Islam in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean Littoral, 1500-1800: Expansion, Polarization, Synthesis

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Over the past half-century historians have endeavoured to moderate the exaggerated importance long attached to 1498 and the arrival in the Indian Ocean of a small band of Portuguese. The Portuguese introduced consistent reportage in a language still relatively accessible, and in this sense 1498 may stand as a turning point in the literature. Asia was henceforth linked to Europe directly, and the exchange of ideas and technologies was possible without Arab or Central Asian mediation. Apart from an aggressive naval strategy and more effective technologies of navigation, time-keeping and warfare, however, the Portuguese had little more to offer by way of modernisation of commerce, science and technology. They made the great effort to join the maritime trade of the Indian Ocean precisely because it was already highly developed, delivering spices to Europe through Alexandria and Venice, and using some sophisticated financial techniques unknown to the Portuguese. To this Muslim-dominated trade the Iberians initially brought only plunder and disruption, and were naturally seen as a scourge. In the longer term the establishment of a direct maritime route of trade around the Cape of Good Hope was profoundly important in depriving the Islamic commercial networks of their monopoly of east–west trade and intellectual mediation. It also introduced to the world of the Indian Ocean a sharp polarisation between Islam and its rivals from which the maritime world had previously been spared.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe New Cambridge History of Islam: The Eastern Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries
    Editors David O Morgan and Anthony Reid
    Place of PublicationCambridge United Kingdom
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    ISBN (Print)9780521850315
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


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