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Introduction to internal and external trade in Sri Lanka Trade activities in Anuradhapura period Trade activities in Pollonnaruwa period Ancient village and trade Ancient trade and regulations How trade affected to ancient Sri Lankan society? Foreign countries who traded with Sri Lanka Ancient trade ports in Sri lanka Sri Lankan trade and sea routes Ancient commodities in Sri lanka Invasions in Sri Lanka due to the trade activities Coin usage with ancient trade activities Archaeological evidence that prove the ancient trade environment in Sri lanka

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Introduction to internal and external trade in ancient Sri Lanka.

Ancient Sri Lanka's economy was always based on trade. According to the historical sources like chronicles, inscriptions and other archaeological findings, Sri Lanka was a main trade center in ancient world. Sri lanka had all the resources, facilities, knowledge and connections which help to maintain a better internal and external trade economical environment. According to the Sri Lankan historians, agriculture was not the base of ancient Sri Lanka's economy. Ancient Sri Lankans didn't use agriculture to add foreign exchange to country's economy. Agriculture was only a way of make self-sufficient the country from food. Ancient rulers developed the agriculture form the wealth that they found from the trade activities. Ancient Sri Lankans were not always self-sufficient. There were some needs which they had to get from far away areas in country or sometimes out of the country. So ancient Sri Lankans got the service from trade activities for their day to day life style. According to the archaeological evidences there were number of goods that Sri Lankans exported to other countries. In most of times, there was a huge demand for those goods from Sri Lanka than the same goods from other countries. Not only the exporting activities but also there was importing activities regarding the trade in ancient Sri Lanka. Many ancient countries had identified Sri Lanka as a country which has a profitable market to sell their goods. As a country which based on trading economy, ancient rulers in Sri Lanka considered trade as a royal activity. When we consider the history, there were historical decisions regarding trade, which got by the rulers in ancient Sri Lanka. There was a methodical flow of the trade activities. Royal posts were there in ancient country to manage the trade activities. Rules and regulations had to be followed by the ancient traders in Sri Lanka. Especially in the external trading, strict rules were there to control the activities. Natural location and the coastal surrounding of Sri lanka was a great oppertunty for the Sri Lankan trade activities. It affected highly for external trading. As a main activity in country, trade affected to the many important parts of ancient Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan culture, religion, language and ruling system were strictly affected. There were good affections as well as bad affections. As a result of external trade activities, ancient Lanka was invaded many times by th e foreign countries. Buddhism, as a main part of ancient Sri lanka, affected to the trading style. When we consider the ancient prosperity and Buddhism, there was always a positive relationship between them. So, we can identify it is interesting to study the ancient trade activities in Sri Lanka. And it also help to develop a effective structure for the present and future trade development in Lanka by studying the situations which ancient people faced regarding trading activities.


Trading activities in Anuradhapura period

In Sri Lanka there are archaeological evidences to prove internal and external trade activities were occurred since before the Anuradhapura period. Within the Anuradhapura King Parakramabahu had also gone to war against Burma to defend free trade. Burma had imposed a tax on Sri Lankan exports. Within the Anuradhapura period trading was highly successful. All the rulers who ruled the country in Anuradhapura period considered trading as their main economical activity.

In Anuradhapura period, port Mahatittha was the main port. There was a route from Mahatittha to Anuradhapura through Malvatu river. And also Jambukollapattana was connected to capital Anuradhapura by a high way. Many archaeological evidence were found regarding trade activities in Sri Lanka from the excavations at Mahatittha, Jethavana vihara, Uratota. Inscriptions also there that indicate trade in this period. Some foreign traders who came from south India invaded Sri Lanka in Anuradhapura period. As an example Sena & Gutthika.


Trading activities in Pollonnaruwa period

Polonnaruwa period also very successful period in trading economy. King Parakrmabahu 1 is the most remarkable king regarding the trading activities in Pollonnauwa. He developed internal and external trade activities successfully and increased the profit. Gokanna was the main port in this period. Importance of Mahatittha was reduced due to its long distance from capital. Godavaya also a popular port in south Lanka in this period. King Parakramabahu 1 created large irrigations to develop agriculture in country by using the wealth that came from trading activities. In this period, tax rates were high and there were many rules and regulations. King Parakramabahu 1 created a department named Antharangadura to maintain the trade activities inside the country.

King Parakramabahu 1


Ancient village and trade.

Most of times ancient Sri Lankan village was self-sufficient. It was very limited in trade, inside of the village. Ancient Sri Lankan villagers tried to produce everything that they need from inside the village. As examples food,cloth,clay pots, medicine,furniture, fire wood etc. But as a result of inequal spread of natural resources, there were no chance to produce metal products from every village in the country. So they had to buy their essential metal products from the outside traders. Not only metal products but also products like salt, sea fish, transported to internal areas from coastal areas. But there were no huge demand for exported items from foreign countries because of villagers simple life style. According to culavamsa, parevi sandesa and Saddarmarathakaraya, there were permanent trading places inside of the village. Traders came to that place and sold their products to the villagers. In most of times Bata system was used for transactions.


Ancient trade and regulations.

In ancient Sri Lanka, trading was regarded as a royal activity. Rulers who controlled the country, paid his attention personally to maintain those operations in methodical and profitable way. King was always ready ready to get any decision which is necessary for the development of country's economy. While we considering the internal trade activities, taxes and regulations were not much strictly affected. But even from the local traders, taxes were taken by the king in low rates. Tax rates were vary according to the goods' type. Taxes were collected by the Gamika or the leader of the village under the king's power. But there were very strict and rules and taxes regarding the external trade activities. In ancient days there was a department to maintain the external trade. They were responsible for affective and safety trade connections with foreign countries. Ancient rulers welcomed the foreign traders to Lanka. According to inscriptions, rulers had promised the safety and freedom of the foreign traders. When Sri Lankan king needed to create trade relationships with a foreign country, he send messengers or ambassadors to that country. And also foreign traders had to get permission from royal officers before starting their trading activities. There were high tax rates for the foreign traders. Those were vary according to the good type. Usually, every ruler, who was in ancient Sri Lanka, put various strict rules to foreign traders because there were some incidents of invasions by foreign traders. As an example, Sena and Guttika who were the traders from South India invaded Sri Lanka period of 2nd century BC. By studying the history of rules and regulations, which used to control the trade activities, we can get an idea on how should we maintain and limit the present trading to save Sri Lanka from the threats that can occur through trading.


How trade affected to the ancient Sri Lankan society?

As we studied, trade was a very close activity to the ancient Sri Lankans. They participated to those operations and used it for their day-to-day activities. As a result of keeping close relationships with trade, it affected very much to the ancient society. Sri Lankan traders used to learn foreign languages to communicate with foreign traders. Lots of new words and language styles were added to the remained Sri Lankan language. As a result of that Sinhala language was developed. So we can understand trade activities were helpful for the evolution of Sri Lankan language. Not only that but also some foreign traders used to live in this country. Some times they married from this country or some people arrived to live in Sri Lanka with their own families. That was happened due to the ease of engage with trade activities. As a result of these migrations, some new cultural qualities were added to the remained Sri Lankan cultural system. Because of trade activities, early Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan village was not isolated. Various food patterns, clothing patterns, Architectural patterns and technology were spread to Lanka from other countries through external trade and among villages throgh internal trade. It was a great help for the evolution of various sides of Sri Lankan society. New economical knowledge, rules and regulations also introduced to Lanka by ancient sri Lankan rulers by having examples from the other developed trade countries in ancient world. How ever, a very important thing to remember is affection to the society from ancient trade was not much powerful like the affections of trade in colonial period. In ancient era,rulers not only thought about the trade profit. They were responsible for the safety of Sri Lankan society. But, in colonial period rulers were only thinking about the trade profit. They considered Sri Lanka only as a profitable market not as a country. Because of their narrow view, they didn't responsible for the social values of Lanka.


Foreign countries who traded with ancient Sri Lanka

In the ancient time when Sri Lanka was identified as a main market in the world, there were another number of countries which had a huge economy like Sri Lanka. There are archaeological evidence to prove that all of those countries maintained trade relationships with ancient Lanka. As examples; South India North India China Afghanistan Myanmar Thailand Arabia Egypt Greece Rome Among these countries, South India got the first place in Sri Lankan market. They tried to dominate the whole market around Sri Lanka. According to some historians, South Indian traders tried to make other foreign traders away from ancient Sri Lanka. As an example, the history of Yaksha gothra is only a imagination which made by south Indians to make other foreigners scare about the Sri Lankans.

Location of some trade countries


Ancient trade ports in Sri Lanka

Jambukolapattana Jambukolapattana

According to the world historians, Sri Lanka's natural coastal surrounding was a main rason for its high success in trade in the ancient time. There were number of natural ports which situated near number of sea routes which connectedmany developed trade countries in the ancient world. Traders who used those sea routes near Sri Lanka, visited to Sri Lankan ports to sell their goods or exchange them with other traders. All the ships which entered to the port had to pay taxes to the Sri Lanken ruler. According to the historical source culavamsa, Sri Lankan ports were very busy. Most of days 5-10 ships were embarked from a port. Most popular ports around Sri Lanka were, Mahatittha Gokanna Jambukolapattana Godavaya Uratota

Godavaya Godavaya

Ancient ports and rivers in Sri Lanka


At the beginning of Anuradhapura kingdom, Mahatittha was the major trade port in Sri Lanka. It located at the mouth of Malvathu river. It was opposite to Mannar. On the north-western coast facing to the Arabian sea. According to Rasavahini in Polonnaruwa period, traders collected various commodities from mahatittha and sold them interior. From the excavations of the place where mahatittha located. Archaeologists have found thousands of ancient foreign coins, porcelain-wares and many more. From further excavations archaeologists say there was a 40 feet wide high way from mahatittha to capital Anuradhapura. Another special thing that identified is there was a transportation system from mahatittha to Anuradhapura city through Malvatu river. Traders may used boats to transport goods to the internal cities. Mahatittha was the major port in ancient Sri Lanka until the collapse of Anuradhapura kingdom. Gokanna

After the Anuradhapura kingdom, Pollonnaruwa became the major kingdom in the ancient Sri Lanka. In this period the port of Gokanna which located in Trincomalee was closer to capital city than the Mahatititha. So, Gokanna became the major port by reducing the importance of Mahatittha. 9


Jambukolapattana which situated at jaffna penninsula was not very important in maritime trade. But mostly used for embarkation and landing ships. It was a very important port in Anuradhapura. It shows us from the ancient high way from Jambukolapattana to Anuradhapura. It also used by south Indian people to keep connection with the tamil people who lived in Jaffna peninsula. Not only south indians but also north Indian people used Jambukolapattana to keep connection with Sri Lankans. It has social and religious values. Lord Buddha's dalada was taken in to Sri Lanka through this port. Theri Sanghamitta also arrived to Sri Lanka with Sri maha bodhi through this port. Godavaya

Godavaya or the godapavatha port located at the mouth of walave river in Hambanthota. It was the most popular port situated at south country. According to a inscription by King Gajabahu the custom duty income of this port was dedicated to the Godapavatha viharaya. Uratota

Uratota is another port in ancient jaffnaa peninsula. It was used for maritime activities especially during the Pollonnaruwa period. There was a inscription by king Parakramabahu 1 which suggest that the port was used for the maritime trading activities.



Sri Lankan trade and sea routes

Location of the Sri Lankan island in Indian ocean was a critical reason for its high success in maritime trading activities. Sri Lanka situated at the middle of maritime silk road from China to Europe. The south-west monsoons carried in the sailing ships across the oceans from the west and the north-east monsoons on their return journey from the east. The natural harbors around Sri Lanka such as Manthai in the north west, Godawaya in the south, and Gokanna in the east were very helpful for the sailors on the silk route. On their journey, Sri Lanka was used as a point to sell their goods, buy new commodities and repair their ships with strong wood like Halmilla. In ancient time Manthai or Mahatittha was not only a port but also a place to ship repairing.

Ancient Silk route



Ancient commodities in Sri Lanka

As you have already studied, Sri Lanka was a world market in the ancient period. So, various commodities from various countries were imported to Sri Lanka. And also various commodities were exported to foreign countries from Sri Lanka. There were countries which dominated the distribution of some products. When we consider Sri Lankan market, there were no enough evidence to prove that Sri Lanka largely imported food items from outside. But Sri Lanka exported some food items like spice to outside world. Most of Sri Lankan imported goods were luxurious items which had high demand from royalities. Most of Sri Lankan export items also were luxury or military items.

Imported items in Sri Lanka: Velvet Silks Cotton Ceramics Porcelain-wares Drugs Opium Camphor

Tobacco Musk Agar wood Saltpeter Sulpher Looking glasses Glass bottels Horses

Exported items in Sri Lanka: Gems Pearls Elephants Ivory Tortoise shells Valuable wood

Textiles Cloves Cardamoms Pepper Cinnamon


Textiles:Sri Lanka produced textiles and exported. But some times they imported some textiles from outside. As an example, literary sources say king Nissanka Malla used chinese silk to decorate the latha mandapa. Spice:According to the ancient Greek and Indians texts, Sri Lanka was described as the spice Island. Sri Lanka mainly exported cloves under spices. Spices were mainly used for flavour food and preserve them. In Egypt spices were used to produce royal perfumes. Some kind spices which exported by Sri lanka were native to this country and they gave the finest quality.

Pottery and ceramics:many local and imported pottery and ceramics found from excavations around Jethawana monestry. There were red polished ware potteries imported from North India, and some Persian and Roman pottery pieces. And also some black hellientic pots originating in the Mediterranean, were found from Anuradhapura citadel site. From the Manthai or Mahatittha port site, black polished wares with orange colored clay were found which was originated by Persian. Pottery pieces made by cayloline clay and huge jars used to ttransport goods were found which produced in middle east. Chinese ceramics have been found particularly in Yapahuwa. Elephants and Horses:There were large population of elephants in rain forests in Sri Lanka. Those elephants captured and exported to other countries. There were ships which can carry 10-12 elephants at a time. According to a Greek descriptions of Taprobane in h century, horses were imported to Sri Lanka from India and Persia.




Invasions in ancient Sri Lanka due to the trade activities

Ancient Sri Lanka was invaded many times as a result of external trading activities. Especially the South Indian rulers and merchants tried many times to invade ancient Sri Lanka and some times they successfully invaded. Reason for those invasions was south Indian people realized, how valuble the market that was created around Sri Lanka. So they tried to grab it from Sri Lankan people. South Indians invaded the port Mahatittha many times. And also they used Jambukolapattana which was near to south India to enter to Sri Lanka. The two merchants Sena & Gutthika who invaded Sri lanka in Anuradhapura period is an example. In the period of Pollonnaruwa, king Parakramabahu had also gone to war against Burma to defend free trade. Because Burma had imposed high tax rates on Sri Lankan exports like elephants.



Coin usage with ancient trade activities

According to Manampitiya viharaya inscription in Kegalle which dated to 3rd century BC, trade was money based on that time. How ever 1st indigenous coins appeared in 1st or 2nd century AD in Sri Lanka. Coins were widely used for export transactions. In ancient world, Roman money performed as today's dollar. Roman coins were spread through out the world. But after the collapse of the Roman empire, Sri Lankan coins were popular. Few coins were found from Kenya which were dated to Buvenakebahu 1. According to the Fa Hien records there were money exchangers in Sri Lanka and India. In Sri Lanka, coins were locally produced. From the excavations of Akurugoda, unearthed coin moulders were found by the archaeologists. As to the historians Sri Lankans sold those coins less than to their face value and earned a profit.

Coin found from Akurugoda



Archaeological evidence that prove the ancient trading environment in Sri Lanka
When historians suggest something about history, they must support it by using archaeological evidence. In this part we are going to study the evidence that the historians show up to support their idea on the trade in Sri Lanka.

Ancient inscription which mention trade

Brahmian inscriptions were found at Mandagala and Bambaragatalava in Ampara district which indicates merchants as Vanija or Vanica. Two inscriptions that were found at Periyakuliyankulama in Vauniya district, consist a name Damida vanija which used to call Tamil merchants. Inscriptions found at Sigiriya and inscription by King Nissankamalla also noted about merchants. Culavamsa and Parevi sandesha shows us trade in village by indicating a village market place. Saddarmarathakaraya also indicate about a fisherman who exchanged fish for rice, ghee and milk. Large amount of coins, porcelain-wares, 40 feet wide road from port to Anuradhapura are found from mahatittha excavations which show the strength of ancient external trade activities. According to literature source Rasavahini, traders collected various commodities from Mahatittha and sold them in interior. Nainativu tamil inscription implies that foreign trade ships arrived to Uraturai. Inscription by Gajabahu 1 states about port of Godavaya. According to Culavamsa king Parakramabahu 1 studied the writings of Chanakya the world's first economist. Ptolemy has indicated Sri Lanka occupied an important position in trade circuity by the 2nd century. Mahavamsa speaks of an important merchant named Kundala who supplied sanddle wood from India to King Dutugamunu. Cosmos stated that ships visited Sri Lanka for its own products. According to Rajatharangani, a 5th century text, women in Kashmir wore cloth manufactured in Sri Lanka. Fa Hien found very rich trade families in Anuradhapura kingdom in the period of 5th century. Tonigala inscription of King Kirthi Sri Meghavarna Abahaya refers to a bank run by a merchant. Inscription at Mampita vihara in Kegalle district dated to 3rd century BC indicating about the money usage in Sri Lanka.


According to Ven Buddhagosha's statements there were money changers in Sri Lanka. Badulla pillar inscription of king Udaya 1V gives some information on trade regulations. In 9th century AD Li Chao the mandarin who wrote Tang Kao shih pu reports the ships from lion kingdom were the largest. Thousands of coins, porcelain-ware parts and other archaeological evidences were found from the excavations near Ancient Pot has been found Jethawana Vihara. by an excavation