Monopoly: How The Portuguese Transformed Naval Trade In The Indian Ocean

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Although many major world powers such as Britain and France were present in trade occuring in the Indian Ocean basin, only a few countries managed to truly influence and dominate trade here during the sixteenth century. One of the leading dominant powers was Arab/Muslim merchants and traders made huge profits in maritime trading in the Indian Ocean basin area. This will change when the Portuguese find an alternate trade route to the Indian Ocean basin. Using technological innovations such as the astrolabe, the magnetic compass and lateen or square sails, the Portuguese were able to greatly transform maritime trade.

Documents 1 and 2 both show how Portugal has greatly transformed maritime trade by showing how the Portuguese were able to become dominant over maritime trade. Originally, Italian city-states monopolized the western Meditteranean while the Muslims monopolized the eastern Meditteranean. Wanting to avoid using Muslim middlemen in trade with the east, the Portuguese began to look for an alternate sea route to the Indian Ocean basin. Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese explorer, discovered new sea route to the Indian Ocean Basin that rounded the Cape of Good Hope. However, strong storms forced him to return back to Portugal. Vasco de Gama, another Portuguese explorer, took Bartolomeu Dias’ route to India and he organized a trading post at Calicut. Soon, the Portuguese competed with the Muslims to dominate trade. In Document 1, it states, “We, your Muslim subjects, have always been loyal to you and have brought valuable foreign merchandise to this country and have exported its native products to increase your revenue greatly. You appear to forget all this, by receiving those newcomers into your favor as if your own numerous and faithful subjects were incompetent for the purpose.”. This document shows the Portuguese’s influence on naval trade because even though the Muslims were originally the main traders in Calicut, the Portuguese were able to gain the favor of the king of Calicut and thus were competing with the Muslims. Document 2 states, “And after the king of Portugal made himself master there, and these Muslims saw that they could not defend their position there, they began to leave Calicut, so that very few of them remain today.”. This document shows how the Portuguese transformed maritime trade because as the Portuguese continually expanded their trade, they progressively gained more and more power. This gave them enough power to push out the Muslims and dominate maritime trade in the Indian Ocean basin.

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Documents 3 and 4 also show how Portugal greatly transformed maritime trade by maintaining a spice monopoly. After Vasco de Gama sails to India using Bartolomeu Dias’ sea route, he establishes trading posts there. The Portuguese then attempted to maintain a spice monopoly in India by using Portuguese gun ships to secure their trading position and to steal spices from ships from other countries. For example, in Document 4 it states, “As you know, the pilgrim and merchant vessels from all the ports of Indonesia must pass through the Maldive Islands on their way to Mecca and the Red Sea, and between all 24,000 Maldive Islands, there are just four channels where a ship can pass safely. The infidel Portuguese wait around the entrances of these channels. When our ships arrive there, the Portuguese stop and take possession of as many as they can. Any ship they cannot capture they sink with cannon fire, either leaving the Muslims aboard to drown, or capturing and enslaving them.”. This document shows how the Portuguese shaped maritime trade because by maintaining their spice monopoly by ambushing ships and capturing as many ships as they can for possible slaves or goods, they were able to control the spice trade in India. Document 4 also says, “Portugal’s state monopoly in pepper and other controlled spices would also be threatened by allowing the Turks to establish trade in India. Even now, when they have not been able to openly compete with us, it is known that they conduct trade in secret, carrying spice to Persia, Bengal, Southeast Asia, and China, and especially to their own markets, despite our efforts to stop them.” This document shows how the Portuguese affected maritime trade because the Portuguese did not want any other countries as competition, and made efforts to stop them from conducting maritime trade with other countries near the Indian Ocean Basin.

Lastly, Documents 5 and 6 also show how Portugal has greatly transformed maritime trade by establishing fortified trade posts to establish a trade duties policy over the West African coast, the Indian Ocean basin and some of the countries that were near it. After Henry the Navigator seized the Strait of Gibraltar, he promoted exploration of the West African coast and established secure trading posts. By the mid-sixteenth century, Alfonso d’Alboquerque, a major naval commander, formed the Portuguse trade duties policy and enforced it near trading posts. The trade duties policy continued to be enforced on merchants and traders. In Document 5, it states, “After the Portuguese established themselves in Cochin on the Malabar Coast, they forced every vessel, however small, to carry a safe conduct pass, which was issued for a certain fee…. To enforce the toll, they seized cargo and crew of any ship that did not have its pass!….. the Portuguese deployed ships all over the Indian Ocean to lie in wait and intercept vessels. In this way, they unjustly acquired vast wealth and captured countless prisoners.”. This document shows how the Portuguese influenced maritime trade by requiring merchants and traders near Cochin to follow to carry a conduct pass. This strengthened the control the Portuguese had over them. Document 6 states, “ After Goa, Cochin is the most important base that Portuguese have in southwestern India…… Inland from Cochin is the pepper-producing region. But the pepper that goes to Portugal from Cochin is not as good as the pepper that goes to Arabia and Persia because the Portuguese has made a contract with the king of Cochin to buy the pepper at a very low price.”. Document 6 also shows how the Portuguese transformed maritime trade because by getting pepper at a low price, they were able to make a profit. Also, by establishing a base in Cochin, a major pepper-producing region, it increased their power of the spice-trading industry of Eurasia and Africa in the sixteenth century.

In conclusion, The Portuguese were able to find alternate sea routes to the Indian Ocean basin, dominate trade there, and institute a spice monopoly. They were also able to establish reinforced trade posts and impose a trade duties policy on the Indian Ocean basin area. Clearly, you can see that the Portuguese made a major impact on maritime trade in the Indian Ocean basin during the sixteenth century.


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