History of trade


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The central Asian powers, the Scythian and the Kushana, which once ruled much of northern India, have vanished. Another great Indian empire has now appeared, that of the Gupta. The Gupta emperors rule northern India directly, and, through political and family ties with the Vataka in the Deccan, have had great influence in central India as well. By this date, however, both the Guptas' and the Vakatas' power is in decline, as fierce invasions by the Huns from central Asia weaken them, and subordinate kingdoms assert their independence.

The Gupta preside over one of the most productive periods of cultural achievement in Indian civilization. Advances are being made in many fields of science, art and literature. Most notably, it is probably about now that Indian mathematicians develop the decimal system of numbers. This system will be crucial to future mathematical and scientific progress in world history.

The kingdoms of the south, the Pandyas, Chola and the newly powerful Pallavas, continue to develop their maritime trade. At this time, the trade with the west is in decline as the Roman Empire retreats from its former glory, but this is more than made up for by the growing trade with South East Asia, which expands in response to the growing economic demands of south China.


In northern India the powerful dynasties which had contended for mastery, Gurjara-Pratihara and the Palas, are in decline, their power devolving to subordinate princes. Many of these style themselves Rajputs, a designation which roughly means "warrior prince".

In the Deccan, the Chalukyas were displaced by a new dynasty, the Rastrakutas, who seized power in 753. The Rastrakuta monarchs were militarists, seeking to extend their territory in all directions, making their empire the most powerful state in the subcontinent. They were only prevented from further conquests by repeated rebellions at home. In 973, they were ousted, and replaced by a line of kings calling themselves the Later Chalukyas.

In the south, the Colas have become the dominant power, first winning their independence from the Pallavas in 850 and then subduing both the Pallavas and the Pandyas. Unfortunately for them, their ambitions brought them into conflict with the Rastrakutas of the Deccan, who defeated them (949) and took much territory from them.

The rising importance of the south was felt, not only in the political field, but in culture as well. In fact, it dealt a fatal blow to Buddhism in the sub-continent of its birth. Buddhism had never thrived here, and the spread of popular southern Hindu cults in India robbed an already declining Buddhism of its distinctive appeal. Spiritually, the new Hinduism offered people a salvation experience similar to Buddhism, and socially, the new cults' luke-warm approach to caste offered low-born Indians a similar degree of equality as Buddhism had done.