Why Were Spices So Valuable in Ancient Times?

Spices have been an integral part of human civilization for thousands of years. From ancient times, spices were highly valued and sought after, even to the point of being considered as valuable as gold.

So, why were spices so valuable in ancient times? Let’s delve into the fascinating history of spices and discover their significance.

Early Trade Routes

The origins of spice trade can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India. These civilizations developed extensive trade networks that allowed them to exchange goods with each other. Spices were one of the most highly prized commodities in these trade networks due to their unique flavors, medicinal properties, and ability to preserve food.

The Rise of the Spice Trade

As civilization progressed, demand for spices continued to grow. During the Middle Ages, the spice trade was dominated by Arab merchants who controlled the overland routes from Asia to Europe. These merchants kept their sources a closely guarded secret and inflated prices by creating a sense of mystery around these exotic products.

It wasn’t until the 15th century that European explorers began searching for sea routes to the spice-rich lands of India and Southeast Asia. The Portuguese were one of the first European powers to successfully navigate these treacherous waters, establishing trading posts in India and Indonesia.

Spices as Currency

The high demand for spices led to their use as currency in some parts of the world. In ancient Rome, cinnamon was worth 15 times more than silver per weight. In medieval Europe, a pound of nutmeg could fetch seven fat oxen or two cows along with a calf.

Medicinal Properties

Apart from their culinary uses, spices were also valued for their medicinal properties. Many spices were believed to have healing powers and could be used in various remedies. For example, black pepper was used to treat digestive problems, while cinnamon was believed to cure coughs and colds.

Culinary Uses

Spices were also valued for their ability to enhance the flavor of food. In ancient times, food preservation was a challenge, and spices were used to mask the taste of spoiled food. They were also used to add flavor to bland foods, making them more palatable.


In conclusion, spices were valuable in ancient times for a variety of reasons. They were used for culinary purposes, medicinal remedies, and had a high demand due to their scarcity. The spice trade played an important role in the development of early civilizations and continues to be an important part of global commerce today.