Top 5 ancient trade routes

By Rohan Chawla → Monday, 13 March 2017

The trade routes depend on the geographical region through which they pass. Routes through mountains and deserts are naturally difficult while those through valleys, rivers, and plains is easy to tread. The difficulty was not only the natural surface but also the robbers and wild animals that were to be dealt with along the way. Most roads passed through dense forests which were populated with animals and bandits. Traveling on these roads was very dangerous so the people used to travel in organized groups known as caravans.
One peculiar feature of the ancient routes was they kept on changing from time to time. This happened because capitals of many kingdoms changed and thus were needed to be connected to one another. The reason for the change in capitals were commerce, politics, religion, and sometimes the whims of the rulers.
In this article, we will learn about the trade routes that connected India to the rest of the world. The importance of these routes and how they contributed to the economy, politics, culture, and technology.

The Trans-Iranian Route:


This route was used by the Chinese for trading silk with the west in the early centuries of the Christian era. There were 3 main routes that at times ran parallel to each other and times intersected one another. This route passed Syria, Iraq, and Iran and ran across the Hindukush entering India and then crossed the Pamirs to reach China.
Due to this route, the relations between the east and west strengthened. Antioch defining the boundary between India and China rose to become a prosperous city of Syria. This city was a port to the Romans who entered through the maritime Mediterranean route and thus got access to the rest of the route.
This route led to a key trading center Bactria. This was a meeting place for the Indians, Iranians, Scythians, and the Chinese. The traders had laid standards for trade in this region. Moreover, fodder for all the load carrying animals was arranged here.
This route joined India after crossing the Hindukush and the Indus river. It merged with the Grand Trunk route and thus provided access to then trade centers of Mauryan empire Taxila, Patliputra, Patna, and to the port of Tamralipti.
Balkh another important city on this route is even described in Mahabharata. This city produced good quality of burden carrying mules. The merchants traded in Chinese silk, pashminas, jewels, perfumes etc. The people here used to travel in caravans and used the night sky stars for directions. The winter terrain was very difficult to tread on but in spring the advent of good rains made people indulge in agriculture and reap profits from the land. The region was famous for its breed of horses and camels. The inhabitants were Iranians, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and Turko-mans.

Rome and India: 

Augustus the Roman emperor rose to power in 27 BC. He expanded his empire to the West, the Middle-East, and North-East Africa. The Romans were now ready to trade and were backed up by their emperor with funding. This created an enthusiasm in the Roman traders who began to find new routes to places beyond their land through land and water.

India was just segregated political units each with a different ruler. The initial trade between these two nations was conducted by the means of intermediaries. The intermediaries were:
·        The Greeks of Egypt
·        Syrians and Jews of Asia minor
·        Armenian and Caucasian tribes
All these people were subjects of the Roman emperor or in some way or the other allied to the great empire. Apart from them, Arabians, Axumites, and Somalis acted as intermediaries. These people had no relation with Rome. They were not supporters of direct trade between India and Rome as it meant losses for them. They protected and concealed the treasures that India and China held from the Romans to make huge profits for themselves.
Rome and India got closer later when they surpassed the land route and used the sea for transportation. The route through the Red sea and Persian gulf were used as the first direct route for trade between India and Rome. Indian ivory was exported to Rome using this route.

India and Syria:

Syria was the most prosperous and biggest trading center of the ancient world. The nation's natural resources like gold, silver, rare precious stones, amber, glass and much more made it an all time favorite trading spot. The ancient scriptures have numerous evidence of the products manufactured. Gold embroidered rugs, thin cloth of various colors, asbestos-cloth, silk clothes made of silk cocoons were some of the merchandise produced in Syria. Gems of every kind were available and were traded all over the world. The trade was really profitable and they used both land and sea routes to trade and travel.

Antioch the greatest city of this prosperous nation. It was the meeting ground for merchants from various countries. Romans settled there in large numbers to expand their trade. This was the meeting point of the overland route from India and China.  Roads went in every direction from this city. In the west, a route went to Cilicia and then to Byzantium. In the east the roads connected Antiocg to Plamyra, Euphrates, and the Babylon. North towards Samosta and Zeugma which led to the iron and stone queries of this region. The main roads from here were carefully paved and planned. This was done to ensure continuous movement of goods and cargo to and from the city.
This route connected the Roman empire to India for trade. This was also beneficial for Indian and Romans as standards were laid for trade. The profit on this route increased manifold as more and more merchants from every corner joined in and utilized the geographical bliss of Antioch to benefit themselves. The Roman although did not like the overland route from here to India because of the deserts in the route. Moreover, the Parthians the empire of Iran levied heavy taxes on the trade between Rome and India to keep the Romans away from the riches of India and make profits themselves.
Romans also did not end up on the losing side. They allied with Palmyra which was on the way from Antioch to India and from Parthia to India. Heavy taxes were levied in this region on the Parthian goods and Indian goods to Parthia. This meant a diversion of the route from the overland route to the Red-sea route that the Romans had already monopolized.



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