Chapter 2 – Crafts and Trade in the Vedic Civilization

Matthew G. Marsh

As later Vedic society began the transition into an agricultural economy, there was an expansion of crafts and trades. Some of these crafts and trades were linked to existing technologies, such as weaving, jewelry making, or pottery, while others were linked to the expanding metals industries. At the beginning of this period, smiths and smelters would have worked primarily in copper because iron production was still in its infancy. As the population increased, weaving would become practiced on a wider scale than before, although much of the work was still done by women. Other industries, such as pottery, leatherworking, and carpentry, were connected to the construction of buildings. While large towns were not yet a part of Vedic India, a transition to a settled way of life led to the growth of a number of villages in Vedic India that drove the expansion of industry.[1]

The largest technological advance that appears in Vedic India is the arrival or discovery of iron working. Meteoric iron had been available in the ancient world for several thousand years but was used primarily for jewelry or ornaments. What had not yet been developed was the process of steeling the surface of iron, which was critical to strengthening the metal and enabling it to hold an edge.[2] In this process iron is heated to high temperatures (smelted) until impurities in the metal float to the top and can be skimmed off. Then, certain amounts of carbon are introduced to the surface of the iron through a controlled blast of air from the bellows. After heating and hammering the iron, the blacksmith will then quench (cool it with water) to temper it, giving it the hardness and elasticity that makes steel so effective as a tool or weapon.[3] Beginning around 1200 BCE—1000 BCE, as smiths began to discover the process of steeling iron, its use began to spread through the Near East. Based on archaeological evidence, historians have estimated that iron use reached the northwestern regions of India around 1000 BCE and the Ganges region by approximately 800 BCE—700 BCE. As the use of iron spread, it began to replace not only bronze weapons, but also stone or wooden agricultural implements. Steeled iron was harder, more durable, and able to hold a sharper edge than bronze, and its introduction into society would have long-lasting effects.[4]

[1]. Apte, “Chapter XXVII: Social and Economic Conditions,” 530–31; Chopra et al., Comprehensive History, 33; Habib and Thakur, The Vedic Age, 48–51; Jha, Ancient India, 54–55; Mehta and Mehta, History of Ancient India, 120; Sabahuddin and Shukla, History of Ancient Indian Economy, 166–71; Sharma, India’s Ancient Past, 120–22.

[2]. Habib and Thakur, The Vedic Age, 85–86.

[3]. Habib and Thakur, The Vedic Age, 86–87; telephone conversation with H. A. Marsh, Jr., analytical chemist, October 1, 2014.

[4]. Habib and Thakur, The Vedic Age, 86–87; Sharma, India’s Ancient Past, 119–20; Krishna Mohan Shrimali, A People’s History of India, Vol. 4: The Age of Iron and the Religious Revolution, 5th ed. (New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2013), 2–9.


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History of Applied Science & Technology Copyright © 2017 by Matthew G. Marsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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