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The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean (Paperback)

The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India

Ancient History Naval

By Dr Raoul McLaughlin
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 296
Illustrations: 18 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526738073
Published: 21st May 2018
Last Released: 1st September 2021



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The ancient evidence suggests that international commerce supplied Roman government with up to a third of the revenues that sustained their empire. In ancient times large fleets of Roman merchant ships set sail from Egypt on voyages across the Indian Ocean. They sailed from Roman ports on the Red Sea to distant kingdoms on the east coast of Africa and the seaboard off southern Arabia. Many continued their voyages across the ocean to trade with the rich kingdoms of ancient India. Freighters from the Roman Empire left with bullion and returned with cargo holds filled with valuable trade goods, including exotic African products, Arabian incense and eastern spices.

This book examines Roman commerce with Indian kingdoms from the Indus region to the Tamil lands. It investigates contacts between the Roman Empire and powerful African kingdoms, including the Nilotic regime that ruled Meroe and the rising Axumite Realm. Further chapters explore Roman dealings with the Arab kingdoms of south Arabia, including the Saba-Himyarites and the Hadramaut Regime, which sent caravans along the incense trail to the ancient rock-carved city of Petra.

The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean is the first book to bring these subjects together in a single comprehensive study that reveals Romes impact on the ancient world and explains how international trade funded the Legions that maintained imperial rule. It offers a new international perspective on the Roman Empire and its legacy for modern society.

Reviewed by Michael F. Dove St. Thomas, Ontario for

The Northern Mariner, Summer 2018

Raoul McLaughlin’s sophisticated survey of the complexities of Roman economics, politics, and society offers pioneering insight into the fragility of Pax Romana despite its conquests and global reach in trade. His ground-breaking study of a world linked by oceans also calls into question the theory that the ancient world was more primitive than the modern or that history evolves in an ever-ascending arc from the barbaric to the civilized.

Read the full review here

Naval Historical Foundation

This short single-page review does not do sufficient justice to McLaughlin’s extensive research and presentation of Roman international trade and its broader significance in relation to the military. The book reconfirms the economic importance in warfare and the fact that great empires can fall when revenue streams start to run dry. This highly commendable work should serve as a suitable springboard for those who wish to learn more about the Roman economy and state administration. I believe more authors should attempt to analyse previously studied topics in connection to other related and seemingly unrelated aspects for new perspectives and fresh insights.

Kunwon Saw, Freelance

As featured in.

History Today July 2016

McLaughlin squeezes more than most from the classic but limited historic resources and weaves in archaeological research to deliver an important source for those interested in not only the Roman Empire but also the Indian Ocean region.

Australian Association for Maritime History

Illustrated by sketches of reliefs and coins, this accessible book may go some way to helping us think beyond Alexander the Great when India is mentioned in the context of the Classical world.

Minerva Magazine

'The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean' is enjoyable and easy to read. It is full of useful and little known information and presents an evidence-based model for the ancient world economy that supported the Roman empire.

Australian Naval Institute

Read this book and you'll change your view of the importance and scope of maritime activity in Ancient Rome. ... The author has presented a credible account and his text is supported by a plate section illustrating international trading. There are also some interesting ancient maps in the introduction.


This is a truly wonderful book...McLaughlin has scoured archives in many languages to tell us the history of the Roman Empire's trade with/in Egypt, the Red Sea, East Africa, Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and China.

Black and Asian Studies Association
Dr Raoul McLaughlin

About Dr Raoul McLaughlin

Raoul McLaughlin was educated at Lagan College, the first Integrated School in Northern Ireland. He studied Archaeology and Ancient history in Belfast before completing a Master’s degree and then a PhD on the study of trade beyond Rome’s eastern frontiers. He lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China (Paperback)

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes investigates the trade routes between Rome and the powerful empires of inner Asia, including the Parthian regime which ruled ancient Persia (Iran). It explores Roman dealings with the Kushan Empire which seized power in Bactria (Afghanistan) and laid claim to the Indus Kingdoms. Further chapters examine the development of Palmyra as a leading caravan city on the edge of Roman Syria and consider trade ventures through the Tarim territories that led Roman merchants to Han China. The Han Empire of ancient China matched that of Rome in scale and possessed military…

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