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Roman Trade in India: Numismatic Evidence

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Pliny the Elder complained about the drain of specie (money in coin) to India:

India, China and the Arabian peninsula take one hundred million sesterces from our empire per annum at a conservative estimate: that is what our luxuries and women cost us. For what fraction of these imports is intended for sacrifices to the gods or the spirits of the dead?

— Pliny, Historia Naturae 12.41.84.

 

I've recently enjoyed reading the book by Raoul McLaughlin "The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean."

I was impressed by the amount interaction between Romans and residents living in the India region. "These contacts brought Roman merchant ships into the Bay of Bengal and along trade routes that led to Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and ultimately the Han Empire of ancient China." Greek geographer Strabo (64 BCE - 24 AD) reports that after the Romans gained control of Egypt and her ports, the number of ships sailing from Egypt to India yearly increased from less than 20 to at least 120 vessels.

I was surprised, for example, by the number of Roman coin hoards in India, as well as the size of the Kottayam hoard found in southern India:

India.png.f363c6544a763ad725225900a8d90b46.png

 

 

Professor Raoul McLaughlin states that there was a 25% tax (known as the tetarte) on imports. These imports included spices (especially pepper, cinnamon, ginger), ivory, incense, and gems (such as pearls and rubies) imported from India. These would enter the Empire through Alexandria. These same items would be taxed again when they left Alexandria for Rome and other Mediterranean cities. The tax revenues helped to fund the prosperity of Rome, including the Roman military and civilian programs. Professor McLaughlin states that this tax revenue from India and the East may have funded 25-30% of the entire Roman budget.

I am not certain about the extent of funding these taxes provided, but I am convinced that the amount of trade between these two regions is far greater than I ever imagined.

 

 

Below is an interesting India perspective on ancient Roman-India interactions and the numismatic evidence.

 

 

Professor McLaughlin's book may be controversial, but it is certainly thought-provoking. 

I am looking forward to reading McLauglin's book "The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China."

 

It is always good to have our previous notions about ancient Roman challenged.

 

 

guy also known as gaius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by guy

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A recent video on the subject by Professor McLaughlin:

 

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Thank you for the article and reference to The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean.   It is really interesting putting Roman trade into the Indian Ocean context.  On a recent visit to Sri Lanka at the museum located below Sigriya I was also surprised and interested to find Roman coins on display with some explanation of the Indian Ocean trade routes and hoards:

 

"Large hoards of copper or bronze Roman coins and contemporary Indo-roman imitations have been found at many places in Lanka with a large hoard being found in 1987 at Sigiriya. The coins are always very worn indicating a wide and constant circulation and the roman coins are usually third century and later in age. These hoards suggest that the roman and indo-roman coinage was probably used as small change long after the minting date of the coins themselves. Occasional gold trade coins from Rome are also found in Taprobane, like a Byzantine Roman solidus of Heraclius and Heraclius Constantine (610-641 AD). "

 

http://researchomnia.blogspot.com/2016/09/roman-commerce-with-ceylon-surrounding.html

 

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Thank you for reading my post.

I always was skeptical about Roman trade with India and beyond, but the evidence is too strong to ignore. Even if there wasn't the extensive and routine trade described by Professor McLaughlin, there was at least intermittent trade and commerce.

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Another interesting video on the Roman-Romano-Egyptian-Indian trade route:

 

 

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archives_de_Nicanor

 

 

guy also known as gaius

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