Secondly, the Mesopotamian term Meluhha means perhaps the general area to the east of Mesopotamia and not necessarily the Harappan area alone. The point to make here is that there was a network of traditional trade covering jthe entire region between the Harappan and Mesopotamia right up to the nineteenth century, and it would historically be correct to view the external trade of this civilization from this perspective. Among the Indian exports we can consider, apart from textiles, the most important staple of Indian trade through the centuries, such luxury items as ivory combs, specific types of carnelian beads, dice, polished stone weights, objects made of shells of a particular variety etc.
In the nineteenth century, Oman sent to India pearls, mother – of – pearl, dried limes, fresh fruit and salt fish, i.e. items which would not easily be identified in archaeology. The Harappan finds in the Ras – al – Had peninsula of Oman, which happens to be the landfall of the ships sailing with the help of the monsoon winds from Gujarat to Oman, strongly suggest that the use of the monsoon winds was known to the Harappan traders.
The issue of routes is fairly straightforward. The Hindukush was crossed and the Harappan traders must have been familiar with its high passes. Once in the Oxus Valley, the Harappan traders had no difficulty of movement in that region including Turkmenia. They were also familiar with the routes in north and south Iran. Mesopotamia was approached both through Iran and the Gulf, the latter accessed through navigation based on the knowledge of the monsoon.

Structural Analysis Of The Trade

Trade between India and Mesopotamia attracted the attention of scholars with a great zeal the day Mesopotamian clay tablets containing references to Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha were studied in depth and the suggestion was made that Meluhha is to be identified with the Indus valley. Two kinds of researches followed – one concerned itself with the location study of the three areas and the other with the items of trade system underlying the trade – mechanism. While the former falls primarily in the domain of paleo – geographers, historians and linguists, the latter moved into the fray several archaeologists. However, both these researches have largely been complementing each other and therefore remained valid for the structural analysis of the operative system underlying the Indus – Mesopotamian trade.
To begin with, in the context of Indus – Mesopotamian economic interaction, we visualize a multi – tired structure as against simple two – tired structure of pre – urban societies. This multi – tired has two major components – the Productive Unit and the Distributive Unit, each further divisible in a number of sub – units. In this whole structure one element which has been fundamental to the operative system is ‘agent’ but it has not attracted sufficient attention of scholars. The contemporary literary evidence of ‘agents’ and ‘agency system’ is ample. It gives us a clear idea that the ”traders, Akkadian, Iranian, Indian … behaved in much the same way as merchants do the world over today”.
Today, except for very localized transactions, we can hardly visualize ‘producer – consumer’ trade – system. Between the producers and the consumers, now a chain of expertise, including that of the transporters, look after the interests of the two parties, but the expertise of the authorized agents, who look after the profit and loss aspect of the transactions or who share the profits and also bear a part of the losses, is always vital. It is to this organ of trade – operation that we will focus the attention of scholars. Since no proper appreciation of this organ of trade is possible in isolation, we will present briefly an overall picture of the third millennium trade and the operative structure within it.
In recent years, our knowledge about the extent of the Harappa cultural has increased considerably which has a direct bearing on the long distance Harappan trade as well as the highland – lowland interaction for economic needs. Thus, beyond the Indus Valley, we have now a cluster of seven sites at Shoturgi, near Ai – Khanum, northern Afghanistan on the Oxus – Kokcha confluence. Its location is so strategic that it must have controlled the import of lapis lazuli, turquoise, silver and other minerals and metals from Afghanistan and Soviet Central Asia and northern Iran required for the highly industrialized economic pursuits of the Harappans.
Similarly the discovery of Manda – a site in the Himalayan foot – hills on the Chenab in District Jammu, near the modern town of Akhnoor should be taken as a highland site controlling the inflow of Himalayan timber for the Harappans.Sites like Bhagatray on the western coast must have provided semi – precious stones like agate, carnelian and chalcedony for Harappan bead – making factories, Metals, minerals and timber of northern Baluchistan must have come to the lowland through a number of sites including Gumla and Rahman Dheri in the Gomal valley.
From southern Baluchistan men and material must have come directly to several places in Sind – Allahdino and Balakot both have yielded enough evidence for it. Significantly enough, a site, Kulhade – ka – Johad, near Ganeshwar in the Khetri copper mine are a in Rajasthan has yielded typical Harappan inverted ‘V’ shaped arrowheads. Obviously, Harappans had specific economic interests in several regions peripheral to their culture – area.
The fertile land between the Euphrates and Tigers was also surrounded by several neighbouring areas rich in mineral wealth with which it interacted and gave birth to a civilization whose boundaries have, however, not been defined as clearly as that of the Harappa Civilization.
Mesopotamia, like the Indus Valley, was also, by and large, devoid of basic raw materials for industrial diversification. However, the valley of twin rivers could evolve a magnificent civilization mainly because of its nearness to the hilly regions of Iran and Anotolia which were very rich in mineral resources and its ability to mobilize them. As shown above, the same situation existed in the context of the rise and growth of the Indus Civilization : the Indus valley is located near the Baluchi and Afghan hills on the west, the Gujarat and Kathiawar hills in the south, Khetri mines in the east and forest areas in the north, regions which are equally rich in metal, mineral and forest resources.
The Indus Civilization was able to evolve a trading structure by which she was able to mobilize all this wealth for its own use. Like the Indus Valley proper, Mesopotamia was mainly a land of agriculture and cattle and sheep breeding, which is clear from the list of exports: cloth, garments, wool, leather and perfumed oil : these were mainly the products of agricultural and pastoral activities.
Coming back to the question of long distance trade, the highest achievement of the south Mesopotamian cities were, as the cuneiform records and a few models and engraved depiction of boats attest, the effective use of the ‘Persian Gulf – cum – Makran’ sea – route during the second half of the 3rd millennium B.C, since it is doubtful if the behavioural pattern of the monsoons was known to the world before the early centuries of the Christian Era.
Similarly may have been the situation in regard to the Indus Civilization, although we have no depichered written records to substantiate it in the way it has been possible in the context of Mesopotamia. Hewever, the presence of a number of Indus seals in Mesopotamia somewhat compensates this limitation since the presence of the seals does indicate the existence of the trade. Still, it may be noted that texts are the only real basis for the history of this trade.
Regarding the long distance trade between India and Mesopotamia, two recently proposed theories have been taken into consideration since they provide a rough framework for the working process underlying the trade. The first is that of Lamberg – Karlovsky, who observes that the evidences for import and export are very fragmentary. Consequently, he states, they cannot be taken as proof of direct commercial contacts between India and Mesopotamia. He employs an extension of the ‘Central Place’ theory in which he visualizes a place located centrally between the Indus and the Euphrates where commercial negotiations, transactions, etc., took place.
A site likely Tepe Yahya in south – eastern Iran may have played this role, according to him. He, therefore, visualizes a situation in which the Mesopotamia and Indus merchants met and exchanged their goods in the central place marke:s, and avoided going to each others’ country personally. Such a situation was visualized by Bibby also in the context of Persian Gulf sites, which, according to him, also served the role of ‘clearance house’.
The second theory is of During Caspers who promotes the idea of direct contacts by giving a number of evidences, particularly, the evidence of etched carnelian beads, stone seals and a number of small antiquities. She firmly believes that the goods were taken directly to the terminal markets. Intermediary stations were not important in her scheme of things although she also accepts the role of Persian Gulf States as entrepots.
On the face of it, the two models mentioned above appear to have over – simplified the situation, or, one may say, each one presented a lop – sided picture. Our contention is that the Harappan trade was partly direct and partly indirect because we feel that the Indo – Mesopotamian trade was mixed, it was neither completely state – controlled nor completely privately owned and it used not only the sea route but also land routes.
Further, there is ample proof, literary as well as archaeological, that Indus – Mesopotamian trade was grossly imbalanced, export from Indus was much more than imports, qualitaltively.Harappan trade, according to us, by and large, appears to have been the joint – ventured of Merchants, agents, expert sailors, port authorities and others, since overseas trade was a very complex affair even in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamian texts clearly refer to three different designations for above mentioned individuals – Tamkarum (merchant).
Samallum (agent or helper of merchant) and Mari sipri (messenger employed in the trade for the transport of letters and merchandise) (cf. inter alia the detailed record of the Old Assyrian trade with Anatolia). Obviously, ventures of the kind which involves these categories of people have always two major working unit : (i) Production Unit, and (ii) Distribution Unit. The Production Unit is further divided into two sub – units :
The unit looking after the availability of raw materials, and
The unit looking after the manufacture of goods.
During the Harappa period, we visualize that the wealthy merchants were arranging the raw material from neighbouring regions, and organizing the industry roughly on the ‘factory system’ (Lothal and Chanhundaro are known for their bead factories) i.e., employing several craftsmen under a single roof. The head – merchant was looking after the production since this was the basis of all trade in the locally produced goods.
Here one may legitimately argue that this head (merchant) may have been the ruler of the city himself and not a private wealthy merchant of the town. If so, it was the state owned unit. We would, however, beg to differ from this proposition on a very important ground : none of the seal types with a single standard inscription has ever been found in sufficiently large numbers to justify the hypothesis that there was an ‘overlord’ merchant.
The second is the Distribution Unit which has also two sub – units : (i) the unit looking after the sale of goods and (ii) the unit looking after the transportation of goods.
During the Harappan period, in all probability, on the Sumerian analogy agents of the manufactures were looking after the first sub – unit of the major unit ‘Distribution’. Possibly, these agents, had travelled to the intermediate stations for the promotion of the sale of goods. They carried only the samples or small consignments of precious items, such as the etched carnelian beads, along with them. In these entrepots they negotiated the trade with the agents from other countries and secured firm orders from them. It was absolutely essential because the trade was based on barter system and exchange items were to be negotiated on the basis of the requirements of the home market.
The second sub – unit was the joint venture of the agents and the expert sailors. After coming back to the production centre, they could have shipped the consignments directly from some Harappan port with the help of the ship – captain and the crew after packing the goods carefully with full identification – the name of the consigner, and also the trade mark.
The crew were to carry goods from one port to the other. In all likelihood, in a few selected Mesopotamian towns authorized Indian agents were permanently stationed. This can be inferred from the evidence of seals, which is of two kinds : (a) the so – called entrepots have rarely yielded any true Harappan seal, while (b) the big Mesopotamian cities have yielded them, albeit in restricted numbers. The presence of seals (not sealings and impressions), implies the presence of its owner who used it repeatedly.
Recently Parpola have reviewed the evidence of seals in the light of some of the hitherto unpublished tablets of Ur III period and also drawn our attention to the observations made by Hunter on three round seals with Harappan characters found in Mesopotamia whose language must have been non – Harappan because of the marked differences in the sequence of the letters : the recently published Concordance of Harappan inscriptions has not a single inscription comparable to those on the above mentioned three seals.
Undoubtedly, Harappan agents stationed themselves at places like Lagash for generations together, so much so that in Ur III times, some 300 years after the Sargon of Addad, their village was called ‘Meluhha’ and some of their personal names included ‘Meluhha’. All this reminds us of the situation in which Indian place – names find their way in Indian colonies of Africa and south – east Asia.
In the ultimate analysis, however, the mechanism adopted by the Distribution Unit for the sale of goods was partly indirect and partly direct.
1. Indirect securing orders for goods on Intermediate sations from middlemen or agents.
2. Direct securing orders for goods directly from using agencies.
The working process of the sub – unit I of the Distribution Unit can be agrued more strongly on conceptual and literary grounds than on archaeological grounds. Long distance trade invariably implies the existence of entrepots, particularly if the entrepots themselves have also to offer some goods, for ultimate destination. Between Meluhha and Ur there were at least two places – Magan and Dilmun – which must have served as most viable areas for entrepots.
1. Mesopotamian texts are full with their description : Dilmun in the Persian Gulf and Magan on Makran. We suggest that the port – town of sutkagen – dor certainly played the role of most – briskly – used – entrepot’. The location of these entrepots was favourable to the merchants as these were situated at very convenient points between Mesopotamia and India and the merchant or the chief of the State, in items State was controlling the trade, could have saved time, labour and hazards of journey by deputing its agents to transact business without losing any substantial gains.
2. Navigation between Sutkagen -dor and the Persian Gulf islands must have been rather difficult because the coastal region along the Persian Makran was an extremely dry and desolate area absolutely inhospitable for people to settle down permanently. The hinterland sites, like Tepe Yahya, does not seem to have participated in sea – trade. May be there were a few temporary stations on the coast but we have no knowledge about them as yet.
3. The entrepots must have been attracting a number of agents from all directions. Here they were getting the opportunity to negotiate the trade amongst themselves. Some of the entrepots may have also worked as ‘clearing houses’ for small consignments for places in the neighbouring regions, such as those on the eastern coast of Arabia, say in Abu Dhabi.
The Archaeological Evidence
1. Objects of unmistakably Indian origin are discovered in Bahrain island but they are not in such a large quantity as to be certain that this was the storehouse of substantial amount of goods from India or Mesopotamia. We have no Begram here.
2. Cuneiform records of the 3rd millennium B.C. refer to Sumerian merchants setting out for Dilmun (from ED III time, 2600 B.C.). Some later texts mention Megan (Ur III Period, 2100 – 2000 B.C.). But never Meluhha, which is extremely surprising. They may have been the authorized agents with political sanction.
3. A few circular seals (discussed later), typical of Persian Gulf seals, bearing the Indus characters have been found in Mesopotamia. They are the witnesses of the Persian Gulf role in Indo – Mesopotamian trade. They possibly belonged to the local (as said earlier, their language was not Harappan at all) authorized agents who could negotiate trade transactions on behalf of the Indus merchants. A Persian Gulf seal found at Lothal may, however, indicate the presence of a Persian Gulf agent at Lothal who could transact business on behalf of the Persian Gulf merchants.
Important Interpretation
In all likelihood the State was actively engaged on behalf of the Mesopotamian traders, but whether the same situation existed in the context of Indian traders or not we do not know, mainly because the script is undeciphered. However, facts may be noted :
1. The Meluhha trade was first metioned by Sargon of Akkad (2370 B.C.) who boasted that boats from Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha came to the quay of Akkad.
2. Indus finds in Mesopotamia and at Susa are meager, their presence further down the Gulf is also limited : one lapis pendant, some stone weights from Bahrein one etched carnelian bead from Umma – a – Nar, some Indian ‘style’ seals from Bahrein, a plain pot – sherd, with a seal impression having. Indus signs from Tepe Yahya IV B almost complete the list of important known objects.
3. Some Indus sealings found at Mesopotamian sites are undoubtedly to be treated as direct imports from the Indus Valley. They found their way into Mesopotamia along with the cargo shipped from the Indus harbours.
4. The seals found in Mesopotamia were certainly used by the Indus merchants or their agents as identification marks on the goods they collected in the local markets and then sent to Indus ports.
5. A seal impression from Umma is likely to have been originally attached to a package containing some kind of merchandise, probably, cotton. It was possibly sent to Mesopotamia by some Indus merchant.
Now let us examine some of the important items exported from Meluhha as we have come to know from the Cuneiform records, and also determine up to what extent they were the Indian products. Gudea of Lagash gives a detailed list of objects coming from different countries. Various kinds of woods, copper, gold, silver, carnelian, cotton, etc.. were the important items which found their way into Mesopotamia from Meluhha. Most of the articles of these items are typically Indian.
Wood : Ur was a ship – building centre and for that hard wood was needed in huge quantity which was obtained from Magan and Meluhha. Lexical texts list three types of woods – Mes, ha – lu – ub and a – ab – ba. Probably, hill – forests of Gujarat were providing these kinds of wood, although the Himalayan sources may have provided them easily through the Indus water – course. There may have been other such forests also. Gudea sent expeditions in 2200 B.C. to Makkan and to Meluhha in search of these kinds of hard wood (teak) Indian teak wood was in great demand till recently since it was most suitable in sea – water laden with salts.
Chank – shell : The shell objects have been found at Ur Brak, Kish and Susa. Probably, they were exported from Lothal and other Indus cities as evidenced from the workshops producing bangles, wristlets, beads, gamesmen and diamond – shaped inlay pieces, etc. at several Indus sites, including Mohenjodaro. According to Rao, Kathiawar coast was no less rich in this material.
Ivory : It was the main product of Kathiawar and the Indus basin. Lothal Mohenjodaro and other contemporary sites, like Surkotada are likely to have been exporting worked pieces of ivory rods, combs, inlay pieces and gamesmen to the Persian Gulf ports – Mesopotamia and, possibly, the North Syrian Coast where their occurrence has bee reported in several excavations, Barabar temple at ‘Qala’ at al Bahrian and in the Bahrain burial tumuli, Tepe Yahya, Kish, Ubaid , Mari.
Carnelian beads : Etched carnelian beads have been found almost on all Indus sites Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Gumla, Amri III, Kalibangan, Surkotada IC, Lothal , Chanhudaro as also on some Persian, Gulf and, Iranian sites, such as Shahdad Susa, and Mesopotamian sites such as Ur, Kish, Al Hiba, and Tell Asmar. According to During Caspers, (1971), Rao (1973) and Gupta (1977), Lothal and Chanhudaro were the main production – centres, as the workshops with bead – making kilns and many unfinished carnelian beads and waste have been discovered at these sites. From the Indus region, they were exported to Mesopotamia and Susa since except India etched carnelian beads, according to available information, were not made anywhere in the contemporary world.
Cotton : The discovery of a terracotta sealing with the impression of wove fabric from Lothal the actual cotton cloth piece sticking to the base of a silver vase from Mohenjodaro a number of accessories of cotton weavers found at Lothal and other Indus cities and the seal impression with the cotton cloth from Umma indicate that cotton may have been one of the major items on the list of export items.
Cubical dice : Another object which is commercially significant is a small number of cubical dice made of terracotta, clay and bone, discovered from Ur, Tell Asmar and Tepe Gawra. Dales suggest that the origin of this type of dice possibly lies in the Indus cities. The dice from Ur is comparable with an agate dice from Mohenjodaro.
Overseas trade to be economical has necessarily to follow the system of exchange – in – full. The Mesopotamian texts present ample evidence not only for imports but also exports, although none of the known texts appears to have given the exhaustive list of these items. It has been admirably discussed by Crawford (1973) in which she draws our attention to the Mesopotamian’s invisible exports in the third millennium B.C. Fish, textiles, leather, cereals, perfumed fats and ointments have been the major items exported by Addadian merchants, though largely between one city state and the other.
As may be seen, these are all perishable items and hardly leave behind evidence to be caught by archaeologists easily, unless luck favours him or unless extremely dry or extremely cold conditions prevailed, which was hardly the case in the present context of Indus – Mesopotamian trade.The items really required by the Harappans for their industrial needs were tin, lead and silver. It is our hunch that the Harappans got in return these items, although some luxury items, organic and inorganic both, may also have jbeen imported. But let it be clearly stated that we do not as yet have any textual evidence for it.
In fact, Meluhha is referred to in cuneiform texts in the context of imports in Mesopotamia rather than exports. Dilmun and Magan are the only two places which are repeatedly mentioned at commercial centres. It is extremely significant to mention that Meluhha’s economic role, as we get the impression from the Mesopotamian texts, was important but not very important in in comparison to Dilmun and Magan. It clearly shows that the role of the Meluhhans may have been of a kind grossly different from those of the Dilmunites and Maganians. And herein lies the germs of our hunch, that agency system played a greater role thatn direct – negotiation system. Rocovery of only stray Harappan seals with Harappan and non – Harappan languages also favours only this kind of mechanism.
The recovery of sixty – five terracotta sealings, some of them bearing the impressions of packing material on the other side, from the warehouse of Lothal leaves no doubt in accepting the suggestion that the Indus seals were the commercial tools used for sealing the cargo. After packing the goods properly, the consigner’s seals were affixed on the labels of wet clay at the knot. On the basis of two to three impressions of different seals on a few clay sealings recovered from the Lothal warehouse , Rao proposes the theory of ‘profit sharing partnership’, i.e., the parties in trade and the warehouse authorities stamped the cargo jointly with their own marks for purposes of authority ad identification.
We feel that the Indus seals Indus seals in India belonged to merchants, pot – authorities and ship – captains, although in the absence of the deciphered scripi it cannot conclusively be proved. At the present state of our knowledge we are unable to visualize if these people were sharing the profit of trade or not. The seals found at the hinterland sites also seem to have belonged to merchants and not to political authorities. The belief is based on the fact, as said earlier, that no single standard type of seal bearing a single motif and single inscription has been found repeatedly at one or several sites.
Square Seals : at Tello, Umma and Kish a small group of square steatite seals have been found which are identical in shape and character to the Indus seals. They consist of the button boss at the back and the figure of unicorn standing in front of an object typical of Indus motifs and the Harappan legend on the front. The sequence of characters tally with those found on Indus seals in India.
An alabaster seal comes from Tell Asmar which shows concentric squares with a bead pattern in between and a cylindrical knob at the back. Tepe gawra has also yilded a terracotta stamp seal with concentric squares but without a bead pattern ; Mohenjodaro and Harappa have produced similar stamp – seals. Recently, a stone rectangular seal imported from some Harappan site with bull and an inscription has been found at Nippur.