Short Essay on the Trade & Commerce in Gupta period


The rule of the imperial Guptas, which spread over a period of 250 years from circa A.D. 300 to A.D. 550, marked the last important phase in the history of ancient India. There was not much material change in the trade routes, commercial organisation, currency systems, trade practices, etc. during the period.

Industry and trade were generally prosperous and the balance of foreign trade was in favour of India. But the most noteworthy change in foreign trade was the decline of the Roman trade, and also decline of three important southern ports of Muziris, Arikamedu, and Kaveripattanam.

Nature of Trade


During this period, internal trade further ex­panded to numerous trade centres. Kalidasa gives a very good description of the town-market and its business transactions. Like the previous phase, we have reference to two types of merchants in the Gupta period, namely sresthi andsarthavaha. The former also acted as b inkers or moneylenders. The sarlhavahu or caravan-trader was an impor­tant figure in city life.

The articles of internal trade included all sorts of commodities for everyday use, chiefly sold in village or town markets. On the other hand, luxury goods formed the principal articles of long distance trade. Narada and Brihaspati have laid down numerous laws and regulations to safeguard the interests of buyers and sellers alike; but dishonest practices were prevalent in the market. Prices in the Gupta period were not always stable and they also varied from place to place.

Similarly, weights and measures were also different at different places. The internal trade was carried on by roads and rivers, and foreign trade was carried on by sea and land. We have numerous references to sea trade in the period; but the sea routes were not safe for the merchants. We learn from Fa-hien that the Central Asian route from China to India was full of perils.

Indian ports maintained regular maritime relations with Sri Lanka, Persia, Arabia, Ethiopia, the Byzantine Empire, China and the islands of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka played an important role both in the foreign trade of the island and in the inter-oceanic commerce between the East and the West. India’s commercial rela­tions with China also flourished and trade was conducted through the land and sea routes.


The volume of external trade of India with China great­ly increased during the Gupta period. Chinese silk, which was known as chinasunka, had a good market in India. Indo-Chinese maritime trade af­fected the fortunes of both the great countries.

India’s trade with the West somewhat declined due to the decline of the Roman Empire, but revived again under the Byzantine emperors two most important items of export from India to the Byzantine empire were silk and spices. Trade in silk was so important that in the Byzantine empire, in order regulate silk prices all over the country, Justinian (A.D. 527-65) enacted the law that one pound of silk should not cost more than eight pieces of gold.

The maritime relation between the Byzantine world and India is known from the Roman coins of the first to fourth century A.D. found in different parts of India. Trade relations with India greatly influenced the life and culture of South-east Asia and through the channel of trade, Indian culture flowed all over the region. “There is no denying the fact that in the Gupta period India stood out as the very heart of Asia and maintained her position as one of the foremost maritime countries in the world.”

The Cosmas’ Indicplecustes of the middle of the sixth century informs us that the ports of the east and west coast of India were linked together through Sri Lanka. According to Cosmas, agricul­tural products, aloes, clove-wood, and sandal­wood were sent, in his time, from the east coast of India to Sri Lanka and thence exported to the Western and even Persian and Ethiopian ports. Ivory was exported from Ethiopia to India. Horses were imported from North-West India as well as from Arabia, Persia, and Afghanistan.


Trade rela­tions with Western Asia too flourished during the later part of this period. Chinese annals refer to a brisk trade between China and Western countries, like Arabia and Persia. This trade must have passed through India and strengthened the an­cient trade relations between India and the Western countries.

The Arabs and Persians sent a large number of vessels to China and these passed through Indian ports. The silk must have travelled from China by the silk route, as well as by the sea routes known from earlier times.

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