Read this article to learn about the trade and commerce during the sultanate and mughal period:

Sultanat Period

State Policies:

The first few Muslim Sultans could not devote their attention to trade and commerce as they were preoccupied with the problem of securing their position.

Balban is the first Sultan who got dense forests cut; roads built and secured form the danger of bandits.

What are the achievements of the Mughal Empire

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This helped the traders and their commercial caravans to move from one market place to another. The economic reforms of Alauddin Khilji brought the prices to very low ebb though it was an artificial measure and had nothing to do with the true prosperity and economic growth.

However, it encouraged import of foreign goods form Persia, since the Sultan made advances to the foreign traders to import their goods and he always subsidised in such cases.

The failure of Mohammad Tughlaq that the country regained its economic prosperity and the revenue of Delhi alone reached the high figure of six crores while that of Doab was 80 lakhs. His encouragement to gardening and provisions of means of irrigation like the wells and canals increased the prosperity of the country.

During the days of this very ruler, we hear of Karkhanas in which he utilised his slaves. Besides these public commercial undertakings, there were private enterprises as well. We hear how many types of industries prospered during the reign of Feroze.


Dr. Ashirwadi Lai provides a very exhaustive list of these industries like the textile “including the manufacture of cotton, woolen and silk cloth. Dyeing industry, printing industry, calico printing industry sugar industry, metal work, paper industry, stone work, enameling, etc.”

Despite this industrial development the main occupation of the people was agriculture. Ala-ud-din realised 50% of the total produce in Doab and even then the farmers could find it economic to till the land.

It was the prosperity of these farmers which induced Mohammad Tughlaq to think of enhancing the land revenue. The foreign traveller, Ibn- Battuta speaks of black rice which he partook in royal feast during the reign of Mohammad Tughlaq and which was thought to be of the days of Ala-ud-din Khilji.

Internal and External Trade:

India’s foreign trade both overland and overseas was truly an international enterprise. Although the Arabs were the dominant partners in the India Ocean trade, they had been by no means ousted the Indian traders, viz. the Tamils and Gujaratis, both Hindu and Muslim.


The coastal trade and trade between the coastal ports and north India was in the hands of Marwaris and Gujaratis, many of whom were Jains. The Muslim Bohra merchants also participated in the trade. The overland trade with Central and West Asia was in the hands of Multanis, who were mostly Hindus and Khurasanis, who were Afghans, Iranians, etc. Many of these merchants had settled down in Delhi.

The Gujarati and Marwari merchants were extremely wealthy and some of them particularly the Jains, spent large sums for the construction of temples. Cambay was a great city in which many wealthy merchants live. They had lofty houses built in fine stone and mortar, with tiled roofs.

Their houses were surrounded by orchards and fruit-gardens which had many tanks. These wealthy merchants and the skilled craftsmen lived a luxurious life and were accustomed to good food and clothing. The merchants, Hindu and Muslim, were attended by pages bearing swords with silver and gold work. In Delhi, the Hindu merchants rode horses with costly trappings, lived in fine houses, and celebrated their festivals with great pomp and show.

Barani tells us that the Multani merchants were so rich that gold and silver were to be found in abundance in their houses, the nobles were so spendthrift that every time they wanted to hold a feast or a celebration, they had to run to the houses of the Multanis in order to borrow money.

Transport and Communication:

In those days, travel was always risky due to robbers and dacoits and various marauding tribes. However, the royal roads were kept in good shape and there were many sarais on the way for the comfort and safety of the travellers.

In addition to the royal road form Peshawar to Sonargaon, Muhammad Tughlaq built a road to Daulatabad. There were arrangements for the post being carried quickly from one part of the country to another.

This was done by relays of horses or even more efficiently and quickly by runners who were posted every few kilometres in towers which were built for the purpose. The runner continually clanged a bell as he ran so that the man on the next relay may be able to see him from the tower and get ready to take his burden.

We are told that by means of these relays, fresh fruits were obtained for the sultan form Khurasan. When Muhammad Tughlaq was at Daulatabad, which was 40 days’ journey from Delhi, he regularly used to receive the Ganga water for drinking purposes by means of these relays.

Mughal Period:

State Policies:

During Mughal period salaries to the standing army as well as to many of the administrative personnel (but not to the nobles) were paid in cash. Under the Zabti system, the land revenue was assessed and required to be paid in cash.

Even when the peasant was given the option of choosing other methods of assessment, such as crop-sharing, the share of the state was, generally, sold in the villages with the help of grain dealers. It has been estimated that about 20 per cent of the rural produce was marketed, which was a high proportion.

The growth of the rural grain markets led to the rise of small townships or qasbas. The demand for all types of luxury goods by the nobles led to the expansion of handicraft production and to the growth of towns. French traveller, Bernier, says that merchants tried to look poor because they were afraid that they would be used like “filled sponges”, i.e. squeezed of their wealth. This does not appear to be fully correct.

Emperors from the time of Sher Shah passed many laws for protecting the property of the merchants. The laws of Shah are well known. Jahangir’s ordinance included a provision that “if anyone, whether unbeliever or Musalman should die, his property and effects should be left for his heirs and no one should interfere with them.

If he should have no heirs, they should appoint inspectors and separate guardians to guard the property, so that its value might be expended in a lawful expenditure, such as the building of mosques and sarais, repair of broken bridge and the digging of tanks and wells.” However, local officials could always abuse their power to harass traders.

Internal and External Trade:

The Indian trading classes were well organized and highly professional. Some specialised in long distance, inter-regional trade and some local, retail trade. The former were called seth, bohra or modi, while the latter were called beoparis orbanik.

In addition to retailing goods, the baniks had their own agents, in the villages and townships, with whose help they purchased food-grains and cash crops. There was a special class of traders, the banjaras, who specialized in carrying bulk goods.

The banjaras used to move long distances, sometimes with thousands of oxen carrying foodgrains, pulses, ghee, salt, etc. The more expensive goods, such as textiles, silks, etc., were laden on camels and mules or in carts. But it was cheaper to move bulk goods through the rivers on boats.

Boat traffic on waterways and coastal trade along the seashore was more highly developed than now. The trade in food stuffs and a wide range of textile products were the most important components of inter-regional trade during the period Bengal exported sugar and rice as well as delicate muslin and silk.

The coast of Coromandel had become a centre of textile production and had a brisk trade with Gujarat, was the entry point of foreign goods. It exported fine textiles and silk (patola) to north India, with Burhanpurand Agra as the two nodal points of trade. It received foodgrains and silk from Bengal and also imported pepper from Malabar.

North India imported luxury items and also exported indigo and foodgrains. Lahore was another centre of handicraft production. It was also the distribution centre for the luxury products of Kashmir — shawls, carpets, etc. The products of the Punjab and Sindh moved down the river Indus. It had close trade links with Kabul and Qandhar, on the one hand and with Delhi and Agra on the other.

European Trade:

Between the middle of the 16th century and the middle of the 18th century India’s overseas trade steadily expanded. This was due to the trading activities of the various European companies which came to India during this period. India had commercial relations with the western countries from time immemorial. But from the seventh century A.D. her sea-borne trade passed into the hands of the Arabs, who dominated the Indian Ocean and the Red sea. It was from them that the enterprising merchants of Venice and Genoa purchased Indian goods.

This monopoly of Indian trade by the Arabs, and the Venetians was sought to be broken by direct trade with India by the Portuguese. The geo­graphical discoveries of the last quarter of the 15th century deeply affected the commercial relations of the different countries of the world and produced far-reaching consequences. The discovery of a new all-sea route from Europe to India via Cape of Good Hope by Vasco da Gama had far-reaching reper­cussions on the civilised world.

The arrival of the Portuguese in India was followed by the advent of other European communities and soon India’s coastal and maritime trade was monopolised by the Europeans. The European merchants who came to India during this period differed from the earlier foreign merchants and had the political and military support of their respective governments.

They were not individual merchants but represented their respective countries and tried to establish and safe­guard their maritime trade on the strength of their superior naval power. In course of time, their com­mercial motives turned into territorial ambitions.

Transport and Communication:

Means of transport were cheap and adequate for their needs. Despite complaints by some European travellers, safety on the roads was satisfactory and could be covered by insurance. The means of travel with sarais at the distance of 5 kos on the principal highways was as good as in Europe at the time.

The Mughals paid attention to roads and sarais which made communication easier. A uniform tax was levied on goods at the point of their entry into the empire. Road cesses or rahdari was declared illegal, though it continued to be collected by some of the local rajas.