Arikamedu, the ancient Roman trade centre is 4 Kms. south of Puducherry on the right bank of Ariyankuppam River. It has a long history that dates back to the second century B.C. The port town was inhabited by Romans, Cholas and French who left their mark on this wonderful place. The Roman treasure trail and Arikamedu river cruise take you down the History lane. It is an unforgettable experience that you wouldn’t want to miss.
ARIKAMEDU 200 B.C. – 200 A.D.
Arikamedu, a fishing colony was used as a port for trading with the Romans and the Greco-Romans. An ancient Chola coin dating back to 1 B.C. suggests involvement of Cholas in various port related activities. Some names on seals that were found here have been mentioned in the Sangam literature as well. Besides maritime commerce, there seems to be evidence of inland trade with other ‘megalithic’ sites such as Kaveripattinam, Alagankulam, Musiri and Suttukeni which are situated along river valley routes. Jouveau-Dubreail identified Arikamedu as Poduke in the Periplus Maris Erythraei. Later the site was divided into two sectors, the northern and southern, as they were perceived to have been inhabited by different ethnic groups. It is also known as ‘Yavanas’ in Tamil literature.
THE ANCIENT TRADE
Wine seems to have been a major import as suggested by traces of excavated Amphora jars. Yavanas and wine have been mentioned in the same breath in Tamil literature – “having increased the joy by giving to the girls of shining bangles, who every day have taken in hands, vessels beautified by gold, to drink the cool, fragrant wine brought by the Yavanas in beautiful bowls”. Besides wine, Garam masala and Olive oil were also imported.
The exports must have included textile, beads, semiprecious gems, glass and shell bangles as wastage at the manufacturing site suggests. Even today if one looks carefully, after a bout of heavy rains, one can find beads on the bank of the river.
The Romans must have used the Red Sea to come to India as traces of beads have been found in Alexandria and other Red Sea ports.
ARIKAMEDU IN MEDIEVAL TIMES
Formerly it was considered that Arikamedu was abandoned right after 200 A.D. but fragments of amphoras and a copper coin of Constantine I minted between 306 & 324 A.D. found suggests that Arikamedu was occupied from 300 A.D. to 700 A.D. There is also considerable evidence to suggest that the site was occupied during medieval Chola times. Finds of Chola coins, Chinese Celadon pottery and other East Asian glazed ceramics suggest occupation of the site and some involvement in the medieval East-West maritime trade as well. Some pottery found here are very similar to the eleventh century pottery of “Gangaikondacholapuram”. Decorated spouts of water jars and clay lamps of the medieval period were also present.
Two perpendicular walls were accidently laid open and it was suggested that the bricks of this wall and that found in Gangaikondacholapuram are similar, although one cannot be sure. Therefore, it was not possible to place the two walls in any specific time period yet.
ARIKAMEDU IN MODERN TIMES
Between 1771 and 1773, Monsieur Pigneau de Behaine – designated Bishop of Adran – built a seminary and residence on the eastern part of the mount for the Jesuit missionaries driven out of Siam. It was abandoned in 1783. The remaining walls of the seminary clearly indicate the use of mixed style of bricks, some of them, probably pilfered from ancient structures. The mission house has been the point of reference for all excavators viz. Wheeler, Casal and Vimala Begely and co. There doesn’t seem to be evidence of any other structure belonging to this French period. There are a few fragments of decorative ceramic tiles and reliefs, pieces of pottery and glass in the Puducherry Museum.
Except for the perpendicular walls and mission house, there is not much that can be seen on the surface as the excavated trenches have been filled up. Coconut and Mango trees were seen in abundance. It’s almost like they have an intention to remind one to step out of the time machine into the realm of reality. The plantations take your breath away. The mangoes hanging from the lower branches feel like the forbidden fruit and the orchard itself turns into the Garden of Eden.
To experience the aura of Arikamedu you’ll have to do more than just reading this. You have to go there. Let History seep into your bones.
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