The European Musk Trade with Asia in the Early Modern Period

Peter Borschberg


Musk, strictly speaking, is the odoriferous glandular secretion of the Asian musk deer. In the English language, the term has been loosely applied to a serious of potent odours (usually bodily fragrances) both of animalic and non-animalic origin. For much of the early 16th to the early 18th centuries, the origins of musk remained a mystery. This article examines a host of aspects relating to the early modern musk trade between Asia and Europe, including period beliefs on its animalic origin, price structure, networks of trade, transport, forgeries and use in daily life or as a substance in pharmacology.

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