Indian Ocean Trade and the Monsoon Winds


AP Theme

Humans and the Environment

Learning Objective 2.3G

Explain environmental factors in the development of networks of exchange in the period c. 1200 to c. 1450.

Historical Development 1

Expansion of Indian Ocean commerce and trade depended on advanced knowledge of the monsoon winds.


Knowledge of Monsoons Led to Increased Trade in the India Ocean

Traveling across oceans today is a dangerous journey that continues to take many sailors’ lives. During the middle ages, this danger was even more significant. Knowledge of the environment in which one sailed was the difference between arriving at one’s destination alive and perishing at sea.

The Monsoon Wind Patterns

Navigation in the Indian Ocean was dependent upon sailors’ understanding of the region’s monsoon wind patterns. These wind patterns were very predictable. From November to February, the winds blew to the southwest allowing ships to travel from India to Africa. While between April and September, the winds switched directions to the northeast allowing vessels to travel from East Africa to India. Journeys were long, and merchants generally only made one roundtrip journey each year.