Ancient Indian trade

December 2, 2017 0 Comment

Human is an animal in biological terms. He needs items to satiate his needs, wants and desires. Since time immemorial, he has indulged in trade and commerce activities. He does this to procure goods and services for his own benefits. Back then, when they didn’t have coins to trade; they exchanged commodities of use with one another.

This was known as the Barter system. But this system of exchanging goods is not possible. It is not feasible in modern day economy. Because now human beings need much more than just food and water for survival. Barter system had a lot of problems associated with it.

Some of them were: – lack of double coincidence of wants, lack of common measure of value, and lack of store of value. Most of all this system did not facilitate a common medium of exchange. The good and services were sold haphazardly without measuring their value.  

But this economy did not sustain long. Barter system was not feasible and this was realized by civilizations that came ahead. Humans, especially people in India sustained primarily on agriculture. It was in India that many crops were grown for the first time.

And then their cultivation spread to other parts of the world. But we traded the crops with clothes, animals with gold and many such absurd transactions took place. This was the anomaly of barter system. It allowed the exchange of things which were not of same value.

The development of trade and commerce is associated with the development of cities. It began with clustering of people together. Eventually, the population grew and transferred into a town and then a city. Cities became a hub of promotion of trade and commerce. They also became a place of exchange of cultures, traditions and values. 

It was the development of cities in Indus Valley Civilization and Mesopotamia which realized the need of common medium of exchange. They introduced coins into their economy to ease trade. The Harappan civilization is famous, the world over as a major center of commerce and trade activities. The introduction of coins was a major buck through in the trade and commerce industry.

They led a guidance path for all to walk on. Seals and coins of gold and bronze have been recovered from their sites like Dholavira, Lothal and Mohenjo-Daro also. People traded items like clothes, silk, cotton, spices, agricultural and cash crops also.

Muslin, the fine cotton cloth was in demand in Europe and other western countries. We exported Muslin and raw silk via European sea route. Merchants in India accepted payments via gold only. This led to a boon in our trade and economy.

It was the beginning of setting up of a computer modern economy. We witness a shift from the traditional, simple economy to a more modern and random economy. It was computer but self-organizing in its own ways. It was the beginning of the markets we see around us today.

Eventually, the economy kept on developing. Many explorers like Maracopolo, Christopher Columbus, and Vasco De-Gama opened new avenues for foreign trade for our merchants.

New and shorter sea routes were found. The design, technology and material used to build ships had been improved by then. Trade eventually picked up pace. The high prices attracted merchants to sell their goods in foreign lands. They wanted high profits so they could not resist themselves.

King Ashoka was a great patron of art, culture, trade and tradition. He promoted activities of commerce voraciously. He was a ferocious commander but when he witnessed the bloody battle of Kalinga, his heart was filled with remorse. He realized that war would do him and his people no good.

He changed for the better and focused more on the welfare of his subjects; he undertook a massive construction project to have his mark on the world. But it is said that he did this to provide employment to the people in his kingdom. Also, foreign traders were attracted to king Ashoka’s territory for its riches and prosperity. They wanted to maintain good relations with him for their own benefit.

Also a common economic system was brought into place. It supported stable agriculture in its vast landholdings. Also, a centralized system of tax was implemented. Under this system, the tax was revised and updated from time to time, taking all the factors like climate, quality of land, crop etc. into mind.

The rulers of the empire were bound together which was a previously scattered region. The system of taxation was operated under the rules of Arthashastra. Arthashastra is an ancient treatise on economic policy. It translates to the word ‘economy’ in English, as we know it now.  

Ashoka also got a lot of infrastructure maintained in his kingdom. The public works ranged from roads, trees, sheds for travelers, schools, hospitals, canals etc. The political unity and stability of military that was maintained under the Maurayan rule pushed for a uniform economic system, increased productivity of goods, agricultural products and services. This enhanced the trade and commerce in west and south Asia.  


The modern economy that we witness today is a development and improvement of the ancient economy. The ancient trade was dependent on many factors but today, the factors have scaled down to a much less amount.

The complete world has become a global economy today. This has provided a level of ease and comforts for transactions that take place across the borders. But trade back then was not that easy and was filled with difficulties.  

The difference in pricing of order and delivery time uncertainty of quality of goods, receiving soiled goods during the sea voyage were just some factors which become a hurdle in trade back then. 

Nut even back then, keeping in mind the technological and intellectual advancement, we can say that our ancestors did a good job in organizing the market.

Obviously everything has flaws at first but over time they are overcome. And a system of organization of randomness of economy came into place; all thanks to the roots from where our trade originated.  


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