UPSC History Early empire (6 BCE to 1 CE) NCERT Extracts - Crafts, Trade and Towns

NCERT Extracts - Crafts, Trade and Towns

Category : UPSC



  • The Age of the Shakas, Kushans, Satavahanas (200 B.C.-A.D. 300) and the first Tamil states was the most flourishing period in the history of crafts and commerce in ancient India. Arts and crafts witnessed a remarkable growth.
  • The Digha Nikaya, which belongs to pre-Maurya times, mentions nearly two dozen occupations, but the Mahavastu, which belongs to this period, catalogues 36 kinds of workers living in the town of Rajgir.
  • The Milinda Panho or the Questions of Milinda enumerates as many as 75 occupations, 60 of which are connected with various kinds of crafts.
  • In a village settlement in Karimnagar in Telangana, carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, potters, etc. lived in separate quarters. Cloth-making, silk-weaving and the making of arms and luxury articles also made progress.
  • Mathura was a great centre for the manufacture of a special type of cloth which was called shataka. Dyeing was a thriving craft in some south Indian towns.
  • It was about the beginning of the Christian era that the knowledge of glass-blowing reached India and attained its peak. Coin-minting was an important craft, and the period is noted for numerous types of coins made of gold, silver, copper, bronze, lead and potin.
  • Yetleshwaram in Nalgonda district, where we find the largest number of terracottas and the moulds in which they were manufactured.
  • Artisans were organised into guilds which were called shrenis.
  • Artisans of this period were organized into at least two dozen guilds. Most artisans known from inscriptions were confined to the Mathura region.
  • The most important economic development of the period was the thriving trade between India and the eastern Roman empire.
  • Since the first century A.D. trade was carried on mainly by sea,therefore, it seems that around the beginning of the Christian era the monsoon was discovered.
  • So the sailors now could sail in much less time directly from the eastern coast of the Arabian Sea to the western coast
  • They could call easily at the various ports such as Broach and Sopara situated on the western coast of India, and Arikamedu and Tamralipti situated on its eastern coast
  • Of all these ports. Broach seems to have been the most important and flourishing.


Foreign Trade


  • Although the volume of trade between India and Rome seems to have been large, it was not carried on it articles of daily use for the commerce people there was a brick commerce in in luxury goods.                                
  • The Romans mainly imported spices for which south India was famous.
  • They imported muslin, pearls, jewels, and precious stones from central and south India.
  • Iron goods, especially cutlery, formed an important item of export to the Roman empire.
  • Silk was directly sent from China to the Roman Empire through north Afghanistan at Iran. But the establishment of the Parthian rule in Iran and the neighbouring are created difficulties.                                            
  • Therefore silk had to be diverted to the western Indian ports through the north-west part of the subcontinent.                               
  • Sometimes it also found its way from China to India via the east coast of India.
  • From there was considerable transit trade in silk between India and the Roman empire.
  • The Romans exported to India wine, wine-amphorae and various other types of pottery.
  • Roman writer Pliny, who wrote his account called Natural History in Latin in A.D. 77, believed that Rome was being drained of gold on account of her trade with India.
  • Since the Westerners were very much fond of Indian pepper, it is called yavanpriyai                                
  • The concept of the balance of trade may not have been known to the people.
  • But numerous finds of Roman coins and pottery in the peninsula leave no doubt that India was a gainer in its trade with the Roman Empire.               
  • The loss of Roman money was felt so much that eventually steps had to be taken Rome to ban its trade with India in pepper and steel goods.
  • Although Roman traders resided in south India, there is little evidence for Indians residing in the Roman empire.


The Malabar Coast (present-day Kerala)

  • Here is an excerpt from Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, composed by an anonymous Greek sailor (c. first century CE):- 'They (i.e. traders from abroad) send large ship to these market-towns on account of the great quantity and bulk of pepper and malabathrum (possibly cinnamon, produced in these regions). There are imported here, in the first place, a great quantity of coin; topaz ... antimony (a mineral use as a colouring substance), coral, crude glass, copper, tin, lead ... There is export pepper, which is produced in quantity in only one region near these markets Besides this there are exported great quantities of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth, transparent stones of all kinds, diamonds and sapphires, and tortoise shell.""
  • Archaeological evidence of a bead-making industry, using precious and semi-precious stones, has been found in Kodumanal (Tamil Nadu).
  • It is likely that local traders brought the stones mentioned in the Periplus from site such as these to the coastal ports.
  • Periplus - It is a Greek word meaning sailing around.
  • Erythraean - It was the Greek name for the Red Sea.

Money Economy


  • In the north the Indo-Greek rulers issued a few gold coins.
  • But the Kushans issued gold coins in considerable numbers.
  • The Andhras issued a large number of lead or potin coins in the Deccan.
  • The Kushans issued the largest number of copper coins in north-west India.
  • Perhaps in no other period had money economy penetrated so deeply into the life of the common people of the towns and their suburbs as during this period.
  • This development fits well with the growth of arts and crafts and the country's thriving trade with the Roman Empire.


Urban Settlements


  • The growing crafts and commerce and the increasing use of money promoted the prosperity of numerous towns during this period.
  • The material remains ascribable to the Kushan phase display urbanization at its peak.
  • The most important town was Ujjain, because of its being the nodal point of two routes, one from Kaushambi and the other from Mathura.
  • But it was also important because of its exports of agate and camelian stones.
  • Towns thrived in the Satavahana kingdom during the same period as they did under the Shakas and Kushans.
  • Tagar (Ter), Paithan, Dhanyakataka, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Broach, Sopara, Arikamedu and Kaveripattanam were prosperous towns in the Satavahana period.
  • Towns prospered in the Kushan and Satavahana empires because they carried on thriving trade with the Roman Empire.
  • The country traded with eastern part of the Roman Empire as well as with Central Asia.
  • Towns in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh thrived because the centre of Kushan power lay in north-western India.
  • Most Kushan towns in India lay exactly on the north-western or uttarapatha route passing from Mathura to Taxila. The Kushan empire ensured security on the routes.
  • Its end in the third century A.D. dealt a great blow to these towns. The same thing seems to have happened in the Deccan.
  • With the ban on trade with India imposed by the Roman empire in the third century A.D. towns could not support the artisans and merchants who lived there.
  • Archaeological excavations in the Deccan also suggest decline in the urban settlements after the Satavahana phase.

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