Its beginnings may be traced to the reign of Augustus as a phenomenally
large number of coins bearing his stamp (and that of Tiberius) have been
found. In that reign, despite ‘embassies’ from the Pandya ruler, this
commerce was by no means extensive or economically important. However,
it assumed new and unexpected proportions and ceased to be a mere trade in
After the death of Nero, the traffic was not so much confined to the Tamil
land as before but spread more evenly along the Indian coasts, and was
conducted by barter rather than with money—the emperors subsequent to
Nero not being so well represented in the coin finds.
Towards the end of the second century AD the direct trade between the
Egyptian Greeks of the Roman empire and India declined, the traffic passing
into the hands of the Arabians and still more, the Auxumites of East Africa.
A new era commenced with the rise of Constantinople in the fourth century
AD. Roman coins reappeared in south India, and embassies were received by
Constantine from the people of the Maldives and Ceylon among others.
But the activities of the Byzantine period bear no comparison with those
of the earlier age which had drained the Roman empire of much of its
treasure and evoked protests from the financiers of the empire as well as its
moralists. The trade of the early Roman empire had wide ramifications and
was bound up with much exploration and colonisation on the part of Graeco-
Romans and Indians.
Main exports of the Sangam age were cotton goods, spices like pepper,
ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric, rice, ivory products, pearls,
precious stones, and the like. Main imports included horses, gold, and the
End of the Age
A long historical night ensues after the close of the Sangam age. We know
little of the period of more than three centuries that followed. When the
curtain rises again towards the close of the sixth century AD, we find that a
mysterious and ubiquitous enemy of civilisation, the evil rulers called
‘Kalabhras’ (Kalappalar) have come and upset the established political order
which was restored only by their defeat at the hands of the Pandyas and