La table-ronde organisée par Matthew Cobb et Kyle Erickson (“The development of the Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity”) a donné lieu à deux jours de discussions fructueuses. Les résumés des communication apparaissent ci-dessous.
Gwendolyn Kelly: Currencies, Commodities, and Regimes of Value: South India and the Indian Ocean Trade in Antiquity
From the 1st century BCE to 4th century CE, the people of Southern India were participants in the early ‘globalisation’ of the Indian Ocean trade. This involved trade in commodities, including imports
and exports, as well as contacts with a diverse array of people from different places and cultures. Recent research in Anthropology has centered on the question of how value is created and understood
in commodities and material culture, especially in the context of contemporary globalisation. One aspect of this research focuses on ‘regimes of value’, which are the culture-specific frames in which
objects and values are assessed. The question at the heart of the matter is how different goods were understood, interpreted, and assigned values, (in the economic, as well as cultural, and even moral,
senses of the word). In this paper I examine both the archaeological and textual evidence for the different regimes of value, and how they connected and conflicted with one another. I focus on South
Indian regimes of value, and how these informed the interpretation of, and values assigned to, Roman Mediterranean goods. For example, I argue that with regard to Roman coinage, South Indians did not view or assign value to it in at all the same ways Romans (or perhaps others) did. Silver coinage was incorporated in to existing regimes of value that blurred the lines between ornament and currency. Before the appearance of Roman coinage, I have argued South Indians used beads as a medium of exchange, even a form of currency. Roman coinage joined this category, and thus came to be
perforated, strung, and worn, joining beads as ornaments, that simultaneously functioned as currency, with exchange value. Thus I explore not only the goods traded, and the media of exchange, but also consider the meanings of currencies and commodities, and how they were translated and understood within the South Indian social, cultural, and political context.
Matthew Cobb: The Augustan Annexation of Egypt and its Impact on the Indian Ocean Trade
Commercial exchanges between Egypt and other lands connected by the Indian Ocean were increasingly being exploited during the Ptolemaic period prior to Octavian’s (the future emperor
Augustus’) annexation of Egypt in 30 BC. This annexation is generally credit with ushering in a major new phase of Mediterranean involvement with the Indian Ocean trade, and there is little reason to doubt the substantial heights this trade would reach by the first century AD. However, this transition raises a number of questions about the extent of continuity and change between the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Did this political transition usher not only a quantitative change in terms of the scale
of the trade but also a qualitative difference as some have argued (Seland 2008; and 2010)? This paper seeks to argue that in many respects the development of Roman era trade in the Indian Ocean
was heavily influenced by its Ptolemaic precedents, and that while there were changes, a strict dividing line between these blurs the degree of continuity that in fact existed.
Raoul McLaughlin: Indian Ocean Commerce in Context: The Economic and Revenue Significance of Red Sea trade in the Ancient World Economy
It has been established that Red Sea commerce provided the Roman regime with up to a third of its revenues (McLaughlin, Roman trade with India and the Distant East (Ph.D. 2006) and Rome and the
Distant East by Bloomsbury, 2010). The commercial and economic significance of Red Sea commerce has been examined in McLaughlin, The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean (Pen & Sword, 2014)
which considers port facilities, naval technology, sailing schedules, trade networks, commodity exchanges, cultural contacts, diplomatic relations and the use and consumption of foreign goods in
ancient societies. A two volume work entitled The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes is introducing the study of caravan courses and Persian Gulf trade networks to this subject (Pen & Sword, 2016).
My conference paper will provide evidence for the scale and significance of the main trade networks which passed through the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and the Indus branch of the Silk Routes. The first part of the paper will examine logistical evidence for these networks and compare ancient evidence for their revenue significance. The second part will demonstrate how this evidence can be used to construct a viable model for the financial system that supported the Roman Empire. The paper will conclude with a short review of current academic views, opinions and models concerning the Roman Economy.
Leonardo Gregoratti: Indian-Ocean Trade: The role of Parthia
For long time Indian Ocean trade has been considered almost exclusively a direct way for western traders to connect the Roman Empire with India and Eastern Asia, skipping the political instability of central Asian traditional trade routes and the power of the Parthians/Persians on Mesopotamia and the Iranian Plateau. Even the Gulf sea route has been considered almost entirely a “Palmyrene
matter”, a network of western colonies, existing by themselves and serving the needs of the western market. In the Periplus only a marginal note appears concerning the role of the Parthian/Persian
authority in the Persian Gulf, since as it is evident its author was not much interested in that branch of the Indian Ocean traffic. This paper aims to bring together all elements which speak for an indirect, but not less important, involvement of the so called “Parthian Political Commonwealth” in the Indian Ocean trade. The role of the Characenian thalassocratic kingdom in the Gulf and its connection with the Palmyrene activities, the archaeological situation in the Gulf and on southern Iran, the possible
role of the Indo Parthians at the mouths of the Indus river, and the new discoveries in India, are all elements which force us to reconsider the role of the Parthian empire as slightly different from that of a simple witness of the western trade activity.
Pierre Schneider: Pearls and tortoise shell in the Mediterranean world: features of Roman consumption (1st century BC- 2nd century AD)
This presentation aims at examining two items exported from the Indian Ocean area to the Mediterranean world, namely pearls and tortoise shell. While much could be said about these products which are generally characterised as “luxuries” in ancient literary sources, I will only investigate some aspects of the Roman consumption, from the 1st century BC to the late 2 nd century AD.
In the first part – an introductory section – I will briefly present some facts relating to pearls and tortoise shell which must be recalled in order to better understand the following two sections, in
• the places where pearls and tortoise shell were produced and made available for merchants;
• the pattern of trade routes;
• the various usages of pearls (jewellery, especially earrings) and tortoise shell (furniture). Then I will move on to the core of my subject, i.e. the Roman consumption. No doubt pearls represent a remarkable case study, for we can trace quite accurately the origin of the Roman taste; we are also well informed about the development of the consumption of these “gemstones”. This section – mostly devoted the case of pearls for we lack evidence relating to tortoise shell – will be hronologically
• First we will see that pearls slowly penetrated the Mediterranean markets, as if the Greeks of the Hellenistic world did not seem to pay much attention to this product;
• Then – in the late first century BC – the Romans, having discovered Arab and Indian pearls in the Eastern Mediterranean, not only began to buy them, but became more and more eager to find
• The annexation of Egypt by Rome made access to pearling areas and local markets easier; in addition, the producers are likely to have increased the production in order to meet the strong demand of the Mediterranean buyers. This resulted in a dramatic boom in consumption attested by written and archaeological evidence. Interestingly it seems that the consumption of tortoise shell
increased in the same manner. Rome’s craving for pearls (and tortoise shell) impacted the Roman society. Pliny the Elder and many
others disapprove of this taste for luxuries. The same Pliny, however, points out that poor women (pauperes) were eager to buy pearls and wear crotalia. This leads us to the issue of to what extent pearls must be deemed as a luxury item. On the one hand, there is no doubt that from the “emic” point of view, pearls were continuously regarded as a luxury item in the Roman world; on the other hand, the 1st and 2nd centuries AD certainly witnessed a “democratisation” of luxury, so that the concept of “semi-luxury” – especially in the case of jewels made of pearls – does not seem to be
Federico De Romanis: Kottanarike to Malabar and back. Aspects of black pepper trade from antiquity to early modern times.
The paper aims to outline a periodization of the pepper export from South India to the West by contrasting different patterns of trade across the centuries.
Thomas Derrick: India and the East at Home: The Reception of Foreign Aromatics in the Roman World
The Indian Ocean trade was a common subject of discourse for Roman authors. Eastern aromatics were portrayed as profligate consumables which were recklessly exchanged for large sums of Roman coin. Tacitus and Pliny writing in the late 1 st and early 2 nd Century C.E. depict these substances as sources of social and financial ruin in Rome (Ann. 3.53; NH. 6.100-1; 12.84). Many scholars, especially writing in the first three quarters of the 20 th century, took this economic assessment at face value
(eg. Frank 1940:28; continued by Dalby 2000), or did not consider it important enough to factor in to discussions of the Roman economy (e.g. Finley 1985). This has recently, and comprehensively, been
refuted by Robert Parker (2002). In fact, the large sums involved could have been considerably larger. Moreover, just as Mandeville demonstrated in the 18 th century in his excursus about the multi-layered economic stimulation a prostitute could have in English society, the economic impact of ‘luxury’ needs to be effectively nuanced (Mandeville 1723:I.88). Mentions in Roman literature of unguenta and medicamenta – greasy preparations for aromatic,
cosmetic, and medicinal purposes – users occur commonly in the Natural History. Amongst the usual discussion of the origins and sources of substances, he illustrates the tale of L. Plotius Plancus, victim of the triumviral proscriptions, who was discovered in hiding through the smell of his unguent. This leads Pliny to suggest that, therefore, Plancus deserved to die (NH. 13.25). Users of perfumes and cosmetics are also commonly, and often disparagingly, discussed in Roman satire and epigram. A perfect example is Martial’s rebuking of Gellia for her use of a cinnamon unguent by calling it “alien trumpery” (3.55), and Coracinus who perfumed himself richly in cassia, cinnamon and myrrh (6.55). This paper then aims to place these often quoted ‘snippets’ about the Indian Ocean trade in the
Roman period in a wider, more nuanced, social context. Firstly, by considering the reception of Eastern aromatics in other forms of literature, notably love poetry, which are considerably more
positive and invocative. If we also consider the archaeological evidence and sketch a theoretical understanding of perfume and medicament consumption in Italy and the provinces, we can build a
more accurate picture of who might be using these substances. This is further enhanced by considering the abundant archaeological evidence for perfume manufacture in Italy. A consideration
of the topography of Rome and particularly the positioning of spice and aromatics markets, but also gardens planted with exotic plants, illuminates the way in which the emperors could portray the East,
and thus their own munificentia.
Frederick M. Asher: The Visual Culture of Indian Ocean Trade to 700 CE
The paper looks not at communities but at their products and the impact they had – or, in some cases, did not have – on the importing community. The paper addresses three questions: 1. What sort of documents record the trade? That is, why do we have extensive inscriptional evidence for trade in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, but virtually none in the western part? Sanskrit, Arabic, and Tamil inscriptions are extensively found in Malaysia, Indonesia, and even coastal China but not in the Arabian peninsula or east Africa. Why? 2. What sort of visual products document the trade? While we have written records of gems, spices and aromatics that were exported across the Indian Ocean, the visual record serves to document other works, almost exclusively luxury items, traded between the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the Indian Ocean. Among the works are ivories such as one found at Pompeii, and extensive works from the site of Begram in present-day Afghanistan, and Chinese ceramics. 3. Why did Buddhism, Vaishnavism and Shaivism – and their visual products – make a major impact in the eastern Indian Ocean but virtually none at all in the western part of the ocean, despite trade exchange that no more favored the east than the west?
Fiona Mitchell: A Universe from an Egg: Cultural Interaction between India and Greece in Myth
In addition to the trade of objects between Greece and India in antiquity, there was an intellectual and cultural exchange. Part of this interaction can be explored through the repeated appearance of
a myth about the creation of the universe from an egg in texts from both cultures. Versions of this story occur in Indian texts including the Vishnu Purana, Matsya Purana and the Laws of Manu; there
are also allusions to this narrative in the Rig Veda. Very similar accounts appear in Greek texts: two of the Orphic theogonies, the Rhapsodic Theogony and the Hieronyman and Hellanicus Theogony, as well as Aristophanes’ Birds. Although there are some differences between the texts in which this myth appears, all of them share
a significant similarity: a divinity responsible for the creation of the universe is born from an egg and the moment of their birth is that in which the universe is physically manifested. In most of these
texts the deity born from the egg has both male and female characteristics, and they are imperceptible or so bright as to be invisible. Many of the narratives place a significant emphasis on
time; in particular, several texts create a correspondence between the existence of the universe and the life span of one of the early deities. The strength of these correspondences indicates a connection between these texts. The use of a version of this myth in Aristophanes’ comedy, the Birds, demonstrates that the myth existed in a Greek tradition before 414 BCE, around a hundred years before the first known direct contact between the Greeks and Indians during Alexander the Great’s invasion; the Rig Veda (c. 1200 BCE) predates the Birds by several centuries. This indicates that there was either mediated contact between India and Greece, that both were influenced by a shared source, or some combination of
the two. The near identical details in the later instantiations show that there must have been greater interaction in the subsequent development of the Greek and Indian traditions. Indeed, the closer
connections between the later texts, such as the Orphic theogonies and the Vishnu Purana, appear to be the result of more than one period of interaction. Alongside archaeological and other textual
evidence, these narratives can provide an insight into the cultural exchange between India and Greece in antiquity.
Juan Pablo Sánchez Hernández: The Impact of the Indian Ocean trade on the Ancient Novel
This paper will explore the impact of Rome’s eastern trade on the Ancient novel. Although the Greek literary tradition provided well-articulated narratives on faraway lands, especially India (from
accounts by Ctesias, Megasthenes, etc.), the way eastern peoples and commodities were conceived during the Roman period was certainly determined by the opening of the Indo-Roman maritime trade routes.
The Roman novel: exotic products and patterns of consumption.
In the Roman novel, the imagined conception of the Far East was derived first and foremost from a range of exotic products imported at great cost. Petronius’ Satyricon, for example, is a goldmine
data for the widespread consumption of Indian spices, such as pepper (Petr. 33.6, 44.4, 74.5, 138.1) or cumin (49.5, 56.14). But Petronius also reflects much of this discourse that condemned the import of animals, silk or ivory (55, 119, 135), and the vanity of this noveau rich like Trimalchio, businessmen who invested in trade ventures to faraway lands and enhanced their status with the extravagant display of these exotic products. In Apuleius’ Golden Ass we also see the same well-seasoned dishes (Apul. Met. 10.16.6), extravagant furniture (2.19.1, 5.1.3), and use of costly materials as a sign of moral decadence (8.27.1). However, we should also properly recognize the unifying significance of exotic products in Apuleius’ text, specifically on the interpretation of the ordeals that endure both Psyche and Lucius, until they are promised a new life by Venus and Isis respectively. Aromatics, silk, pearls among other precious items, play an important role in the characterization of these two
goddesses, but they are also associated to Cupid (Pysche’s lover) and Pamphile and her servant, Photis (Lucius’ mistress). The Greek Novel: trade routes and eastern travellers. The Far East was also known through reports from middlemen who ventured into such distant lands from the Red sea ports on behalf of Roman businessmen. For example, Xenophon’s Ephesiaca enhances the plausibility of his story in Syria and Egypt with references to the busy life of markets towns of Antioch and Alexandria and to merchants of eastern origin, such as a certain Psammis, a
prince of India who comes to Egypt for the sake of tourism and business. Psammis is killed by bandits on his way back to India from Alexandria, while following the merchant’s route from the Nile to the Red Sea through Coptos (desert roads were actually dotted with garrison posts to protect travelers.) Heliodorus likewise, in his Aethiopica, makes references to people of eastern origin involved in trade, such as Nausicles, the unnamed Phoenician or the merchant who pretends to be the gymnosophist Sisimithras. But apart from this, Heliodorus’ originality goes further, when he constructs an idealized state of Meroe out of precisely this culture of the bazaar: his references to luxurious products, animals but also characters of eastern origin are recurring elements consciously interspersed
throughout the novel and guide the reader to the glorious display of Merotic wealth at the end of the novel (books 9 and 10).
Marco Palone: Between Egypt and India, on the Route of the Ancient Novel
From the Red Sea to the Indus’ Delta, exploiting the Monsoon stream discovered by Eudoxus, not only wares were carried, but also tales and stories. In the Greek Novels, which cover a time span from the 1st to the 4th century CE, there are several mentions of India. Some of the most interesting among them are the ‘Gymnosophists’, i.e. a Greek reading of the Brahmans, who play an important role in the Ethiopian Stories by Heliodorus. The wise Indian Gymnosophists had already been mentioned in the treatise Life of Apollonius of
Tyana by Philostratus (2nd-3rd century CE). Many features of the Indian Brahmans are present in the Greek texts: their non-violent nature, wisdom, disdain of the richness and even the vegetarianism.
However there are other notable similarities between the genre of the Greek Novel and the Indian tale (kathā) of the Panchatantra, part of the Kathāsaritsāgara (“Ocean of the Rivers of Stories”), one of the most important narrative Anthology of the Indian literature. Having explained the features of the Indian kathā of the Panchatantra, the study will focus on the similarities between the two narrative genres (Novel and kathā), not exhuming the old
question of the ‘primogeniture’ of the Novel, but trying to clarify the modalities, the contents and the significance of the cultural exchanges between these far regions in Antiquity. Other interesting similarities are the Animal Stories which appear in Aesop and in the third Taranga (section) of the Kathāsaritsāgara, and the political model of the illuminated governor. Moreover, one of the most appealing features is the presence of the ’embedded narratives’
(tales within tales or metadiegesis) in both genres, which will be explained in its functions and characteristics. The embedded narratives appear in some Greek novels, especially in Heliodorus and Antonius Diogenes and in the Indian Narrative. More than the contents of narrative, which are however similar, is notable that the complex structure is almost the same in both literary traditions.
The survived ancient Greek novels and the kathā can therefore attest an area of cultural exchange made possible by the merchants’ routes, probably through the tales of sailors in the ships and in the ports between India and Egypt. The similarities, instead of telling us which culture was the first to have invented the genre (a difficult and idle question to be answered) can illuminate for us the ancient novel and its cultural context. The comparison of the common contents suggests therefore new reading tools for both the sides of the cultural exchange between the ancient Mediterranean and ancient India