Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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The Indo-Portuguese commerce in the 16th century - Revision of the Copper-Pepper trade and the Carreira da Índia
Torsten Arnold

Last modified: 2014-03-10


The Indo-Portuguese commerce of the 16th century is often reffered to as the the period time of the Copper-Pepper contractsderriving from the direct relationship between these two major trade goods. Portugal dominated the spice trade with the Orient but did not have sufficient quantities of domestic copper, the major trade commodity used in exchange for the spices. On the other hand, German merchant houses such as the Welsers and Fuggers, were struggling to obtain control over the copper trade, over time, the Fuggers had gained the monopole of the mines of the Habsburg empire.


The present proposal for a communication at the 2014 EBHS conference aims to provide information regarding the following aspects:


Reconstructing the historical development and events during the first half of the 16th century, the Age of Discoveries, by showing the commerce emphasizing on the knowledge derrived from the letters of Rui Fernandes de Almada, a Portuguese diplomat who, between 1519 and 1520, was send on a mission to conceive a new copper-pepper contract with the German merchants, namely the Fuggers of Augsburg.

Comparing this information with studies in European copper trade, its mining in regions such as Tyrol, Mansfeld and Slovakia, its distribution system by using maritime or terrestrial trade routes, provides a more complete picture of the development of the copper-pepper trade.



Introduction of underwater archaeological evidence of copper ingots as trade commodity on board of Portuguese Indiamen or Naus da Carreira da Índia, combined with metallurgical analyses provide new perspectives on the Portuguese spice trade such as evidence of sizes, shapes or weights as well as the geographical origins of the mining regions; a transdisciplinary and new approach to questions of economic history to overcome the silence in documentation.


The proprosal of the communication was submitted to the 33rd conference of the Portuguese Association of Economic and Social History (Associação de História Económica e Social, APHES) held in Braga Portugal (15-16.11.2013) and was unanimously chosen by the scientific commission as the award winning communication this year.