“The Port Trade Centre and Roman Exchange with the Indian Subcontinent”. Arikamedu was an Indo-Roman trading city and one of the earliest known Indo-Pacific bead making centres. The site was mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea a Greco-Roman text of the 1st century CE. Arikamedu was referred to by the Roman name ‘Poduke’, appearing again as ‘Poduke emporion’ in Ptolemy’s atlas Geographia in the mid-1st century CE. Arikamedu is one of the most important sites of Silk Roads contacts, an archaeological site located in Southern India close to the city Puducherry on the banks of the Ariyankuppam river.

Excavations at the site have uncovered substantial evidence of a Roman trading settlement including amphorae, lamps, glassware, coins, beads made of stone, glass and gold, and gems. Based on these finds it appears the settlement engaged in considerable trade with the Roman and later Byzantine world during an extensive period from the 2nd century BCE to the 8th century CE.

Arikamedu was also a centre of manufacture in its own right producing textiles, particularly the cotton fabric muslin, jewellery, stone, glass, and gold beads (for which the settlement was particularly renowned). Many distinctive wares have been uncovered which clearly pre-date Roman exchange including products made locally such as shells, beads and pottery indicating a flourishing local craft tradition before the arrival of foreign influences. Some of the most significant finds from this site of Silk Roads exchange include Indo-Pacific beads, red and black ceramics, and large stones used to mark graves, all of which pre-date its history as a trading post.  The area surrounding Arikamedu has several sea inlets and backwaters, thus making it a suitable location for harbouring ships safely.

three different types of pottery were uncovered at Arikamedu – 

I) ‘Arretine’ ware – 

ii) Amphorae

iiI) Rouletted ware – 

Arikamedu's China trade links

The Yuan Shi (Yuan-Shi-zin-bian), the annals of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 CE) compiled in the 14th century, mentions the name of Xin-cun as the port on the Coromandel coast where Chinese envoys arrived in 1281. The Chinese text mentions that the Chinese emperor, being anxious to receive a mission from the king of Ju-lan as a token of his submission, sent imperial envoys to Ju-lan for that purpose in 1280. The port city Xin-cun mentioned in this work is identified variously with Kāveripūmpatͅtͅinͅam, Sadras (Caturaṅgapatͅtͅinͅam), and Sōpuram (Tiruccōpuram) or Cintāmanͅi on the Coromandal coast.N. Karashima identified this place with Pondicherry on the grounds that Xin-cun means a “new village” in Chinese. Putuccēri, the original form of Pondicherry, also means a “new village” in Tamil. As stated above, the discovery of many Chinese and Southeast Asian potteries from the 12th-14th centuries CE in the Pondicherry area testifies to the fact that this area flourished as an important seaport and trade centre during that period. Manappattu, a coastal site situated about 10 km south of Arikamedu, has also yielded a large number of Chinese and Southeast Asian potteries from the late medieval period. 

references :

  1. Soundara Rajan, K. V. Kaveripattinam Excavations 1963-73 (A Port City on the Tamil Nadu Coast): Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, vol. 90. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1994.
  2. Sridhar, T. S., D. Thulasiraman, S. Selvaraj, and S. Vasanthi, eds. Alagankulam, An Ancient Roman Port City of Tamil Nadu. Chennai: Department of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu, 2005.
  3. Strabo. Geography. Translated by Horace Leonard Jones. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1928.
  4. Subramaniam, T. N. “A Tamil Colony in Medieval China.” In South Indian Studies, vol. 1, edited by R. Nagaswamy, 1-52. Madras: Society for Archaeological, Historical & Epigraphical Research, 1978.
  5. Tatsuo, Sasaki, “Trade Ceramics from the Coast of the Indian Ocean.” Journal of East-West Maritime Relations 1 (1989): 117-128.