Indian Copper Spice Set

This Indian Copper Spice Set is part of our Trade and Economy Collection.

It dates to around 1885, and originated from Kashmir, India. It consists of the carrying case, five canisters for spices and a small tray that fits into the lid of the box. We are fortunate to have a complete set. The carrying box has a very heavy copper handle, lock, and hinges. It is decorated with a traditional, ornate Indian metalware pricked pattern.

Archaeologists estimate that from as far back as 50,000 B.C. humans used the special qualities of aromatic plants to help flavour their food. Trade in the ancient world included the use of caravans with as many as 4,000 camels carrying treasures from the east such as spices. For hundreds of years, traders also used ships which sailed along the Indian coast, past the Persian Gulf, along the coast of South Arabia, and finally through the Red Sea into Egypt. Trade in antiquity was subject to threats like robberies, storms, shipwrecks, and piracy. Despite the setbacks, however, spices were in such great demand that the profits outweighed the risks.

In 1600, the British East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, and its major objective was obtaining spice cargoes. The British worked slowly in their attempt to gain the power away from the Dutch, and finally in 1780, England and Holland started a war which severely weakened Dutch power in India. By the 1800s everything that once belonged to Portugal and Holland was controlled by the British, including the lucrative spice trade.

Roman Oil Bottle

This clay bottle is part of our Trade and Economy Collection. It came from the Roman province of Judaea and dates to the First Century BC / AD.

The bottle would have been used for storing oil. Oil was widely used for washing, funerary and dietary purposes, and it was traded across the Roman Empire. Trade was essential to the Roman Empire. The empire cost a vast sum of money to run and trade brought in a lot of that money. The population of the city of Rome was one million and this large population required all sorts of things brought back via trade.

The Romans made trade as easy as possible. There was only one currency used and there were no complicating customs dues. Trade was also encouraged by many years of peace within the Empire. Trade involved foodstuffs (e.g. olives, fish, meat, cereals, salt, prepared foods such as fish sauce, olive oil, wine and beer), animal products (e.g. leather and hides), objects, and materials for manufacturing and construction such as glass, marble, wood, wool, bricks and metals. There was also significant trade in slaves.

Roman Sestertius Coin

This is an ancient Roman sestertius minted under Emperor Philip I, (Marcus Julius Philippus Augustus) also known as Philip the Arab. It dates to between 244 - 249 AD. It is an example of a period when coins were being made from brass due to scarcity of precious metals. It is part of our Trade and Economy collection.

The obverse features a portrait of Philip, shown draped, facing right and wearing laurel wreath. It reads "IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG" which means "Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus Augustus"

The reverse shows Annona, who is the personification of grain allocation. She is standing left and the letters read "ANNONA AVGG" which means "Annona of the Augusti".

A loaf of bread cost would have cost roughly half a sestertius, and half a litre of wine would have cost anywhere from less than half to more than one sestertius.

Egyptian Papyrus Fragment

This papyrus fragment is an ancient "epikrisis" document. It dates to 28th May, 102 AD and comes from Egypt. It is part of our Trade and Economy collection.

In Roman Egypt, boys applied for citizenship before the age of fourteen in a process called "epikrisis", which produced extensive documentation. This check of personal and fiscal status determined who would enjoy Roman or Alexandrian citizenship and was therefore exempted from the poll tax. It also clarified who belonged to the privileged population of the "metropoleis" and had to pay only half the rate, as well as who was Egyptian and had to pay the full amount.

Athenian Tetradrachm

This Athenian Tetradrachm coin is part of our Trade and Economy Collection.

The tetradrachm is an ancient Greek silver coin equivalent to four drachmae. It was in wide circulation from around 510 to around 38 BC.

The Athenian tetradrachm was stamped with the head of the goddess Athena on the obverse. The reverse was stamped with the image of the owl of Athena, the symbol of the Athenian polis, with a sprig of olive and a crescent for the moon. It was known as glaux (γλαύξ, little owl) throughout the ancient world. This gave rise to the proverb 'an owl to Athens', referring to something that was in plentiful supply, like 'coals to Newcastle'. The reverse is featured on the national side of the modern Greek euro coin.

The drachma was the currency unit used in Ancient Greece over several centuries. Some economists have estimated that in the 5th century BC a drachma had a rough value of 37 pounds (as of 2015). Historians say that in the heyday of ancient Greece (the fifth and fourth centuries BC) the daily wage for a skilled worker or a soldier was one drachma.

This tells us that a tetradrachm was worth about four times a skilled worker’s daily wage, and could buy luxuries such as jewelry and horses.