In the past millennia, cloves have been the reason for many wars, bloodshed and the division of the world because they were considered to be extraordinary and valuable. Here is a short story about them.
WHAT ARE CLOVES
Cloves, known as a spice, are actually dried flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum.The tree can grow up to 8-12m tall and can live for up to 350 years. Flower buds are at first of a pale colour and gradually turn green but after they turn bright red and are 1.5-2cm long they are ready for harvest. It got its name from the French word “clou” which means nail.
Cloves are extremely hard to grow at home. They thrive in well-drained, acidic soil, protected from the wind and cold and with lots of sun exposure. They mainly come from Indonesia, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Spices used to be worth as much as gold and cloves were among the most expensive of them all. Until the 16th century, they grew only on five Moluccas Islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Only a few individuals knew their origin and were able to recognise the plant they grow on. Despite this, old civilisations were clearly accustomed to them since they were found during archaeological diggings in Syria. According to the archaeologists, the discovered spices were almost 4.000 years old and date back to 1721 B.C. The biggest question is how they even got to the Fertile Crescent.
WAR OVER CLOVES
In the 15th century, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull with which the territory of the newly discovered lands was divided among the two most powerful forces – Spain and Portugal.
The only issue was that no one actually knew how the world looked like and consequently it was difficult to assess who owned what. They were now sure who was in charge of India, Indonesia and other spice islands. The real reason why we have only a few geographical maps from that era is that the countries put more effort into hiding them than today’s secret services do for hiding documents. Later, the English and the Dutch also joined the war over cloves. In 1667, the war finally ended with the Dutch taking over control of the Moluccas Islands.
TRIP AROUND THE WORLD
Ferdinand Magellan, the first person to sail around the world, went on his expedition precisely in order to get his hands on cloves. Despite the outrageous expenses, four destroyed ships and the death of 252 sailors, 381 bags of cloves sufficed to repay all costs and even gain profit. To sum everything up, the first trip around the world was paid entirely in cloves.