Crafts, Commerce, and Urban Growth (200 BC–AD 250)

Revision or Short Notes

Arora IAS


Crafts and Craftsmen

  • The Digha Nikaya, which relates to pre- Maurya times, mentions nearly two dozen occupations, but the Mahavastu, which relates to this period, catalogues thirty-six kinds of workers living in the town of Rajgir, and the list is not exhaustive.
  • The Milinda Panho or the Questions of Milinda enumerates as many as seventy-five occupations, sixty of which are connected with various crafts. A Tamil text known in English as The Garland of Madurai supplements the information supplied by the two Buddhist texts on crafts and craftsmen.
  • The Telangana region of Andhra seems to have been the richest in this respect, and in addition to weapons, balance rods, socketed axes and hoes, sickles, ploughshares, razors, and ladles have been discovered in the Karimnagar and Nalgonda districts of this region.
  • Indian iron and steel, including cutlery, were exported to the Abyssinian ports, and they enjoyed great prestige in western Asia.
  • 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.
  • A brick-built dyeing vat has been unearthed at Uraiyur, a suburb of Tiruchirapalli town in Tamil Nadu, and similar dyeing vats were excavated at Arikamedu. These structures relate to the first– third centuries when the handloom textile industry in these towns flourished.
  • Many products of crafts have been found as a result of digging in the Kushan complexes. Indian ivories have been found in Afghanistan and Rome. They are likened to ivory objects found in excavations at Satavahana sites in the Deccan.
  • Roman glass objects are found in Taxila and in Afghanistan, but it was around the beginning of the Christian era that the knowledge of glass-blowing reached India and attained its peak.

Types of Merchants

  • The Garland of Madurai calls the streets broad rivers of people who buy and sell in the market place. The importance of shopkeepers is indicated by the repetition of the term apana in the description of the city of Sakala.
  • Its shops appear as filled with various types of cloth made in Kashi, Kotumbara, and elsewhere. Many artisans and merchants were organized into guilds called sreni and ayatana, but how these organizations functioned is indicated neither in the Mahavastu nor in the Milinda-Panho.
  • The Buddhist texts mention the sresthi, who was the chief merchant of the nigama, and the sarthavaha, the caravan leader who was the head of the corporation of merchants (vanijgramo). It also speaks of nearly half a dozen petty merchants called vanija.
  • The term agrivanija seems to be obscure, but these merchants may have been the predecessors of the agrawala

Trade Routes and Centres

  • Although the Parthians of Iran imported iron and steel from India, they presented great obstacles to India’s trade with the lands further west of Iran. It seems that around the beginning of the Christian era, the monsoon was understood, and this enabled sailors to sail in much less time directly from the eastern coast of the Arabian Sea to the western coast, and easily call at the various ports along the route such as Broach and Sopara situated on the western coast of India, and Arikamedu and Tamralipti situated on the eastern coast.
  • The Shakas and the Kushans used two routes from the north-western frontier to the western sea coast. Both these routes converged at Taxila, and were connected with the Silk Route passing through Central Asia.
  • The first route directly ran from the north to the south, linking Taxila with the lower Indus basin from where it passed on to Broach. The second route, called the uttarapatha, was in more frequent use.
  • From Taxila it passed through modern Punjab up to the eastern bank of the Yamuna. Following the course of the Yamuna, it went southward to Mathura, from Mathura passing on to Ujjain in Malwa, and again from Ujjain to Broach on the western coast. Ujjain was the meeting point of another route which started from Kaushambi near Allahabad.

Goods in Foreign Trade

  • The Romans mainly imported spices for which south India was famous, and also 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.
  • Pearls, ivory, precious stones, and animals were considered luxuries, but plants and plant products served the basic religious, funerary, culinary, and medicinal needs of the people. Kitchenware may have been included in the items of import, and cutlery may have been important for the higher class of people.
  • In addition to the goods directly supplied by India, certain articles were brought to India from China and Central Asia and then passed on to the eastern part of the Roman empire.
  • Silk was directly sent from China to the Roman empire via the Silk Route passing through north Afghanistan and Iran. In return for the articles exported by India to the Roman empire, the Romans exported to India wine, wine-amphorae, and various other types of pottery which were discovered in excavations at Tamluk in West Bengal, Arikamedu near Pondicherry, and at several other sites in south India.
  • Sometimes Roman goods travelled as far as Guwahati. Lead, which was used for making coins by the Satavahanas, seems to have been imported from Rome in the form of coiled strips.
  • At Begram, 72 km north of Kabul, large glass jars made in Italy, Egypt, and Syria have been found. Also found there were bowls, bronze stands, steel yards, and weights of Western origin, small Graeco-Roman bronze statues, jugs, and other vessels made of alabaster.
  • Taxila, which is coterminous with the modern Sirkap in the North- West Frontier Province of Pakistan, has yielded fine examples of the Graeco- Roman sculpture in bronze. Silver ornaments, some bronze pots, one jar, and coins of the Roman emperor Tiberius were also found. However, Arretine pottery, which is regularly found in south India, appears neither in central or western India nor in Afghanistan.
    • The best-known of these are the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Fa Xian, who came to the subcontinent about 1600 years ago, Xuan Zang (who came around 1400 years ago) and I-Qing, who came about 50 years after Xuan Zang carried back with him statues of the Buddha made of gold, silver and sandalwood, and over 600 manuscripts loaded on the backs of 20 horses. Over 50 manuscripts were lost when the boat on which he was crossing the Indus capsised. [New NCERT CLASS-VI CHAPTER-10]

Money Economy

  • As early as the fifth century BC, India had paid a tribute of 320 talents of gold to the Iranian empire. This gold may have been extracted from the gold mines in Sindh.
  • The Kushans probably obtained gold from Central Asia, and may also have procured it either from Karnataka or from the gold mines of Dhalbhum in Jharkhand which later came under their sway. On account of the contact with Rome, the Kushans issued the dinar type of gold coins which became abundant under the Gupta rule.
  • The Kushans issued the largest number of copper coins in northern and north-western India. The Indo-Sassanians, the successors of the Kushans in lower Sindh, also issued many coins.
  • Copper and bronze coins were used in large quantities by the rulers of some indigenous dynasties such as the Nagas who ruled in central India, the Yaudheyas who ruled in eastern Rajasthan together with the adjacent areas of Haryana, Punjab, and UP, and by the Mitras who ruled in Kaushambi, Mathura, Avanti, and Ahichchhatra (Bareilly district in UP).
  • The period roughly between 200 BC and AD 300 evidences the largest number of coins, and these were issued not only by Indian and Central Asian rulers and but also by many cities and tribes.

Urban Growth

  • Important towns in north India, such as Vaishali, Pataliputra, Varanasi, Kaushambi, Shravasti, Hastinapur, Mathura, and Indraprastha (Purana Qila in New Delhi), are all mentioned in literary texts, and some of them are also described by the Chinese pilgrims.
  • Most of them flourished during the Kushan period in the first and second centuries. Excavations have revealed superior constructions of the Kushan age. Several sites in Bihar such as Chirand, Panr, Sonpur, and Buxar, and others in eastern UP such as Khairadih and Mason saw prosperous Kushan phases.
  • Similarly, in UP, towns such as Sohgaura, Bhita, Kaushambi, Shringaverapur, and Atranjikhera were prosperous. Rangmahal in Rajasthan, and many other sites in the western areas throve in Kushan times.
  • The excavations at Sonkh in Mathura reveal as many as seven levels of the Kushan phase, and only one of the Gupta phase. Current excavation shows Sachnan Kot, 50 km from Lucknow, to be the largest Kushan town in Northern India. It covers 9 sq. km and contains many brick houses and copper coins.
  • Again, sites in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, and Ropar, all located in Punjab, and several Haryana sites reveal the quality of Kushan constructions. In many instances, the Gupta period structures were poorly built and made of used Kushan bricks.
  • The most important town was Ujjain as the nodal point of two routes, one from Kaushambi and the other from Mathura. It was however also important because of its export of agate and carnelian stones. Excavations show that agate, jasper, and carnelian were worked on a large scale for the manufacture of beads after 200 BC.
  • Towns throve 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 western and south India, during the Satavahana period.
  • Towns in Punjab and western UP throve because the centre of Kushan power lay in north-western India. Most Kushan towns in India lay exactly on the northwestern or uttarapatha route passing from Mathura to Taxila.





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