The announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor at the recent G20 Summit reflects the historical significance of trade routes that once connected the Indian subcontinent to the Roman Empire. This historical connection can be traced back to the flourishing trade via the Red Sea during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.


Historical Context:

  • The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor evokes the ancient trade route between India and the Roman Empire.
  • The Muziris Papyrus, an ancient document, details transactions between an Egypto-Roman financier and an Indian merchant from Muziris, a prominent port on the coast of Kerala.

Economic Impact:

  • The Muziris Papyrus records that the import tax on a cargo worth nearly nine million sesterces was over two million sesterces.
  • By the 1st century CE, Indian imports to Egypt were valued at over a billion sesterces annually, contributing significantly to the Roman treasury.
  • Customs duties collected on trade through the Red Sea could have constituted almost one-third of the Roman Empire’s revenue, crucial for sustaining its military and administrative expanses.

Trade Goods:
From India:

  • Malabathrum: A cinnamon-like plant used for perfume.
  • Ivory: Artifacts like the ivory figure of a yakshi found in Pompeii.
  • Pearls: Highly valued in Roman society.
  • Precious Gemstones: Various gemstones were sought after.
  • Spices: Especially pepper, which was in high demand.

From Rome:

  • Gold: A major trade commodity.
  • Roman Wine: Popular among Indian elites.
  • Olive Oil and Garum: Evidence of trade in these goods has been found in archaeological sites like Arikamedu and Kerala.

Cultural Exchange:

  • The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Roman-period guide, provides insights into the trade and navigation practices on the Indian Ocean, highlighting the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultural practices.


The flourishing trade between India and the Roman Empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE through the Red Sea was marked by significant economic and cultural exchanges. The historical documents and archaeological findings underscore the importance of this trade route, which not only enriched the Roman treasury but also facilitated the exchange of goods and culture, leaving a lasting impact on both civilizations. The modern India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor can be seen as a revival of this ancient trade legacy, highlighting the enduring significance of these historical connections.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish June 27, 2024