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Indian Ocean Trade Cultural Impact

Indian Ocean Trade Cultural Impact

Do you ever wonder how remnants of Christianity and Islam ever reached Southeast Asia? Or how Buddhism and Hinduism were introduced to the West? The Indian Ocean trade networks are directly responsible for these exchanges! Through trading gold, silk, precious gems, ivory, spices, and other material objects, people also traded knowledge, beliefs, and languages. Until the arrival of Europeans in the mid to late 15th century, many enjoyed and even desired these exchanges to promote diverse and efficient business relationships.

Indian Ocean Trade Networks

Between the years 1200-1450, the Indian Ocean was the dominant network of trade in terms of volume, the people involved, and the interaction of various cultures. Indian Ocean trade was completely unmatched during this time, uniting East Asia, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and East Africa as early as the third century BC!

Cross-cultural Exchange in the Indian Ocean Stamp of India 2006 Indian Merchants StudySmarterFig. 1 Stamp of India 2006 Indian Merchants

Trade through the Indian Ocean relied heavily on environmental conditions, mainly the monsoon winds that are most powerful from around September to February. Being conscious of these environmental restrictions meant that ports along the coast of the Indian Ocean had to prepare for non-citizens being present for indefinite periods. This created cosmopolitan port cities that held a great deal of cultural tolerance.

Along these routes, merchants often traded spices, incense, ivory, cotton textiles, and timber, which were more accessible and cheaper to move than land-based routes.

Causes of Indian Ocean Trade

During the time of trade between the Greek Ptolemaic Kingdom and India (around the first half of the second century BCE), sailors of the Kingdom could gain knowledge of the seasonal monsoon winds by exchanging goods. This increased trade between the two and later in other places.

The exchange of goods and services became a meaningful way to show wealth and power within a kingdom; for example, the Roman emperors would pride themselves on being clothed in Chinese silk and burning expensive incense from the southern Arabian peninsula. Trade developed due to financial needs; if civilizations had goods or services they could capitalize on, they wanted to sell them for something equally or more beneficial.

Cross-Cultural exchange in the Indian Ocean Silk Embroidery from China StudySmarterFig. 2 Silk Embroidery from China

Merchants would trade gold and salt from Africa for spices, silk, or ivory from East and Southeast Asia.

Indian Ocean Trade History

4th century BCE to 3rd century AD - During the Classical Era, the major empires involved in Indian Ocean trade were the Achaemenid empire of Persia, the Mauryan empire of India, the Han Dynasty of China, and the Roman empire in the Mediterranean.

400 to 1450 CE - During the Medieval Era, the Indian Ocean trade experienced significant changes. The volume of the goods they exchanged and the number of participating civilizations increased heavily and led to the economic flourishing of China. The efficiency of sea trade was also enhanced during this time due to new and advanced maritime technology.

  • The Chinese introduced the compass and massive trading ships called "Junks" that could carry large cargoes.
  • The Arabs popularized their ship called a "Dhow" that could withstand and navigate through heavy winds thanks to its lateen sail.
  • Finally, the "astrolabe" made by the Greeks gave sailors a way to determine their latitude at sea.

Cross-cultural exchange in the Indian Ocean Chinese Junk ship StudySmarterFig. 3 Chinese Junk ship

Expansion and increase in trade led to a rise of cities as significant trade hubs; they became the collection points for items bought in bulk to sell, the crossroads of major trade routes (both land and sea), and created the connections between different trading zones. Major empires during this time were the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates of the Arabian Peninsula, the Tang and Song Dynasties of China, the Chola empire of southern India, and the Srivijaya empire of what is now Indonesia, and even the Angkor civilization of Cambodia.

For centuries, several major empires bloomed, particularly those in Arab and Chinese territories. Each empire quite peacefully allowed outsiders to enter their cities to trade. However, this would all change with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1498.

Under the command of Vasco da Gama (1460-1524), Portuguese sailors entered the waters of the Indian Ocean more as pirates than as merchants and traders. Having bold men armed with cannons, they violently seized port cities in western India and southern China, taking control of much of the Indian Ocean's trade routes.

Cross-cultural exchange in the Indian Ocean Portuguese sailors StudySmarterFig. 4 Portuguese sailors

Unlike other explorers of the Indian Ocean, de Gama did not visit peacefully and was known to cut off the heads of those who crossed him. Portugal held control of the trade routes until the arrival of the Dutch and British East India Companies in the later 16th century.

Exchange in the Indian Ocean

In 1405, the emperor of the new Ming Dynasty of China sent out the first of seven expeditions to visit all of China's trading partners around the Indian Ocean. Foreigners were more than happy to make the journey to China for fine silk and porcelain, so the emperor thought that making the journey themselves would be an honorable gesture.

Zheng He

With an estimated 317 ships and 23,000 men, the Ming treasure ships were led by Admiral Zheng He. They traveled through Southeast Asia, India, and three of his ships, making it as far as the Swahili coast of Africa.

Cross-cultural exchange in the Indian Ocean Etching of  Zheng He 's Voyages StudySmarterFig. 5 - Etching of Zheng He's voyages.

Unlike the European voyages of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the Chinese expeditions were not driven by a need to conquer or convert; they were diplomatic and intended to impress others with the wealth and superiority of China.

When other societies saw this, Zheng He knew the people would become willing to pay tribute to China for the right to purchase the luxuries of silk and porcelain. Over only two years, 1431-1433, Zheng He had settled twenty diplomatic and tributary relationships across the Indian Ocean!

Unfortunately, when the power in China shifted to a new emperor, Zheng He's voyages were forced to end. China now wanted to focus on internal developments rather than reaching out into the world, so Zheng He's funds were withdrawn, and his large treasure ships were banned.

Zheng He and his men left a stele–a vertical slab with reliefs and inscriptions– in the south of India. The inscription is written not only in Chinese but also in Tamil and Persian–the primary languages of the inhabitants. The stele was placed as a gift to the people of Galle and lists the gifts brought by the Chinese, as well as inscriptions honoring the gods to demonstrate their goodwill.

Cross-cultural Exchange in the Indian Ocean Trade Route

The main religions spread across the Indian Ocean: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and later Christianity. However, Islam heavily encouraged trade since the prophet Muhammed was a merchant himself. Trade and Islam led to the development of powerful city-states along the eastern coast of Africa.

Did you know?

Swahili is a language that formed through the blending of Bantu and Arabic; not only were the African city-states influenced by the Arabs religiously, but also linguistically!

Swahili Coast City-States

Although the city-states welcomed merchants of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian descent, they remained incredibly tolerant while staying mainly Muslim (due to the dominant presence of Arab merchants).

Gold, ivory, and exotic animals were transported from sub-Saharan Africa to port cities for trade. One of the most important cities was Kilwa, as that was the farthest south a merchant ship could sail during monsoon season.

As Islamic sailors followed the path of goods through the Indian Ocean, the Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya in Indonesia became an essential location for spreading Buddhism during the Song Dynasty of China. This is how Islam reached southeast Asia!

Conclusion

The existence of trade in the Indian Ocean led to what is referred to as "diasporic" communities, meaning "to disperse." Merchant diasporic communities were groups of people living in a common culture outside of their native homelands; examples of these communities are Jews living in Muslim Cairo or Muslims living in Hindi Calicut. It was inevitable that these communities would be created, as many merchants often migrated to their host societies.

Trade helped civilizations exchange goods and services and diversified their cities and empires with language, knowledge, and religion.

Indian Ocean Trade Cultural Impact - Key takeaways

  • Between the years 1200-1450, the Indian Ocean was the dominant network of trade in terms of volume, the people involved, and the interaction of various cultures. These trade routes united East Asia, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East, and East Africa as early as the third century BC.
  • Trade through the Indian Ocean relied heavily on environmental conditions, particularly the monsoon winds. Ports along the coast of the Indian Ocean had to prepare for non-citizens being present for undefined periods, creating cosmopolitan cities that held a great deal of cultural tolerance.
  • Along the Indian Ocean trade routes, spices, ivory, silk, timber, porcelain, animal skins, and more were exchanged. The religions of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and layer Christianity were also exchanged.
  • Trade across the Indian Ocean remained peaceful for centuries and was never ruled by a singular empire until the arrival of Europeans in 1498.

Frequently Asked Questions about Indian Ocean Trade Cultural Impact

The Indian Ocean trade networks had an impact on the economies involved by generating lots of wealth. For example, East Asia had silk while the Middle East had gold; the exchange of these products not only made the people rich but also diversified the materials available. Indian Ocean trade also changed the culture of many locations through acceptance and tolerance of outsiders. Occasionally, foreign merchants would be at a port for months until the weather permitted them to return home. Foreigners would sometimes even migrate to the ports they traded in most often, meaning the people had to be tolerant in order to promote good business. 

The two kinds of cultural exchange that happened most often along the Indian Ocean trade routes were the exchange and development of religion and language. For example, Islam was able to make it into Southeast Asia through trade, and the Swahili language was developed through a blend of Arabic and Bantu!

Interactions among cultures in the Indian Ocean were generally very peaceful, that is until the arrival of the Europeans in the mid-15th century. Rather than being interested in the exchange of goods and knowledge, the Europeans wished to colonize and take over. 

Indian Ocean trade affected the people of East Africa by being directly responsible for the rise of city-states that thrived on the oceans trade. Not only did these city-states become extremely powerful and independent, but they also adopted Islam and developed a new language that blended Bantu and Arabic; this language is known as Swahili. 

The main religions that were spread on the Indian Ocean were Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and later Christianity. 

Final Indian Ocean Trade Cultural Impact Quiz

Question

During what years were the Indian Ocean routes the dominant network of trade?

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Answer

1200-1450

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Question

Trade in the Indian Ocean relied heavily on environmental factors, particularly monsoon winds. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

Indian Ocean trade cities held a great deal of cultural tolerance. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

What items were traded across the Indian Ocean?

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Answer

All of the above.

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Question

Two ships were developed that made trade faster and bulkier, what were these ships called?

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Answer

Chinese Junks and Arab Dhows.

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Question

Great maritime inventions, such as the compass, were created by the ______.

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Answer

Chinese.

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Question

Zheng He and Vasco de Gamma were both violent explorers of the Indian Ocean.

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Answer

False.

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Question

Islam encouraged trade in the Indian Ocean since the prophet Muhammed (pbuh) was a merchant himself. 

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Answer

True.

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Question

The main religions that traveled the Indian Ocean were ______.

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Answer

All of the above.

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Question

Trade on the Indian Ocean diversified cities and empires with language, knowledge, and religion. 

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Answer

True.

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