Archaeological remains from Arikamedu and its trade network

Archaeological remains from Arikamedu and its trade network

Ravitchandirane P.

The publication of Wheeler in 1945, together with the periodical articles and recent publications dealing with Arikamedu by Vimala Begley and others, dispenses with need of description of the Red Sea ports and Indonesia sites discussed here in connection with Arikamedu trade. Arikamedu (an eroding mound) was identified with the emporium Poduke of Periplus Maris Erythraei (here after PME) by G. Jouveau-Dubreuil[1] and as Indo-roman trading station by Wheeler after his excavation[2]. The industrial base and chronological data was reconsidered by Vimala Begley[3] succeeded by Casal[4]. All the excavations confirmed the existence of a port with brick structures dating from early Christian era, which has close trade connections with the west. The Indian artifacts from Red Sea ports in Egypt[5] and Sembiran in Bali island of Indonesia[6] are now established a fact that Arikamedu was center of ancient over seas trade that run east and west.

The Excavations and its findings

Between 1941 and 1944, a small-scale excavations were undertaken by French Scholars. They plotted two grids oriented north south, for what were then considered to be the important areas for the excavations. However, Sir Mortimer Wheeler first introduced the scientific method of excavation at Arikamedu in India in the summer of 1945. Following Wheeler, J.M Casal excavated fairly extensive area, more than any other excavations. Wheeler divided Arikamedu into two sectors like north and south whereas Casal named those sectors as one and two. 50 years after Wheeler and Casal excavations, we were unable to locate the place of their excavations. We made two trenches on where Wheeler and Casal excavated and fixed a permanent datum point for the future study. Our team under the direction of Vimala Begley made 10 sq.m grid site map and plotted the previous excavated areas, the structural remains, the features exposed above the ground level and Vimala’s new trenches.

The excavators of Arikamedu excavated a little further along the riverbank south found the remains of a small collection of dwellings, which had probably been a fishing village[7]. But with the development of trade in the beginning of the Christian era, the primitive village was gently abandoned/developed, and the brick-built harbor town came into existence. Along the riverbank north the excavators uncovered a vast basin dug out of the earth. It has been traced back from the river for the distance of forty meters. It was identified as a dock/ware house. The discovery of dyeing vats, lined pits, floors and conduit thought out the riverbank.

Apart from the architectural features the artifacts such as ceramic both Indian and foreign, terracotta objects, stones, shells, bone and wooden objects, are found in all excavations. Among the findings of Arikamedu the terra sigillata (so called Arretine) is the most important one. Terra sigillata means Red glazed ware, which was specially used as a table wares by the Romans. So far, in India terra sigillata has been found only at Arikamedu. It has been assumed that westerners residing at Arikamedu used the sigillata[8]. In addition, nowhere in the world beyond the Roman boundary except two places we do not have find terra sigillata one is at Timma in South Arabia[9] and another one is at Arikamedu in India.

There were various industrial activities took place in Arikamedu. Metal workers, glass blowers, shell cutters, craftsmen in precious and semi-precious stones and ivory workers were grouped in this area, making or assembling the objects which were exported over seas.

Until now it was believed that Arikamedu was essentially made for Roman trade that held between 1st century BC and 2 century AD. In our recent research we have encounted considerable quantities of pottery and documented several architectural features dated from 3 century BC to French times. Finds of Chola coins, Chinese celadon pottery and others East Asian glazed wares, suggest the occupation and some involvement in medieval east-west maritime relation.

In-land relation

The direct evidence for the over land trade contact of east cost seaports for many years was focused on literary materials. The ancient Tamil works referred the trade between ancient seaports and the inland urban centers in various parts of ancient Tamil country. Debate has continued among scholars over the inland transshipment of commodities that reached Arikamedu for export purpose, and the imported commodities of Arikamedu that distributed to the inland urban centers. The identification of Kottaimedu and Sorappattu near Puranasigapalayam, particularly when pot sherd findings brought to the Pondicherry Museum. I have made two surveys on Kottaimedu for the Iron Age-Pondicherry project. During my survey I have discovered abundant pottery, a ring well and debris of ancient architecture-bearing deposits on the north bank of Pambai Vaykkal that links the rivers South Pennar and the Gingee, 8 Km., before it flows into the Gingee river. The finds from the surface show imported and local archaeological materials dating first and second century AD. The finds include the sherd of an amphora, and course Rouletted ware, together with sherds of bowls and dishes, the bluntly pointed base of a large storage jar and top, body and lower fragments of tall conical vessel tapering down to a point at the base.

These discoveries at Kottaimedu suggest that the contacts between Arikamedu and Kottaimedu had already occurred in the first century AD. It also suggests that the inland transshipment were not carried along the river Ginger and its banks beyond Suthukeni and Tiruvakkarai. The geological Archaean (granite) formation at Tiruvakkarai region possibly made the river Gingee not useful to reach the urban centers of central South India. Moreover, the Images from remote sensing shows that river Pambai was one of out let of river Pennar, and the river Gingee was its feeder. After the contraction of the Sathanoor Dam and other natural factors led the river Pambai Vaikal into a dry bed and river Gingee seems a separate river i.e., isolated form river Pennar.

Arikamedu finds from East

The relation between ancient Tamil country and the Southeast Asia are well known from the inscriptions like from Vo-Canh in Vietnam. Prior to the 4 th century AD we have now a serial of Indian ceramic that found in the Southeast Asia.

Rouletted ware even reported form illicit digging around Kobak Kenal and Cibutak in the northwestern Jawa. There are references to Rouletted ware from Beikthano in Burma. An Indian Ivory comb was reported from central Thailand. The sherd of Arikamedu type 18c was found in northern Malaya.

On the coastal plain of north the Bali island the villages like Sembiran, Pacung and Julah Dr. I.W. Ardika found Rouletted sherds in his excavations between 1987 and 1989. He reported that totally 79 Indian sherds were found in his three trenches (two from Sembrian and one from Pacung). Out of 79, 72 are fine fabric Rouletted sherds from Sembiran, one course Roultetted from Pancung trench and six sherds of stamped bowl from Sembiran.

The X-ray diffraction (XRD) analysis has been performed on Rouletted sherd form Sembiran and Arikamedu which resulted that they are all have one geological source. During my personal interview with him when he visited Arikamedu and my college he told that he did not find any roman material in his site. He showed me the photos and slides of some non-local courseware which seems have the Arikamedu forms. However, proper study is needed to conclude this.

One Roman terra cotta lamp was reported from P’ ong Tuk in southern Thailand. This is not a handful witness to conclude that the Romans had their trade relation directly with the Southeast Asia. It is therefore that Arikamedu and other Indian east cost harbor towns were imported the goods from east and exported to west.

Red Sea Ports and Indian Trade

In Hellenistic-Roman times there were several trade routes connecting the Mediterranean world with lands to the East. The northern silk route led to China and there were routes which connected Ptolemaic, Nabataean and Roman ports at the northern end of the Red Sea. Ptolemy II (282-246 BC) was the first Hellenistic ruler of Egypt to promote the trade with South Arabia. He also seems to have encouraged the trade with India. The primary motivation for the Ptolemaic foundation of these ports was military, not commercial.

By the time of the Roman annexation these ports were merely used for the commercial activities. The trade was carried on for many centuries through the Red Sea Ports from where the goods were carried overland to the Mediterranean ports of the Roman Empire. Writers of second century BC and AD like Strabo, Pliny the Elder, the PME and Claudius Ptolemy referred to these ports. In Egypt C. Ptolemy located six ports north to south: Clysma, Myos Hormos, Philoteras, Leukos Limen, Nechesia and Berenice. The goods which were transported from Arikamedu and other centers arrived in these ports and were then shipped to other Nile destinations and from there to Alexandria for further transshipment to other Mediterranean ports. Exports from Roman ports via Egypt to other Red Sea and Indian Ocean destinations took the same route in reverse.

Three major overland routes connected the Red Sea ports with the emporia along the Nile including Apollonopolis (Edfu), Coptos (Qift), and Kainopolis. The northern overland route started from Abu Sha ‘ar (was identified with Myos Hormos) the central route from Leukos Limen and the southern route from Berenice. Berenice, the largest and southern most Egyptian emporium, required less effort to reach the Nile which is approximately only 260 km., away. The northern route from Abu Sha’ ar (Myos Hormos) included traffic from quarries at Mons Porphyrites and Mons Cloudians, about 190 km., away from the Nile. The shortest overland route was the central one from Leukos Limen approximately 175 km., away. It passed through Fawakhir.

Strabo speaks of 120 ships sailing for India from Myos Hormos on the Red Sea. The Myos Hormos site had been identified as a Red Sea port by archaeologist earlier. Archeological investigations from 1989 to 93 revealed that Myos Hormos was not merely a commercial port, but rather a late Roman/Byzantine ‘fort’ and therefore we named it as Abu Sha ‘ar. The real Myos Hormos may have been probably some where else in the vicinity. However, our investigations of this fort and its surroundings demonstrated that it was founded, used and apparently peacefully abandoned between the fourth and seventh century AD. There is no evidence whatsoever of later Islamic occupation.

The second overland route started from Leukos Limen port which was, of all the Roman Red Sea ports in Egypt, the closest to the Nile. There are eight fortified stations and 65 watch towers all along the route. Many of these stations contain wells or cistern to supply water for the desert travelers, traders and their animals. These stations were constructed purely for security and halting purposes, and were built almost exclusively stacked stones with mud bricks.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago had excavated portions of Leukos Limen in 1978, 80 and 82. Archaeological evidences both ceramic as well as numismatic, seem to indicate that this port must have been founded sometimes in the first century AD. Several of the excavated spots of this port attested to the importance of its trade with the Tamil-speaking people. Two fragments of pottery bearing Tamil Brahmi script were found in this digging. In addition, one ostrakon bearing a Prakrit inscription in black ink now in Cairo Museum without any label, was recently identified.

The third southern overland route of the Red Sea port started from Bernice. Ptolemy (II) founded this port and named after his mother. In fact, Strabo, Pliny the Elder and C.Ptolemy spoke about this port activity. The archaeological excavations since 1993 in Bernice found a number of Indian ceramic equated with Arikamedu forms and fabric.

Totally 16 rim sherds, both fine and course, are found in the past five seasons of excavations. Fine ware like Arikamedu Rouletted ware, stamped bowls and the course ware like Wheeler types 38, 28-29, 24 and 25 are identified. The Tamil-Brahmi graffito found on a Mediterranean amphora fragment of the mid-first century AD is also found in the excavations.

Arikamedu finds from Red Sea Ports

In what way these Indian remains related with Arikamedu is question now. Over the centuries, several of the ports traded directly, or indirectly, with the West, but which ones were active in the overseas trade with the West during the context period with which the Indian fine ware sherds are associated with Red Sea ports, the end of the first century BC to the mid of first century AD, is not known for certain. There are a few of Mediterranean shipping amphora fragments at Alagankulam, Vasavasamudram and Kudikadu. Vasavasanydaram fragment is datable to the first century AD. Many number of amphora fragments and sigillata so far found in Arikamedu and dated back first century BC. The excavated loci containing most of the Indian remains found in Red Sea ports are dated to first century BC. Therefore presently known data strongly suggest that some of Indian remains from Red Sea ports were possibly made or brought by the sailors or the merchants departing from Arikamedu.

P.Ravichandirane is presently lecturing in History in Karaikal College, Pondicherry worked with Prof. Vimala Bagley's excavation team and travelled widely across the world. He has worked with major archeologists such as Harris and Steven Sidebotham

Books and Journals on Arikamedu

Archaeology from the Earth
Book by Mortimer Wheeler; Clarendon Press, 1954
Subjects: Archaeology--Methodology
...48 V. VI. B. Discipline: excavation at Arikamedu, South India, 1945 64 VII. V. Layout...XVI. Rouletted ware of the first century A.D. from Arikamedu, South India facing p. 124 XVII. XVII...

Rome beyond the Imperial Frontiers
Book by Mortimer Wheeler; Philosophical Library, 1955
Subjects: Rome--Commerce
...171 19. Rouletted dish from Arikamedu, South India 177 20. Roman glass from Begram, Arikamedu, and Taxila 188 PLATES...Site of Indo-Roman trading-station at Arikamedu, near Pondicherry, South India...

Rome's Eastern Trade: International Commerce and Imperial Policy, 31 BC-AD 305
Book by Gary K. Young; Routledge, 2001
...merchant colony in India. At the site of Arikamedu, on the south-eastern coast of India...that the main period of contact between Arikamedu and the Mediterranean was from the first...explanation for the existence of the station at Arikamedu is that the western merchants there were...

Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire
Book by Warwick Ball; Routledge, 2000

Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago
Book by Peter Bellwood; University of Hawaii Press, 1997
Subjects: Indonesia--Antiquities, Malaysia--Antiquities, Prehistoric Peoples--Indonesia, Prehistoric Peoples--Malaysia
The Concise Encyclopedia of Archaeology
Book by Leonard Cottrell; Hawthorn Books, 1960
Subjects: Archaeology--Dictionaries

Environmentalism and the Mass Media: The North--South Divide
Book by Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund; Routledge, 1997

Early India and Pakistan: To Ashoka
Book by Mortimer Wheele; Praeger, 1959
Subjects: India--History--To 324 B.C
...ascribed to the 2nd century B.C., the ware was absent. 3. Rouletted Ware. This ware was first recognized in 1945 at Arikamedu, near Pondicherry in South India, where it was found in association with Arretine ware imported from Italy in the early...

Asia in Western and World History: A Guide for Teaching
Book by Ainslie T. Embree, Carol Gluck; M. E. Sharpe, 1997

Amaravati: Buddhist Sculpture from the Great Stupa
Book by Douglas Barrett; British Museum Press, 1954
Subjects: Art, Buddhist, Sculpture--India--Amaravati
...the argument. 26 This is the accepted chronology at Arikamedu, though the lower limit is admittedly conjectural. It is not...1946. p. 109, considers the graffiti on potsherds found at Arikamedu which seem to belong to the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., closely...


The Exact Sciences in Antiquity
Book by O. Neugebauer; Dover Publications, 1969
Subjects: Astronomy, Ancient, Mathematics, Ancient

The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent before the Coming of the Muslims
Book by A. L. Basham; Grove Press, 1954
Subjects: India--Civilization, India--History--324 B.C.-1000 A.D, India--History--To 324 B.C

Ceramic Production and Distribution: An Integrated Approach
Book by George J. Bey III; Westview Press, 1992
Subjects: Archaeology--Methodology, Economics, Prehistoric, Indian Pottery, Pottery, Prehistoric

India and Pakistan: A General and Regional Geography
Book by O. H. K. Spate, B. H. Farmer; Methuen, 1954
Subjects: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Prehistoric India to 1000 B.C
Book by Stuart Piggott; Penguin Books, 1950
Subjects: India--Antiquities, India--History--Early To 324 B.C
...pottery of the first century A.D. in a Roman trading-post at Arikamedu near Pondicherry. With dated types of native pottery now...Roman coins of the early first century A.D. and pottery of Arikamedu types, and continuing to the third century A.D. This...

Atlas of Classical History
Book by Richard J. A. Talbert; Routledge, 1985
Subjects: History, Ancient

The Art and Architecture of India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain
Book by Benjamin Rowland; Penguin Books, 1953
Subjects: Architecture--India, Art, Indic

Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology
Book by William H. Stiebing Jr.; Prometheus Books, 1993
Subjects: Archaeology--History

From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68
Book by H. H. Scullard; University Paperbacks, 1963
Subjects: Rome--History

Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology
Book by William H. Stiebing Jr.; Oxford University Press, 1994
Subjects: Archaeology--History

The Exact Sciences in Antiquity
Book by O. Neugebauer; Dover Publications, 1969
Subjects: Astronomy, Ancient, Mathematics, Ancient

The Indian Ocean
Book by Michael Pearson; Routledge, 2003

Early India and Pakistan: To Ashoka
Book by Mortimer Wheeler; Praeger Publishers, 1959
Subjects: India--History--To 324 B.C

The Idea of Prehistory
Book by Glyn Edmund Daniel; World Publication Company, 1963
Subjects: Archaeology--History

A History of the Roman People
Book by Fritz M. Heichelheim, Cedric A. Yeo; Prentice-Hall, 1962
Subjects: Rome--Civilization, Rome--History

The Civilization of Rome
Book by Donald R. Dudley; New American Library, 1960
Subjects: Rome--Civilization, Rome--History

Archaeology and Its Problems
Book by Sigfried J. de Laet, Ruth Daniel; Phoenix House, 1957
Subjects: Archaeology--Methodology


Rome's Eastern Trade: International Commerce and Imperial Policy, 31 BC-AD 305
Book by Gary K. Young; Routledge, 2001

Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire
Book by Warwick Ball; Routledge, 2000


Indian Beads: A Cultural and Technological Study; Distinctive Beads in Ancient India; Amulets and Pendants in Ancient Maharashtra
Journal article by Jr. Peter Francis; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 42, 2003
Subjects: Amulets and Pendants in Ancient Maharashtra (Book)--Reviews, Distinctive Beads in Ancient India (Book)--Reviews, Indian Beads: A Cultural and Technological Study (Book)--Reviews
...nothing to do with an Indian bead industry. Arikamedu did not have beads of, "deep cobalt blue...Bead Emporium: A Guide to the Beads from Arikamedu in the Pondicherry Museum. Museum Publications...Perspectives 29(1) : 1-23. 1991 Beadmaking in Arikamedu and beyond. World Archaeology 23(1...

Recasting the Foundations: New Approaches to Regional Understandings of South Asian Archaeology and the Problem of Culture History
Journal article by Peter G. Johansen; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 42, 2003
Subjects: Archaeology--Technique, South Asia--History, South Asia--Research, South Asia--Social aspects
...protohistoric periods. His work at the sites of Arikamedu (Wheeler et al. 1946), Brahmagiri, and...the South Indian chronology began at Arikamedu, but reached its finished form with the...R.E.M., A. GHOSH, AND K. DEVA 1946 Arikamedu: An Indo-Roman trading-station on the...

The Medieval Tamil-Language Inscriptions in Southeast Asia and China
Journal article by Jan Wisseman Christie; Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 29, 1998
Subjects: India--History, Inscriptions--Analysis, Southeast Asia--History, Tamils--Languages
...Geographical Notes", p. 25. 51 See, for example, the reports on the upper levels at Arikamedu, near Pondicherry: R.E.M. Wheeler, A. Ghosh and Krishna Deva, "Arikamedu: An Indo-Roman Trading Station on the East Coast of India", Ancient India 2 (1946...

Anuradhapura: The British-Sri Lankan Excavations at Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2, Vol. 1: The Site
Journal article by Shinu A. Abraham; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 42, 2003
Subjects: Anuradhapura: The British-Sri Lankan Excavations at Anuradhapura Salgaha Watta 2, vol. 1, The Site (Book)--Reviews
...A.D. This period also provides clear evidence of Indian Ocean trade in the form of sherds of Arikamedu pottery type 10, first identified at Arikamedu and already found at three Sri Lankan sites, as well as in Southeast Asia. Other evidence of...

Chera, Chola, Pandya: Using Archaeological Evidence to Identify the Tamil Kingdoms of Early Historic South India
Journal article by Shinu A. Abraham; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 42, 2003
Subjects: Archaeology--Research, Kerala, India--History, Kerala, India--Research, Kerala, India--Social aspects, Tamil Nadu, India--History, Tamil Nadu, India--Research, Tamil Nadu, India--Social aspects, Tamils--History, Tamils--Research
...Ancient Sea Trade: 157-196, ed. V. Begley and R. D. de Puma. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1996 Ancient Port of Arikamedu: New Excavations and Researches 1989-1992, vol. 1. Pondichery: Ecole Francaise dExtreme Orient. BOPEARACHCHI, O. 1997 Foreword...

Fragments of Glass Bangles from Krek 52/62 and Their Implications for the Dating of the Mimotien Culture
Journal article by Miriam Noel Haidle; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 40, 2001
Subjects: Art, Prehistoric, Cambodia--Research, Glass--History, Oriental antiquities--Research, Vietnam--Research
...value for lime lies below 4.5-5 percent (Brill 1987:4). Glover and Henderson (1995:153-154) state that most of the glass from Arikamedu contain even more aluminum and less calcium than Brills typical Indian glass. In comparison, Roman glass shows lower alumina...

The Martaban Trade: An Examination of the Literature from the Seventh Century until the Eighteenth Century
Journal article by Pamela Gutman; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 40, 2001
Subjects: Myanmar--Antiquities, Pottery--Myanmar
...and seventh centuries A.D., are well known. Burmese archaeologists usually, and probably correctly, trace the technique to Arikamedu in East India (Aung Thaw 1968). Twante remained an important center for pottery throughout the period. Luce (1969-70, 1:20...

Context, Content, and Composition: Questions of Intended Meaning and the Asokan Edicts
Journal article by Namita Sugandhi; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 42, 2003
Subjects: Asoka, King of Magadha--Research, Deccan (India)--History, Deccan (India)--Research, Inscriptions--Research
...which attempted to determine a chronology of South Indian prehistory and early history. Based on excavations at the sites of Arikamedu and Brahmagiri, Wheeler developed a three-tiered, overlapping cultural sequence, beginning with the "Stone Axe" culture, which...

Hunter-Gatherer Adaptations in Madurai Region, Tamil Nadu, India: From C. 10,000 B.P. to C. A.D. 500
Journal article by V. Selvakumar; Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Vol. 41, 2002
Subjects: Hunting and gathering societies--Research, South India--History, South India--Social aspects
...Desert, India. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Paleoecology 46:345-372. WHEELER, R.E.M., A. GHOSH, AND KRISHNA DEVA 1946 Arikamedu: An Indo-Roman trading-station on the east coast of India. Ancient India 2:17-124. WILEY, G. R. 1953 Prehistoric Settlement...

Pyrrhonism and Mādhyamika
Journal article by Thomas McEvilley; Philosophy East & West, Vol. 32, 1982
Subjects: Skeptics (Greek Philosophy)
...Graeco-Roman trading centers of the Southeast. These settlements were in some cases permanent towns, colonies really, like Arikamedu near Pondicherry, built or rebuilt in the Roman fashion and equipped, in one case at least (Muziris), with an official templum...


Wheelers report on Arikamedu

Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s report on Arikamedu

Summary & Relevance

Archeological Survey of India conducted a short but intensive excavation the burning months April, May and June 1945.

Arikamedu represents the site of a considerable buried town on the Coramandel coast. Two sectors , Northern and Southern excavated in 1945 and partially uncovered by previous excavators were found to have been extensively despoiled for bricks in the middle ages and later. The Northern sector contained the remains of a substantial structure upwards of 150 feet long, built about 50 AD, on the former foreshore above vaguer vestiges of earlier occupation extending perhaps over half a century. The building from its site and character identified as a warehouse, must from the outset have been liable to flooding, and was abandoned at an early date. The southern sector on the other hand comprised a site which stood some ten feet above flood level, and was occupied for a hundred years or more from the middle of the first century AD onwards.

Its principal structures consisted of two walled courtyards associated with carefully built tanks supplied and drained by a series of culverts. It is conjectured that these tanks and courtyards were used in the preparation of the Muslin cloth which has from ancient times been a notable product of this part of India and is recorded by classical writers as Indian export. .

Amongst the other industries of the town was that of bead making. Gold, semi precious stones, and glass were used for this purpose, and two gems carved with intaglio designs by Greco Roman gem cutters and in one instance untrimmed , suggests the presence of Western craftsmen on the site.

Numerous sherds of both of a red-glazed pottery known to have been made in Italy in the first centuries of BC- AD, and of the two handled jars or Amphorae characteristic of the Mediterranean wine-trade of the period, together with Roman lamps and glass ware , combine to indicate that Arikamedu was one of the regular “Yavanas” or Western trading stations of which both Greco-Roman and ancient Tamil writers speak.

As the first of these stations actually identified by excavations in India , Arikamedu will hold henceforth a distinguished position in the history of the economic relations with the outside world.

A Roman market on the Coramandel coast implies a knowledge of the south western monsoon, which the historians may now suppose to have been in regular use at an earlier date than was previously conjectured. The epigraphists and paleographic will find amongst the graffiti some of the earliest dated fragments of the Tamil language . To the geographer , the very considerable rise in water-level shown to have occurred hereabouts within the last two thousand years , though due at least in part to local causes, is perhaps of incidental note.

The most significant result of the excavation is that by establishing at last a précised chronological position of an extensive south Indian culture , the archeologist has provided a new starting point for the study of the pre medieval civilizations of the Indian peninsula .

Chapter 1

The Site and Its Historical Background

The classical geographers and Sangam literature have familiarized the historians with the outlines of an ancient trade existed between India and West during and after first century AD . At its prime time ;

The Indian exports were

1. Pepper

2. pearls

3. gem-stones

4. muslin

5. tortoise shell


7. silk

And Imports to India were

  1. Coral
  2. Lead
  3. copper
  4. tin
  5. glass
  6. vases
  7. lamps
  8. wine
  9. coined money

This trade was NOT organized on lines like those of the European ‘factories’ established in India from 16th century .The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea ( AD 60-100) and Ptolemy ( AD150-) fairly described as treaty-ports.

Under these treaties “permanent lodges of Western traders were settled in Indian ports under formal agreement with the appropriate Indian ruler and were visited at the proper seasons by convoys of deep- sea merchantmen.

The literary sources on Roma Indian trade acknowledges the fact that the ships sailed from Myos Homos, on of the most important harbor ports in the Red Sea during the Roman rule of Egypt to Indian port cities for trade.






Periplus a Handbook for the sailors

Periplus Maris Erythrea is a handbook , in Greek, for the merchants and skippers of Roman Egypt who carried on trade with the various ports in those waters of India.

It is probably the work of the navigators from Greece or Roman Egypt, for it is written in unvarnished business man’s language and clearly based on first hand experience . There has been much scholarly wrangling over the date , but the surest clue points unmistakably to the middle decades of the first century.

Navigational Trade route between Roman Egypt and India during 1st century AD

At the time of the Periplus the ports that served as starting point for vessels leaving Egypt for India were Myos Hormus and Bernice. Goods to be exported were shipped up the Nile to Coptos and then brought by Camel or donkey across the desert to one of the ports. From either ports ships sailed straight down to Red sea to the Arabian port Mouza , just north of the strait of Babel- Mandeb or to the port of Okelis on the strait itself; they then followed the coast along the Southern Arabian shore as far as Karie. From there one branch took off for the parts of north west India and another for those of south west India. An alternate route to south India probably used by skippers who worked on the northern coast of Somalia took off from Cape Gauedafai.

Proper time for Sailing

The proper time to leave Egypt for India according to the Periplus would in July. This would enable the navigators to

1. Sail down the Red Sea with the northern wind that prevails over that body water during the summer.

2. Sail through the gulf of Aden with the South west monsoon

3. Sail with the same monsoon, as specifically counseled by Periplus ,a cross the Arabian Sea or western India ocean to India. The return could be scheduled for anytime after the beginning of November, when the north East monsoon provides favorable winds right up to the entrance of the Red Sea.

Departure from Egypt in July as recommended by the Periplus would bring a ship into the open waters of the Arabian Sea or western Indian Ocean just when the south west monsoon was its height . The wind velocity during this season averages 22-33 knots and frequently rises to the gale force ( 34-47 Knots).

As the Periplus wrote “crossing with these ( south west monsoon winds) is hard going but absolutely favorable and shorter. The departure date together with swift crossing , resulted in the arrival off the Indian coast in September or early October when the tapering off of the south west monsoon , the coast is once again open to maritime activity.

Such an arrival also leaves a comfortable time before the onset of the north east monsoon brings in contrary winds. By November that monsoon is well set in, so any skipper who had managed a quick turn around could shove off for home and thus be back in Egypt in well under a year from the time he left Egypt.

The Arab sailors never preferred this time for he year for sailing to India. They avoided both North West and south west monsoon for smoother and calmer periods.

Arab ships were small

The hulls of the ships used by Arabs were NOT strong enough nor their rig NOT fitted for the blustery blasts of the south west monsoon. These shortcomings prevented the Arabs from venturing out to the open sea during South west monsoon season, when the ships from Roman Egypt sailed to India.

Roman Egyptian ships were strong

The ships used for sailing to India by Roman Egyptians were of superior in quality and strength. The hulls were supremely strong, for they were built in the very special fashion that was the hallmark of the ancient ship wrights, one that resembles more cabinet work than carpentry.

Ancient Shipwright of the West

The traditional method in the west of putting together a wooden hull starts with the setting up of a skeleton – a spine of Keel , stem post and stern post and a cage of ribs 9 or frames) to which there is then fastened a skin of planks . the ancients reversed the procedure.

They first put together the skin , joining the planks edge to edge to build up as it were , a wooden shell; this itself is not an exceptional , for ship builders in many parts of the world. Have followed this method and still do.

What is exceptional about Ancients?

Is the way they joined the planks to each other; they locked them together not by casual joinery but by thousands of closely set mortise and tenon joints

(Tenon: A projection on the end or side of a piece of wood or to other material made to fit into a corresponding cavity, especially a mortise.)

They then transfixed each joints with dowels to ensure its never coming apart. And lastly into the shell thus created , they inserted a complete set of frames , at times as strong as that in the ships of later ages made with a precreated skeleton. The result was a hull that was absolutely staunch and incredibly strong.

They fitted these hulls with a conservative rig, one designed first and foremost for safety and NOT for speed, and equipped with the ancient Special systems for shortening sail, which was for safer and more effective than that favored in the western world until the present century .

Roman Egyptian Ships are Big in size

Only big ships dared to use the south west monsoon over open waters. The vessels that piled between Alexandria and Rome carrying Egyptian grain could run up to 180 feet in length and over a thousand tones in burden.

The Indian goods that attracted the Western traders were NOT bulky and cheap commodities but compact and costly commodities. Silk , fine cottons , pepper, costus , nard, spikenard, and similar items. A Roman merchant man of no more than moderate size when fully loaded with cargo of such goods represented a monumental investment.

Such huge cargoes were jointly owned by a team of merchants each chartering a given amount of space in the hold, which means these merchants had to have plenty of capital or command the credit to borrow plenty of it.

A shipment from Alexandria involved somewhere between 700 to 1700 pounds of Nard , over 4700 ivory, and almost 790 of textiles . The total value was about 131 talents , a mighty sum , one that could have purchased almost 2400 acres of Egypt’s best farmland. Yet this represents a merely one consignment , a meager portion of a cargo owned by a single merchant / partnership.

The finds at Arikamedu and other sites make it absolutely certain that Roman Egyptians did trade with East coast of India or Coramandel coast .

It seems to have been Indian rather Western craft that handled the East coast’s trade that carried its goods to west coast ports and returned with goods from these ports including the imports fro Roman Egypt .

The archeological fins at Arikamedu point to the presence of a foreign colony ( Wheeler) , a group of Western merchants permanently lived in the Northern Sector( Vimala) If so, the objects of trade they dealt in , both import and exports were transported in the ships of their hosts than their country men .

For Periplus in referring to the Eastern ports , “ these put into them vessels which sail out of both Limryke ( Malabar coast) and the North ( Ganga delta or perhaps Burma) ;

“ in them are local ( east coast) craft that follow the coast as far as Limryke , as well as others , made out of very big dugout canoes held together by yoke called SANGRA”

This must have had an important effect on the nature of the their business , making it considerably different from that of the merchants at Muziris. Or elsewhere on the western coast.

They received shipments of western goods , en bloc once a year in September or October. Since the wind a pattern of the bay of Bengal was /is not rigid like Malabar coast the merchants from eastern coast cold trade between the coasts through the year easily .




Artifacts from Arikamedu, whether found during excavations or collected from the surface are now dispersed among several Museums and individuals and institutions.

The major collections are at

I. Museums and Institutions

  1. Archeological Survey of India Museum at Pondicherry
  2. Archeological Survey of India Museum at Purana Quila , New Delhi
  3. Madras Museum , Chennai
  4. Museum Hyderabad
  5. Museum Bangalore
  6. Museum Trichur
  7. Sri Aurobindo Library , Pondicherry
  8. Raja Raja Museum , Tanjore
  9. Institute of Archeology , University College , London
  10. Sir Mortimer Wheeler Museum London
  11. Musee′ Guimet, Paris http://www.museeguimet.fr/gb/index.html araa@guimet.fr Contact: Geneviève Daridan, President
    E-mail: amisdeguimet@noos.fr

  1. Arikamedu Museum Gallery, Arikamedu

II. Individual Collections

  1. Mr. Ashok Kumar , Ariyakuppam
  2. Mr. J.Kangarayan
  3. Mr. Ananda Vadana Kumar
  4. Suresh Kumar Pillai



THE ANCIENT PORT FO ARIKAMEDU Published by Ecole Francaise D' Extreme Orient , Paris



300BC to 200 BC

The earliest settlement at Arikamedu pre dates the beginning of any known overseas trade and it also pre dates the use of any roulette ware at the site . Remains of the occupation was first documented by Casal in southern sector . The settlement is identified primarily on the basis of pottery. Casal observed that the pottery found in the southern sector had similarities with the megalithic potteries found in other sites such as Suttukeni . Archeologists so far found no remains of any Megalithic burial sites in Arikamedu The only indications of any building activity in this phase were a few post-holes . Not much is known about this phase and it was considered a small settlement of fishermen.

The important find associated with this phase was sherd of coarse ware with an inscription in early Tamil Brahmi script . According to various scholars this evidence belongs to post Ashoka period which could any time before second/first century BC.

Pic. Coarse ware with an inscription in early Tamil Brahmi script.

Phase 2

200BC to 100 BC

Phase 2 is intermediary phase or overlap period which is marked by the appearance of “roulette ware” in southern sector. During this period rouletted ware and megalithic wares were used concurrently . But Mediterranean wares or amphora were not associated with this phase . The first ring wells appeared during this period. also this phase is noticeable for the first use of bricks in the northern sector . From the available archeological data and findings , it is assumed that this period ranges any where between middle or end of second century BC to first century BC.

Phase 3

100Bc to 50 BC

Wheeler called this stage as pre Arretine ware and Casal called this period as post over-lap . This is a period of rapid development and in many ways the most significant stage in the history of Arikamedu. The first use of bricks probably dates back to this phase. Most important for the first time amphora and other items of undoubtedly Mediterranean origins are encountered during this phase.

The dates for the beginning of this phase depend upon the dates of the earliest amphora found at the site. Though it is very difficult to predict the date on which the first amphora arrived at Arikamedu from the available evidences it is inferred that the first century BC is the period of Amphora. The end period of amphora is marked by the arrival of Sigallata.

In architecture two fragmentary brick walls, a floor and a ring well of Wheelers early phase belong to this period. The first appearance of clay roof tiles is also in this phase.


50 BC to 50 AD (Sigallata Period)

What distinguishes phase 3 from phase4 is the presence of Sigallata or Arretine ware called by Wheeler. .This phase is the continuation of phase 3 except the presence of Sigallata. Since Sigallata is the most precisely dated among all the imports in Arikamedu this phase is the most securely dated .

The Sigallata pieces found in Arikamedu are small in size and were produced in different Italian workshops and even the eastern Mediterranean. The study of the Sigallata pieces excavated in Arikamedu by scholars reveal that the earliest piece of Sigallata must have arrived here on the middle of first century BC. The Sigallata period is generally considered to be from middle of first century BC to middle of first century AD. This phase also marks the beginning of construction activities both in south and northern sectors . Harbors built with wood, ware houses, storage houses and several architectures came up during the period . Also evidences of bead manufacturing in southern sector appeared during this period. .

Phase 5

50 AD- 200AD

Post Sigallata Period

The beginning of this phase is the middle of the first century AD and the end of this phase is second century. . Mediterranean amphora made its entry into Arikamedu during this period. Amphora related trade virtually came to an end. What caused the decline in this trade was the change in the pattern of trade and trade routes in the Mediterranean. But Arikamedu continue to prosper even after the end of this Mediterranean trade . The building activities in Arikamedu even increased after the collapse of the Roman trade .

From the available archeological evidences it appears that during phase 5 major changes were taking place at the site . Building activity in brick had increased considerably after phase 4 but some of the structures were destroyed and bricks were robbed even at the end of the phase 5. In pottery fine ware were not much demand except roulette wares. In general quality of pottery deteriorated and forms and fabrics show few changes or innovations. During this phase there is a change in the population group or its needs. If we consider this evidence with the virtual stoppage of Mediterranean imports including amphora it would seem that the change was related to the decline of the Mediterranean trade and perhaps the relocation of the traders to other locations

Phase 6

200 AD -600 AD

Artifactual evidences slowly beginning to surface for continued settlement or resettlement past second century AD. The amphora fragments from a British Bay olive oil jar of the fifth century


part of a handle form a spatheion ( Small African amphora)

also of the fifth century and a small fragment from the handle of a late Roman Punic jar

datable between the third and sixth centuries are the most compelling evidences found so far in Arikamedu to prove the continuity of occupation of the site .

Phase 7

600AD – 1100AD

Coarse ware potteries and beads produced during this period are abundant from this period

Phase 8

1100-1500 AD

The artifacts especially pottery found from various trenches have been identified to belong to this period. The pottery and beads never discontinued its production in Arikamedu . artifacts which could be medieval are coins , Chinese and Islamic ceramic, coarse ware pottery, beads and wastes, few terracotta and few fragments of roof tiles, in addition some architectural features also attributed to this period. In local pottery several vessel forms can be identified such as spouts of water jars, cooking vessels, lids .

Phase 9

1500 -1700 AD

So far no identifiable evidence has been obtained for this period . the site could have been abandoned


Towards the end of the 18th century the site was briefly occupied . In 1771-3 a seminary and residence was built for the Jesuit missionaries who have been driven out from Siam. The seminary was abandoned din 1783 The ruins of the seminary still survives and is known as Mission House , which today is the only visible structure in the Arikamedu archeological site .





Guilaume Le Gentil

The earliest reference to the ruins of Arikamedu is found in the travel records of a French astronomer Guilaume Le Gentil , who visited Pondicherry in 1768-71 and records that along the high bank of Ariyakuppam river, digging had revealed some foot high walls built with large size bricks , which were one foot long and seven to eight “thumbs” large and were put together by mortar . He also mentioned seeing vestiges of wells exposed along the high river bank , which according to him were originally at least 20 feet deep and four feet wide made from a series of earthenware vessels placed above each other.


Jouveau- Dubreuil

The historical importance of the site and its connection with the Roman empire were first recognized by Jouveau- Dubreuil , who had started collecting finds from the surface of the mound and the river bank as early as 1937. Jouveau- Dubreuil identified the site with the Poduke emporium mentioned in the Periplus Maris Erythraei ( PME). The name Poduke meaning new village ( Pudusseri) must have been in use at the time of Periplus .


Krishnaswamy Gowdar

Krishnaswamy Gowdar ( Kichanassamy Cavoudar) owner of a plot of land along the northern river front , dug an area of 60x 30 meter to a depth of 0.80 m for the purpose of

Planting coconut trees . From the debris , several artifacts were collected including fragments of Mediterranean shipping amphora, which were brought to the attention of Jouveau- Dubreuil.


A. Ayyappan , Government Museum, Madras was invited to undertake archeological investigations at this site , a brief reprt of which was published by him in an article “ A Dakshina Taxila , historic Ruins from Arikamedu ( The Hindu March 23 1941).


Small excavations undertaken by French scholars under the direction of L.Faucheux and K.Sarleau ( Les Recherches Archeologigues 1942: 180-188 , 1943 : 77-97).


French Government declared Arikamedu as Archeological site

The colonial French government declared part of the site as Archeological monument. The reports on the findings by French archeologists were published in yearly administrative reports 1945-46.


Sir Mortimer Wheeler

The most outstanding excavations were conducted by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, during a short season in summer 1945. He as the director of the Archeological survey of India and had the advantage of extensive resources at hand to use.

Wheeler’s excavations are the most publicized ones both in India and west. “ROME BEYOND THE IMPERIAL FRONTIERS”, was the most significant and famous paper published by wheeler on Arikamedu.

An important contribution of Wheeler’s work at Arikamedu was the preparation of a contour map of the site and the surrounding area, which was published with the excavation report.



J.M.CASAL excavated fairly extensive area more than any other archeologist. During his three ( 3) excavation seasons extremely reliable data were obtained , but selectively published by hum in his two publications on his work in the Pondicherry area ( Casal 1949, Casal 1956) Casal’s works went unnoticed largely by wheeler and Indian Archeologists .

1952- 1980

-A brief article on the dating of the Terra Sigillata was published by L.Ohlenroth ( 1952)

- Studies of the Brahmi and Tamil inscriptions and pottery shreads by M.J.Filliozat

- I.Mahadevan ( 1973-1966)

- A brief article on glass rods by B.B.Lal ( 1958)

- Archeological studies of Five bricks from the site by K. Ramassamy , R.Balasubramaniam and G. Chandrashekhar ( 1976-80)


Peter Francis Jr. studies on beads


John Guwlnnet & Leonard Gorrelick

1986, 1987,1988

E.Marianne Sterns on Roman Glass

1983, 1986, 1988, 1989

Vimala Bagley & Team




Edited by Vimala Bagley

The Team

  1. Vimala Bagley
  2. Iravatham Mahadevan, National Fellow , ICHR
  3. K.V.Raman, Prof. Head of Department ancient History & Archeology, University of Madras
  4. Steve E Sidebotham , Asst. Prof. History , University of Delawar
  5. Peter Francis Jr., Center for Bead Research
  6. Kathleen Wamer Slene , Prof. Chairman of de. Art History and Archeology, University of Missouri , Columbia

The Objective of the Excavation

To understand the nature of commerce existed between south India and Mediterranean basin during what is known as Indo-Roman period and to study an ancient port town, how it functioned and what sustained its economy.


1. The Ancient Settlement

Although overseas commerce may have began early in the first century B.C., ( or earlier still ) and continued through early first and second centuries its prime time was from the middle of the first century B.C to the middle of the first century A.D. During this period how and why Arikamedu became a center of commerce on the Coramandel coast are unexplained questions which should, nevertheless be pursued as the archeological evidences are examined.

2. Location of the Settlement

The location of the ancient port is something historians of ancient sea trade find it difficult to explain for two reasons 1. The port is quite North on the Coramandel coast to be convenience for direct overseas trade with the Mediterranean 2. Arikamedu is NOT known to have been connected with any inland metropolitan center to serve as an outlet for its overseas commerce.

Since the Coramandel coast has virtually no natural harbors nearly all the ancient ports were located in the estuaries of the rivers or on water inlets, which provided shelter from the onslaught of the open sea during stormy weather and under ideal conditions could also berth small sea faring vessels and other boats.

Arikamedu as the archeological evidences suggest was NOT a temporary sea faring facility in ancient times.

3. Ariyankuppam river

Unlike today the drainage pattern of the Gingee river system was apparently somewhat different in ancient times. Today Ariyankuppam River is more like a brackish lagoon, the level of water in which varies according to the season. During the monsoon access to the sea is possible in catamarans and small boats but sand bars blocks the passage for any deep water navigation.

But maps of 17th and 18th centuries and other records suggests that Ariyankuppam was navigable at its mouth ( Deloche 1980) N.For’s map of 1750 indicates 12 brasses of water in the mouth of the river. A brass is equal to the length between outstretched arms

4. Suttukeni Megalithic site and its connection with Arikamedu

Upstream on the Gingee River is Suttukeni or Suttukeni site, of the richest Megalithic burial site excavated in south India so far (Casal 1956). Present dating suggests that the burial at Suttukeni was contemporary with the earliest settlements at Arikamedu. Whether there was any communication between Arikamedu and Suttukeni is difficult to determine since the only common denominator between the two is the so called “Megalithic Pottery”, which is also widely distributed in time and space that it cannot be considered as an indicator of direct contact. A fragmentary bronze vessel found at Suttukeni ( Casal 1956) and several pieces of jewelry amongst which decorated gold spaces, tour holed- gold separator , stone head making especially pecking are the common connections between Arikamedu and Suttukeni.

5. Layout of the Settlement

Wheeler’s excavation divided the archeological site in to Northern and Southern sectors. There is indeed undisputed evidence that Mediterranean products have arrived at Arikamedu in fairly substantial quantity but who brought them via which route and why to Arikamedu are as yet unresolved questions. The archeological evidences only indicate that into the Iron Age or Megalithic settlement of the Southern sector , brick architecture was introduced and new ceramic forms and fabrics including the so called “rouletted wares” were appeared and at some points Mediterranean products shipped in Amphora vessels also arrived .

No precise date or when this first occurred can be determined as yet.

From the architecture as interpreted by Archeologists it appears that Northern sector is generally regarded as Port Area and the Southern Industrial and Residential.


In the Southern sector, the most distinctive and recurring structural form is a small brick lined enclosure identified by earlier excavators as either a tank or a pit or a sink , depending upon the details of its form. The enclosures vary in size may or may not have drainage and some are noticeably battered. The best preserved example of a tank is near the river front in the extreme south , Casal’s group I , area R.S measuring 3.50m x 1.10m as the top interior tapering to 2.50 x 0.80 m at depth of 2.10m ( Casal 1949: 22) . The pit / sinks, on the other hand are square and smaller. The tanks seems to have built in pairs, for instance bac A and bac C.

Of all the excavated examples Tanks A and B in AK IV are the most elaborate and seem to have been placed within courtyards . These brick enclosures initially date from the period of “Indo-Roman” trade and probably renovated and used in later time.

Arikamedu was a textile production center

As for function the enclosures identified as tanks have usually been considered as part of “textile dyeing” complex, originally proposed by Wheeler. Textiles have been considered as a major item of export from Arikamedu.

These tanks without paved floors or drainage outlets as identified by archeologists fro Madras University (AV90- brick enclosures) which are similar in dimension and have no discoloration of the sand or soil. Such enclosures are found more in the Northern Sector. Functionally these tanks were “storage of industrial or agricultural products”

The tanks in any event appear to have industrial function NOT domestic use.


The most distinctive architectural feature in the industrial complex ( AKIV) in group II are the additional tanks and massive walls over 75m long traced in several trenches running diagonal to the river with its southern face finished for viewing ( Casal 1949: 24,28). Casal considered it to have been a “wall of a six meter wide water reservoir fitted with wells on the floor for the uninterrupted supply of water during the dry season”. Wheeler suggests that these walls may rather have been a defensive revetment.

The industrial area seems to have continued to the North of the reservoir”.

Along the northern wall of the reservoir remains of small scale, workshops working in metal , glass, semi precious stones , ivory and shell ( Casal 1949)

Large chunks of raw glass sheets mica and other waste materials are exhibited in the Pondicherry Museum.


The continued use of Megalithic pottery in Casal’s Group II suggests that the original population of Arikamedu was not displaced nor their culture obliterated with the commencement of overseas trade. If the “Graffito” on the Sigallata shred is indeed in Megalithic form of writing, it would further suggest cultural continuity through the first half of the first century AD


In Trench ViB4 of group II remains of a shop or storage room with “in site” conical vessels on the floor were found.( similar conical vessels were found in Wheeler’s AKI) . In Casal’s trench ViB4 a shred of Terra Sigallata with a signature was also recovered; which Howard Comfort (1991:141) dates to 30 AD. On the exterior of the shreds is a graffito in what appears to be Megalithic form of writing. The presence of Sigillata, rouletted ware and megalithic pottery suggest that the Arikamedu industrial town was active in the first century BC and first half of the first century AD.

So far in south India, terra Sigallata is found only in Arikamedu It is assumed that the users of Sigallata were westerners residing at Arikamedu who imported for their own personal use.

But if this graffito is in Megalithic writing and is the sign of ownership it would appear that some Sigallata was either sold bartered or gifted to the local population who must have been affluent or important enough to own it.

The users of Sigallata probably lived in the “warehouse area” of the Northern sector where the remaining shreds were recovered.

(Sigallata: Impressed with seal. Pottery decorations with impressed marks.

Sigillation: impressions with seal or stamp

Sigillaria: Large tree like fossil lycopod, marked with rows of scars resembling the impressions of a seal)


The highly fragmentary section of the Terra Sigillata and morphology of numerous other pottery forms from the southern sector indicate that “some space in the Southern sector was for the residential purposes”. The possibility remains that “the residents were interspersed with the industrial and market places as is quite common in contemporary towns”.


The northern sector has always been regarded or identified as the area where port facilities were located. Wheeler excavated walls of a brick structure, which could have been a “warehouse” (size 50m in length). According to Wheeler this structure date back from AD 25 or slightly later in the second quarter of the first century. It represented “Port Facilities” when most of the Sigillata and amphora were imported. The early port facilities were timber constructions since cut timber, rope and other objects were found by Wheeler.


Although the so called Rouletted ware is present all along and so are other fine sherds , over 90% of Pottery belongs to a grayish brown coarse ware with white/ gray slip and a variety of forms from incurved dishes and bowels to large jars.

The graying brown coarse ware of the Northern sector is very different from the so called Megalithic pottery of the southern sector in fabric , technology and morphology. The users of graying coarse ware pottery appear to be the earliest known settlers of the northern sector and associated with the settlement are the first Mediterranean imports brought either by them or to them by other traders.

The pottery was extensively used in the northern sector and the adjacent space. The forms range from storage jars to cooking vessels with carbon residue on the exterior to fine ‘table ware” dishes and bowls.

In the northern sector although mainly a port area some space were also used for living by merchants / sailors. The range in “Table wares” from coarse to fine in addition to imports may suggest social/ economical stratification.

The spatial distribution of Amphora shreds within the site indicates that a fairly large quantity comes from the northern part of the site. Many users of the products shipped in Arikamedu wine, Garum Sauce, or Olive oil must have been used.

There was an industrial waste dumping ground for shells and semi precious stones were also found in the northern sector. This suggests that there were some small scale industries in the northern sector.


Elizabeth Lyding Will’s study at Arikamedu excavated patches of water resistant Pazzolana cement which was used by Romans in the construction of under water installations. This indicates that Roman merchants had a role in the construction of Port facilities at Arikamedu.


There is considerable evidence to suggest that the site occupied during medieval Chola times ca 10 AD. Finds of Chola coins celadon pottery and other East Asian glazed ceramics suggest occupation of the site and some involvement in the medieval East West maritime trade .

Numerous medieval Chola coins have been recovered from the site . Wicked lamps at many museums including Aurobindo Ashram Library indicate that Arikamedu was occupied by Chola and Pal lava rulers.


In 1771-73 a missionary (monseigneur) Pigneau de Behaine, designated Bishop of Adran built a seminary and residence on the eastern part of the mound for the Jesuit missionaries driven out of Siam. The seminary abandoned in 1783. The ruin of the seminary is known as Mission House. What survive today are two pillars of the portal/entrance, a small brick structure to their west and a wall of the interior with six (6) arches.

Le Gentil (1779) who visited the site before the construction of the seminary spoke about the ancient structures found in digging near the bank. The scenic beauty of the location and availability of the bricks could have been the reason for choosing the site to build the seminary.

The remaining walls of the seminary clearly indicates the use of mixed styles of bricks and the road leading to the south appears to be paved , possibly with large size bricks pilfered from ancient sites. The French reused the site for bricks as well as for constructing new building throughout their rule.


  1. Earliest known settlement at the is in the southern sector dating perhaps from the 2nd century BC by people whose pottery relates to the Iron age ( megalithic) cultures of south India. The original settlers continued to live during the period of trade with west.
  2. Trade with the Mediterranean seems to have been at its height between 50BC to 50 AD. The north and south sectors were occupied by two different ethnic groups. Interactions between the occupants of the two sectors are reflected in the pottery but the primary coarse ware used in the two sectors remained different.
  3. Both sectors were imported goods primarily from Mediterranean basin such as Amphora wines, Olive oil, ceramic lights , Sigillata sherds etc. Extensive usage was by people inhabited in the northern sector.
  4. Industrial wastes were found in both sectors. but shell wastes came form North
  5. The industry/ commerce associated with Tank/Pit structures was in the southern sector and was probably the market areas as well.
  6. No pottery –tile making areas were identified .
  7. Living quarters were found in the northern sector near the port.
  8. There is ample evidence for a settlement and overseas commerce with the East in medieval Chola and later times.
  9. The site was once again settled in 18th century .A Mission House was built for Jesuits