Revision Notes : Civil Services
(Prelims) Examination Special
Trade and Commerce in the pre-Gupta and Gupta period
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.
period, metal (ayas)
was chiefly of two kindsâ€”krishna
ayas (black metal or iron) used during later
Vedic period and loh ayas (copper).
refer to eighteen important handicrafts and
developed institutions like Sreni,
Nigama and Puga
to regulate trade
and avoid intrusion by other varnas and develop monopoly.
of conduct of trade were laid by the head of trade guilds,
known as Sarthavaha or
The rules were called Samay
Pushkalavati, Kapisa and Vidisha prospered as trade
centres, under the Indo-Greek rulers.
asked the king to develop measures to stop
obstruction of the trade routes by his favourite
men (vallabhas). Frontier
guards (Antapalas) were
contacts between the commercial classes and the
kingâ€™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.
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).
merchants were properly registered and even served
Mauryas, most important trade route was from Taxila
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).
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.
land-routes, the silk-route was very often in use
till Kushan period. Later period saw it becomming
unsafe, due to robbers.
of Erythrean Sea is a travellersâ€™
handbook (Erythrean Seaâ€”Red sea). It mentions
more than 20 trade ports like: Barygaza (Broach),
Suppara (Soparal), Kalliena (Kalyana), Muziris
(Pondicherry), Soptama (Madras), Puhar (Orissa),
important exports from India were: Fine textiles
from Varanasi, Malabathrum (spicy leaves) from
Tamralipti (Tamluk, R. Ganges, Bengal), muslins
(Pondicherry), pepper (Muziris), ivory (Puhar,
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
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
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
plays, Kalidas potraits a good view of the town
markets and trade transactions. The internal trade
now expanded to several inland trade centres.
emperor Aurelian declared Indian silk to be its
worth in gold. Indians acted as intermediaries to
the Chinese silk trade and the Western States.
spices, pepper always held the first place and was
declared passion of the Yavanas (Romans).
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.
remoulded the Roman coins so that they could be
used as currency.
imports, there were singing boys, virgins for the
rulersâ€™ harem, slaves and valuable corals (Mediterranean
Red Variety), dates, Italian vases and wines, sweet
clovers, glass, tin (Spain), emeralds, etc.
refers to the science of
testing gems. The merchantsâ€™ sons were trained in
64 Angavidyas or
finearts, according to Vatsyayana.
Chief importer of Indian muslin, once banned it,
due to the rising loss of morals of its females.
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
obtained brass, lead and gold from foreigners,
whereas Indian iron and steel (saikya
ayas) was very advanced in
quality and was exported.
mentions 75 trades, 60
related to crafts, 8 to metals.
(on Indian traditional medicine
and surgery) recommends the use of saikya
ayas for operations.
inscription tells that srenis often acted as law
providers also. (Sresthis,
are now called as Seths, Settis in South
India and also Chettiyars).
interest fluctuated greatly, but was usually near
15% (higher for loans for sea-trade).
coins were: Nishka and Pala of Gold, Shatmana
of silver, Kakini
of copper and brass. The most common coin
made of various metals.
source of revenue for Guptas was land revenue.
formed a major industry in this period. Rock
cutting also evolved as another important
occupation due to the rapid rise in use of statues
imported horses from Arabia, Iran and Bactria.
the most flourishing trade centre in and around the