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Gupta Period – 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 & Commerce

  • 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.

External and Internal Trade

  • 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.

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