The Indian Ocean was a power trading region that encouraged the spread of religion, crops, languages and people. Goods and ideas were traded consistently throughout this 1,100 year time period, but the traders, merchants, powers, trading systems, and some of the products changed from 650 to 1750.
Trade flourished as the spices, textiles, manufactured goods, and raw goods of the Indian Ocean became staples that the western world came to depend on heavily. But, trade of these items was already in effect long before the Europeans arrived. This continuity of sea trade can be seen throughout 650-1750, rising and falling at times. With the rise of Islam and the Mongols, overseas trade slowed because of the importance of the Silk Road. As the Mongols declined sea trade became important again. The merchants of the Indian Ocean were used to the highest quality of products. The Ming, and especially the Chinese, continued in heavy foreign trade from Malacca to India throughout this period. Traders would pick up spices and hardwoods from the South East Asian islands and send them on dhows to the Arabian Peninsula. Spices continued to be sold from India and Indonesia demonstrating how most commodities continued to be sold despite who ruled the sea trade.
With the advent of navigational developments, Portuguese lead the European race to trade with Asia. Vasco De Gama reached India in 1498. This was the beginning of the European infiltration of Indian Ocean trade, bringing about many changes. The Portuguese took over more trade and established ports like Goa in India. Then Britain too dominated trade in conjunction with joint stock companies like the Dutch East India Company. The Chinese traded silks, porcelain and other luxury goods with Europe and Arabia, even as the Ming set rules up for when, where and who could trade at specific spots. The establishment of different sea empires and the cut off of foreign trade from the Ming did not change the products; it only changed the overall nature of the system.
These 1,100 years were also a time of innovation. Compasses, larger ship vessels and maritime system developed leading to a much easier traveled routes and trading systems. Despite authorities worry, disdain and regulations over overseas trade, merchants of China continued to thrive because of it. Throughout this time period, different powers, such as the Portuguese and Chinese implemented “pass systems” where one had to buy a license of some sort; although each power who came up with one of these systems did it for very different reasons. Different groups developed systems so that merchants only had to travel half way and could still get their products sold. Specie or money in coin became more popular during this time period as gold, silver and other precious metals were transported to china, first from Japan and then more from the Americas.
While all of these, political, economic, innovative and geographical changes were going on, there were also continuities to Indian Ocean trade. India stayed a big part of Indian Ocean trade and ports like Gujara and Malacca remained important port cities. While drastically different, religions were continuously exchanged. For example Europeans carried Christianity with them to Japan, China, and India and Muslim merchants carried their religion of Islam down the coasts of Africa and to India. China had sought after commodities such as paper, silk, and gunpowder.
The involvement of Europe was a drastic change in the atmosphere of the Indian Ocean trade. Control changed between Indians, Arabs, Chinese, and Various Europeans, but nonetheless trade in the Indian Ocean continued to thrive.