From the economic point of view, the most important development of the period was the thriving trade between southern India and the Roman Empire. Initially the major part of this trade was conducted by land route. But turmoil in the western region nearly brought to this trade end.
From the first century AD the trade was carried on mainly by sea. The sailors from the Mediterranean region came regularly to the Indian ports of Bhrigukachcha, Arikamedu and Tamralipti and occassionally to-other ports. Sangam literature describes yavana ships arriving with their cargoes &t the city of Kaveripattinam.
The details of trade show a brisk commerce in luxury goods. It seems that the Romans mainly imported spices for which south India was famous. They also imported muslin, pearls and jewel-stones from central and southern India. All this may be taken as constituting ‘terminal trade’, as these products were directly supplied by India. Besides, there was also some ‘transit trade’, especially in silk.
In return, the Romans exported wine- amphorae and red-glazed Arretine ware to India discovered at Arikamedu and at Muziris (evidence of the Vienna papyrus). More importantly the Romans exported to India, a large number of coins of gold and silver. Wheeler reported in the fifties, sixty-eight hoards of Roman coins of the first century AD.
y now 129 finds of Roman coins have been reported. This justifies the complaint of Pliny that Rome was being drained of gold on account of her trade with India. The complaint might be exaggerated, but it cannot be dismissed, for it is supported by the Egyptian papyrus records and by the fact that Rome had to ban trade in silk, cutlery and other goods which were imported by it from the east.
The Vienna papyrus contains the text of an agreement between two shippers, whereby one contracts to serve as an agent for a cargo belonging to the other and to oversee its transportation to Alexandria. The names of the merchants are lost, but details of the cargo from Muziris which arrived at one of the Red Sea ports are interesting.
It comprised of nard, ivory and textiles of the total value of 131 talents, which according to L. Casson could have purchased almost 2,400 acres of Egypt’s farmland. The total weight of the consignment was no more than 7,190 pounds or three-and-a-half tons.
Commodities of Export:
Cardamom, cassia- cinnamon, nard, pepper, ginger-gress, citron, rice, lentil, cotton, ebony, sesame oil and seeds, sugar, indigo, lycium, bdellium, woods, cotton products, roots of costus, gum, aloes, coconut, melon, peach, apricot, millet, frankincense, gum resins, myrrh, elephant, rhinoceros, lion, tiger, hound, monkey, python, parrot, peacock, fowl, ivory, wool, woollen products, hide, fur, silk, lac, pearl, oysters, onyx- shell, conch shell, tortoise shell, ghi, musk, agate, carnelian, onyx, sard, nicolo, amethyst, rock- crystal, opal, ruby, sapphire, garnet, emerald, lapis lazuli, zircon, tourmalines, jade, turquoise, iron, steel, copper, and Indian girls.
Commodities of import:
Damask, girdle of damask (Alexandria), wine (Italy, Laodice and Arabia), Storax (Egypt and Syria), sweet clover (Crete, Greece and Italy), frankincense (Arabia and East Africa), papyrus (Egypt), red coral (Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Italy, Spain and N. Africa), copper, tin and lead (western provinces of the Roman empire), realgar, a red sulphide of arsenic and sulphide of antimony (Carmania and Arabia), chrysolithos (Isle of St. John), and Yavana girls.