Opium as a trading good

In the footsteps of the Poppy

Opium as a trading good

The production and handling of a legendary commodity.

Where did the opium come from as it has been used for centuries in our (pre-)modern history? With the cultivation of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and production of opium, we now imagine a shadowy world of drug lords and exploited farmers in the Asian Golden Triangle. Things were very different before opium came under national and international drug laws in the early twentieth century. Opium was seen as a normal trade commodity that came to Europe from Persia, Egypt, Turkey and the Levant. In Asia, opium became an important trade product from the seventeenth century onwards for the large European trading companies such as the Dutch and the English East India Companies, which supplied markets in the Dutch East Indies, Malaysia and China from India (particularly Bengal). The economic importance of opium was paramount for centuries. Concerns about users' addiction did not visibly increase until the end of the nineteenth century.

Discover the stories behind these locations

Persia and Turkey
Batavia (Capital of the Dutch East Indies)
The Dutch Town of Apeldoorn