The Voyages

After the fall of the Republic and the conquest of Egypt, sea routes became more frequently used (Nair 2). Rome now had control over its own trade with Africa and India, and became less dependent on the caravans controlled by the Arabs (Nair 2). Transporting spices over sea was a long and arduous journey. Roman sailors would have to sail to the Sinai, then cross at the narrowest point over land, and set sail once more from the Egyptian city of Arsinoe through the length of the Gulf of Arabia. From there, they would hug the coast to the port city of Cana, and set sail across the open ocean until they reached India. India was the Roman’s main source for pepper and cardamom, and an incredible variety of other spices.

The horn of Africa was Rome’s major source for cassia and cinnamon. Pliny describes in great detail the journey that African traders undertook to get their precious cinnamon to Rome:

“After buying it of their neighbours, [they] carry it over vast tracts of sea, upon rafts, which are neither steered by rudder, nor drawn or impelled by oars or sails. Nor yet are they aided by any of the resources of art, man alone, and his daring boldness, standing in place of all these; … they choose the winter season, about the time of the equinox, for their voyage, for then a south easterly wind is blowing; these winds guide them in a straight course from gulf to gulf, and after they have doubled the promonotory of Arabia, the north east wind carries them to a port of the Gebanitæ… they say that it is almost five years before the merchants are able to effect their return, while many perish on the voyage.” (Pliny 12.42)