What were the changes in the economy in the transition to the early medieval India? Were they related to changes in the social organization?
Various dimensions of changes in economy in the transition to the early medieval India have come to the surface. These changes brought the ancient period to an end and marked the beginning of a new stage in Indian history. These changes were :
- Emergence of class of Landlords and a class of subjugated peasantry in an agrarian economy which was mainly agricultural and rural.
- Decline in trade.
- Disintegration of towns and cities.
- The panicity of coins.
Emergence of Class and Landlords: Kings, Chiefs gave Land grants to Brahmans and religious establishment like temples and monasteries. These owners enjoyed all the rights of revenues including even to punish all offenses against family, property or people. This gave way to the emergence of a class of Landlords and also a section of suppressed peasantry in an agrarian economy which was mainly agricultural and rural.
Decline in Trade: Gupta period saw a steep downfall in the internal and external trade. There are evidences of decrease in Trade with Roman empire, Central Asia and South East Asia. Silk and spices were major trade items between India and Byzantine but the latter learnt the art of producing silk. Thus, affecting Indian silk trade. Huna, invaders ended the trade ties with Central Asia and Western Asia. Internally, long distance trade declined due to weakening links between villages and town’s as well as coastal towns and interior towns. Besides decay of town shrinkage of urban commodity production added to the downfall.
Scarcity of Coins: Scarcity of coins in the post-Gupta period suggest that there was a downfall in commerce. There are no traces of silver or copper coins. Even the percentage of Gold in ‘Gupta period coins had also fallen. However, the scarcity of coin can be subjected to the decline in trade and the grant of land to high officials and rulers instead of money payments. There are also evidences of barter system as a medium of exchange in. daily transactions.
Disintegration of Towns and Cities: Towns, which served centers of craft production initially started decaying and getting abandoned. Decline in trade and commerce and fall in demand for furnished goods lessened the importance of artisans, craftsmen and merchants in the towns. This situation lead to the desertion of towns and cities.
Social changes in the early medieval period can be associated with the above mentioned economy changes. The major economy forces of the period like decline in trade and commerce, towns, scarcity of coins etc. gave rise to a social structure which comprised of a massive ruling landed aristocracy, intermediaries and a sizeable section of suppressed peasantry. The unequal distribution of landed property evolved new social sections and ranks which further divided into four various — Brahmanas, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. Besides, same new occupational castes also emerged. Tribes also emerged as complain society with social differentiation in fact within them. There was an increase in the position of sudras as Vaisyas and cultivators suffered a downfall. The society because hierarchical. Thus, economic changes served as a background to such social changes.