The history of an obsession that once shaped the world . . .
In the ancient Egyptian temple of Dayr al-Bahri is preserved the earliest surviving representation of a merchant fleet. Date to around 1495 BC, rows of hieroglyphs record that the pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut sent the fleet 1900 miles south to the land of Punt, a mysterious kingdom somewhere in the Horn of Africa, whence it returned in triumph with a priceless cargo of cinnamon. Yet cinnamon never grew there; it comes from the islands of Southeast Asia. The scarcely credible conclusion is that by 1500 BC there was a trade in cinnamon from one side of the Indian Ocean to the other. At some unknown place, the long-forgotten merchants of Punt acquired the spice, and then resold it for the use of the embalmers, cosmeticians, priests, gods and god-kings of the Nile.
These hints of an ancient trade in spices are only the first, tantalisingly obscure fragments of an epic story. For the sake of spices, fortunes have been made, empires built and destroyed, and new worlds discovered. In the seventeenth century more people died for the sake of cloves than in all the European dynastic wars of the period. Perhaps only the story of mankind's infatuation with precious metals can rival the story of spice in scope; and only the history of silver and gold rivals that of spice for its improbable and extraordinary combination of discovery and conquest, heroism and savagery, greed and violence.
The history of spice encompasses all the old civilisations and the new, from the lands of the Old Testament to the Spice Islands themselves. This is Jack Turner's first work, but the ambition and brilliance and lucidity of his writing surely mark him out as a new star in the historical firmament. This will be a remarkable book.