India’s lucrative foreign trade dates back to the Indus or Harappan civilisation. However, during the historic times, the rise and fall of cities greatly changed the nature and course of trade. Before the second century B.C. land routes between India and the West were more popular than the sea routes. But during the early centuries of the Christian Era Sea routes to the West became more popular.
Earlier, from the point of Indian trade, Bactria held a very eminent position, because from here the Indian commodities passed to Khotan, Yarkand, Kashgar and China in the east, to the valley of Oxus in the north-west and to the valley of Euphrates and Tigris in the west. Bactria had thus become a clearing-house for Indian trade and was the centre of transit trade between India and China, on the one hand, and Central Asia and the Mediterranean world, on the other.
An Indian trader after reaching Bactria had a direct route for the West Asian markets. The next important centre of Indian trade, the industrial life of which was based on Indian supplies of raw material. Similarly, Alexandria was also emporium of Indian goods from where was a direct route to Puteoli, the famous Rome.
There were several trade routes bet India and the Far East. From Bharukach Tamralipti ships sailed on the open seas for the other countries like Yavadr Champa, China, and Kamboja (Cambodia: Kampuchea).
The early centuries of the Christian the growth of a brisk foreign trade bet” India and the West, with the Roman Empire as chief customer there was a great demand in West for Indian manufactures and articles luxury, such as precious stones and pearls, see spices and perfumes, silks and muslin.
Road dames, decked in seven folds of Indian must paraded the streets and became such a menace the city’s morals that fine stuff from India had quarter be banned. According to Pliny, India in those gulf centuries was annually draining the Roman emj pire of its gold valued at fifty million sesterces and had established a favourable balance of trade in’ the foreign markets.
Traces of this profitable sea trade are left in hoards of Roman coins found at several places close to the South Indian coast on which also grew up several port towns. Kaveripat- tanam, the capital of the Chola kingdom at the mouth of the Kaveri, was frequented by Yavana (Roman) merchants, as stated in Tamil works.
The chief articles of export from India were spices, perfumes, medicinal herbs, pigments,’ pearls, precious stones (like diamond, sapphire, turquoise and lapis-lazuli), iron, steel, copper, sandalwood, animal skins, cotton cloth, silk yarn, muslin, indigo, ivory, porcelain and tortoise- shells. The principal imports were cloth, linen, perfumes, medicinal herbs, glass vessels, silver, gold, tin, lead, pigments, precious stones, and coral.