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History of the economy of the Kushana Empire

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

From 4th century B.C to fourth century A.D a number early empires emerged in the Indian subcontinent. The earliest of these was the Mauryan Empire (c-324-187BC). Then there came satvahanas(c-324-250 A.D), kushanas (c.AD-50-320), and guptas (c.AD320-570) successively. Kushanas, originally a central Asian nomadic tribe, established a huge empire with Bactrian (Balk in north Afghanistan) as its main centre. Under kanishka 1 (c.AD100-123) this empire extended over a large area by encroaching extensive areas of north India up to Champa or Bhagalpur in the east, the lower Indus valley and Gujarat in the west, Chinese Turkistan and areas lying to the north of the river oxus. The successors of kanishka 1 had little control over the areas to the east of Matura.
The economy of Kushana Empire can be best known from literature, epigraphy and numismatics, various archaeological sites explored and excavated in the later period also acts as good source for the study of the economy of the Kushana Empire.

The kushana period was remarkable as kushana monarchs issued a large number of coins. Besides, there were numerous inscriptions, most of which are donatives in nature. Some of the Indian literatures like the Jatakas, the Angavijja, and the Lalitavistara highlights on the economy of the period.
Very little is known about the land system under the kushanas. During kushana reign agriculture was given due importance. No evidence can be put forward to prove this statement; in the north western part of the Kushana Empire a survey conducted by different scholars helped them to locate remains old canals, agricultural lands on the river courses and plain areas on the terraces of hills with means to canalized rain water from top to bottom.
It is evident from, archaeological evidences that agriculture was not the principal source of income in the kushana reign. Trade was given utmost importance both internally and externally huge amount of resources were mobilized through trade. Besides crafts production mining and different kinds of taxes were imposed on the subjects carved bone and ivory products, potteries excavated from different areas within the kushana realm shows influence of ancient Matura and Taxila art. Movements of ideas and people in the form of merchants’ artists inside the Kushana Empire resulted in exchange of ideas related to culture, art and literature.
Besides internal trade, external trade both over land and maritime played a great role in the kushana economy. Roman Empire had trade links with china. There was a great demand for Chinese silk in roman market. The famous Silk Road from loyang in china reached the two Mediterranean parts of Antioch and Alexandria by passing through central Asia, west Asia and Eurasia. Chinese silk had a great demand not only in the roman but also ion the European markets besides Indian wares, crafts, gems and spices were sold in the overseas markets. Better knowledge and utilization of the monsoon wind system through the Red sea cannels gave a fresh impetus to the flourishing trade during the kushana period. To maintain overseas trade with European countries two major parts of north India known as Barbaricum at the north of the river Indus and Barygara on the mouth of the river Narmada played a vital role and it was quite evident from perilous and Ptolemy’s geography. The city of Matura was a major political center. In case of trade with central and west Asia the cities of Taxila and pushkalavati acted as gateways.
Large scale commercial prosperity during the kushana period led to extensive monetization of the whole economy. kushana gold coins found in Ethiopia proves the value of kushana gold coins in international arena. These gold coins were mainly used in the overseas trade. The kushanas themselves struck silver coins only in the lower Indus area. Large number of copper coins were also struck and used copper coins and Bartend system which were very much in practice indicate that the impact of monetization ran parallel with system of exchange of goods on the basis of needs.
With the expansion of trade proliferation of crafts also took place. Crafts in practice during the kushana period were varied in nature and form. There were different occupations like constructions (navakarmikah), actors (sailakah), carpenters (vaddhaki), perfumers(gamdhika), goldsmith (suvarnakara), clothmakers9pravarika), ironsmith (lohakara), jewelers (manikara0 etc. the mining industry was directly under the state control. the of the state was augmented through mining and marketing of precious stones. Guilds mostly called srenis acted as an early form of bank in which money was deposited and only the interest could be utilized. Cities like Taxila, Matura, Bactra were well planned and blossomed further during the kushana period.

Indian handloom weavers and domestic Indian handicrafts

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

The weavers had industrial unit centered in their crone (an old woman) house. The women and children of the respective weavers’ family acted as auxiliary or helping workers. Sometimes they could be seen doing works like spinning threads. In the northern gangetic plains there were some differences. Large workshops were owned by rich men. These worked on the basis of all male master-apprentice team. Gradually European traders consolidated their position in case of Indian Ocean trade. In case of spot transactions contracts were made between trader and producer. This process in course of time was popularized and a bigger number and greater verities of intermediaries came to play a vital role in this process.
European traders emphasized on, quality, standardization and timely supply. These were some of the problems over faced by them. By 1800 the trade network via Europe was dwindling. Indian handicrafts had a huge demand in European market which decreased considerably. In India the disputed British revenue policy in rotaries areas lead to decline in demand in the rural areas. From 1820 machine made yarn and cloth began to reach Indian markets. As a result domestic textile industries which were largely dependent on hand running machines were at the verge of destruction. Increasingly concentrated markets and unrelated location of production also aggravated the problem. No permanent solution to this problem was found. Within the next 75 years European machine made clothes and yarn had no substitute, in Indian market. The impact, timing and significance of de industrialization could be seen in the decline of domestic Indian industries. As a result there was a large loss in employment in the handicraft textile sector. Prior to industrial exports from England 4-5 million persons all over India were engaged in the hand spinning industry. The decline in hand spinning and hand weaving industry in India took place gradually. In case of income loss, hand spinners were by and large domestic workers who performed spinning as part time workers. In lieu of their labor they used to take very small payment. This income loss was however not so important in comparison with the employment loss. Morris (1969) indicated that the rapid cheapening of cloth due to exports must have caused an expansion in demand. At the same time cheapening of yarn proved beneficial for the handloom weavers. Thus we can see that in the 19th century part of the handicraft textiles gradually disappeared while a part survived. At the same time some positive forces began to work in favor of the handicrafts. The handlooms did not merely survive but this sector saw a remarkable growth in the twentieth century