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Urban growth in India AD 600–1200: a comment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2004

Dept of History and Economic History, Manchester Metropolitan University, M15 6LL


The article tries to identify the factors that led to urban growth in India in the period we style ‘early medieval India’, viz the centuries between the decline of the Gupta empire and the rise of the Islamic sultanates in northern India. In doing so, the author obviously responds to the seminal work of R.S. Sharma, without, however, even mentioning it. Sharma is one of the most influential advocates of the school of ‘Indian feudalism’, and he linked the decline of cities in India during the period under review to the decline of long-distance trade (caused especially by the decline of Roman trade with India) on the one hand and the feudal transformation of agrarian relations on the other. The economic crisis (the emphasis on which easily identifies Sharma as a staunch Marxist) went along with a socio-religious crisis, during which people expected the fourth age of Hinduism, the age of Kali, to draw to a close. Thakur does not deny the importance of economic factors completely, but tries to weigh them against other factors, which he styles ‘technological and ecological’ and ‘institutional and political’. His conclusion in this respect is somewhat inconclusive as ‘no single factor initiated urban growth’, though in a surprising move, he adds that three phases can be made out which are characterized by agrarian expansion (AD 600–750), emergence of empires (750–1000 – this phase is obviously related to the institutional and political factors) and finally the predominance of trade (1000–1200). In what sense this development is based on ‘mechanisms’ (as alluded to in the title), remains completely open.

Research Article
© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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Renu Thakur, ‘Mechanisms of urban growth in India: AD 600–1200’, Urban History, 29 (2002), 187–96.