Early Historic South Asia: Geography, Climate, and the Human Landscape

by Mamta Dwivedi

A dynamic approach of Early South Asia and the exchanges across the Bay of Bengal.

Early Historic South Asia Mamta Dwivedi

Publication: De Gruyter Open Access

Published: 2020

Author: Mamta Dwivedi

Pages: 34

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110607741-005

Language : English

Amongst the directions pointed out by the author -- in an essay representative of the development of contemporary Indian historic research --, we'll note:

  • More about the Indic influences throughout Southeast Asia: 'The ‘Indianization’ or ‘Indicization’ of Southeast Asia, including the spread of Buddhism, was considered a form of colonization undertaken by the South Asian empires and states, especially during the first millennium. However, archaeological, epigraphical, and socio-anthropological research has pointed to maritime connections with Southeast Asia as early as the second millennium. Furthermore, shared seafaring technology, suggesting that the development of boat-building techniques in India were influenced by Southeast Asian practices, indicates transfers of knowledge. Another type of shared knowledge was that of metallurgy. Bimetallic artifacts of bronze and iron from sites in South Asia, east Java, and Vietnam date back to the first millennium, and are still evident in the beginning of the Common Era. Glass, pottery, and carnelian beads also appear as common remains linking South and Southeast Asia over long periods of time.
  • Suvarnabhumi: 'The attribution of Suvarṇabhūmi to a geo-political entity was an important factor in debates surrounding the spread of Buddhism in nineteenth- and twentieth century scholarship. However, extensive gold mines in the Philippines, Borneo, western Burma, western Sumatra, the Malaysian and Thai peninsulas, central Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos confirm the reputation of Suvarṇabhūmi as a ‘land of gold.’ High-value artifacts of South Asian provenance used in a ritual context, moreover, have been discovered in sites of peninsular and central Thailand and coastal Vietnam. Rouletted ware and beads found in coastal sites in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia show that maritime trade between these regions and South Asia was established by the third century.'
  • A broader definition of 'Empire': 'Early historic South Asia exhibits a variety of political formations. There were polities with tendencies toward monarchical rule, elaborate administrative structures, and expansionist military apparatuses. There were also political conglomerations and lineage-based polities coexisting with the kingdoms and often outliving the monarchical structures. The dynamics of subjugation, coexistence, and alliance do not allow one to chart fixed political developments in a cohesive unity spanning the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the idea of dynamic unity has resulted in scholars understanding the political scenario of South Asia differently.While one group of scholars regards the degree of ecological diversity as an adequate condition for one region (the Ganga-Yamuna valley) to emerge as a nucleus region with a level of surplus production and resource concentration that enabled the control of other regions, the alternate view sees the diversity and complexity of ecologies and social structures as hindering the formation of empire-like structures. However, if empire is to be understood as more than a central state, military apparatus, and dominant political and religious influence, other, perhaps more helpful, aspects come into perspective. If we define empires more flexibly as a political context of connectivity and interaction (of ideological, religious, cultural, and economic forms), the history of the South Asian region appears as a dynamic entity with connections and interactions both within the region and with the wider world. South Asia provides an example of an interesting relationship between ritual, economic, and social aspects of society in which polities, monuments, and institutions developed through factors other than either the purely political or the purely economic.'

Photo: Map of major cities and routes in early historic South Asia (after Chandra 1977; Neelis 2011), © Peter Palm.

Tags: South Asia, Southeast Asia, Suvarnabhumi, maritime trade, Bay of Bengal, Buddhism, maritime trade, Indianization

About the Author

Mamta Dwivedi

Mamta Dwivedi

Mamta Dwivedi is a post-doctoral researcher at Freiburg University, specialized in Early Historic South Asia, Numismatics and Religion.

Her PhD dissertation in 2011 was 'Yaudheya Coins: Exploring Numismatics as a Source of History (c. 300 B.C. to c. A.D 300.)' (Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 2011).