valuable spices were transported by camel trains across the desert to the Mediterranean coast. The source of the spices themselves was a closely guarded secret until the reign of Emperor Claudius in first century C.E. (Nair 1-2). Even after the sea routes became a more popular way of obtaining spices from India, cardamom, known as the “Queen of Spices” (Ravindran 1), continued to be transported by caravan through Arabia. Pliny even stated that the precious Cardamom was native to Arabia (12.29), but it in fact was only native to the Indian Subcontinent, and was transported by the Arabs to Rome in large amounts to satisfy the cravings of the Empire (Ravindran 2).