Global networking

In the 15th to the 18th centuries, European merchants expanded their global trade networks to include Asian, African, and South American markets that had previously been out of reach. These emerging networks were dominated by the major European colonial powers: the Dutch, British, French, Spanish and Portuguese. To keep pace with increased shipping into Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, there were also major developments in land-based trade infrastructure like roads and caravan routes throughout Southern Germany where this box was made.

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Augsburg, where we think the casket was made, was home to famous merchants who brought global materials into Europe, including the Welsher and Fugger families. One of the most notorious Augsburg merchants was Konrad Rott, who held monopoly contracts on certain goods imported from Asia, most notably pepper. Like other Augsburg merchants, he imported goods via Portugal, so half of everything he imported was given to the Portuguese crown in exchange for their cooperation. But when he went bankrupt due to a fluctuation in the pepper price that his business could not withstand, Rott faked his own death and fled Augsburg to live under a different name in Portugal.

The three imported materials used in the creation of this box are ivory, rosewood, and ebony. All three of these materials would have come into Europe on Portuguese ships, before being taken inland using caravan networks. The rarity of these materials in Europe at the time, which was partly due to the complexities of these trade processes, made them worthy of inclusion in a princely display object like this.