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History of the Indian Ocean Trade


History is one of the most important factors used in modern society to determine the future and the way some things are taking place in present-day life. Historians keep track of the past in order to understand society better and help predict the future. One of the most historic issues focused on is trade. In the past, people used to trade goods for goods because there was no money to trade. Some of the trade items used were weapons, ivory, and slaves.

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These trade items became so popular and this led to the formation of trade routes. Some of these most known trades include the Indian Ocean Trade which took place along the Indian Ocean. This trade took place between 1200 to 1500ce and it made a great impact in the world due to the activities involved. Many history writers have written about this trade, but there are differences and similarities in their books. This discussion is aimed at showing the strengths, weaknesses, similarities, and differences that are contained in The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century and Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade

Similarities in the books

The origin of the trade was as a result of buying and selling along the red sea. Sailors began moving to the south of the sea to expand the trade boundaries. Both books acknowledge that the trade began from around 600ac but became strong between 1200 and 1500ac (Gervase, 2012). The activities in the ocean involved the participation of the Africans, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians, and Egyptians. These people traded various items which included ivory, slaves, and weapons (Margariti, 2007). With the availability of these goods, the trade became stronger. It is important to state that both writers acknowledge that the main center of the trade was Alexandria which was the major port.

Secondly, both writers concur that there were factors that promoted the trade. In order for the Indian Ocean trade to grow some new participants brought fresh items with them and this lead to the growth of the trade. The joining of China brought silk and porcelain into the trade and these goods had a big demand (Margariti, 2007). These goods were traded with gold, which was of high value, and at that point, the trade was skyrocketing. In addition, the trade was promoted by the easy transport. In other trades, the use of roads was a big challenge since camels were used to transport products and at times the routes were not traceable, and travelling became a problem (Gervase, 2012).

Unlike the trans-Saharan trade, The Indian Ocean Trade was easy and efficient because traders used the sea to travel. Both writers agree that with the use of water vessels trade was easy and the routes were traceable.

The other reason that promoted this trade was the monsoon winds. These winds used to flow down the Indian and up during various seasons. Sailors used these winds to sail, and this made the cost of traveling cheap. The other advantage is that the winds made sailing faster because the vessels were heavy to row (Margariti, 2007). Both writers agree that the sailors moved east during the summer and west during the winter and the winds acted in their favor. These writers have also stated that the trade did not take place between countries or regions but within individual merchants. As a result, the trade did not have any restrictions or influence from the respective governments. The advantage of this is that deals were made between two merchants and the individuals set the terms.

Differences between the Trades

Many writers have tackled the Indian Ocean Trade and most of their work is similar, showing that the trade actually took place. However, there are differences in some of the writers’ findings, and these two authors are not different. Gervase mainly focuses on the slave trade as the main contributor to the growth in the trade. In his book, he claims that the Portuguese and Mozambique were mostly known for the slave trade compared to other goods like gold and ivory. He also claims that slaves from Portugal increased from 33% to 55%, which was a big margin (Gervase, 2012). Unlike Gervase, Margariti attributes the failure of agriculture to the rise of the Indian Ocean trade. He claims that with the changes in climate, agriculture had become a flop and people moved to trade to ensure that they acquired what they did not have (Margariti, 2007).

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Margariti also acknowledges that the change of politics in china led to the growth of the Indian Ocean trade. The fall of the Han dynasty restored a central government that encouraged sea trade this in his view, strengthened the trade because china brought in new goods to the market (Margariti, 2007). On the other hand, Gervarse believes that the rise of Islam in the 7th century promoted trade (Gervase, 2012). He claims that Islam was a strong religion that believed in the slave trade, which encouraged the bringing of more slaves into the business.

Strengths in the Books

Both writers have strengths in the work they have done. Gervase in his book focuses on the fight of the slave trade. Although he acknowledges that the slaves promoted the trade his book is focused on the abolition of the trade. On the other hand, Margariti, is focused on the benefits of the trade. The trade promoted the exchange of cultural behaviors among traders. Various traders had different dressing modes and through the trade, people exchanged dressing codes.

The building of more ports was an economic benefit to ensure more traders got to the shore to supply their commodities. The trade also brought to existence trade centers, which even today are in existence these centers, have grown to be major towns and cities. Intermarriage was also a strength in the trade and Margariti has addressed it. He says that during the trade people married from different communities and as a result, new languages were formed an example is Swahili from the Kenyan coast.

Weaknesses in the Books

Despite the strong facts about these writers, there are some negative aspects about the writers. Gervase, in his book mainly focuses on the slave trade and the condemnation of the practice. This is a weakness in that; he does not focus on the results of the slave trade. The trade led to colonization after it was banned and Europeans who came in the name of trading started grabbing African property. The new form of the slave trade was the poor conditions Africans had in the farms where they were employed. On the other hand, Margariti, does not discuss the negative impacts of the trade, he only focuses on the rise of the Sultan and the events that followed. He does not discuss the negatives of the slave trade and the coming of the Europeans and their impacts on the trade.


The Indian Ocean trade had various positives and negatives as well. This trade has many lessons for traders even to date and mainly the regional trade. Gervase and Margariti have tackled this trade appropriately and they both show that they did good research on their topics. Their books are still used by historians for reference because of their detailed and relevant research.


Gervase, T. (2012). The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Margariti, E. (2007) Aden and the Indian Ocean Trade. California, United States: University of North Carolina Press.

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