"Out of the East" by Freedman is a very well written European historical book that sheds light on the European social and economic history during the Middle Ages. European expansion between A.D 1000 and 1513 was mainly due to trade in pepper. Freedman establishes a chronological account of the spices demand in Europe and establishes the reason behind the demand for spices in Europe during the Middle Ages (28). The spice trade had a significant impact on Europe and the world as a whole and Freedman establishes different sources of spices such as Moluccas and India and how they influence the growth and development of Europe. Freedman seeks to create a more vivid understanding of why the spice trade was necessary for Europe and determined the trajectory that Europe took during the Middle Ages.
Freedman's "Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination" is a very knowledgeable history of Europe with greater emphasis on the role of pepper in Europe and the world beyond. The book depicts the trade for pepper as the reason behind the overseas conquest and expansion of Europe and influence during the Middle Ages (50). The author notes the importance of spices in chapter 1 as preservatives which at the time was very important due to the scarcity of food and the need to preserve what was available (33). The author goes ahead to compare the prices and value of spices with other commodities at the time such as meat. Therefore, it is important to note that Freedman gives the account of spices from a global perspective and how spices influenced the development and inspired colonialism (198). The first chapter is highly devoted towards creating a comparison between different spices which include; clover, ginger, saffron, cinnamon, pepper, sugar and other essential products such as nutmegs.
In Chapter 2 of the book, the author reinforces the various uses and reason for the popularity of spices in Europe during the Middle Ages which goes beyond cooking. Most spices were linked with medicinal properties which made them even more special at the time due to the different types of disease epidemics that faced Europe (56). The odor of spices could be found in the churches and homes because the fragrance was linked to health and sanctity. Sugar was viewed differently during the Middle Ages since it was sold in small quantities and it was until the 18th century that it became an essential commodity.
Chapter 3 of Freedman's "out of the East" talks about the fragrance of the spices in addition to their mysterious origins which adds further to the consideration of spices to contain aromatic powers (80). As such, the chapter creates the basis of the popularity and the love of spices in Europe during this time. Going forward in the book, Freedman in the rest chapters establishes the consequences of Europe infatuation with spices. Throughout the book Freedman chooses words well to make the book even more enjoyable and fun to read to discover the impacts of spices in the Middle Ages in Europe and how spices impacted Europe to interact with the rest of the world especially India and East Asia which were the primary sources of spices (95).
Chapter 4 of the book focuses on the spice trade and the different routes of supply of the precious commodity during the Middle Ages (103). In the chapter, the authors go forward to create the perspective of different people regarding the areas where spices came from. Scholars, merchants, strategists of the time had different views of the regions beyond the borders of Europe which initiated the European outbound expansion and conquests (142). Chapter 5 reinforces the previous two chapters in the book with answers on the different theories put forward to expound on the reason of spices rarity, their scarce nature and why they were overpriced at the time. In chapter 5 the author shows a conflict of religions as dominant Christian Europe wanted to get rid of the Muslim intermediaries of the precious commodity (131). However, chapter 5 establishes dissidents of the image of spices as spiritual refinements and some people believed that their seductiveness and preciousness was only based on human foolishness and sinful nature. Chapter 6, establishes a significant opposition of the view of spices by noting that spices reinforced pride and greed over common sense and restraint which should be more important to men (146). In chapter 7 and 8 of the book, Freedman shows that the love of spices was great and people did not heed to the warnings of the spices by moralists which inspired European expansion in the 15th and the 16th centuries of the Middle Ages. The love of spices led to greed and human enslavement which facilitated the slave trade even further (195).
"Out of the East" by Freedman is a well written historical evidence of the impact of spices on Europe during the Middle Ages and the link between the spices and European expansion and economic development. In the mix of the historical context of the spices and Europe, the author provides practical evidence of different applications of spices in cooking and their religious functions which can help authors to understand the uses of spices further today. Scholars of culinary art and those interested in the history of Europe and the emergence of colonialism can benefit immensely from Freedman's "Out of the East" by helping them have a historical understanding of the role and impact of spices in Europe and the relationship between Europe and East Asia during the Middle Ages.
Freedman, Paul. Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
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