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India has had a maritime history dating back to around 4,500 years, since the Indus Valley Civilization. The impetus to later re-develop maritime links was trade (primarily in cotton, pepper and other spices), due to the monopoly of the Persians and later the Arabs over land-based caravan routes. The later maritime journeys spread the influence of ancient and medieval Indian civilisation as far as the islands ofIndonesia to the east, the islands of Japan to the north, and the east coast of Africa to the west.

The Jatakas refer to eighteen important handicrafts and industries.

Proper rules of conduct of trade were laid by the head of trade guilds, known as Sarthavaha or Srenipramukha. The rules were called Samay and Srenidharma.

Taxila, Pushkalavati, Kapisa and Vidisha prospered as trade centres, under the Indo-Greek rulers.

Kautilya asked the king to develop measures to stop obstruction of the trade routes by his favourite men (vallabhas). Frontier guards (Antapalas) were also appointed.

Guilds of merchants were proper-ly registered and even served as banks.

Ships in ancient period were usually of the two-masted type. In the 2nd century A.D., a regular sea-route was in operation for the quest for gold (swarna).

Monsoons (Arabic: Mausam) were discovered by Hippalus (Greek captain) and this discovery in 45 A.D. that mon-soons could sail ships from Alexandria to Western India in just a 40-days period, tremendously increased the Roman sea-trade, due to shortening of trade-route.

Muziris (Cranganore, Kerala) and Puhar (in Cholamandalam) were major sea-ports and foreign settlements.


Muziris, as shown in the Tabula Peutingeriana.

Among land-routes, the silk-route was very often in use till Kushan period. Later period saw it becomming unsafe, due to robbers.

The Periplus of Erythrean Sea is a travellers handbook (Erythrean Sea, Red sea). It mentions more than 20 trade ports like: Barygaza (Broach), Suppara (Soparal), Kalliena (Kalyana), Muziris (Kerala), Soptama (Madras), Puhar (Tamilnadu), Masalia (Masulipatnam).

The important exports from India were: Fine textiles,Malabathrum (spicy leaves), muslins , pepper, ivory and many others.

Pepper was a very valuable export till 13th century A.D. Marco Polo (Italy) mentions that a ship was measured by the number of pepper baskets contained in it. Among spices, pepper always held the first place and was declared passion of the Yavanas (Romans).

In his plays, Kalidas potraits a good view of the town markets and trade transactions.

Roman emperor Aurelian declared Indian silk to be its worth in gold. Indians acted as intermediaries to the Chinese silk trade and the Western States.

The demand for Roman goods was smaller than that of Indian goods abroad and it suffered an adverse trade balance of trade. To make up this balance, the Romans supplied gold and silver coins to India. This ever-increasing drain of wealth was once complained by the emperor Tiberious (22 A.D.). The author Pliny also laments such losses.

The Kushanas remoulded the Roman coins so that they could be used as currency. Among imports, there were singing boys, virgins for the rulers harem, slaves and valuable corals (Mediterranean Red Variety), dates, Italian vases and wines, sweet clovers, glass, tin (Spain), emeralds, etc.

The Divyavadana refers to the science of testing gems. The merchants sons were trained in 64 Angavidyas or finearts, according to Vatsyayana.

Rome, the Chief importer of Indian muslin, once banned it, due to the rising loss of morals of its females.

India obtained brass, lead and gold from foreigners, whereas Indian iron and steel (saikya ayas) was very advanced in quality and was exported.

Charaksamhita (on Indian tradi-tional medicine and surgery) recommends the use of saikya ayas for operations.

Nasik cave inscription tells that srenis often acted as law providers also. (Sresthis, are now called as Seths, Settis in South India and also Chettiyars).

Rate of interest fluctuated greatly, but was usually near 15% (higher for loans for sea-trade). The common coins were: Nishka and Pala of Gold, Shatmana of silver, Kakini of copper and brass. The most common coin Karshapana was made of various metals.

Textiles formed a major industry in this period.

India imported horses from Arabia and Iran.

Ujjain was the most flourishing trade center in and around the Gupta period.

Right from ancient times till the establishment of the British Empire, India was famed for her fabulous wealth. Even during the medieval period, i.e. roughly from the 12th to the 16th centuries, the country was prosperous despite the frequent political upheavals.

Ancient South Indian Commerce(BY SRIMATI V. T. LAKSHMI)

There are ample sources of information, supplying authentic material for the construction of a short history of South Indian International commerce in ancient times; and they may be arranged under the usual following heads: (1) archaeological evidences, which include monuments, buildings and works of art; (2) inscriptional or epigraphic evidences; (3) linguistic or evidence of words, adduced by the similarity in origin and of sounds; (4) religious treatises; (5) purely literary works, containing hidden historical allusions and references; (6) coins or numismatic evidence; (7) traditions, as recorded in literature and in verbal circulation; (8) the recent ethnological researches of great value and importance; and (9) ancient and modern historical writings, consisting of almost all the accounts, left by foreigners and native historians.

All these original authorities for the early history of South India and her international commercial enterprises need a careful examination.

Let us take the archaeological evidence for scrutiny. A scientific examination of buildings, monuments and works of art throw much light upon the South Indian early commerce and her civilisation. The Obelisks of Shalmeneser III, bearing figures of Indian elephants and apes, proved ancient trade connections between India and Babylonia in or about 860 B.C. The temple of the moon at Mugheir (the "Ur of the Chaldees") and the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, belonging to the sixth century B.C. contain a number of pillars and beams, made of teak wood, a native product of India, and confirm that the trade in teak wood flourished between India and Barygaza and Euphrates, in the early days; and the tombs of Egypt reveal the presence of indigo, tamarind wood and such other products, and they un- mistakably speak of the earliest trace of South Indias commercial intercourse with Egypt.

As regards the inscriptional evidences, we should say that they form the most important and reliable source of our knowledge of the early commercial history of South India. In fact, the earliest trade relations between Assyria and India are revealed by the Cuneiform Inscriptions of the Hittite Kings of Mitani, in Cappadocia, belonging to the fifteenth or fourteenth century B.C. The Nimrud Inscriptions of the Assyrian King, Tiglath Pileser III, referring to the Indian exports of the day, like spices and clothing, as having been received in Assyria as tributes from a King, by name Yakim; and the Egyptian Inscriptions of the Queen Hatshepsust, recording the monarchs expedition to Punt and the booty of cinnamon wood are very important evidence relating to South Indian international connections with the rest of the world.

Next, we proceed to the linguistic source of information. Similarity or resemblance between various words, the names of commercial products, prevalent in different countries, to some extent, adduce proof of their ancient commercial relations for example, the Hebrew word "shen habbin" for ivory, a literal translation of the Sanskrit "ibha danta"; the Egyptian word "kafu" for ape, from the Sanskrit word "kapi"; the Balylonian word "sindu" for muslin, from the Dravidian word "sindhi"; the Indian word "sini" for sugar given to it, as it was imported from China.

While examining the next important species of evidence, religious treatises, we should divide and study them under three heads: Hindu, Buddhist and Christian sacred works. Taking first the Hindu treatises into consideration, we find that the Vedic Mantras contain many allusions to sea-voyages undertaken by Indians perhaps chiefly by South Indians. "Mahabharata" mentions Yudishtara of the Pancha Pandavas having received Chinese silk, as tribute, from China, in the second millennium B.C.; while the Buddhist "Jataka Stories" (e.g. Baberu Jataka) narrate Indian merchants, presumably South Indian merchants, having taken periodical voyages to the land of Babylon (Balylonis). Lastly, comes the Christian sacred literature: a reference to ebony, an Indian article of trade is found in "Ezekiel" XXVII. 13, having been a commodity in the trade of Tyre; a similar reference to cinnamon having become one of the ingredients of the sacred anointing oil of the Hebrew priests, in "Exodus" XXX and a specific mention in the Book of Genesis relating to the Indian merchants going to Egypt to trade doubtless establish South Indian commercial relations with Palestine and Egypt in the ancient times.

Proceeding to the ancient Indian literature, containing many historical facts and truths, as a significant source of information, we find that the classical Puranic literature of India, like "Tholkapyam," contain several allusions to the Roman settlements and their occupations under various Tamil kings. We have also numerous Egyptian records of the receipt of several articles like ivory in commerce and as tribute under the seventh dynasty 1580-1350 B.C.

Next, we may examine tradition as a very valuable source of information. Traditions, as recorded in Literature and as they are current in mere "verbal circulation" constitute, indeed, a chief supplier of some important historical information. The Queen Hatshepsusts expedition and Queen Shebas meeting with King Solomon and the fabulous tributes that the former gave the latter indicate an extensive trade between Egypt and India even in the tenth century B.C., and also the kinds of articles that Egypt and India exchanged in commerce.

As regards the ethnological sources from the face-type of the average Indian of today and a strong resemblance which exists between the ethnic type of the Sumerians marked strongly in their statues and to the Dravidian ethnic type of the average Indian, H. R. Hall concludes that a South Indian tribe should have migrated and settled in Sumeria. Likewise, there are other ethnological facts which throw much light upon ancient South Indian commerce with the rest of the progressive countries.

Lastly, we should examine the historical accounts left behind by several of the ancient and modern writers of history. The accounts of the ancient Greek writers like Herodotus, Homer. Aristophanes, and Sophocles, the great and valuable Chinese Annals, the diary of the German scholar, Buhler, the interesting writings of the Roman historians, Strabo and Pliny, and, last but not least, the modern historical; treatises of the celebrated English historians. H. R. Hall, Mommsen, Warmington, Sewell and Smith and a host of others all these give us practically true and valuable information regarding the ancient maritime and international relations that existed between ancient South India and the rest of the known and progressive world, as well as an account of the flourishing ports of South India.

It is a geographical fact that the coastal line of South India is not even, and so there must have been the possibility of the formation and establishment of many ports in the peninsular South India in ancient times. The great author of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, in his Guide-book to the Indian Ocean, writes about these South Indian ports. Among others, he mentions India, Musiri, and Comari (Cape Comorin). He also speaks of Colchi (Korkai), Camara, Poduka, Sopatma, Kodikkaraim, Negapatam, Nelkynda and Kaviri Paddinam. All these ports were in excellent and flourishing condition. Either they played the role of important stations of imports and exports or they served merely as calling stations. These ports were owned by one or other of three important Tamil Kings, Colchi or Korkai, whose pearl fisheries were carried on on a large scale, belonged to the Pandyan Kingdom. Camara, Poduka and Sopatma were "Sola" ports; Kodikkarai, Negapatam and Kavari Paddinam also belonged to the Cholas, while Musiri and Nelkynda were the ports of Chera Kings. These various South Indian ports, favourably situated as they were, facilitated South Indian trade with the rest of the world, in the pre-historic and later ages.

It must be remembered that as far back as in the fourth milliennium B. C., when the most civilised countries of today were steeped in darkness, South India was a flourishing country in civilisation and commerce. In fact, trade began in South India as a matter of necessity. "Her geographical features helped her to become a commercial country." Says a historian, that as a large part of the Tamil peninsular India is near the sea, the knowledge of easy sea-travels and the comparatively rich commercial animal, mineral and agricultural products of the same naturally tempted the inhabitants of the coastal districts, called "Baradavar" or sailors, to take to sea-travels and to contract commercial relations with other countries. We have reasons to believe that South Indian sailors sailed along, hugging the shores, up to Afghanistan and Persia, from very early times. Excessive travels, both by land and sea, in the very ancient times, could have made possible the colonisation of the Mesopotamian Valley by the South Indians by the Tamils which, according to a recent theory, gave birth to the ancient Sumerian civilisation of that region. H. R. Hall says: "The ethnic type of Sumerians, so strongly marked in their statues and reliefs, was as different from those of the races which surrounded them as was their language from those of the Semites, Aryans or others; they were decidedly Indian in type." The face type of the average Indian today is just the same as that of his Dravidian ancestors, years ago. And, according to H. R. Hall, "it is to this ethnic type of India that the ancient Sumerian bears most resemblance, so far as we can judge from his monuments."He was very much like a Southern Hindu of the Deccan." It is quite improbable that the Sumerians were an Indian tribe which migrated to the valley of the two rivers, through Persia, by land and perhaps by sea, as well. It recently was proved that in Baluchistan there exists a Dravidian population, "the Brahuis"; the Dravidian type is noted in Southern Persia; and perhaps, the non-Aryan people of ancient Persia were of the Dravidian race, who formed connection between Babylonia and India. The legends of Oannes-Man-fish swimming up the Persian Gulf to the earliest Sumerian cities, like Eridu, denote an early maritime relationship between Sumeria and India which was by then a civilised land. It would not be too much to presume that the Sumerian culture was developed in the Indian home. It was their writing that, later on, was adapted by Babylonia and it was the seeds of their culture that were afterwards left in Elam. Till the writings of Mohenjo Daro are definitely deciphered, nothing positive or more could be said about the South Indian trade with Sumeria.

If there was commercial intercourse between South India and Sumeria, there must have been greater intercourse between South India and Babylonia. By means of evidence. Sarce mentions two instances: in the first place, there were found in the ruins of Ur (Mugheir), pillars of Indian teak, probably South Indian teak; and it was a well-known fact that, in the fourth millennium B.C., Mugheir or Ur was the capital of the Sumerian Kings. Secondly, the word Sindhu or muslin shows a distinctly South Indian product that was to be found in an ancient Babylonian list of clothing. Mr. P. T. Sreenivasa Chary thinks that muslin should have been taken from the Tamil coast to Babylonia by sea. Passing on, we again hear of the South Indian trade with " Balyloni" in 606 B.C. during the period of the Babylonian Empire. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the great city of Babylon took the place of Nineveh as the centre of commerce and trade with Western India. In the crowded market of Babylonia met all the races of the world, including South Indians who went there to sell their wares. In the Baberu Jataka, Indian merchants, perhaps both South and North Indian merchants, took periodical voyages to the land of Babylon. The classical literature of South India is full of references to ships, shipping and distant voyages. There was soon established in that great town a colony of South Indian merchants, which continued to thrive till the seventh century A.D.

There is ample evidence that the trade of South India extended not only to the Mesopotamian valley, but also to Egypt in the third millennium B.C. "Thousands of years before the emergence of the Greeks from savagery.Egypt and the nations of Ancient India came into being, and a commercial system was developed for the interchange of products within those limits, having its centre of exchange near the head of the Persian Gulf.The growth of civilisation in India created an active merchant marine and trading to the Euphrates and Africa." (W. H. Schoff). The Arabs, who played the intermediaries, carried muslins and Indian spices from South Indian "Baradavars," who took those articles in their boats to Aden and the East African Coast, and carried them, in turn, to Thebes or Memphis, by sea or land. In the Book of Genesis there is mention of a company of traders with spicery and myrrh going to Egypt. In the abundant booty, loading the vessel of the Pharaoh for conveyance to the land of Egypt, appeared many South Indian animals and products not indigenous to Egypt-elephants teeth, precious stones, sandalwood and monkeys. Further, the presence of indigo, tamarind-wood and other Indian products have been detected in the tombs of Egypt; and, it is also said that the Egyptians dyed cloth with indigo and wrapped their mummies in South Indian muslin. But, the Egyptians were poor sailors, and South Indian articles found their way to Egypt through Arab and Phoenician ships. There are certain words that betray the Indian origin of articles: The Egyptian word "Ebu" like the Italian word "Ebur" may be the Sanskrit "Ibhu"; the Egyptian word "Kafu" like the Hebrew "Koph" may have come from the Sanskrit "Kapi," meaning ape. The presence of the African Baobab in the Tinnevelly District has been traced to early traders from Africa. In the Inscriptions of Harkhuf, under the Egyptian King, Memere, of the sixth Dynasty, 2,600 B.C.; there are references to several South Indian articles that found their way to Egypt: incense, ebony, grain, ivory, panthers, etc. The ebony referred to, doubtless, was South Indian ebony, which was, according to Theophrastus, "peculiar only to India." In the sixth Dynasty, under Pepi II, in the twenty sixth century B.C., references were made to South Indian cotton cloth, by an Egyptian Royal officer, Sebni. Besides, ivory was in great demand in Egypt: and considering the fact that it was easier to kill elephants in Indian forests, than in African forests, Indian ivory alone could have been largely imported to Egypt. Further, it was asserted that the Egyptian Kings used axes and swords and other iron implements, manufactured only in South India in those early times. In exchange for these articles, Egypt sent to South India incense, sweet-smelling gums, etc. The Vedic Mantras are burdened with allusions to the "interchange" of merchandise: South Indian traders must have sent their ships to sea and sailed to distant lands for sale and barter, long before North Indians took to maritime commerce. In the second millennium B.C., when the old land-route was destroyed, the tide of trade bent southward and led to a great development in the sea trade of South India. Under the seventeenth Egyptian dynasty (1580-1530 B.C.), there were several records of the receipt of ivory in trade and as tribute, which fact indicates that in the early times, ivory and ivory-articles, like chairs, tables, statues and whips, went from the west coast of India to the Nile Valley. Under the eighteenth Dynasty, great Egyptain ships fetched, from the Arab intermediaries, South Indian ebony, precious stones, ivory, gold, cinnamon, incense, apes, monkeys, dogs and panther skins. In the days of the twentieth Dynasty, under Rameses III (1198-1167 B.C.), Egypt continued to get ebony and precious stones from South India. During the hey-day of Egytian prosperity, under the twenty-eighth Dynasty, the garments of royal linen used in Egypt were considered to be of South Indian muslin. The cinnamon, which Egypt largely imported, was not an article of Punt, as it was believed, but it grew in Malabar and Cochin; and South India traded in it with the Arab intermediaries, who sold it in their turn to Egypt. Among the eastern treasures, mentioned as supplied from Punt to Egypt, were grain and gingelly oil, which, according to the Periplus, were largely exported to far off countries only from South India. The Egyptian priests underwent the "anointment" ceremony. with the "South Indian gingelly oil," and the Egytian Queen Hatshepsust got her excellent ebony only from the Malabar coast and not from Punt, as she believed!" So, trade between South India and Egypt flourished from very early times to the second millennium B.C.

A little before the end of the second millennium B.C., the Hebrews ended their servitude in Egypt and migrated to Palestine. Sweet spices were considered very holy among the Hebrews in Palestine. After Israels rise to prosperity, the Palestine trade with South India and other countries grew by leaps and bounds. South India not only imported cinnamon and sapphires to Palestine, but also all the other articles which she had been sending Egypt through the Arab intermediaries. In the tenth century B.C., we hear of Queen Shebas lavishing presents upon King Solomon: spices and precious stones, which were undoubtedly South Indian articles. "The almug trees, which are identified with sandalwood, native to South India, especially Mysore, Coimbatore and Salem Districts, and a large quantity of gold should have gone to Palestine from South India." South Indian ivory and peacocks were, among several other articles imported to Palestine. The Hebrew word for ivory" Shen habbin" resembles "Ibha danta" in Sanskrit, and the Hebrew word "Thakki" for peacock bears semblance to the Tamil word "Thogai." In Ezekiel, XXVII, 13, in the Old Testament, South Indian trade with Palestine in ebony is mentioned; it was prior to the seventh century.

It is fairly certain that there was commercial intercourse between South India and China also, in the second millennium B.C. The reference to Chinese silk having been sent to Yudhishtra of the Pancha Pandavas by the Chinese King in "Mahabharatha" and referenecs in the Chinese Annals to several voyages made to Malacca and farther by the Chinese, indicate that South India must have had some commercial dealings with China. Her chief trade was in sugar and silk, originally made in China and then imported to India. Sugar was called "Sini," a product of China: and silk was called "Sinan," foldable cloth of China. In exchange for these, China got from South India incense, red coral, costus and pepper. Recently, it has been discovered that South Indians also acted as intermediaries between China and Western Asia; and the Tamil ports served as the meeting points of the trade between the West and the East of Asia. For a long time, down to 500 B.C., we may suppose, the trade of the Malabar and Coromandel coasts with China did not languish: Chinese cardamom, for instance, continued to find its way to Western Asia and Eastern Africa by South Indian ships. Even passing on to the first century A.D., we find South Indian trade extending to China and Japan in the farthest east, beyond the small colonies of Java and Sumatra. Throughout the first and second centuries A.D., during the reigns of the Chinese Emperors, Hoti (85-105 A.D.) and Hiwanti (158-159 A.D.), there arrived in China, according to the Chinese Annals, many South Indian Embassies, with merchandise, in the name of tributes. In the sixth century A.D., there was a continued development of the maritime intercourse between China and South India. The North Indian religious missions to China, in the early times, facilitated the inter-commercial relations of China and South India, to a very great extent.

There is some evidence that there were commercial relations between South India and Arabia in the second millennium. The Arabs were good sailors and merchants. They acted as intermediaries between South Indian merchants and Western purchasers of Egypt and Palestine, in the olden days. Tactful and artful as they were, they would not reveal the Indian origin of several articles of trade to their Customers. They wished to monopolise the privilege of being intermediaries and also to keep South Indian trade in their hands. South India sent cinnamon, ivory and precious stones, pepper, ebony and sandal wood, besides her native birds and animals to Arabia, which passed them on to Egypt and Palestine in the course of trade.

The earliest trace of South Indian intercourse with Assyria can be found in the Cuneiform Inscriptions of the Hittite Kings of Mitani in Cappadocia, belonging to the fifteenth or fourteenth century B.C. These kings bore Indian names and worshipped the Vedic gods. "Assurbanipal, a great cultivator, seemed to have got South Indian plants including wool-bearing trees (cotton)." The Ninrud Inscriptions of the great Assyrian monarch, Tiglath Pileser III, mentions several articles of tribute paid by Yakim, a king of the Sea-country to "Ashur," among which many were the articles of South Indian exports of the day: pearls, spices, gold, precious stones. On the Obelisks of Shalmeneser III (860 B.C.) are the figures of apes and Indian elephants, indicating early South Indian trade with Assyria. In the markets of Tyrus, South Indian iron and steel were sold. Sennacherib (704-681 B. C.) enlarged the city of Nineveh and built a palace and a garden, where he introduced the "wool-bearing trees." Fine skins of lions, tigers and leopards, aromatics and spices and ghee and gingelly oil, in later times were also sent to Assyria by South India. South Indian teak was also in great demand is Assyria: the remnants of teak wood are found in the ruins of the temple of the Moon at Mugheir, "the Ur of the Chaldees" as well as in the ruined palace of Nebuchednazzar. Thus, South Indian trade with Assyria was both profitable and beneficial.

In 606 B,C., the Assyrian Empire was overthrown; and soon after, Babylon became the headquarters of trade in Asia. In 538 B.C., even the last of the great Semitic Empires of Western Asia came to an end with the storming of Babylon by Cyrus, the great monarch of Persia. His son, Darius helped sea trade between Persia and South India. South India might have sent, either directly or indirectly, her native commercial goods to Persia, either by land or by sea. Details of their trade relations are not available. With the break-up of the Persian Empire by Greece, South Indian trade with Persia came to an end.

Just as in the early days the Arabs served as the intermediaries between South India and the Asiatic and Semitic Empires, Greece was the greatest intermediary between South India and Europe, in the half millennium prior to the birth of Christ. As a result of this international commercial intercourse, the Hellenes borrowed several South Indian names of articles: e.g., "Oryza" for "Arisi" (price); "Karpion" for "Karova" (cinnamon); "Peperi" for "pippali"; "beryllos" for "vaidurya" (a precious stone). "In the processions of Ptolemy Philadelphus were to be found South Indian women, hunting-dogs, crows and spices! Homer referred to the black people of the Deccan and their sea-faring nature."

Ancient Indian Maritime:

Indus Valley Civilization

The world's first tidal dock was built in Lothal around 2500 BC during the Harappan civilisation at Lothal near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast. Other ports were probably at Balakot and Dwarka. However, it is probable that many small-scale ports, and not massive ports, were used for the Harappan maritime trade. Ships from the harbour at these ancient port cities established trade with Mesopotamia.


Image of Calicut, India from Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg's atlasCivitates orbis terrarum, 1572.

Maritime trade with western Asia:

Several Indian or East Asian products (e.g. Cinnamon, Cassia, Nard) are mentioned in the Bible (as early as the time of the Exodus) and by Sappho Indian products were already known in the mythical Punt and Ophir. Cinnamon and Cassia are spices that originated fromChina and South-East Asia and South India was probably along the trade routes for these products.

References in Bible

One of the earliest references to maritime trade with India is from the Bible (I Kings 9:28) which states that King Solomon collaborated with King Hiram of Tyre/Sidon, and built a fleet at Elath and Eziongeher (or Ezion-geber). Manned by Phoenician sailors, it sailed to Ophir (also spelt as Qphir) and brought back many treasures which two kings shared between themselves. The precise location of the port of Ophir is another unsettled topic. Dutch/German Indologist Christian Lassen hoped to close the controversy in the 19th century by identifying it with Abhira in the province of Gujarat in India.


During the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great shipped the bulk of his army from North Western India to Egypt via the Indian Ocean led by his friend, Nearchus who also wrote the book, Indikê about the voyage. This was after he sailed down the Indus.

House of Ptolemy

Around 116 BC an interesting incident that had happened in Egypt was reported by Posidonius (ca. 135 BC - 51 BC (also spelled Poseidonius), and later recorded by Strabo. We are told that a shipwrecked Indian sailor was discovered, half-dead, by coast guards on theRed Sea, and was brought to the Egyptian King Physkon (also known as Physcon or Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II) during 118 BC. The sailor said he was the sole survivor of a ship that had sailed from India. The sailor promised to guide any of the Kings navigators on a voyage toIndia. So a Greek sailor, Eudoxus of Kyzicus (himself an envoy from Greece to Ptolemy VIII), was appointed to that mission.

Poseidonius recounted two direct journeys to India. The first in 118 BC, guided by the Indian sailor, proved successful. From Berenice Harborto Muziris below Calicut took 70 days. Eudoxus returned with a cargo of aromatics and precious stones. Ptolemy VIII promptly confiscated the cargo.

The second, under the sole guidance of Eudoxus, occurred in 116 BC, just after the death of Ptolemy VIII and during the reign of Cleopatra III, his wife and queen.

A position titled, Commander of the Red and Indian Seas, came into being under Ptolemy XII, also nicknamed Auletes (80-51 BC) to encourage trade with India . The best known occupant of this office was a gentleman named, Callimachus the epistrategos, who was the Commander between July 78 BC and February 51 BC.

Roman connection

Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar in 26 BC commissioned his prefect in Egypt, Aelius Gallus, to capture the port of Aden to attack the Ethiopians who controlled the trade from India. This was after the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C. Although Augustus was unsuccessful in capturing Arabia Felix (present day Yemen), the Romans opened sea routes to India through the Red Sea, where they could buy Chinese silk, bypassing war-torn areas and diminishing the role of Persians and Arabs who previously dominated the trade. Greek writer, Nicolaus of Damascus records an Indian delegation from Pandion (Pandyan?) visited Emperor Augustus in 13 BC at Antioch.

Pliny complained that the Indian luxury trade was depleting the Roman treasury to the extent of 50 million sesterces annually . The Roman Senate even contemplated banning the use of Indian cotton in the clothing, Toga that Roman citizens wore, because it was so expensive to import.

The Periplus Maris Erythraei ("Circumnavigation of the Erythrean i.e., Red Sea"), by an unknown author presumed to be a Greek merchant, written in the 1st century AD, lists a series of ports along the Indian coast, including Muziris (Cranganore), Colchi (Korkai), Poduca, and Sopatma. It also records the accomplishment of Hippalus, who having determined the patterns of the Indian monsoons, discovered a sea-route from the Red Sea to Southern India. The book also references the port of Kodungallur (anglicised to Cranganore, and also known as Muziris or Shinkli), in present day Kerala on India's West coast. Pliny refers to this port as primum emporium India.

Mauryan Empire

The earliest known reference to an organization devoted to ships in ancient India is to the Mauryan Empire from the 4th century BC. The word navigation is derived from the sanskrit word "Navgath" also. Its believed that the navigation as a science originated on the river Indus some 5000 years ago. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya's Prime Minister Kautilya's Arthashastra devotes a full chapter on the state department of waterways under navadhyaksha (Sanskrit for Superintendent of ships) . The term, nava dvipantaragamanam (Sanskrit for sailing to other lands by ships) appears in this book in addition to appearing in the Buddhist text, Baudhayana Dharmasastra as the interpretation of the term, Samudrasamyanam.

Journeys to the East and later centuries

Indian maritime expertise helped disperse the Indian civilisation (including Hinduism and Buddhism) as far as the islands of Indonesia, Java and Sumatra.

Great cholas

The cholas were experts in ship building, sea trade flourished under their empire with trade routes established well in south-east Asia. Further cholas also spread Hinduism in Indonesia(java) and other south-east Asian countries.

Travels of the Friar Odoric between 1316-1330 AD mention trips between the Persian Gulf, and the West coast of India.

Finally, the advent of Portuguese sailor, Vasco Da Gama in 1496 opened up the trade routes to India to the Europeans. As a result of the Battle of Swally, the Portuguese monopoly began to crumble and the rise of the British East India Company began.

Some More History

Indians of old were keenly alive to the expansion of dominions, acquisition of wealth, and the development of trade, industry and commerce.The material prosperity they gained in these various ways was reflected in the luxury and elegance that characterized the society.Some find allusion in the Old Testament to Indian trade with Syrian coast as far back as 1400 B.C. Archaeological evidence shows that as early as the eighth century B.C., there was a regular trade relation, both by land and sea, between India on the one hand and Mesopotamia, Arabia, Phoenica, and Egypt on the other. (For more information refer to chapter on India and Egypt). The Chinese literary texts refer to maritime and trade activity between India and China as far back as the seventh century B. C. Recent excavations in Philippines, Malay Peninsula, and Indonesia confirm of early and extensive trade which continued down to the historical period. It was this naval supremacy that enabled Indians to colonize the islands in the Indian Archipelago. Shortly, after, there grew up a regular traffic between India andChina, both by land and sea. India also came in close contact with the Hellenic world. We learn from ancient authority that in the processions of Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 B.C.) were to be found Indian women, Indian hunting dogs, Indian cows, also Indian spices carried on camels, and that the yachts of the ruler of Egypt had a saloon lined with Indian stones. Everything indicates that there was a large volume of sea-trade between India and the western countries as far as African coast. From the coast the goods were carried by land to the Nile, and then down the river to Alexandria which was a great emporium in those days.

There was a mercantile colony of Indians in an island off the African coast in the first century A.D. The adventurous spirit of the Indians carried them even as far as the North Sea, while their caravans traveled from one end of Asia to the other.

Towards The West

Gordon Childe says: "The most startling feature of pre-historic Indian trade is that manufactured goods made in Indiawere exported to Mesopotamia. At Eshunna, near Baghdad, typically Indian shell inlays and even pottery probably of theIndus manufacture have been found along with seals. After c. 1700 B. C. C. E. the traders of India lost commercial contact with the traders of Mesopotamia."

S. R. Rao says that the Indian traders first settled in Bahrein and used the circular seal. Later on the different sections of the Indian merchants colonized the different cities of Mesopotamia after the name of their race. The Chola colonized the land where the two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, approach most nearly and the banks touch the so called Median wall. They called their colony Cholades which later came to be known as Chaldea (i.e. the land of the Cholas) as a result of corrupt pronunciation. Similarly the Asuras of Vedic India colonized the city Asura after their name and later they established the Assyrian empire.

Archaeological evidence of the use of indigo in the cloths of the Egyptians mummies, Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchandnzzarand Indian teak in the temple of the moon god at Ur shows the continuity of Indian commercial relations with the West. Rassam found a beam of Indian cedar in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 B.C) at Birs Nimrud. In the second storey of the Temple of the Moon-God at ur rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus (555- 538 B.C.) Taylor found "two rough logs of wood apparently teak".

The ancient Egyptian traders sailed there boats not only on the Nile but also ventured into the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and even into the Indian Ocean, for they are said to have reached "God's land" or the land of Punt (India). Similarly the Indian traders sailed their ships not only on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, they also ventured into the Red Sea and even into the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea. From the very beginning Indian traders had a very fair knowledge of all the ancient oceans and seas of the populated world. the Egyptians called India as "God's land" because India was in those days culturally very much developed. The priest of ancient Egypt required vast quantities of aromatic plants for burning as incense; frankincense, myrrh and lavender were also used for embalmment purpose. Herodotus has left us a sickening description of the great number of spices and scented ointments of which India was the center. Beauty products from India also attracted the women of Egypt. The cosmetic trade was entirely dependent on imports chiefly from India. The Pharaohs of the fifth and sixth dynasties made great efforts to develop trade relations with the land ofPunt. Knemphotep made voyages to Punt eleven times under the captainship of Koui. This expedition was organized and financed by the celebrated Queen Halshepsut.

(source: Foreign Trade and Commerce in Ancient India - By Prakash Charan Prasad p. 36-43. For more information refer to chapter on India and Egypt)

Towards The East

Southeast Asia has always been an integral part of the Indian consciousness is borne out by the fact that the countries of Southeast Asia so comprehensively embraced Hinduism and Buddhism in all its aspects. This spiritual and cultural affinity became an inseparable part of their ethos and way of life. Successive Indian kings and kingdoms from the first century AD and even before to the beginning of the 15th century, had regarded Southeast Asiaand the lands lying beyond as vital for their own strength, security and sustained development. This intricate and abiding web of relationships in turn contributed significantly to Indias sense of security in an extended neighborhood in whichIndia is neither seen as an alien power nor as a country with a colonial past.

The advent of the British in India and the struggle for influence between European powers that ensued all over Southeast Asia, suspended the continuous interaction that had existed between India and the region. Southeast Asia itself was carved up into areas of influence by the major colonial powers, viz., the British, French, Dutch and Portuguese. Indias cultural and commercial interaction with this region was therefore subordinated to the political and strategic considerations of the great powers. The relationship spanning nearly 2500 years was founded and nurtured on mutual interest and security in which both partners constantly enriched and reinforced each other.

In the opinion of Professor Kakasu Okakura author of The Ideals of the East, with Special Reference to the Art of Japan:

"Down to the days of the Mohammedan conquest went, by the ancient highways of the sea, the intrepid mariners of the Bengal coast, founding their colonies in Ceylon, Java and Sumatra, and binding Cathay (China) and India fast in mutual intercourse."

"India, indeed, began to exercise a profound cultural influence on her neighbors to the eastward - Burma, Siam, Malaya,Cambodia, Java and Sri Lanka all falling beneath her sway. And this, as far as one can may judge, almost entirely as a result of trading and peaceful penetration by missionaries, merchants and others, and not by force of arms." "The beginnings of Indian colonization overseas eastward go back a very long way in time and it is almost certain that the results seen today were, in the main, not achieved by military expedition, but by peaceful trading and religious teaching - and theThe control of the Indian seas belong predominantly to India till the thirteenth century A.D.In respect of the Arabian Sea this control meant only the freedom of navigation. There was no colonizing activity in that area, though Socotra, or Sukhadhara dwipa (the island of the blest) was discovered long before the Christian era and was probably under the Indian occupation at that time. Indian communities existed in Alexandria and other Egyptian towns and there were also settlements on the coasts of the Persian Gulf. But generally speaking, the navigation of the Arabian Sea was only for the purpose of trade. In case of Bay of Bengal, it was different. The supremacy in that sea was naval and political, based on an extensive colonization of the islands and this supremacy ceased only with the breakdown of Chola power in the thirteenth century. The naval activity of the Hindus was controlled by organized corporations of which the most important were the Manigramam Chetties and the Nanadesis. Of the Manigramam Chetties who traded all over the world we have authentic records in grants and inscriptions. The Bhaskara Ravi Varman plate of the Kerala King grants certain special privileges to the Manigramam guild. This body was given charter..including "the sword of sovereign merchantship" and monopoly rights of trading. Other "merchant adventurers" known from records are the Nanadesis, the Valangai and the Elangai who are described in the inscription at Baligami in Mysore as bodies of "brave men born to wander over many countries since beginning of the Krta Age (the first of the Indian Cycle of Yugas) penetrating regions of the six continents by land and water routes, and dealing in various articles, such as horses and elephants, precious stones, perfumes and drugs either wholesale or in retail."

Kalidasa, in the Raghuvamsa, tells of a tour of conquest of India, made by Raghy, the great-great-grandfather of Rama; starting from Ayodhya he went eastward to the ocean, having conquered the Bangalis, who trusted in their ships.

The textile industry of both Trichinopoly and Tanjore has been famous from early times. There can be little doubt that some of the finest fabrics that reached the Roman world came from this kingdom of Chola. From this part of India, in the middle ages, came those gold-threaded embroideries which were to such demand in the Saracen markets.

Marco Polo called Chola the kingdom of Maalabar called Soli, which is the best and noblest province in India, and where the best pearls are found.

(source: Periplus of the Erythrean Sea - W.H. Schoff p. 242- 250).

Reports Auguste Toussaint in his book, 'History of the Indian Ocean',

"The Mauryan emperor Chandragupta, who ruled from 321 to 297 B.C had even at that time, an actual Board of Admiralty, with a Superintendent of Ships at its head." References to it can be found in Kautilya's Arthasastra. From their voyages of conquest and trade, we can infer that although much later, the Pallavas, Pandyas and Cholas of South India must also have had an efficient naval organization. The merchants of Surat, who relied upon ships built by the Wadias of Bombay (who had not taken long to copy prevailing European designs) were particularly rich - one of them Virji Vora (who died in the beginning of the 18th century) left a fortune of 22 million gold francs. "According to certain travelers, Surat was then the most beautiful city of India. One small detail will give an idea of the unparalleled luxury that prevailed there: certain streets were paved with porcelain. Francois Martin in his Memoires calls it 'a real Babylon'.

(source: History of the Indian Ocean- By Auguste Toussaint).

The waves of Indian migration before breaking on the shore of Americasubmerged the islands of the Indian Archipelago or Suvarnabhumi.

Colonel James Tod wrote: "The isles of the Archipelago were colonized by the Suryas (Surya-Vamsa Kshatriyas), whole mythological and heroic history is sculptured in their edifices and maintained in their writings."

(source: Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan: or the Central and Western Rajput States of India ISBN 8120612892 Vol. II p. 218).

Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone says: "The histories of Java give a distinct account of a numerous body of Hindus from Kalinga who landed on their island, civilized the inhabitants and established an era still subsisting, the first year of which fell in the seventh year before Christ."

"These pilgrims sailed from the Ganges to Ceylon, from Ceylon to Java and from Java to China in ships manned by crews professing the Brahmmanical religion."

(source: History of India - By Mountstuart Elphinstone London: John Murray Date of Publication: 1849 p. 168-185).

Most of the sculptures show in splendid relief ships in full sail and scenes recalling the history of the colonization in Java by Indians in the earlier centuries of the Christian era.

Of one of them E. B. Havell thus speaks in appreciation:

"The ship, magnificent in design and movement, is a masterpiece in itself. It tells more plainly than words the perils which the Prince of Gujarat and his companions encountered on the long and his companions encountered on the long and difficult voyages from the west coast of India. But these are over now. The sailors are hastening to furl the sails and bring the ship to anchor."

Big ships were built. They could carry anywhere upwards from 500 men on the high seas. The Yuktialpataru classifies ships according to their sizes and shapes. The Rajavalliya says that the ship in which King Sinhaba of Bengal sent Prince Vijaya, accommodated full 700 passengers, and the ship in which Vijaya's Pandyan bride was brought over to Lanka carried 800 passengers on board. The ship in which Buddha in the Supparaka Bodhisat incarnation made his voyages from Bharukachha (Broach) to the "sea of the seven gems," carried 700 merchants besides himself. The Samuddha Vanija Jataka mentions a ship which accommodated one thousand carpenters.

(source: Manual of Buddhism - By Robert Spencer Hardy p. 13 and Hindu Raj in the World - By K. L. Lal p. 28).

Oldest Hindu Temple in Siam

One of the most remarkable site in the center of Siam, is Srideb (Crip-tep), where statues of Hindu deities bearing Sanskrit inscriptions of the 5th to 6th century have been discovered. The art of Srideb is of excellent quality and provides a link between Indian art and the art of Indo-China. Quaritch Wales considered Srideb the oldest temple in Indo-China.

The author R. K. Mookerji of Indian Shipping says.

For more refer to chapters on Suvarnabhumi, Pacific and Sacred Angkor
Naval Power for Conquest

We have also historical evidence of some of the continental powers using their naval power for purposes of conquest. Pulikesin II the Chalukya king who reigned in the first half of the seventh century led a naval expedition of considerable size. The Zamorin of Calicut gloried in the title of the Lord of the Mountain and the Ocean, and one of the first writs he issued after coronation was to permit the usual navigation of the sea. The Pandyas, Cholas and others also maintained powerful navies, while the Rulers of Malabar exercised naval sway over the seas of the Western coast. From the fifth century to the tenth the command of the Malacca Straits was in the hands of a great Indian naval power, based onSumatra known to history as the Sri Vijaya Empire. This State included much of Peninsular Malaya, Sumatra and the Western half of Java besides numerous island principalities. I'Tsing who resided for some years in that Kingdom says that the King possessed numerous ships which sailed regularly between India and Sri Vijaya as also between Sumatraand China.

The Sri Vijaya Kings maintained a powerful navy which swept the sea of pirates and corsairs. Their naval power, well attested by their continuous raids on the coasts of Champa and Annam, is recorded both in local inscriptions and in Chinese annals, (e.g Po Nagar Stelae inscription of King Satya Varman 784 A.D. and in Yang Tikuh inscription of Indra Varman I, dated 787). With the Straits of Malacca firmly under their control and with their authority extending over the far flung group of islands, the Sri Vijaya Kings were in a position to enforce their rule over the Indian waves. Further, they were also closely connected with the Indian Kingdoms of the Eastern side of the Bay of Bengal especially with the Kalinga monarchs of Orissa.

Till the end of the tenth century, that is, for a period of nearly 500 years, the Sri Vijaya Kings were the Lords of the Ocean. But in 1007 the Chola Emperor Rajendra fitted out a powerful navy and challenged the might of Sri Vijaya. he not only defeated the opposing navy, but captured Kedah and established the Chola power on the Malaya Peninsula. This hundred year war was of great importance for it weakened the Sri Vijaya power. Chau Ju Kua, the Imperial Chinese Inspector of Foreign Trade, in his work entitled Chu Fau Chi written in 1225 states that Sri Vijaya was not merely a great emporium of trade, but controlled the Straits of Malacca and thus was able to dominate the sea trade to China with the west. All ships passing through the Straits had to call at the capital and the maritime administration kept a close watch on traffic through the lane.

As regards to Sumatra, the Bombay Gazateer says: "The Hindu settlements of Sumatra was almost entirely from the east coast of India, and that Bengal, Orissa and Masulipatam had a large share in colonizing both Java and Cambodia cannot be doubted."

India became the first power to defeat a European power in a naval battle - The Battle of Colachel in 1742 CE.

A dramatic and virtually unknown past, in an area of bucolic calm surrounded by spectacular hills: that is Colachel, a name that should be better known to us. For this is where, in 1741, an extraordinary event took place -- the Battle of Colachel. For the first, and perhaps the only time in Indian history, an Indian kingdom defeated a European naval force.The ruler of Travancore, Marthanda Varma, routed an invading Dutch fleet; the Dutch commander, Delannoy, joined the Travancore army and served for decades; the Dutch never recovered from this debacle and were never again a colonial threat to India.

Engineering of Ships

A Pinnace or Yacht was a strongly masted ship, divided into two or three apartments, one for company, another for the beds, and a third as a cabinet, besides a place called varandah forwards for the servants. Balesore, the principal entrance of the Hugli, is described as being frequented by different sort of vessels, and particularly by large ships from Bombay, Surat, and other parts of the western coast.


Indian vessel as shown in the Fra Mauro map (1460).

The vessels from theGanges were called Schooners, which were very well fitted out and "able to make a voyage to Europe." their pilots being very skilful. The Grab was a ship with three masts, a pointed prow, and a bowsprit, its crew consisting of a Nakhoda or captain and a few khelasses or sailors. The grabs were built at Bombay, their pointed prow signifying Hindu construction. The Bangles were the largest Indian boats, some of them carrying four thousand or five thousand maunds of rice. Brigs were ships that came from the coast of Coromandel and Malabar, bringing to Calcutta the produce of those countries. To the coast of Coromandel (Cholamandel) also belonged the Dhoni, with one mast, resembling a sloop. Its deck consisted of a few planks fastened on each side. It was badly rigged. Pattooas, lastly, were those ships that differed from other vessels by their being clincher-built; "the boards are one upon the other, fastened by little pieces of iron in the form of cramps. The yard is always without sail, and the sails are hoisted and lowered by blocks."

Spice Trade in India: (Author: Louise Marie M. Cornillez)

Archaeologists estimate that from as far back as 50,000 B.C. humans had used the special qualities of aromatic plants to help flavor their food. The primitive human would have utilized the sweet-smelling spices in order to make food taste better. They would have offered all sorts of aromatic herbs to their primitive gods and used the spices for healing properties. From that moment on, spices played an important role in human existence.

Spice Trade in the Ancient World

Trade in the ancient world included the use of caravans with as many as 4,000 camels carrying the treasures from the east, namely, spices. We can imagine the caravans trudging along from Calicut, Goa and the Orient to the spice markets in Babylon, Carthage, Alexandria, and Rome. For hundreds of years, traders also used ships which sailed along the Indian coast, past the Persian Gulf, along the coast of South Arabia, and finally through the Red Sea into Egypt. Trade in antiquity was subject to constant robberies, storms and shipwrecks, and piracy. Despite the setbacks, however, spices were in such great demand (especially during the highly developed Greek and Roman eras) that the profits outweighed the risks.

The most lucrative of the spice traders during this time were the Arabians. South Arabia was the great spice emporium in antiquity. In The Story of Spices, there is an anecdote as told by Herodotus about the method the Arabians had used to gather cinnamon:

Great birds, they say, bring the sticks which we Greeks call cinnamon, and carry them up into the air to make their nests. The Arabians, to get the cinnamon, use the following artifice. They cut all the oxen and beasts of burden that die in their land into large pieces and place them near the nests: then they withdraw to a distance, and the old birds, swooping down, seize the pieces of meat and fly with them up to their nests; which not being able to support the weight, break off and fall to the ground. Hereupon the Arabians return and collect the cinnamon, which is afterwards carried from Arabia to other countries. (Parry 38)

By taking advantage of the fact that people during this time believed in witchcraft, charms, omens, and magic, the Arabians had convinced the rest of the Ancient world that the only way they could obtain the valuable spices was by trading with the Arabians. The Arabians used mythological stories to hide the true sources of the spices and therefore succeeded in acquiring the first monopoly on the spice trade.

The Portuguese in India

In 1498 during the Age of Discovery, one Vasco da Gama landed in Calicut, India and changed the course of history. da Gamas discovery of an alternate route to India marked the beginning of the short-lived dominion the Portuguese had on the spice trade. Under the impetus of the spice trade, Portugal expanded territorially and commercially. By the year 1511, the Portuguese were in control of the spice trade of the Malabar coast of India and Ceylon. Until the end of the 16th century, their monopoly on the spice trade to India was exceptionally profitable for the Portuguese.

The main product brought back to Lisbon was black pepper. Pipernigrum was as valuable as gold in the age of discovery. In the 16th century, over half of Portugals state revenue came from West African gold and Indian pepper and other spices. The proportion of the spices greatly outweighed the gold.

The Portuguese monopoly on the pepper trade was not a long one, however, because they faced many problems from competition and from the pepper growers. By the 1580s the imports of pepper into Venice had increased, and that into Portugal had declined. Portugal had little to no control over the areas where pepper was grown. There were many instances of illegal trading. Cargoes were hijacked inland and taken to the Red Sea by coolie or bullocks over the mainland. When the 1590s rolled around, the Dutch attacked and successfully put an end to the Portuguese monopoly.
Spice Consumption in Europe during the Renaissance.

People in the Renaissance found many uses for spices and the spice trade was basic to the Renaissance economy. Pepper was used to preserve and to flavor spoiled meat. Cloves and cinnamon were used as substitutes for cleanliness and ventilation. They were strewn across the floor to prevent foot odor from permeating the room. People carried around pieces of nutmeg fitted with a tiny grater, ready to season unsavory, unpalatable food. Around many a Renaissance throat there hung spicy pomander to ward off suffocation, illness, and odor. The spice supplier for most of the countries in Europe was India. Pepper originated out off Cochin and the Malabar Coast, cinnamon and cardamom were native to Ceylon, and cloves were grown in the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

The Dutch and English in India

With the waning power of the Portuguese apparent, the Dutch and the English saw their opportunity to gain power in the spice trade world in India.

The Dutch entered the competition in earnest at the end of the 16th century. Dutch explorers Van Houtman and Van Neck made friends with native sultans and organized trading posts which eventually gave Holland the monopoly in the early 17th century. In 1658, the cinnamon trade in Ceylon was under their control, and in 1663, the best pepper ports on the Malabar Coast were theirs. When prices for cinnamon or other spices fell too low in Amsterdam, they would burn the spices.

England was an immense threat to the Portuguese and later, the Dutch, because they were a power at sea. In 1600, the British East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, and its major objective was obtaining spice cargoes. The British worked slowly in their attempt to gain the power away from the Dutch, and finally in 1780, England and Holland started a war which severely weakened Dutch power in India. By the 1800s everything that once belonged to Portugal and Holland was controlled by the British.


World Map - 1600

Modern Trade

Spice growers now export their products through their own organizations or through exporting houses. Spices are now distributed by food manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. With the advances in technology and science, too, the spices are now able to flourish in other parts of the world with similar climates as India.

Compiled by Viswanathan Iyer



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