What did the Romans think of ancient India?

By Sunil Kumar

My Quora Answers continued;

The Romans had extensive trade with ancient India. Secondly; the presence of Romans in the Indian Subcontinent and the relations between these regions during the period of the Roman Empire are poorly documented compared to other cultures in the Near East(most of the Mediterranean; as they were closer to Rome and modern-day Italy).

Regarding this; a conversation I had with Mary Beard; noted scholar on the Romans; she mentioned these facts; “A considerable degree of trade. Loads of Roman coins found in India, piles of pepper in the ports of the Red sea.

India appears on the ancient Roman ‘map’ called the peutinger table”.

Also Sanjeev Sanyal mentions in many of his books and lectures about Muziris; an ancient port in present-day Kerala which had a lot of trade with the Roman Empire; the Phoenicians; the Persians and the Egyptians.

Important known commodities exported from Muziris were spices (such as black pepper and malabathron), semi-precious stones (such as beryl), pearls, diamonds, sapphires, ivory, Chinese silk, Gangetic spikenard and tortoise shells.

The Romans brought money (in gold coins), peridots, thin clothing, figured linens, multicoloured textiles, sulfide of antimony, copper, tin, lead, coral, raw glass, wine, realgar and orpiment. Locations of unearthed coin-hoards suggest an inland trade link from Muziris via the Palghat Gap and along the Kaveri Valley to the east coast of India.

In fact there was such a drain of gold to India from the Roman Empire that Roman senators complained that their women used too many Indian spices and luxuries, which drained the Roman Empire of precious metal. Pliny the Elder, in 77 CE, called India “the sink of the world’s gold!” .

This fact sourced from : All the world’s gold

The ancient version of protectionism was also imposed by the Roman Emperor Vespasian who decided that he was going to introduce some sort of a ban on trade with India and tried very hard initially. The problem was of course both the Indians and the Jews, very quickly figured out various smuggling routes and that whole thing failed. Indian kingdoms were running a current-account surplus in modern terms; and the only foreign items imported were wine and women. The Romans even had a discussion to make the Indians more interested in their goods.

Source: Sanjeev Sanyal: The Forgotten History of India’s Maritime Past (Transcript Part-2)

Even noted queen Greco-Roman Cleopatra knew about the legendary riches and exoticness of India; and when she was being hunted by Augustus attempted to send her son Ceasarion to the subcontinent.

Indians were already recognized as efficient traders and there are records of scholars and pundits in Alexandria; Rome and Greece. So; in conclusion the Roman Empire was aware of and had significant trade with India; even as it was busy fortifying its own position with constant conflicts in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

This entry was posted in Books, Culture, History, Languages, Literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *