Post-Mauryan Age - Crafts, Trade & Towns [Ancient History Notes]

After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, many other smaller states emerged in India, some of which are the  Sungas, the Kanvas, the Satavahanas, etc. It is an important period in the ancient history of India and in hence, important for the UPSC exam. In this article, you can read all about the crafts, trade and towns in Post-Mauryan India.

To know everything about the Mauryan Empire, click on the linked article.

Post-Mauryan Age – Crafts, Trade & Towns:- Download PDF Here

Post-Mauryan Age – Crafts

The age of the Sakas, the Satavahanas and the Kushanas (200 BCE – 200 CE) and the first Tamil states was the most flourishing period in the history of commerce and crafts in ancient India.

  • The Digha-Nikaya, which belongs to the pre-Mauryan times, mentions almost 24 occupations whereas the Mahavastu, a text belonging to this period, catalogues 3 dozen different types of workers living in Rajgir town.
  • The Milinda Panho (the questions of Milinda) mentions about 75 occupations, out of which 60 are connected with various kinds of crafts.
  • Craftsmen are largely associated with towns in literary texts, but some excavations show that they lived in villages as well.
  • The field of mining and metallurgy made great advancements and specializations, as many as eight crafts were associated with the working of gold, lead, silver, tin, brass, copper, iron, jewels and precious stones.
    • The technological progress in iron manufacturing is clear from the excavations of specialized iron artefacts from the Nalgonda and Karimnagar districts of Telangana.
    • Iron and steel products from India like cutlery were exported to Abyssinian ports and were regarded higly in western Asia.
  • The inscriptions of this period mention goldsmith, weavers, dyers, jewellers, workers in metal and ivory, sculptors, smiths, fishermen and perfumers, suggesting that these crafts were thriving.
    • Mathura and Vanga (Eastern Bengal) were famous for varieties of silk and cotton textiles, with the former being known for a special kind of cloth known as Shataka.
    • The excavations of dyeing vat at Uraiyur (Tamil Nadu) and at Arikamedu suggest that dyeing was a flourishing art in these areas in this age.
    • Ujjain was an important bead making centre. The ivory products, glass objects and beads of precious and semi-precious stones were articles of luxury.
    • Coin minting was a major craft and coins were made of gold, copper, silver, lead, potin and bronze. The craftsmen even made fake coins.
  • Gorgeous pieces of terracotta have been found in almost all Satavahana and Kushana sites, especially Yelleshwaram in the Nalgonda district. It is generally accepted that terracotta was chiefly utilised by people of the upper classes in towns. There are innumerable inscriptions that talk about donations given by prosperous artisans to the monasteries.

Merchant Guilds

  • The merchants communities were organised in groups called “shreni” or guild under the head – Shreshthi.
  • Mobile or caravan trading corporations of inter-regional traders formed another type of mercantile group called “sartha” with its leader called “sarthavaha”.
  • Almost all craft occupations were also organised into guilds, under a head called “jetthaka/pamukkha”.
  • The guilds were associations of merchants & craftsmen, in the same profession or dealing in the same commodity.
  • Each guild had its heads and followed its own rules with respect to quality and prices in order to regulate their business on the basis of mutual goodwill.
  • These guilds also served as banks and kept public deposits from the public on fixed interest rates.
  • On the basis of information from different texts, it can be inferred that artisans were organised into at least 24 guilds.
  • Most of the artisans were limited to the Mathura region and western Deccan (areas that were on the trade routes that led to the western coastal ports).
  • The Yajnavalkya Smriti talks about the qualifications and powers of the head of the guilds. According to the text, the guilds also probably had a judicial role.
  • According to Buddhist texts, the heads of the guilds had a good rapport with the king and used to accompany the king as part of the official entourage and sometimes were even appointed as Mahamattas.
  • In Nigrodha Jataka, it is mentioned that certain officials called “bhandagarika” were designated to maintain a record of the conventions and transactions of the guilds.
  • Some guilds even issued coins and seals which reflect the importance of guilds of this period.
    • Some seals with the captions nigama, nigamasya have been found at the site of Rajghat, seals with the legend of Gavayaka (signifying milkmen’s guild), Bhita (seals with the legend of Shulaphalayikanam, signifying guild of arrowhead makers) and Ahichchhatra (seals with the legend of Kumhakara, signifying pottery makers’ guild).

Post-Mauryan Age – Trade

One of the most salient aspects of the post-Mauryan period was the growth of internal and external trade and commerce.

  • There were two major internal land routes in ancient India:
    • Uttarapatha: Connected eastern and northern parts of India with the north-western areas, and
    • Dakshinapatha: Connected peninsular India with northern and western parts of India.
  • The Uttarapatha was in more frequent use.
  • From Taxila, it passed via Punjab up to the western coast of the Yamuna, following the western coast of Yamuna it went southwards to Mathura.
  • From Mathura, it passed on to Ujjain in Malwa and from Ujjain to Broach on the western coast.
  • The Broach port seems to be the most important and flourishing amongst the other ports, as the goods produced in the Shaka, the Kushana and the Satavahana kingdoms were brought to it for export.
  • There was flourishing trade between India and Rome.
  • In addition to the articles directly supplied by India to the Roman empire, certain items were brought from China and Central Asia to India and then sent to the eastern part of the Roman empire. For instance, silk was directly sent from China to the Roman empire through the famous silk route passing through northern Afghanistan and Iran. After the annexation of Iran by Parthians, silk was diverted to the western Indian ports through north-western part of the subcontinent and sometimes it was transported via the east coast to the west coast of India. Thus, a lot of transit trade was there in silk between India and Rome.

Post-Mauryan Age – Urban Settlements

Towns prospered in the Kushana and the Satavahana empires because of the growing trade with the Roman empire.

  • The country traded with the eastern part of the Roman empire as well as with Central Asia.
  • Towns in Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh thrived because the centre of the Kushana power lay in northwestern India. Most Kushana towns in India lay exactly on the northwestern or Uttarapatha route passing from Mathura to Taxila.
  • The excavations reveal that the urbanisation was at peak in the Kushana phase which is also applicable to the towns in the Shaka kingdom, of Malwa and western India.
  • The most important town was Ujjain because of it being the nodal point of two routes – one from Kaushambi and the other from Mathura.
  • The end of the Kushana empire in the 3rd century CE gave a huge blow to the towns.
  • Also, with the ban on trade with India imposed by the Roman empire from the 3rd century CE, towns could not support the artisans and merchants of the Deccan region.
  • Archaeological evidence also suggests a decline in the urban settlements after the Satavahana phase.

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