Book / The Muziris Papyrus and Ancient Kerala’s Trade with the Roman Empire

De Romanis, Federico. The Indo-Roman Pepper Trade and the Muziris Papyrus. Oxford Studies on the Roman Economy. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

ISBN 9780198842347 / Hardcover / 544 pages / USD 110

About the Book (edited): This volume presents a systematic and fresh interpretation of a mid-second-century A.D. papyrus—the so-called Muziris papyrus—which preserves on its two sides fragments of a unique pair of documents: on one side, a loan agreement to finance a commercial enterprise to south India and, on the other, an assessment of the fiscal value of a south Indian cargo imported on a ship named the Hermapollon.

The two texts, whose informative potential has long been underexploited, clarify several aspects of the early Roman Empire’s trade with south India, including transport logistics, financial and legal elements in the loan agreement funding the commercial enterprise, the trade goods included in the south Indian cargo, and the technicalities of calculating and collecting Roman customs duties on the Indian imports.

This study also considers imperial fiscal policy as it related to the south Indian trade, the overall evolution of Rome’s trade relations with south India, the structure and organization of south Indian trade stakeholders, and the role played by private tax-collectors. The in-depth analysis sheds new light on this important sector of the Roman economy during the first two centuries A.D. in two innovative ways: through a balanced consideration of south Indian sources and data, and by drawing comparisons with the pepper trade from late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and early modernity, resulting in a longue durée perspective on the western trade in south Indian pepper.

Table of Contents

0. Introduction
0.1. Synopsis
P. Vindob. G 40822: Text and Translation
Part I. Contextualizing the Muziris Papyrus

1. Bridging Disconnected Seas
2. Riding the Monsoons
3. Pepper Lands
4. South Indian Perspectives
5. Supporting Sources

Part II. Let Him Look to his Bond: A Loan Contract for Muziris (P. Vindob. G 40822 Recto)

6. Deadline and Whereabouts
7. Selling and Repaying
8. Loan and Logistics

Part III. The Muziris Cargo of a Roman Indiaman (P. Vindob. G 40822 Verso)

9. Three Minor Cargoes and How They Were Assessed
10. The Other Cargoes
11. Contrasts

Part IV. The Red Sea Tax and the Muziris Papyrus

12. Maris Rubri Vectigal
13. Dramatis Personae
14. Epilogue


1. Exchanging Coins at Barygaza
2. Axum and Silis in the Kephalaia: Trade and Powers in the Late Antique Indian Ocean

About the Author: Federico De Romanis is Associate Professor in Roman History at the Università di Roma ‘Tor Vergata’ in Rome, Italy. He received his doctorate in historical sciences from the Università della Repubblica di S. Marino in 1992 and has taught at the Università di Catania and at the Università della Tuscia, as well as holding fellowships at the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici in Naples (1987-8) and at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University (2012-3). His previous publications include Cassia, cinnamomo, ossidiana: Uomini e merci tra Oceano Indiano e Mediterraneo (L’Erma Di Bretschneider, 1996).

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