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Beyond the Periyar: A History of Consumption in Indo-Mediterranean Trade (100 BCE – 400 CE)

Simmons, Jeremy A.

This dissertation draws inspiration from one of most iconic exchanges across the Indian Ocean in antiquity: that of Indian spices for Roman gold coins on the Periyar River in Malabar. While previous scholarship has outlined how these goods arrived at various entrepots like that on the Periyar, the larger impacts of Indian Ocean imports within new socio-cultural environments have yet to be explored. "Beyond the Periyar" articulates these impacts from a new perspective, the commodities themselves and the rippling patterns of consumption and industries that contribute to or arise from their importation. Roman coins changed functions as they changed hands, and surviving specimens often show the multiple stages of their long lives as objects through physical adaptations by Indian consumers. Their superficial design further held aesthetic value, provided useful idioms for Indian die-cutters, and inspired an industry of high-quality imitations. Indian spices like black pepper, cinnamon leaf, and ginger contributed to Roman culinary and cosmetic practices, as attested by Roman authors and associated utensils. These products have been discussed in the context of notions of “luxury” in reactionary texts—however, such critiques must be balanced against larger considerations of literary genre and known economic factors like prices vis-à-vis real wages. A hive of human activity throughout the Indian Ocean world underpinned these acts of consumption, which often stands behind the veil of consumer apathy. Human agents range from the investors financing transoceanic ventures and the traders manning oceangoing vessels, to state interests and regional security personnel, to the processors, craftsmen, and vendors who marketed these products to consumers. When we look beyond the Periyar, the consumption of long-distance imports appears not as a marginal force, but as a transformative component of ancient economies and societies with a far wider reach than previously assumed.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Classical Studies
Thesis Advisors
Ma, John T.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 30, 2020
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