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Trade and Commerce

The contribution of traders to the 

soundness of the Gupta economy is quite 

impressive. Two distinctive types of traders 

called sresti and sarthavaha existed. Sresti

was usually settled at a particular place and 

enjoyed an eminent position by virtue of his 

wealth and influence in the commercial life and 

administration of the place. The sarthavaha

was a caravan trader who carried his goods to 

different places for profitable sale.

Trade items ranged from products for 

daily use to valuable and luxury goods. They 

included pepper, sandalwood, ivory, elephants, 

horses, gold, copper, iron and mica. The 

abundant inscriptions and seals mentioning 

artisans, merchants and guilds are indicative of 

the thriving crafts and trade. (Guild is a society 

or other organisation of people with common 

interests or an association of merchants.) 

There are several references in several sources 

to artisans, traders and occupational groups 

in the guilds. Guilds continued as the major 

institution in the manufacture of goods and 

in commercial enterprise. They remained 

virtually autonomous in their internal 

organisation, and the government respected 

their laws. These laws were generally drafted 

by a larger body, the corporation of guilds, of 

which each guild was a member.

 The Narada and Brihaspati Smritis

describe the organisation and activities of 

guilds. They mention that the guild had a 

chief and two, three or five executive officers. 

Guild laws were apparently laid down in 

written documents. The Brihaspati Smriti 

refers to guilds rendering justice to their 

members and suggests that these decisions 

should, by and large, be approved by the king. 

There is also mention of the philanthropic 

activities of guilds, for instance, providing 

shelter for travellers and building assembly 

houses, temples and gardens. The inscription 

also records that the chief of the guilds 

played an important role in the district-level 

administrative bodies. There is also mention 

of joint corporate bodies of merchant-bankers, 

caravan merchants and artisans. The guilds 

also acted as banks. The names of donors are 

mentioned in this inscription.

Usury (the lending of money at an 

exorbitant rate of interest) was in practice 

during the Gupta period. The detailed 

discussion in the sources of that period 

indicates that money was used, borrowed and 

loaned for profit. There were many ports that 

facilitated trade in the western coast of India 

such as Calliena (Kalyan), Chaul port and the 

markets of Mabar (Malabar), Mangarouth 

(Mangalore), Salopatana, Nalopatana and 

Pandopatana on the Malabar coast. Fahien 

refers to Tamralipti in Bengal as an important 

centre of trade on the eastern coast. These 

ports and towns were connected with those of 

Persia, Arabia and Byzantium on the one hand 

and Sri Lanka, China and Southeast Asia on 

the other. Fahien describes the perils of the 

sea route between India and China. The goods 

traded from India were rare gems, pearls, fine 

textiles and aromatics. Indians imported silk 

and other articles from China.

The Guptas issued many gold coins but 
comparatively few silver and copper coins. 
However, the post-Gupta period saw a 
decline in the circulation of gold coins.

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