a1 History Department, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK E-mail: S.Halikowski-Smith@swansea.ac.uk
There has been little in the way of fresh thinking on the Eurasian spice trade since the 1980s, partly due to the crisis in economic history, although recent work has both dealt with the agency of non-European actors and started to take Chinese demand into the equation. Starting with problems specific to the Portuguese re-export trade, this article highlights the role of consumers, using research undertaken on the structures of demand to present a theory of cultural demystification. The Portuguese, it is argued, by opening direct trading links to the sources of supply, broke what amounted to a spell that had sustained the trade from the time of Alexander the Great. In concrete terms, the performance of individual spices is disaggregated, and the appearance of rival pepper products brought under scrutiny. While African peppers failed to consolidate the consumer interest they had generated over the fifteenth century, capsicum peppers rapidly spread to southern Europe, where they were domesticated and hence became invisible to international trade. The success of the capsicum pepper was replicated in West Africa, India, and China.
Stefan Halikowski Smith is lecturer in the Department of History, Swansea University. He specializes in the Portuguese overseas world prior to 1808, and most recently published Portugal Índico: essays on the history of the Portuguese presence in South Asia in the early modern period.