The historical ties between India and the Roman Empire date back to ancient times, with evidence of a thriving trade route connecting the subcontinent to the Roman world. The modern-day echoes of this ancient trade are evident in initiatives like the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor announced at the G20 Summit.
- Ancient Trade Routes: The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor finds its roots in an ancient trade route that connected the Indian subcontinent to the Roman Empire.
- Muziris Papyrus: The Muziris Papyrus, a significant document from this era, highlights the economic interactions. An Alexandria-based Egypto-Roman financier used it for purchasing goods from an Indian merchant situated in Muziris, located on the Kerala coast.
- Import Tax and Revenue: According to the Muziris Papyrus, the import tax on a cargo of nearly nine million sesterces exceeded two million sesterces. By the 1st century CE, Indian imports into Egypt alone amounted to over a billion sesterces annually, contributing significantly to the Roman Empire’s revenue.
- Economic Significance: The customs duties collected on trade passing through the Red Sea alone were substantial, constituting nearly one-third of the total revenue required by the Roman Empire for managing conquests and sustaining its legions across the world.
- Trade Goods – From India: India exported a diverse array of goods, including malabathrum (a cinnamon-like plant used for perfume), ivory, pearls, precious gemstones, and spices, with pepper being the most significant.
- Trade Goods – From Rome: Rome, in return, contributed gold and Roman wine to the trade exchange. Additionally, there was trade in olive oil and Garum, an ancient Roman fermented fish paste, evidence of which has been discovered in Arikamedu and sites in Kerala.
The trade relations between India and the Romans through the Red Sea during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE were marked by economic significance, as evidenced by the Muziris Papyrus and the substantial revenue generated through customs duties. This historical context sheds light on the richness of the exchanges, emphasizing the enduring nature of economic interactions between civilizations.