200 BCE - 300 CE : Economics and Society during this time - Part 3

March 24, 2018

This is the third section of the series. In the previous lectures we have discussed about the sources with which we have come to know about this time period along with a brief political history of the time. We also discussed about the new philosophies or Darshanas along with new religious practices that emerged during this time.  In this lecture, we will be discussing about the economic and societal practices of the time. 


For previous lectures : Part 1 (click here), Part 2 (Click here)



Village and Cities:


  1. Village Assembly: A 2nd century BCE inscription found at Mudalaikulam refers to the construction of a tank by the assembly (ur) of Vempil village.  This might be the earliest inscriptional reference to a village assembly in the Indian subcontinent.

  2. Grid Planning, with streets and structures laid out in an orderly chessboard pattern.

  3. A stone wall with bastions at regular interval encircled the whole city. It was initially made up of fortified mud but later converted to stone.

  4. Jewelry and metal artefacts are found.

  5.  Stupas are found at many places like at Purushapura (Peshawar), Shah-ji-ki Dheri.

  6. Merchant Guilds(nikama) were functional. Head of merchant guild was known as Setthi.

  7. Guilds had close relationship with Kings.

Trade and Traders:

  1. There was expansion of the money economy and there was issuing of smaller denomination coins for small-scale transactions.

    1. Gold Coin - Dinara

    2. Silver Coin - Purana

    3. Copper Coin - Karshapana.

  2. Interest rates also took varna system into consideration.

  3. There was long distance trade over land, river and sea.

  4. There was trade with Suvarnadvipa (Southeast Asia), Ratnadvipa (Sri Lanka) and Baveru (Babylon).

  5. Commercial exchange with China and Southeast Asia was dominated by Silk.

  6. Great Chinese Silk Route:

    1. Connected Central Asia, West Asia and Europe.

    2. 4350 mile long from Loyang on the Yellow river (Huang He) in China to Ctesiphon on the Tigris river in West Asia.

    3. From Loyang It went to Ch'ang and Tunhuang near the source of the Yellow river and from there the route bifurcated into a northern and Southern segment.

    4. The northern route went through the oases in the Takla Makan desert and Tienshen Mountain.

    5. Southern went along the southern edge of the desert and Kunlun mountain

  7. Counties Import and Export.


Aspects of Society in North India and the Deccan: Varna, Caste and Gender


  1. Caste and Varna:

    1. There were people outside the Caste society called the Chandalas.

    2. Chandalas included Corpse removers, Cremators, Executioners of thieves, sweepers, public performers, hunters and fruit sellers.

  2. Gender:

    1. Manusmriti both praises and reviles women.

    2. Women withdrew from public life, their access to knowledge was diminished and they were increasingly dependent on male kinsmen.

    3. Preference for sons over daughters accentuated.

    4. Women were relegated to the domestic sphere.

    5. Increasing restriction on sexuality were reflected in the great emphasis on chastity. Pre-Puberty marriages were one way of ensuring this.

    6. Women had right to inheritance but only to stri-dhana which included 6 types of gifts:

      1. Those received before the nuptial fire.

      2. In the bridal procession.

      3. Those given or taken as a token of love by her father in law or mother in law.

      4. Received from her brother, mother or father.

      5. It didn’t include inherited property or even property acquired by woman through her own labour.

    7. Women right to inherit immoveable property was recognised during Gupta period.

    8. In South, women were engaged in agricultural activities, cattle rearing and dairy farming. Spinning was also done mostly by women.

    9. There are references to kings employing women bodyguards.

  3. Varna System:

    1. Varna system was recognized in South but was not much prevalent.

  4. Marriage:

    1. It was mostly endogamous i.e. within the limits of tribe, community or clan

    2. Pre-puberty or marriage on reaching puberty for girl child.

    3. Large difference in couple age.

    4. Manu Smriti disapproves of widow remarriage.

    5. As per Tolkappaiyam, marriage custom was introduced in South by Aryans.

( Architecture will be covered in the last lecture of 200 BCE - 300 CE series) 


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