all sorts of army personnel, suppliers,   retainers and allied service groups. To
dynastic distress; and as a result, bankers and merchants became powerful in
politics, as they also became influential in urban society and culture.
Expanding Commercialism
Role of South Asia as a Land Bridge Though early medieval inscriptions
do indicate substantial commercial activity, including long-distance trade by
major merchant communities, medieval documents indicate that commerce
expanded dramatically after 1200. As Ibn Batuta indicates, specialised
commodities were produced in abundance in particular regions, and rulers
protected traders activities inside their domains. In addition, his route itself—
like that of Marco Polo a century before—indicates that inland transport
across Central Asia was part of a wider circuit of mobility that included the
Indian Ocean and South China Sea. South Asia was a huge land bridge
between Central Asia and southern seas.
Network of Trade Routes in the Indian Ocean A web of long and short
trade routes in the Indian Ocean were attached to the coast from ancient
times. Long routes between China and Europe always touched South Asia,
where they met coastal routes among localities from Gujarat to Bengal. Early
medieval records in Cairo describe voyages to Gujarat and Malabar; and for
many merchants from the Mediterranean, Cochin was India’s port of entry.
Many Christian, Muslim and Jewish traders from the west, settled in early
medieval Kerala, where Hindu rulers depended on them to increase dynastic
wealth. Ibn Batuta observed that “most of the merchants from Faras [Persia]
and Yemen disembark” at Mangalore, where “pepper and ginger are
exceedingly abundant.” In 1357, John of Marignola, Pope Benedict XII’s
emissary to China, called Quilon “the most famous city in the whole of India,
where all the pepper in the world grows.” Europeans began building fortified
settlements for permanent residence on the west coast after Vasco da Gama
arrived in Malabar, in 1498.