Short Essay on the Trade & commerce from the Kushanas to Guptas


As stated earlier, with the discovery that the winds of the monsoon could cause the ships to sail across the Indian Ocean from Alexandria (the principal entrepot for the Indian trade with the Western world) to ports on the west coast of India in thirty days or so, Indian trade with Rome increased enormously by sea.

The beautiful luxury articles of India and her spices were greatly prized there, particularly pepper (from the Malabar Coast), pearls, and diamonds. Other highly valuable ar­ticles exported were beautiful muslins, ivory, tor­toise shell, drugs, indigo, perfumes, spices, silks, cloth of gold, and precious stones.

Im­mense sums by the Indian mer­chants as Rome paid for its purchases (especially of pepper, pearls, and diamonds) in gold about one and a half crore annually. India imported from the West limited quantities of copper, tin, lead, glass, antimony, linen, coral, and wine.


Tamil poetry speaks of beautiful large Yavana (Ionian or Greek, though the term meant ‘foreign’ as well) ships sailing into the ports of Muziris (Cran- ganore, in Kerala) or Barake and N lkynde (the Pandyan ports) bringing Greek wine and gold and taking away spices, pepper, and precious stones.

After the discovery of the monsoon winds, one ship a day is said to have left the Egyptian ports for India, and that the whole of the western coast was well known to these foreign sailors. The great port of Puhar (in the Chola country at the month of the Kaveri) had docks and warehouses and residential settlements of foreign traders who spoke in their own languages.

The discovery of vases (made by famous Italian potters) near Arikamedu Virapattanam, near Pondicherry, proves that it was (from about A.D. 30) a prosperous settlement, and there might have been such a factory here conducted by Roman mer­chants.

The Periplus states that Indian exports general­ly consisted of muslins, cotton cloth, precious and semi-precious stones (such as diamonds, pearls, sapphires, onyx, sardonyx, agate, and carnelian), Chinese silks (the old silk route from China to the West having become unsafe, the Chinese silk trade was carried on through Indian traders), silk yarn, spices, medicinal products such as pepper, nard (a special of cinnamon), and ivory.


Articles im­ported at the port of Barygaza among other commodities, included apparel, Hint glass, antimony, gold and silver and costly silver ware and the unusual car singing boys and beautiful girls for the centre for Indian trade.

It was visited by S (the Roman historian) in the first century who found that 120 ships sailed for India (pro ly in one season), some as far as the mouth of Ganga, which on return journey took Indian g: back for being sent to Alexandria.

The Periplus also mentions at least 20 Indian ports and their exports. Some of the important ports were Barbaricum (a Greek form of the In­dian name, possibly Bahardipur), Barygaza (Broach), Suppara (Sopara), Kalliena (Kalyana), Mandagora (possibly Bankot Naura), Muziris and Barake (the famous pepper ports).

It also gives some information about the trade in muslins at Pondicherry and Soptama (Madras) and Masalia (Masulipatnam), the ivories of Pukar (in Orissa), and fine textiles from Varanasi, and the malabathrum, brought down from the jungles for export from Tamralipti (Tamluk) at the mouth of the Ganga. Mention is also made of Puhar Korkai and other important trading ports in South India where many foreign merchants lived.


Indians had also settled down in the island of Socotra for purposes of trade. Large Indian ships sailed to the Persian coast from Barygaza for the same purpose.

In course of time, other foreign traders and people (Arabs, Jews, Syrians, and others) joined the profitable trade in pepper, and pepper caravans began going to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea via the overland route to Antioch and Istanbul where Indian merchants took the valuable commodity for sale to Venice and Genoa.

Pepper was also exported to China in Indian ships, and trade between the two countries was con­ducted in Indian and Chinese sailing vessels. Pep­per continued to be a very valuable export commodity even in the thirteenth century as Marco Polo, the Italian traveler (who spent two years in South India), mentions that the size of a ship was measured by the number of baskets of pepper it could carry – sometimes as many as five

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