Ancient Rome and India

Relations between Ancient Rome and India

Rome traded with India via Persia and Anatolia. Overland caravans were mainly used for trading spices and incense. Another route for trading via the Red Sea was later used after Augustus conquered Egypt during the period 30BCE and around the initial period of the CE – Common Era. It is in the records that a lot of gold and silver was traded for silk by politicians from Rome to pamper their wives.

Indian Regions Explored For Trade

The southern region of India besides Sri Lanka was most visited by traders from Greece and Rome. Trade was secured in a number of states in Tamil Nadu including Chera, Pandyan and Chola dynasties. Trading settlements were established in the ancient Tamil regions by the Roman-Greco world from the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty. This was before the beginning of the CE and trade continued to remain till the time the Western Roman Empire fell. The Ptolemaic and the Seleucid dynasties controlled networks of trade to India before Roman Egypt was established. A developed Indian trade network which was under the Parthian Empire influence was controlled by the Seleucid dynasty. The northern and western end of other routes for trading to India and Southern Arabia was controlled by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty.

How Romans Took Over Indian Trade

Before the Romans got involved in trade with India, Greece had started exploiting opportunities for trade. During this time however, the volume of commerce between Greece and India could not be compared with trade between Rome and India. Direct sailings were not involved with trade over sea between Egypt and India, as mentioned by historians. Cargo was shipped to Aden. Aden benefitted since ships coming from Egypt or India wouldn’t go any further but up to Aden only and hence kept receiving cargoes from both the nations. When Roman Egypt was established, the Romans took over the trade and developed trade that had already existed by using the Red Sea Ports which the Ptolemaic dynasty had been using for developing trade with India.

Development Of Trading System With India

A strong trading system over the sea was established by India with other countries much before the Roman expansion. Ports in India increased till the Red Sea was opened by the Greeks and Romans. They had the all the geographical knowledge related to the seasonal monsoons prevalent in India. During the Common Eras’ first two centuries, the trade between Rome and Western India increased. Trade expanded due to the establishment of comparative peace during the time of Augustus in the Roman Empire. This allowed explorations of new kinds. Ancient literature and artifacts indicate with evidence that the commercial relationship had been quite significant between Rome and Western India.

In foreign literature too there has been frequent mention of India’s western coast known for its rocky sea beds, turbulent waves and severe currents in the sea. For preventing shipwrecks, many of the ships had made an attempt to sail outside the coast, however a lot of these ships got drawn towards the inside area of the gulf region. Those without much experience of the sea found making departure and entry of ships, rather dangerous due to this difficulty. Ship anchors would get cut off due to waves, ships would overturn causing a wreck ultimately.

Bet Dwarka an Important Place for Trading

Near the Gulf of Kachchh, at an island, Bet Dwarka, some of the stone anchors have been observed. This discovery is a good indicator about the Indo – Roman commerce and trade that took place during the early years of the Common Era. Bet Dwarka Island did not have favourable conditions, but despite this it indicates that it was important place for trading.

What Did Rome And India Trade In

It has been seen that right from Latin literature, serpents, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros from India were imported for use in circus show. In Rome circus shows were organized to prevent riots. A lot of sugar, herbs, sesame oil, spices, lyceum and pepper were imported by Rome. Pearls from India were a favourite amongst women in Rome. To colour white cloth, indigo was imported. For making furniture, ebony wood was also imported by the Roman Empire. To make medicine, different kinds of fruits including peach and Indian limes were also exported to Rome by India. During this time Roman gold in large amounts was received by Western India, in Indo-Roman trade.

Ship Building Development

Since the ships had to sail against western India’s narrow gulf, large boats of special kinds were used and demand for development of ships were made. Foreign vessels were guided towards safety to the harbour by cotymba and trappaga, which are very large types of ships. These ships had the capacity for long cruises along the coast. This kind of ship has been depicted in a number of seals in which parallel bands representing the ship’s beams, and single mast in the centre with a tripod shaped base are seen.

A number of Roman coins have also been discovered in explorations made in the recent times. Ship building development and close relations in trade have been well depicted on the Roman coins. The coins also indicate that during the first and second century, sea trade between India and Rome was quite stable. During Augustus’s time, land routes were mainly used so that the Indian embassies could reach Rome.

The Roman Ports

Myos Hormos, Berenice and Arsinoe were the main three ports that were involved with eastern trade. One of the earliest centres for trading was Arsinoe. However Berenice and Myos Hormos were easily accessible and hence they overshadowed Arsinoe quite soon. The present day Suez is basically Arsinoe. Goods received from trade with East Africa would end at any of the three ports. To divert trade as much as possible to Rome, the Romans took the effort to repair and clear out the silt from the canals along the Nile.

Demise Of Trade Between India And Rome

Demise of Indo-Roman trade however took place during the third century. The sea route between India and Rome got shut down. As a result of this, trade got reverted to the time period before the exploration and expansion of the Roman Empire. Roman trade was replaced by trade with Greece. It was due to the monsoons that trade got manipulated.

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