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Economic Surplus in Ancient India of the Period of Harappan Society Essay

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Updated: Jul 17th, 2021

In the 20th century, Indian archaeologists discovered a civilization that existed simultaneously with the Egyptian civilization of the era of the first pharaohs and Mesopotamia of the Sumerians period. The Harappan society dated by 2600-2500 BC, one of the most ancient river valley civilizations worldwide, has a vivid culture with magnificent cities, developed crafts and trade, and art (Schug & Walimbe, 2016).

Archaeologists excavated the largest urban centers of this civilization such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Later, approximately 1500 settlements were found that covered the entire Indus Valley and its tributaries in a continuous sequence, covering the northeast coast of the Arabian Sea on the place of present-day India and Pakistan. Caused by proper governance, effective trade ways, and innovation, the Harappan society experienced economic surplus, which declined due to the invasion of other nations and environmental factors.

The social structure of the Harappan civilization can be represented by analogy with the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies that existed contemporarily. In particular, the Harappan society has gone far from the primitive communal system, achieving significant property stratification (Schug & Walimbe, 2016). There was a fully formed state with a developed administrative apparatus, not limited to individual cities and politically uniting a number of cities and settlements.

The economy of ancient India of this period was largely dependent on agriculture and trade. The majority of the population of the ancient state was engaged in agriculture as the population cultivated legumes, barley, rice, wheat, and so on (Schug & Walimbe, 2016). According to archaeological excavations, the first in history, the ancient Indian civilization began to grow cotton in the fields and make threads from it for the production of fabrics. Due to the cotton linen trade, economic relations with other countries were established.

Archaeologists have found that the Indians have developed a complex system of irrigation canals for watering the fields. Especially in arid areas, the irrigation system allowed farmers to harvest significant crops (Lockard, 2014). Some areas of ancient India were engaged in the cultivation of rice, so watering the fields was critical for growing cereals. In the villages, in addition to farming, cattle breeding was well developed. At the same time, they used a wooden plow for cultivating the soil. The ancient Indians have tamed cattle, camels, and horses, while even elephants were considered pets and helped people in almost all sectors of the economy. With the help of these huge animals, the Indians dragged huge loads, for example, tree trunks and stones for construction. In addition, elephants were an excellent means of transportation, which was a cheap and safe method of trade both inside and outside the country.

In the ancient Indian civilization, craft took one of the main places in the national economy. Indian artisans were able to handle metal, stone, and wood. The construction of housing and shipbuilding was developed; craftsmen made plows for agriculture, weaved cotton fabrics for sale, and made musical instruments (Schug & Walimbe, 2016). They made jewelry, dishes, and other household items from bronze, copper, lead, tin, gold, and silver. Based on the review of the basics of the Harappan economy, one may note that the government that introduced innovations and ensured trade was the main body responsible for the economic surplus creation.

It is important to stress the fact that scholars, governors, and leading farmers were among those who controlled the effective economy, and the population that implemented the offered innovations was supposed to protect this surplus. In terms of farming, trade, and craftsmanship, governors were also to keep the growing economic pace by paying attention to internal struggles along with external threats.

In order to better understand the role of trade, it seems important to focus on some details. The ancient India maintained trade relations with many states and inside the civilization. For example, it is known that the goods were brought through several routes to Afghanistan, China, and Burma (Lockard, 2014). The main items of trade were jewelry, cotton fabrics, grain, and miniature figurines of metals and ivory. In the same period, there were steady trade relationships with neighboring lands: from the territory of modern Iran and Afghanistan, supplies for farmers, precious stones, and other necessary items were imported. Such a bilateral trade was rather beneficial for the Harappan society as it allowed ensuring the country with all the products required for a good life, thus eliminating excess production and achieving the overall economic prosperity.

Those who did not protect or control the economic surplus were affected in a way their masters or employers decided. Peasants, prisoners, and slaves composed the group that was given a hard job: for instance, they worked in the first seaport in history near the modern city of Lothal (Schug & Walimbe, 2016). Huge storages for grain and other goods were found not far from the pier, which were managed by the mentioned persons. Thus, it is important to emphasize that the basis of the Harappan urban civilization could still be peasant labor, taxes, and tribute collected from the farmers who lived around the cities.

The heyday of the Harappan civilization was marked by two key factors such as the invasion of the Aryans, nomadic tribes from the Central Asian steppes, and the internal civil strife. The government was to blame for the decline in the economic surplus as it could not resolve internal issues and prevent the invasion (Lockard, 2014). Due to the internal turmoil, the cities could not resist the onslaught of the enemy. Their inhabitants went to look for new and less depleted lands and safe places, moving to the south and the valley of the Ganges. The remaining population returned to a simple rural way of life, as it was a thousand years before these events (Schug & Walimbe, 2016).

The local population took Indo-European language and Aryan culture elements. Many buildings were abandoned, and new small houses were constructed on the ruins of public buildings. In cities, the power of the government reduced, and people became significantly poorer, which may be regarded as the decline in the economic surplus and the transition to the economic deficit.

To conclude, the Harappan civilization was rather successful due to innovations in farming and trade as well as the detailed management of the mentioned areas. With the invasion of Aryans, the economic surplus decreased, and social relations began to deteriorate, which affected the culture and economy of the state. Many cities were rebuilt, using the old brick from the destroyed houses. The number of imported items was reduced, which means that external relations have weakened and trade has declined, leaving people deprived of various benefits of a dying civilization. Also, handicraft production declined, ceramics became coarser without elaborate painting, the number of seals decreased, and metal was used less often.

References

Lockard, C. (2014). Societies, networks, and transitions: A global history (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Schug, G. R., & Walimbe, S. R. (2016). A companion to South Asia in the past. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

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IvyPanda. "Economic Surplus in Ancient India of the Period of Harappan Society." July 17, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/economic-surplus-in-ancient-india-of-the-period-of-harappan-society/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Economic Surplus in Ancient India of the Period of Harappan Society." July 17, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/economic-surplus-in-ancient-india-of-the-period-of-harappan-society/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Economic Surplus in Ancient India of the Period of Harappan Society'. 17 July.

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