or East Indies
(or East India
) is a term formerly used to describe lands occupying the area around the eastern Indian Ocean
roughly occupying modern day India
. These lands began to be explored by European
powers in the 16th century
and became important sources of trade goods, particularly spices after the establishment of the British East India Company
and Dutch East India Company
in the 17th century.
The islands of the Caribbean were initially thought to be the Indies by explorer Christopher Columbus, who had grossly underestimated the westerly distance from Europe to Asia, and were known as such. Later the Caribbean islands became known as the West Indies whilst the lands in the Indian Ocean became the "East Indies".