(Notes) Civil Services (Prelims) Examination : Trade and Commerce in the Pre-Gupta and Gupta period - Quick Revision Notes (I)

Quick Revision Notes : Civil Services (Prelims) Examination Special

Trade and Commerce in the pre-Gupta and Gupta period

1. Metallurgy is as old as pre-historic times. Mining of metals was known even in pre-Vedic period and during the Harappa period various metals like copper, lead, silver were in use.

2. During Vedic period, metal (ayas) was chiefly of two kinds—krishna ayas (black metal or iron) used during later Vedic period and loh ayas (copper).

3. The Jatakas refer to eighteen important handicrafts and industries.

4. The Vaishyas developed institutions like Sreni, Nigama and Puga to regulate trade and avoid intrusion by other varnas and develop monopoly.

5. Proper rules of conduct of trade were laid by the head of trade guilds, known as Sarthavaha or Srenipramukha. The rules were called Samay and  Srenidharma.

6. Taxila, Pushkalavati, Kapisa and Vidisha prospered as trade centres, under the Indo-Greek rulers.

7. Kautilya asked the king to develop measures to stop obstruction of the trade routes by his favourite men (vallabhas). Frontier guards (Antapalas) were also appointed.

8. The close contacts between the commercial classes and the king’s court is very clear from the rules of the settlement layout of the historic city of Patliputra. Here, people lived in various parts, according to their social status.

9. Kautilya looked upon artisans and traders as big thieves and held them under suspect. He demanded strict control over them, as also with the often indisciplined frontier guards (antapalas).

10. Guilds of merchants were properly registered and even served as banks.

11. During Mauryas, most important trade route was from Taxila to Patliputra.

12. Ships in ancient period were usually of the two-masted type. In the 2nd century A.D., a regular sea-route was in operation for the quest for gold (swarna).

13. Monsoons (Arabic: Mausam) were discovered by Hippalus (Greek captain) and this discovery in 45 A.D. that monsoons could sail ships from Alexandria to Western India in just a 40-days period, tremendously increased the Roman seatrade, due to shortening of trade-route. Muziris (Cranganore, Kerala) and Puhar (in Cholamandalam) were major sea-ports and foreign settlements.

14. Among land-routes, the silk-route was very often in use till Kushan period. Later period saw it becomming unsafe, due to robbers.

15. The Periplus of Erythrean Sea is a travellers’ handbook (Erythrean Sea—Red sea). It mentions more than 20 trade ports like: Barygaza (Broach), Suppara (Soparal), Kalliena (Kalyana), Muziris (Pondicherry), Soptama (Madras), Puhar (Orissa), Masalia (Masulipatnam).

16. The important exports from India were: Fine textiles from Varanasi, Malabathrum (spicy leaves) from Tamralipti (Tamluk, R. Ganges, Bengal), muslins (Pondicherry), pepper (Muziris), ivory (Puhar, Orissa).

17. Pepper was a very valuable export till 13th century A.D. Marco Polo (Italy) mentions that a ship was measured by the number of pepper baskets contained in it.

18. Trade suffered a setback in 3rd century A.D. But in the 4th century A.D., silk trade increased and silk was brought within reach of the common man. The decline in the westward trade towards the 2nd-3rd century A.D. was later compensated for by the prospering trade now developed with the south-east Asian States like the Suvarnabhumi, Kambuja (Kampuchea), Champa (Annam).

19. During Guptas, there was no material change in the previous traderoutes, trade practices, organisation, currency system, etc. The one note-worthy change was a decline in the Roman trade and the three major ports of Muziris, Arikamedu and Kaveripattinam.

20. In his plays, Kalidas potraits a good view of the town markets and trade transactions. The internal trade now expanded to several inland trade centres.

21. Roman emperor Aurelian declared Indian silk to be its worth in gold. Indians acted as intermediaries to the Chinese silk trade and the Western States.

22. Among spices, pepper always held the first place and was declared passion of the Yavanas (Romans).

23. The demand for Roman goods was smaller than that of Indian goods abroad and it suffered an adverse trade balance of trade. To make up this balance, the Romans supplied gold and silver coins to India. This ever-increasing drain of wealth was once complained by the emperor Tiberious (22 A.D.). The author Pliny also laments such losses.

24. The Kushanas remoulded the Roman coins so that they could be used as currency.

25. Among imports, there were singing boys, virgins for the rulers’ harem, slaves and valuable corals (Mediterranean Red Variety), dates, Italian vases and wines, sweet clovers, glass, tin (Spain), emeralds, etc.

26. The Divyavadana refers to the science of testing gems. The merchants’ sons were trained in 64 Angavidyas or finearts, according to Vatsyayana.

27. Rome, the Chief importer of Indian muslin, once banned it, due to the rising loss of morals of its females.

28. Narada, Katyayana and Brihaspati gave specific instructions towards the rights and duties of guild members, in their smritis. Gupta sites of Basarh (Vaisali) and Bhita (Allahabad) bear the names Nigama and Sreni Sarthavaha Kulika Nigama at Vaisali.

29. India obtained brass, lead and gold from foreigners, whereas Indian iron and steel (saikya ayas) was very advanced in quality and was exported.

30. Milindpanho mentions 75 trades, 60 related to crafts, 8 to metals.

31. Charaksamhita (on Indian traditional medicine and surgery) recommends the use of saikya ayas for operations.

32. Nasik cave inscription tells that srenis often acted as law providers also. (Sresthis, are now called as Seths, Settis in South India and also Chettiyars).

33. Rate of interest fluctuated greatly, but was usually near 15% (higher for loans for sea-trade).

34. The common coins were: Nishka and Pala of Gold, Shatmana of silver, Kakini of copper and brass. The most common coin Karshapana was made of various metals.

35. The major source of revenue for Guptas was land revenue.

36. Textiles formed a major industry in this period. Rock cutting also evolved as another important occupation due to the rapid rise in use of statues for prayers.

37. India imported horses from Arabia, Iran and Bactria.

38. Ujjain was the most flourishing trade centre in and around the Gupta period.

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