sudden decline. West European ships now
and was soon no more than a regional port of Italy.
Asian maritime trade was not as immediately affected by this trade
revolution as the Mediterranean trade was. There were great Indian ship
owners who dispatched so many ships every year to the ports of Arabia of the
Persian Gulf that they easily outnumbered all the European ships in the
Indian Ocean at that time. The Dutch participated in this Indian Ocean trade
as well. Just as they were Europe’s biggest shipping agents, they now offered
their services to Asian merchants to an ever-increasing extent. If these
merchants did not have ships of their own they were glad to entrust their
goods to Europeans whose ships were armed and could thus defend
themselves against piracy.
The English East India Company, founded in London two years before the
Dutch Company, operated on much the same terms including sale by auction.
And in the East, from their premier base at Surat, the English soon gained
control over the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf, destroying Portuguese power
by seizing Ormuz in 1622. Thereafter, Persian silk competed with Gujarati
calico as England’s favourite textiles from the East (calico was still used
mostly for household linens, tablecloths and towels in Britain and western
Europe, becoming popular for apparel only after 1660).
English annual imports of Indian calico ‘pieces’ (12 to 15 yards in length)
jumped from 14,000 in 1619 to over 2,00,000 in 1625; the demand for
Persian silk grew less swiftly. Indigo and saltpetre were the other major
imports from India, and the fact that both products were produced in the
eastern Gangetic plain, especially in Bihar, stimulated British efforts to
establish factories on the east coast as well as the west coast of the Indian
The English merchants, anxious to reduce the eastern flow of their
bullion, soon learned that by investing their gold in south Indian weavers,
whose products could easily be sold in Indonesia for spices, they were able to
buy four times the value of pepper and cloves for the same amount of gold.
Small wonder that their interest in establishing a factory along the
Coromandal coast quickly intensified. From these ports in south eastern
India, they soon sought more immediate access to the mainstream of produce