Trade is the natural corollary of industry, and it is the main channel of distribution of industrial products. From the Mauryan period, if not before, trade, both internal and external, was usually vigorous in most parts of India.
The unification of India under the Nandas and the Mauryas into a close-knit empire, and the opening up of the western trade routes by Alexander, led naturally to a great expansion in the industry and commerce of India.
Active intercourse for commerce and business knit together all parts of India and India with rest of the civilised world. The Greek writers and Kautilya give full details of the material civilisation of the Indians in this period. The latakas constantly refer to the standard number of eighteen important handicrafts and industries.
There was localisation of industries. The same localisation was seen in towns where different artisans and craftsmen occupied separate quarters in the towns. Thus we have mentioned of ivory workers’ street, dyers’ street or weavers’ locality. Mining and metal work had a long history beginning from pre-Vedic times.
The Jatakas mention numerous metals, including brass and bronze together with manufacture of ornaments from precious metals and of domestic and agricultural implements from base metals.
Kautilya gives many details of metallurgical interest and refers to the manufacture of copper, lead, tin, bronze, brass, iron, and other wares. Other industries included the manufacture of dyes, gums, drugs, perfumes as well as of pottery. The making of armaments, war chariots, and the trappings for horses and elephants was a state industry.
The Mauryan state itself was a vast industrial and trading concern and employed in its service vast numbers of artisans and merchants. The task of regulating the relations between the state undertakings and private enterprises was a delicate one, and the great mass of industrial and trade regulations set forth in Arthashastra and the vast bureaucracy of officials imply that the task was performed with considerable success.
Artisans and craftsmen were specially protected by the state and offences against them were severely punished. Merchants were compensated for loss of merchandise by theft or robbery.