“Adventure!” There’s something exciting about the very word – which advertisement-writers well know. You can have Travel Adventures, Romantic Adventures – even Restaurant Adventures. In fact, dining out in different eating establishments may be all some people need to satisfy their adventurous yearnings.
But there’s an age factor at work here. The younger you are, the more real adventure, with real risks, may appeal to you – whereas more “mature” people are willing to settle for the ersatz variety, packaged and paid for in advance, with guaranteed comfort and convenience, and a safe return home.
What I’m talking about is the difference between a “traveler” and a “tourist.” Tourism developed only about 200 years ago, with the rise of agencies like Thomas Cook & Co., one of whose early clients was Mark Twain, who wrote about the experience in Innocents Abroad. Before then, travel was practically synonymous with adventure, which was expected to be arduous. In fact, the very word “travel” derives from “travail,” and before setting out on a long journey, it was an accepted practice to make your will.
But very few such journeys were made purely for the sake of adventure. Much more commonly, they were undertaken for the purposes of trade, or conquest, or religion. The latter type of travel came to be known as a “pilgrimage,” and was usually directed towards some spot considered particularly holy, often associated with a Saint. Chaucer’s group of pilgrims, around whom he wove his Canterbury Tales, are on their way to visit the shrine, at Canterbury Cathedral, of Thomas Becket, once its Archbishop, who more than two centuries previously had been murdered right there, because he had dared to defy the wishes of the King.
Journeys for military purposes are of course the very stuff of History – and, in the Middle Ages, these became combined with the pilgrimage idea, in the course of what were called “Crusades” – a series of vast expeditions supposedly directed at re-taking the Holy Land from the heathen Mohammedans, who had at one point actually captured the Holy of Holies, Jerusalem. These Christian adventures did result in the temporary re-conquest of the whole area later known as “Palestine,” and the establishment there of a “Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” – a sort of Christian precursor of the modern State of Israel, in which tourists today can still visit the impressive ruins of staunch Crusader castles. The Latin Kingdom, however, lasted less than 200 years, and the region reverted to Moslem control for more than six centuries, until the First World War, when a successful British campaign drove out the Turks who were then, as the Ottoman Empire, still the ruling power in the region.
(I have a personal interest in this story, because an uncle of mine, Mortimer Brilliant, one of my father’s brothers, was then on his own youthful adventure as a member of the British Empire forces under General Allenby, and was there in Jerusalem in 1917, when it was taken over from the Turks. My father wasn’t quite so adventurous, and, although drafted into service and sent to France, he managed to stay well behind the front lines.)
But, more than religion or conquest, it was trade which drove many adventurers to the ends of the Earth. And what were the commodities most in demand? I probably need hardly tell you, they were gold, slaves, and spices – all of which were in demand in Europe, where they were in short supply. Gold is a relatively useless metal, which however has certain qualities, such as stability and durability, making it convenient as a medium of exchange. Slaves, particularly those easily distinguishable by the color of their skin, were simply a source of cheap labor. Spices had various uses, e.g. in preserving food, but were also valuable just because of their rarity.
To lay one’s hands on the sources of these commodities required long dangerous voyages to distant places, such as the supposed Cities of Gold in the “New World,” the West African Slave Coast, and the extremely remote Spice Islands in the Far East. The Sixteenth Century voyage of Magellan, beginning with five ships and about 270 men, whose main purpose was to find a westward route to the Spice Islands, resulted, after three years, in the return to Spain of only one ship with 18 survivors (of whom Magellan himself was not one).
Think of that the next time you adventure past all those rows of little boxes in the “Spices” aisle of your local supermarket.