Write an essay on the types of trade in peninsular India.
Different geographical regions had products which were specific to them. They
lacked in some others. Hence, exchange between regions existed from a very
early time in the historical period. For instance, the agricultural tracts produced
food-grains and sugarcane but had to depend on coastal areas for salt and fish.
The coastal areas produced considerable salt and fish but rice, the staple food,
had to be brought from areas of paddy cultivation. The hill ranges were rich in
timber, spices etc. but they had to depend on agricultural tracts and coastal areas
for food grains and salt. Thus, local and very often long-distance over land and
over seas trade networks developed.
Barter was the most common mode of transaction in the context of local trade.
Most of the items of barter were for immediate consumption. Salt, paddy, fish,
dairy products, roots, venison, honey and toddy were regular items of barter in
the far south. Very rarely, luxury items like pearls and elephant tusks also appeared
as items of barter. Exchange rate was not fixed. Petty bargaining was the only
method of fixing the price of articles. Paddy and salt were the only two items for
which a set exchange rate was known in barter system of the far south. The
exchange was not profit oriented.
Extensive network of over-land trade routes inside the subcontinent facilitated
the movement of merchants and traders. Four major routes and their ancillary
shorter routes throughout India were in existence. A route began from Pratisthana
or Paithan, the Satavahana capital, and it continued through Tagara, Nasik,
Setavya, Banasabhaya, Ujjayini and Sanchi to the mid-Ganga valley. It finally
reached Shravasti, the capital of Kosala in north. Another route ran from Champa,
the capital of Anga kingdom (Bhagalpur region) to west and north-west towards
Pushkalavati in the kingdom of Gandhara. This route finds mention in the context
of the forest exile of Rama in Ramayana. A third route began from Pataliputra in
east and it reached Patala in the Indus delta. The Periplus refers to a land route
connecting Bhrigukachha, the famous port of the west coast with Kabul. The
route ran from Kabul through Puskalavati, Taxila, Punjab and Gangetic valley,
crossing Malava till Bhrigukachha. The Buddhist sources refer to a route which
ran from the Ganga valley to Godavari valley. This was known as Dakshinapatha.
Kautilya, the author of Arthashastra mentions the articles which the southern
territories traded in, which included conch-shells, diamonds, pearls, precious
stones and gold. Good varieties of textiles also moved between north and south.
Northern Black Polished ware, a deluxe urban pottery also found its way to the
extreme south from north India. The remains of this pottery have been found
from the territory of Pandyas. Items like herbs and spices which included
spikenard and malabathrum (herb used in the preparation of ointment) were
shipped to the west. The large number of punch-marked coins that have been
recovered from different part of south India bear testimony to the brisk trade
between the north and south
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The benefit of long-distance overland trade was mostly in luxury goods and was
enjoyed by ruling elites. Regular trade links between Asia and Europe were
established in the 2nd century BCE. The major participants in this trade were the
Roman empire in West and the Han empire in China in East. The expansion of
the Roman Empire and the emergence of a powerful line of rulers led to the
growing demand for luxury items in the Roman empire as well as in the West
Asiatic countries. Silk was in high demand in West and it was produced only in
China. This silk reached West Asia through a long journey through the Central
Asian Taklamakan desert, the Pamir plateau and Iran. From there it reached the
hands of Roman elites. Although other items were also transported through this
road, silk being most precious and in demand, the road was known as the Silk
Road in history.
Silk Road, however, was a lengthy route and traders had to pass through various
hazards. This naturally resulted in the high price of articles transported by traders
through this route. Here the rulers of Iran acted as mediators and levied heavy
tolls and custom duties on this trade. There was considerable animosity towards
them among the Romans as their intervention resulted in very high prices of silk
and other products. With the rise of Kushanas in the early centuries of the Common
Era, this role came to be assumed by them. The resultant trade and urbanization
proved very profitable for all players.
The Romans brought raw materials like copper, tin, lead, coral, topaz, flint, glass
(for making beads) and finished products like best quality of wine, clothes of
fine texture, fine ornaments, gold and silver coins and different kinds of excellent
pottery. They carried back with them spices and medicinal herbs like pepper,
spikenard, malabathrum, cinnabar; precious and semi-precious stones such as
beryl, agate, carnelian, jasper, onyx, as well as shells, pearls and tusks; timber
items like ebony, teak, sandalwood, bamboo; textiles items of coloured cloth
and muslin as well as dyes like indigo and lac. The Romans paid for Indian
articles in gold. South India had commercial connections with Sri Lanka and
Southeast Asia. Spices, camphor and sandalwood were the main items that were