“VENICE AND SPICE”
Spices have been among the rarest of commodities since antiquity, and at the end of the Middle Ages nearly all trade in spices passed through Venice. Goods were loaded into ships in the ports of the Middle East to be auctioned at the Rialto under the watchful eye of the state “messeri del pepe” (pepper masters).
This trade was not conducted by spice merchants per se, but by great merchant bankers. Spices could even be used as a form of currency. In Venice there was also a category of citizen, established in 1362, which was given the unusual title of “poveri al pevere” (pepper paupers). These were true Venetians of humble status, over seventy years of age, who were given, thanks to a government tax on pepper, a sum of money for their maintenance. A benefit payment in the truest sense.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the spice route discovered by Vasco de Gama would lead to the decline of Venice and the ports of the Mediterranean. Lisbon became the principal marketplace in the West, a position later claimed, with the rise of the Dutch, by Batavia and Amsterdam.
Many are the anecdotes relating to the history of spice in the diaries of Marin Sanudo.
Presented by Lina Urban, art historian and historian of Venetian culture.