CHAPTER-23 : Crafts, Commerce, and Urban Growth (200 BC–AD 250)

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 


Crafts and Craftsmen in Ancient India

Variety of Crafts:

  • Pre-Mauryan Era (Digha Nikaya):Nearly 20 occupations mentioned.
  • Maurya Era (Mahavastu):36 crafts identified in Rajgir.
  • Later Texts:
    • Milinda Panho: 75 occupations, 60 related to crafts.
    • The Garland of Madurai (Tamil text): Provides additional details.

Craft Centers and Products:

  • Telangana Region (Andhra):
    • Weapons, tools (balance rods, axes, hoes, sickles, ploughshares), razors, ladles.
  • Iron and Steel:Exported to Africa, known for high quality.
  • Textiles:
    • Mathura – center for “shataka” cloth.
    • South India – dyeing industry (vats found in Uraiyur and Arikamedu).
  • Luxury Goods:
    • Indian ivory found in Afghanistan and Rome (similar to Satavahana sites).
  • Glassware:
    • Roman glass found in Taxila and Afghanistan.
    • Glass-blowing knowledge arrived around the Christian era.

Merchants and Trade in Ancient India

Types of Merchants:

  • The Garland of Madurai:Describes bustling marketplaces and importance of shopkeepers (apana).
  • Guilds (Sreni, Ayatana):Organized artisans and merchants (details unclear from texts).
  • Merchant Hierarchy:
    • Sresthi: Chief merchant of a city (nigama).
    • Sarthavaha: Leader of merchant corporations (vanijgrama).
    • Vanija: Various petty merchants.
    • Agrivanija: Possibly predecessors of Agrawals (meaning unclear).

Trade Routes and Centers:

  • Parthians:Obstructed India’s trade west of Iran despite importing iron and steel.
  • Monsoon knowledge (around 1st century AD):Enabled direct sailing from east to west coasts of Arabian Sea, reaching ports like Broach, Sopara (west), Arikamedu, Tamralipti (east).
  • Shakas & Kushans (North-West Trade):
    • Two routes converged at Taxila, connected to Silk Route.
    • 1st Route: Taxila – Lower Indus – Broach (direct north-south).
    • 2nd Route (Uttarapatha): More frequent.
      • Taxila – Punjab – Yamuna riverbank.
      • Yamuna – Mathura – Ujjain (Malwa) – Broach.
      • Ujjain connected to another route starting from Kaushambi (near Allahabad).

Imports and Exports in Ancient India

Roman Imports from India:

  • Spices (south India)
  • Muslin
  • Pearls, jewels, precious stones (central/south India)
  • Iron goods (especially cutlery)

Luxury Goods:

  • Pearls, ivory, precious stones, animals

Other Imports:

  • Kitchenware (possible)
  • Cutlery (for upper class)
  • Silk (indirectly from China via Central Asia)

Roman Exports to India:

  • Wine
  • Wine amphorae
  • Pottery (found in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu)
  • Lead (for coins)

Other Finds:

  • Begram (Afghanistan): Glass jars, bowls, bronze stands, weights (Western origin)
  • Taxila (Pakistan): Graeco-Roman sculptures, silver ornaments, Roman coins

Note: Arretine pottery (Roman) not found in central/western India or Afghanistan.

Chinese Exports to India (via Silk Route):

  • Silk

Indian Exports to Southeast Asia (via Roman Empire):

  • Unclear

Money and Urban Growth in Ancient India

Money (5th century BC onwards):

  • Gold tribute paid to Iran (possibly from Sindh mines).
  • Kushans:
    • Gold dinar coins (became abundant under Guptas).
    • Most copper coins in north/northwest India.
  • Other dynasties using copper/bronze coins:
    • Nagas (central India)
    • Yaudheyas (eastern Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, UP)
    • Mitras (Kaushambi, Mathura, Avanti, Ahichchhatra)
  • Peak coinage period: 200 BC – 300 AD (Indian, Central Asian rulers, cities, tribes).

Urban Growth:

  • North Indian Towns:
    • Mentioned in literature and by Chinese pilgrims (Vaishali, Pataliputra, Varanasi, Kaushambi, Shravasti, Hastinapur, Mathura, Indraprastha).
    • Flourished during Kushan period (1st-2nd century AD).
    • Superior Kushan constructions found in excavations (Bihar, UP, Rajasthan).
    • Examples: Chirand, Panr, Sonpur, Buxar (Bihar), Khairadih, Mason (eastern UP), Sohgaura, Bhita, Kaushambi, Shringaverapur, Atranjikhera (UP), Rangmahal (Rajasthan).
    • Sachnan Kot (UP): Largest Kushan town found so far (9 sq. km).
    • Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Ropar (Punjab), Haryana sites: Show quality Kushan constructions (often reused by Guptas).
  • Ujjain:Major trade center due to its location (routes from Kaushambi, Mathura) and agate/carnelian exports.
  • South Indian Towns (Satavahana Kingdom):
    • Flourished alongside Shaka and Kushan kingdoms.
    • Examples: Tagar, Paithan, Dhanyakataka, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Broach, Sopara, Arikamedu, Kaveripattanam.

Connection between Urban Growth and Trade Routes:

  • Towns in Punjab and western UP thrived due to the Kushan power center in the northwest.
  • Many Kushan towns lay on the Uttarapatha route (Mathura – Taxila).

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