Rise of urban centres; Trade routes; Economic growth; Introduction of coinage

Rise of urban centres; Trade routes; Economic growth; Introduction of coinage

Rise of Urban Centres:

Precondition for Urbanization and State Formation:

(1) Surplus Production

  • Both state formation and urbanization heavily relied on the surplus of agricultural production. The landholdings of the town people are so small that they can not produce their own food themselves ,So, they have to depend on the village folk for its supply.
  • It was only in the sixth century B.C. that the people of the Gangetic valley learnt to produce two or three crops in a year. They started wet rice cultivation. It became possible to produce more than any other crops. They gradually started producing more than their own requirement. Thus, surplus production in agriculture began. The iron-ploughshare-based food producing economy pro­vided subsistence not only to direct producers but also, to many others.
  • Before the large scale settlements in the Gangetic valley, most of the area was covered with forest or marsh. To clear them for agriculture, labour was needed. To control and direct such labour people felt the necessity of an administrative system.

(2)Control of Surplus

  • Production of surplus in a society has to be collected by a group,
  • The collecting group distributes it later,
  • The collecting or controlling group is very small,
  • The collection, control and distribution of the surplus by the small group is acceptable to the larger society.
  • In the Gangetic valley in sixth century B.C. the same thing happened. The small group which controlled the surplus agricultural products became powerful there. They claimed authority and special status in the society. On the other hand, another section of people could take some professional crafts as their livelihood . Because, they knew that even if they did not produce their own requirements of rice, pulses or vegetables, they could exchange it with their own crafts products in the market. But again, like the farmers, these craftsmen also had to rely on a group of people who collected and distributed the crafts products and organized the distribution of raw materials for the industry.
  • This made possible collection of taxes and maintenance of armies on a long term basis, and created conditions in which large territorial States could be formed and sustained.

(3)Role of Iron in Changing Society

  • The use of iron tools had a clear link with agriculture in 600 B.C. Earlier people burnt forests to clear land. Now the iron axes helped clearing of forests. It provided more land for cultivation. Iron here was effectively used for preparing land for agriculture. Moreover, initially ploughshare enabled the farmers to plough deeper. It was more useful in the heavy and dry soils, particularly in the Gangetic valley. Iron not only brought a change in agriculture. More than agriculture iron was of various use in the fields of crafts, weapons etc.
  • The use of iron thus helped in the expansion of agricultural fields. It ultimately brought about urbanization and state formation.
  • However, it would be wrong if you think that everywhere, where iron technology was used and there was agricultural surplus, urbanization took place or state formation occurred. Some places, particularly the megalithic societies had both these features. But they remained as pre-state and pre-urban societies. On the other hand some places saw the growth of urban centers and formation of early states. Why was it so?
  • This shows that apart from the use of iron there must be some other factor which was also important for the transformation of the societies. The factor was the process of collection and redistribution of surplus. It involved two steps. Firstly, a portion of the surplus came to the treasury as revenue. Secondly, to ensure a continuous supply of revenue control over the farmers and craftsmen was also necessary. Thus, a new relationship was established in many areas between those who laboured in agriculture and crafts and those who controlled these labourers. Only these areas saw the growth of urban centers and formation of states in the 6th century B.C.

NBPW Culture and Second Urbanization (6th century B.C. to 3rd century B.C.) and its Characteristics:

  • Panned township was the characteristic of Harappan civilization. It is the first known urbanization in India. However, it would be wrong to assume that everywhere in India urban centers grew along with the Harappan civilization. It could influence only those areas which were nearer to Harappa. There were still many societies untouched by it.
  • There was a large number of hunter-gatherers, farmers and rural folks unaffected by its influence. Many of such societies started using copper, bronze and iron in the second millennium B.C. Such chalcolithic societies emerged in many parts of India, particularly in the Gangetic valley. Thus the Gangetic plain was the location of the second urbanization.

Causes for Second Urbanization:

  • In the 6th century B.C. different kinds of towns grew out in the areas of earlier settlement in the Gangetic plain. There are various factors responsible for urbanization.
  • First, some areas, which were the centres of political and administrative activities, emerged as towns. Capitals of different kingdoms thus soon became urban areas. In this regard we may mention the names of Rajagriha of Magadha, Sravasti in Koshala, Kausambi in Vatsa, Champa in Anga and Ahicchatra in Panchala.
  • Secondly, in the 6th century B.C. some other township grew out of economic activities, particularly market. In such cases different villages, producing different agricultural surplus, selected a particular convenient place. They brought their own commodities and exchanged them with that of others. This system of marketing is called the barter system. Some of such selected market places were located on trade routes. To such places goods were brought from the far distant places. The process of urbanization was faster and more intense in such places. Ujjain was the most important urban center to grow out of such a process.
  • Thirdly, religion played an important role in the urbanization in the Gangetic plain. In the 6th century B.C. people had worship places in only a few places. There used to be big gatherings with people coming from distant places. Gradually, these religious places saw the emergence of towns. Vaishali was one of such town to grow out of religious importance.
  • Fourthly, there were some places which had all the above mentioned characteristics. These were important places for administration, economy and religion. Kausambi was such an urban centre.
  • In these urban centers there was a greater concentration of people than in the villages. There were more alternative sources of livelihood and more products were available for their use.The exchange centers and the local markets were known as nigama and pulabhedana. They were greater than the gramas. The towns were called nagaras. Larger towns were called the mahanagaras.
  • Another factor that helped the process was the use of coins. Although literary evidences regarding the use of coins in the form of Nishka or Satamana are found, the use of coins became regular during the period of Buddha. The first coins in India, called punchmarked metallic coins, came at this time. Towards the end of this period a script was also developed.The period produced texts dealing with measurement (Sulvasutras), which presupposes writing.

Two Ways of Urbanization:

  • Some ancient books refer to two ways by which towns emerged. First one was related with economic activities. Have you heard about villages like Kumargaon, Kamargaon, Sonarigaon etc ? From these names you can assume that Kamargaon was the village of the blacksmiths Kumhargaon was the village of the potters and Sonarigaon was the village of the goldsmiths. This shows that villages can be formed on the basis of a particular profession.
  • In the same way, in the Gangetic plains, some villages were formed on the basis of specialized professions. These were blacksmith, pottery, carpentry, cloth weaving, basket weaving etc. These villages grew in places where new materials were available. They had to distribute their produced goods. So, they linked villages to big routes or some markets. These villages were gradually transformed into towns.
  • When the towns had both production and distribution facilities, they became important commercial centers. A few of such centers were Vaisali, Shravasti, Champa, Rajagriha, Kausambi and Kashi. Some towns like Ujjain and Taxila could send their commodities to distant places because they were situated on the trade routes.

Two Areas of Urbanization:

  • There were two main areas in the Gangetic plain where urbanization occured. These were western or doab area and eastern plains.
  • There was a concentration of population in these two areas. People used metals like copper, bronze, and iron. Therefore, the society is called a chalcolithic society. Along with urbanization, states were also formed in these two areas.
  • But there was a difference in these two societies. The doab and western Ganges plain saw the growth of Painted Gray Ware Culture (1200B.C.- 400 B.C.). This means that people produced commodities particularly pots with gray paint on this surface.
  • On the other hand, the eastern societies used potteries with black and red surface. Later on, soft, bright and luxurious pots were used there. It is known as the Northern Black Polished Ware (B.C.700-200).
  • Archaeologically, the sixth century B.C. marks the beginning of the Northern Black Polished (NBP) phase, which was characterised by a glossy, shining type of pottery.

Population and Migration:

  • Initially, the population of the doab region was small. It settled close to the rivers. Later on, it expanded. Some moved to the interior places and cleared land for cultivation.
  • In the east, people used wet rice cultivation. It gave higher return. Under such condition people from the north-west migrated to these areas of the Gangetic plains. Scarcity of water or a change in climate perhaps were two reasons for which people from the Punjab and north-west migrated to the doab region. These people, who wanted fertile land, migrated to the eastern Gangetic plains. The new settlers influenced the early settlers with some technological knowledge and they mingled with the existing cultures. The process of urbanization accelerated after this.

Trade Items:

  • Different commodities were available or produced in different areas. Most of them became items of trade. Most common trade items were iron objects such as hoes, sickles, knives, nails etc.
  • Salt was mined in the north-west. Along with it horses were brought to the Gangetic valley. In trade, the exchange system or barter system was used.

Urban Planning:

  • There were some common characteristics in a town of the Gangetic plains in the 6th century B.C. There were particular and specific places which were allotted to different occupational groups.
  • The palace or the court of the kings or the assembly hall was built there. Towards the later part of urbanization beautiful monumental buildings were built as palaces. Some towns gave religion more importance and built religious institutions in the middle of the towns. Kausambi built a Buddhist monastery at the center. On the other hand, some towns did not give religions much importance. Monastery or temple was absent at Bhirmound.

Comparision with Harappa(1st Urbanisation):

  • In case of the second urbanization people did not make any conscious attempt to imitate the first. There were some citadels or tall fortresses built at the centres to monitor over the towns. Many of the towns or urban centres emerged on the banks of the rivers in the second urbanization. Floods could inundate such towns at any time during the rainy seasons. But no attempt was made to protect it by erecting brick foundations particularly walls.
  • There was also a difference in the necessities of the towns people in the Gangetic plains and Harappa. It brought some differences in characteristics between these two urbanizations.

Northern Black Polished Ware culture ( NBPW Culture) and Second Urbanization:

  • The Northern Black Polished Ware culture is an urban Iron Age culture of the Indian Subcontinent, lasting 700–200 BCE, succeeding the Black and red ware culture (of early iron age, 12th – 9th century BCE, directly influenced the Painted Grey Ware and Northern Black Polished Ware cultures) and Painted Grey Ware culture (of early iron age, roughly 1200 BC-400 BC, a successor of the Black and red ware culture).
  • It developed beginning around 700 BC, or in the late Vedic period, and peaked from 500–300 BC, coinciding with the emergence of 16 great states or mahajanapadas in Northern India, and the subsequent rise of the Mauryan Empire.
  • NBPW was a very grossy, shining type of pottery which was made of very fine fabric. It was a fine gray metallic ware with a glossy black surface. It is a hard, wheelmade ware, mainly bowls and dishes. The surface is made with an alkali flux and fired in a reducing atmosphere (that is why it is associated with iron age and iron also needed to be fired in high temperature just like NBPW ware).
  • It was a luxury style of burnished pottery used by elites. It is associated with the emergence of Second Urbanisation since the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization. This re-urbanization was accompanied by massive embankments and fortifications, significant population growth, increased social stratification, and wide-ranging trade networks.
  • There are similarities between NBPW culture and the much earlier Harappan cultures, among them the ivory dice and combs and a similar system of weights. Other similarities include the utilization of mud, baked bricks and stone in architecture, the construction of large units of public architecture, the systematic development of hydraulic features and a similar craft industry.
  • There are also, however, important differences between these two cultures; for example, rice, millet and sorghum became more important in the NBP culture.
  • The NBP culture may reflect the first state-level organization in the Indian Subcontinent.
  • Important NBPW sites are:
  1. Charsada (ancient Pushkalavati) and Taxila, in Pakistan
  2. Delhi or ancient Indraprastha
  3. Hastinapura, Mathura, Kampil/Kampilya, Ahichatra, Ayodhya, Sravasti, Kausambi, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh
  4. Vaishali, Rajgir, Pataliputra, and Champa in Bihar
  5. Ujjain and Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh
  6. Mahasthangarh, Chandraketugarh, Wari-Bateshwar, Bangarh and Mangalkot (all in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India)Northern Black Polished Ware

Trade Routes:

  • Of the riparian ports, Sahajati (in Central India), Kausambi on the Yamuna, Banaras, Champa and later Pataliputra on the Ganges and Pattala on the Indus, deserve special mention. The great inland routes mostly radiated from Banaras and Sravasti. The chief articles of trade were silk, embroidery, ivory, jewellery and gold.


  • Uttarapatha or the great northern road that ran from eastern Afghanistan, through the Gangetic plains, to Bengal.  Mahabharata gives account of the ancient roadways. It refers to Uttarapatha which linked the territories of Kirata (perhaps of Magadha), Kamboja, Gandhara and Yavana countries.
  • Uttarapatha was the main trade route that followed along the river Ganges, crossed the Indo-Gangetic watershed, ran through the Punjab to Taxila (Gandhara) and further to Balkh (Bactria) in Central Asia. The eastern terminus of the Uttarapatha was Tamraliptika or Tamluk located at the mouth of Ganges in west Bengal. This route became increasingly important due to increasing maritime contacts with the seaports on the eastern coast of India during the Maurya rule.
  • Documentation exists that the states from the Uttarapatha like Kamboja and Gandhara were actively engaged in commercial intercourse not only with the states of Gangetic valley but also with Myanmar, Suvarnabhumi, south-west China and other nations in the Southeast Asia.
  • The ancient Pali literature says that merchants from the nations of Uttarapatha were engaged in international trade following the well-known Kamboja-Dvaravati Caravan Route.
  • Merchants from Kamboja, Gandhara, Sovira, Sindhu and other places used to sail from ports of Bharukaccha (modern Bharoch) and Supparaka Pattana (modern Nalla-Sopara, near Mumbai) for trade with Southern India, Sri Lanka and nations of Southeast Asia. Huge trade ships sailed from there directly to south Myanmar. This trade had been going on for hundreds of years before the Buddha. Some merchants from northern India had settled in Myanmar, in the ports and towns located at the mouths of Irrawaddy, Citranga (Sittang) and Salavana (Salween) rivers.The name Irrawaddy for the chief river of Burma (Myanmar) was copied from river Irrawati (Ravi) of north Panjab.
  • Uttarapatha was famous from very early times for its fine breed of horses and the horse-dealers. There are ancient references to an ongoing trade between the nations of Uttarapatha and the states of East India. Buddhist and Puranic sources attest that the merchants and horse-dealers from Uttarapatha would bring horses and other goods for sale down to eastern Indian places like Savatthi (Kosala), Benares (Kasi), Pataliputra (Magadha), Pragjyotisha (Assam) and Tamarlipitka (in Bengal).
  • Evidence exists that horse-dealers from Kamboja in the Uttarapatha were trading horses as far as Sri Lanka. The merchants from north-west Kamboja had been conducting horse-trade with Sri Lanka following the west coast of India since remote antiquity. A Pali text Sihalavatthu of fourth century specifically attests a group of people known as Kambojas living in Rohana in Sri Lanka.


  • Dakshinapatha (the “great southern highway”) was the name of southern high road which originated from Varanasi (Magadha), followed through Ujjaini and Narmada valley to Pratisthana (Paithan) in the Mahajanapada of Ashmaka, a kingdom on the Godavari River(in modern Maharashtra), onwards to the western coast of India and running in the southern direction.
  • The Dakshinapatha trade route was one of two great highways that have connected different parts of the sub-continent since the Iron Age. The other highway was the Uttarapatha or the great northern road.The trajectory of the northern road has remained roughly the same from pre-Mauryan times and is now NH2. However, the southern road appears to have drifted.
  • The crossing of the two highways made Sarnath (just outside Varanasi) a major place of exchange of goods and ideas in ancient India. This is why the Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath.
  • The philosophies of the easterners were disseminated precisely by the intercourse that went on along the Uttarapatha and the Dakishinapatha trade routes.
    Uttarapatha and Dakshinapatha

Economic Growth:

  • Besides, the establishment of big empires, another important feature of the age was increased prosperity and the growth of towns. The primary reason of increased prosperity of India was its growth of foreign trade with the countries of the North-West, Western countries and several countries of Asia.
  • The development of a stable agricultural society led to concepts of private property and land revenue, and to new forms of political and economic organization. Commerce among the Janapadas expanded through the Ganges Valley, and powerful urban trading centers emerged. Craftsmen and traders established guilds and a system of banking and lending emerged.
  • The towns became good markets and both artisans and merchants were organised into guilds under their respective headmen. Eighteen of the more important crafts were organised into guilds (Sreni, Puga), each of which was presided over by a Pramukha (foreman), Jyeshthaka (elder) or Sresthin (chief). Sarathavaha was the caravan-leader.
  • Towns became not only the centers of trade but centers of industries as well. Various goods were produced on a large scale to feed the foreign trade and that could be possible only in town or vice versa. By that time, Indian rulers had started minting good coins of different metals. It helped in the development of trade and growth of industries because coins proved to be a good medium of exchange and, thus, facilitated transactions.
  • The system of barter was also prevalent. This led to localization of crafts and industries and the emerging of artisans and merchants as important social groups.

Introduction of Coinage:

  • The need for coins arose due to difficulty in continuing with the barter system for smaller or fractional items or where the mutual needs of the parties to the barter were disproportionate.The terms nishka and satamana in the vedic texts are taken to be names of coins but then seem to have been prestige objects made of metals (silver and few copper). It seems that in vedic times exchange was carried on through baster and sometimes cattle served as currency.
  • The first coins in India were minted around the 6th century BC by the Mahajanapadas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, and certainly before the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Cities began to use coins made of metals for the first time.Punch-marked coins are a type of early Coinage of India, dating to between about the 6th and 2nd centuries BC. As the name denotes, various symbols were ‘punched’ manually and separately on the coins when the metal was still hot.
  • Punches on these coins with the most common the sun and six-armed symbols, and various forms of geometrical patterns, circles, wheels, human figures, various animals, bows and arrows, hills and trees etc.The prominent use of the Sun or Solar symbol is not unusual as since time immemorial, mankind and civilizations across the world has associated Sun with divine powers, source of life etc.
  • What has not been ascertained as yet is the meaning and significance behind placing these symbols on the coins or the particular order of placing the symbols or whether these symbols relate to a particular king, mint, denomination etc. In the absence of any script or legend on the PMC, these have been attributed to the various Janapadas on the basis of the nature, number and type of symbols found on the coins as these were localized to a particular area or region that were also the source for most coin hoards found in those areas.
  • Most of the PMCs are uniface however many bear smaller counter-punches both on the front (obverse) and back (reverse) of the coin indicating marks placed as either a guarantee of the weight or authenticity by the issuer or as ‘test’ for the purity of the metal content (may be forgerers existed then also).
  • The coins of this period were punch-marked coins called Puranas, Karshapanas or Pana. Several of these coins had a single symbol, for example, Saurashtra had a humped bull, and Dakshin Panchala had a Swastika, others, like Magadha, had several symbols.
  • These coins were made of silver (also Copper) of a standard weight but with an irregular shape. This was gained by cutting up silver bars and then making the correct weight by cutting the edges of the coin.They are mentioned in the Manu, Panini, and Buddhist Jataka stories.
  • Basic silver punch marked coin of the usual type was Kasapana or pana (3.76 gram). The masa or masika weighed 1/16 th of this. Various intermediate weights are attested, as well as large silver coins of 30 and 20 masas and small half masa found.
  • Punch marked Copper Coins were based on a different standard- a masa of 0.58 gram and Karsapana of 9.33 gram.
  • Quarter masas in copper called Kakinis (0.13 gram) as well as large coins of 20, 30 and 45 copper masas were found.
  • Only one gold punch marked coin is known and gold was rarely minted before the beginning of the christian era.


punched marked coins
silver karshapanas
A copper uninscribed coin of Ujjayini, Avanti

Maurya Coins:

  • During the Mauryan period, punch-marked coins continued to be issued in large quantities, these are a continuation of the Magadha Kingdom coinage as the ruling house of this empires established the Mauryan Empire. They contained on average 50–54 grains of silver in each coin.
  • The basic coin is called the Karshapana (pana) in numismatic terms but the Arthasastra stated there are at least 4 denominations of silver coins in pana, ardhapana (half pana), pada (quarter pana) and ashta-bhaga, or arshapadika (one-eighth pana).[citation needed] But only the Karshapana is found.
Punch-marked with an Elephant, Sun
  • The style of these coins is not artistic, but they do show recognizable designs such as Buddhist Shrines and Chaitya, or animals such as the elephant, horse, lion, etc.

Delineate various aspects of punch marked coins in accident India.


Punch-marked coins are a type of early Coinage of India, dating to between about the 6th and 2nd centuries BC. The first coins in India may have been minted around the 6th century BCE by the Mahajanapadas of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Punch marked coins are known from archaeological as well as literary sources.

Literary sources:

  • Literary texts of Post Vedic age and Mauryan age like Asthadhyayi, Arthasastra, Buddhist text mention the names of the coin:
    • Satmana (larger silver coin)
    • Karsapana (smaller silver coin)- most common
    • Pana (silver coin)
      • Ashtadhyayi mention salaries of officers in Pana.
    • Masaka (large copper coin)
    • Kakini (smaller silver coin)

Geographical extent of the coin:

  • Almost all over India.
    • North west
    • Gangetic valley region
    • Deccan
    • even in South
  • Important hoards:
    • Taxila
    • Amravati
    • Eran- MP
    • Azamgarh – UP
    • Nandagaon- UP etc.

Metals of the coin:

  • They were made mostly of silver but also some copper.
  • There was absence of gold.

Shape of the coin:

  • These coins were of an irregular shape.
  • some are rectangular
  • some are square
  • some are round
  • some have no specific shape

Design of the coin:

  • Obverse (front) has symbol. In general one symbol but in some 2 to 5 symbols also.
  • Reverse (backside) is blank or having minute symbol.
  • There is no writing or legend on the coin.
  • Various symbol:
    • Human figures
    • weapons
    • animals like humped bulls in Saurastra
    • tools
    • trees
    • geometric designs like Swastika in Dakshina Panchala
    • mountain
    • sun
    • wheel
    • birds like peacock in Maurya
    • trees in railing (Buddhist influence)

Issued by:

  • They were issued mostly by state.
  • But as per some references, there is possibility of city issue or guild issue which is indicative of private minting.
  • City issues may be associated with Kausambi, Era, Mahismati, Vidisha, Taxila, Varanasi etc.

Other aspects:

  • A unique discovery from Kabul region is bent bar coin with no symbols.
  • Evidences from Mauryan times throw light on regulation by state and we get references of certain officers who were controller and regulator. Such officers were:
    • Lakshanadhyaksha- incharge of mint
    • Roopdarshak- examiner of coins
    • Roopdarka- examiner of coins
  • It appears that Mauryan state monopolised coin issue and also circulation of coins increased during Mauryan time in comparison with earlier period.

Technology and weight:

  • They were based on punching technology as symbols were hammered with punches.
  • These coins were made of silver of a standard weight but with an irregular shape. This was gained by cutting up silver bars and then making the correct weight by cutting the edges of the coin.
  • Basic unit of coin standard was “Ratti” also known as “Raktika” or “Krishnala”
  • 1 Ratti = 1.8 Grains (Grain is a weight measure used for metals and 1 Grain = 64.79 mg)
  • Two weight standard of silver coins:
    • Satamana = 180 grain = 100 ratti
    • Karspana = 32 ratti

In the North, following the fall of the Maurya Empire and the increased influence of the Greco-Bactrians and Indo-Greeks, punch-marked coins were replaced by cast die-struck coins, as visible in the Post-Mauryan coinage of Gandhara.


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