Archaeologists have unearthed some artefacts which throw light into the history of trade connections of Tamil Nadu with ancient Rome
With the new findings, ancient Romans did not restrict themselves to coastal Tamil Nadu; they set up trading hubs even far behind the inland. Naduveerapattu and now Pattarai Perambular both have enough evidence to prove the Romanian link with old Madras Pattnam. During Chola period roaring mercantile business took place through Poombhugar port which is now buried under sea. Even in the pre colonial era Dutch and Portuguese did roaring trade with Tamilians. Tamil country was one of the many teeming marketplaces of the ancient world. 2,000 years ago, silk, spices mainly pepper cardamom, ivory and jewellery were traded.
The Roman connection came to surface when a team of archaeologists explored a dry lake bed in Naduvirapattu village, some 12 km from Tambaram, in the year 2011 and found some artefacts, including broken pieces of amphorae (jars used by Romans). It was a tip by a villager, engaged in sand-mining on a dry lake bed that took the team to the site where it found arte-facts of the Sangam Age (between 3rd century BCE and 4th century CE) and some from ancient Rome. Among them, the archaeologists said, were black-and-red ware, black ware, red slipped ware, double slipped ware, broken handles of vessels, hopscotch and lid knob.
‘Naduvirapattu is only the most recent instance of Roman contact with ancient Tamil country. Thousands of coins – gold, silver and copper – found in Karur carrying portraits of famous Roman kings showed that the contacts were extensive’, says R Nagaswamy, scholar and former director of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The evidence at the site, archaeologists claimed, was a sign that the village might have been a transit staging area for the Romans before they proceeded towards Kancheepuram, a famous trading centre since the pre-historic era, to exchange their glass utensils and wine for rice, sesame oil, spices and silk.
The pieces of amphorae were clear evidence of the presence of Romans. Earlier, similar jars were found at excavation sites in Kancheepuram, Vasava samudram and Arikamedu near Puducherry. “The shreds of conical jar is an imitation of the Romans' amphorae and is indigenously made,” said Assistant Professor Koshy. Also found was an old brick structure, reportedly from the Sangam Age. Each brick, it was found, was 31 cm long, 20.5 cm wide and 7.5 cm thick.
A team of archaeologists from the Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department found broken pieces of roulette ware, a Roman royal household ware, at an excavation site in Pattarai Perambadur, a small village with around 600 farming families on the western outskirts of Chennai. “Presence of roulette ware far away from the coastline is interesting because it indicates that Romans traded beyond coastal towns,” said R Sivanantham, Deputy Director, Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department.
The team found most of the antiques, including stone tools, pot shreds, beads made of ivory, glass and terracotta, conical jars and a ring well from Irularthoppu hamlet in three small trenches. Archaeologists said, this was for the first time that evidence has emerged on Roman presence in western parts of the city, indicating they travelled away from the coastline. The three ancient sites–Nathamedu, Aanaimedu and Irularthoppu–in Pattarai Perambadur village were excavated with 12 trenches. They found an entire sequence of habitations since the early Palaeolithic age (10,000 years ago) to early Christian era.
The Roman presence in the state has been supported by literary references including Sangam works. The Yavanas—the term used by Tamils for Romans—left their own mark on Tamil society. They probably taught Tamils to make round coins instead of square ones, says P D Balaji, head in-charge, ancient history and archaeology department of the University of Madras. The Romans used pepper in everything – from their food to wines, sweets and medicines. And they paid for it in gold, says archaeologists.
TS Venkatesan, Chennai