Steven E. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route. California World History Library, 18. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2011.
Rome’s trade with the East, with Arabia, India and China, continues to fascinate scholars of ancient history. The existence of large commercial networks and long-distance maritime routes in a notoriously volatile business world, linking the Mediterranean and the shores of the Indian Ocean long before Europe’s famous Age of Discovery, is indeed a remarkable aspect of ancient trade. In this book, Sidebotham analyzes the actual features of these trading routes by focusing on a single yet important harbor on the Egyptian coast, Berenike, where merchant ships moored after a voyage to the East and products destined for the Mediterranean were discharged and stored before being transported to the Nile. Having organized ten excavations on this site, Sidebotham obviously is best qualified for presenting a vivid and intimate picture of merchants, soldiers, artisans and citizens living and working together in Berenike.
A succinct introduction highlights Berenike’s importance for the Roman-Indian trade and explains why an in-depth study of a single port may be a valuable starting point to analyze trading routes (p. 1-6).