The belief that the eastern extremity of Asia had been reached died slowly, and the great object of exploration in America continued for some years to be the discovery of a passage through to the Spice Islands, in order to compete with the Portuguese, who had reached them by the Cape route.
This outrage was not avenged until the time of Cromwell (1654), and in the meantime the English abandoned the struggle for the Spice Islands, and turned their attention entirely to the mainland of India.
The desire to obtain the monopoly of the spice trade has been a potent force in the fashioning of Asiatic history.
The hope that a passage through to the Spice Islands would be found near existing Spanish settlements was now given up. One was sought farther south, and in November 1520 Ferdinand Magellan passed through the strait which bears his name and sailed across the Pacific. At last the existence of a continent divided by a vast stretch of ocean from Asia, and mostly lying within the sphere of influence assigned to Spain by the pope, was revealed to the world.
In the following year the Portuguese Ferdinando Magalhaes, familiarly known as Magellan, laid before Charles V., at Valladolid, a scheme for reaching the Spice Islands by sailing westward.
As middlemen they already possessed a large interest in the spice trade, for the Portuguese, having no direct access to the principal European markets, had made a practice of sending cargo to the Netherlands for distribution by way of the Scheldt and Rhine.
Very soon the spice trade had become a Portuguese monopoly, and Malacca was the great headquarters of the trade.
Succeeding reigns much trouble was caused by jealousies and quarrels between the Greeks and the Jews, to whom Augustus had granted privileges as valuable as those accorded to the Greeks, Aiming at the spice trade, Aelius Gallus, the second prefect of Egypt under Augustus, had made an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Arabia Felix; the valuable Indian trade, however, was secured by Claudius for Egypt at the expense of Arabia, and the Red Sea routes were improved.
This was due first to the difficulties of the navigation, next to the exclusiveness of the Dutch, who, holding the Spice Islands, prevented all access to places east of them, and lastly to the stream of enterprise being latterly diverted to the more temperate regions farther south.
Soon afterwards Pierre Poivre, intendant of Ile de France, seeing the freedom of the Seychelles archipelago from hurricanes, caused spice plantations to be made there, with the object of wresting from the Dutch the monopoly they then enjoyed of the spice trade.