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The Spice Islands and the Age of Discovery

Ian Burnet takes us on an exotic journey, tracing the lucrative spice trade that led explorers such as Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan to dream of bypassing the Silk Road by sailing directly to the Spice Islands.

The clove tree is indigenous to only five small volcanic islands in Indonesia, namely Ternate, Tidore, Moti, Machian and Bacan. The nutmeg tree is indigenous to the equally small and even more remote islands of Banda, Lontar, Ai and Run, which lie 700 kilometres away in the Banda Sea. The exact location of these islands was long shrouded in myth and mystery, and together they became known as the Spice Islands.

The stakes were high, but so was the potential profit. Competition was fierce between the various powers – everyone from the rival Sultans of Ternate and Tidore to the Portuguese, Spanish and the Dutch and English East India Companies – who wanted to monopolise the trade in cloves and nutmeg.

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