The period c.200 bce-300bce was historically significant from several points of views. Craftspersons produces larger quantities and more varied goods than before, trade within the subcontinent and between its region and other lands flourished, and money was increasingly used as a medium of exchange. The sources for the history of these centuries are many and diverse. The Jatakas contain many stories of ordinary people,traders and travellers.
Archaeology continues to offer information on settlements patterns, specialized crafts and trade. In North India,the evidence from late NBPW and post NBPW levels reveals a significant expansion of urban centres.
These centuries are often labelled as ‘ shunga-kushana’. This period is also labelled as dark period. The emergence of urban centres, crafts production , trade and coins of different metals could be seen.
For the study of this period, several texts are available of these the most important ones are the Jatakas tales, purans, bharaneskastra as well as texts like kalida’s ‘malvika’, agninitrane, harshacharita etc. The Graeco-Roman texts written by Arian , Starbo & Pliny are also considered important. Apart from this several kinds of inscription and archaeological sources are also important.
One of the most conspicuous development that were registered during this period was the emergence of urban centres in the Deccan and south India. During this period, the second urbanisation registered it’s peak phase. The process of urban formation began in the Ganga valley in seventh-sixth century BC , the most mature and prosperous phase of the second urbanisation in Indian history was during the period from 200 bc to 300 ad.
In North Western India, several urban centres like pushkalavati, taxila, sagala, purushkpur were the prominent urban centres.
In the Indo-Gangetic divide and the upper Ganga valley the important urban centres that grew further were AHICHCHHATRA,SANGOL, HASTINAPUR,RAJGIR & others. In the areas of mid-ganga valley. One of the most important urban centres was Mathura. The other important cities of the mid-gangetic plains like shravasti,kaishamti,Varanasi and patliputra not only continued but seemed to have attained their most phase during this period. The important urban centres of the Ganga delta and the northern part of Bengal and Orissa were Mahasthangart,Bangarh, Chandraketugarh,Taruralipta, shizhupalgarh,Javgada etc. Aloka parashaar has pointed out that the impact of the mauryan rule & the indo-roman trade on the urbanisation in the Deccan have been overemphasized & that insufficient attention has been paid to the internal process of the cultural changes. The two important sites that have been excavated in the Maharashtra are Bhokardan and Adane. The site of Bhokardan has given evidence of two periods of occupation 1. Associated with pre-satvahana phase 2. With the late satvahana phase one of the most important site in the south is Nagarjunkonda. The combined testimony of the sangana texts and the archaeological material point to the emergence of cities in the far south also. R.Chanepak Lakshmi has brought to light the Kaveripattna particular prominence of . An important urban centre of the pandya kingdom was Madhurai.
The area of Deccan & far south has been turned as secondary urbanisation by B.D chattopadhya and other historians. The primary urban centres were the centres located in the Ganga valley and the close interaction with which resulted in the emergence of urban centres in the Deccan and far south.
The significant changes are noticeable in the economic situation of this period the there were indeed elements of continuities. The most important facet of the continuity in material life was ongoing dependence on agriculture as the mainstay of economic life. The spread of sedentary agriculture for the first time to Peninsular India. The place name Dhanyakataka, a famous Buddhist centre in the Eastern Deccan, literally means rice-bowl, is an indication of the general spread of the fully sedentary agrarian society in the Deccan. Of the variety of crops, paddy was of course the most important and the sali continued to be the rice excellence. The Milindapanho shows an awareness of the difference between the sali(for royal dietary practice) and the coarse Kumudbhandiki rice (consumbed by slaves). The production of sugarcane figures in pliny’s account, which also speals highly of the Indian cotton.
Agriculture became so common placed that stages of agricultural operations right from removing weeds from the field to the final harvesting and winnowing of crops.
Agricultural tools- mostly of iron- like the ploughshare, axes ,adzes,spade and sickle from taxila and sanchi found from archaeological findings.
Taxila has yielded several such instances of the excavations of tanks and Wells in the early centuries of the Christian era.The spread of agriculture and the diversity of crops were also associated with the growing complexities in the agrarian economy.
The period c.300bce-300ce saw a significant expansion of trade activity, both within the subcontinent and between the subcontinent and the other lands. The petty or ordinary merchants was known as vanik and vaidehaka, the leader of the caravan merchants himself was called the sarthavaha. The Tamil sangam literature knew the salt-dealer as uppu-vanikam, dealing obviously in an essential and bulk commody.
According to the same source, the merchant in gold was distinguished from the others as ponivanikam, he evidently traded in a luxury and prestige commody. A lohavanija, who dealt in iron/iron tools – once again,an essential commodity- figures as a donor in Mathura inscription. The most eminent among merchants was certainly the settings who enjoyed great prominence in Buddhist and jaina sources.
The post-Mauryan economy was based on the growth of agriculture, internal and long distance trade and on crafts and arts.
The most important development of the period was the flourishing trade between India and the Western world.
Improved internal communication system under the Mauryas was responsible for the growth of trade and commerce in the post-Mauryan phase.