Maritime Commerce in the Indian Ocean World June
Development of trade and cultural expansion and power on the world’s oceans
Focus on trade and cultural encounters.
500-1700s – number of centuries- this is when long distance trade became more important
than ever in linking and shaping local societies
Variety of physical settings allowing for all forms of lifestyles.
Mekong Delta – Vietnam, mangrove in India
Also a variety of climates
Roughly 3 overlapping zones which are also trade zones. To the west we have the large open
Indian ocean and Arabian sea. Indian ocean reaches Japan and edges of the pacific ocean.
Indian ocean entry is controlled by the strait of Melaka.
Element of continuity: Monsoon winds – Red arrows on the map – alternating monsoon winds-
can be predicted, made maritime trade possible.
Element of predictability
Seas became a highway
Focus on trade and network allows focus on cultural exchange
Travelers would take their culture religion and habits with them
Seeing how Islam and Buddhism spread
Outline of the lecture:
1) Sea Roads: the world of the Indian ocean
2) 2) Southeast Asia: maritime power and Buddhism in the Srivijaya Empire
3) East Africa: The spread of Islam and the rise f Swahili Civilization
Differences generates desire for goods not available at home
1500- trade was indirect- consisted of a chain of separate transactions where goods traveled
further than men 0 a lot of middle men
How did this web grow: world of Indian ocean was long in the making, historians have found
arch evidence of sea bone in the Mesopotamia and Indus valley civilization- cune form writing – Ancient Egyptians also traded along red sea
Trade didn’t happen between countries or regions. This network of trade operated across an
archipelago of towns.
Urban centres and port cities were there as crucial nodes for trade
Cities were extremely cosmopolitan. Warehouses, businesses and cultural centres. Coasts of
India, Sri lanka and Southeast Asia developed littoral societies. (Community by the water)
Littoral societies have more in common with other littoral societies than they do with their
Three characteristics of littoral societies:
Location – littoral societies are by the shore/water on the littoral. Where does the coast stop?
How far inland does the coast go?
Economic activities- oriented towards the sea, merchants, fishermen, markets. Occupation and
economic activity is turned towards the sea
Culture- cosmopolitan. Similar ingredients, techniques, commonality in languages and religious
All over the Indian Ocean world, Islam was mixed with the local customs
Why is trade significant? Because of these cultural links, also because it generates changes
within the societies that it connects. With increase of trade, different societies changing in
different ways. But also are commonalities.
Chinese could buy gold and ivory in exchange for silk from Africa.
Trade can change social groups – Chinese merchants became a distinct social groups. These
merchants were sometimes seen as suspicious because they had so much wealth but weren’t
producing anything – how do they make their money. Traders and merchants became a distinct
It also had political effects- political life could be affected by trade networks, related to wealth
produced by trade commerce.
Local example of how the trade routes held more than goods:
Dang Trong State- in yellow on the map, created by Nguyen family- had to compete against
another state in the north. (Vietnamese)
Had to compete against state in the north. Two states fighting to expand. The Nguyen family
put a bet on foreign trade and saw foreign trade as key to their state in competition against the
north. Put their efforts in foreign trade to prevent invasion by north state. Foreign trade was seen as a source of revenue, weapons and information and knowledge allowing you to resist
against more powerful state
Religious ideals, technological innovation but also carried new plants and animals, culinary
features exchanged, trade networks also carried diseases, plagues etc.
Indian ocean is zone of economic exchange but also cultural negotiation. India was at the core
of this network.
India was part of an expanding but ever changing network of maritime routes and ports. Ports
rose and fell after turmoil. Hubs of the network were always changing
In the early centuries- most active city ports were located in India and Srilanka – North west of
Srilanka was an important port – Mantai – disappeared in 11 century following war between
south Asians and Sri Lankans.
With rise of Arabs, focus shifted to northwest of India
With rise of China, focus more on Bengal area
India due to its geographic location was at the centre of this ever-changing network
The Srivijaya EMPIRE
Controlled small but very rich rice producing lands and key ports
Ships had to pay taxes – states generating revenue
Thalasse- cracy- state/empire centered around the sea – gaining control, power and wealth
from the sea
King of Srivijaya – was a monarch and ruled the nearby provinces through his sons and other
members of the royal family (theory)
In practice—they were a system of alliances and personal and economic alliances between the
king and other leaders he defeated
The leaders of these other areas were called “dhatus”he often left their families in that place
but ruled under the kings name
Building alliances against rebels – keep power and
Imperial monarchy was also maintained through structure of bureaucracy. Who were members
of the bureaucracy? King appointed judges who were