Until the 300s B.C., the ancient Greeks and Romans knew little about India, and much of their knowledge consisted of fables and fantastic stories. Alexander the Great’s conquest of northwestern India in 325-317 B.C. provided the Greeks with more accurate knowledge of the geography of the region. By 312 B.C., however, the Seleucid dynasty ruled most of the Indian lands conquered by Alexander. The Greeks maintained contact with India for the next 200 to 250 years, but the rise of the Parthian Empire in present-day Iran and a series of invasions of India by central Asian tribes eventually ended direct communications between India and the Mediterranean lands.
Fueled by the Roman demand for luxuries from the East, trade with India resumed on a large scale in the late first century B.C. The Romans imported perfumes, spices (particularly pepper), gems, ivory, pearls, textiles, and silk from India. In return, the Romans exported linen, coral, glass, metals (such as tin and lead), wine, and large quantities of gold and silver coins. Trade with India was extremely profitable for the Roman investors who financed such voyages. Goods bought in India were sold in Rome for many times their original cost. large markups were necessary to cover the cost of the voyage, the risk of losing cargo, customs duties and taxes, and the long delay between the time the finances were arranged and when the goods were finally delivered and sold.
Direct trade with India declined from about A.D. 200, and middlemen such as the Arabians and Persians increasingly handled trade between Rome and India. India once again became a land of mystery to the peoples of the Mediterranean until the European Age of Discovery in the A.D. 1400s.(See also Insurance; Money and Moneylending; Trade, Greek; Trade, Roman; Transportation and Travel.)