Sangam Age Sources

Literary Sources

The Sangam literature chiefly consists of Tholkappiyam, Ettuthogal and Pathuppattu. These works provide valuable information to know the history of the Sangam Age. Among these Tholkappiyam was the earliest.

During the post-Sangam period, the Pathinen Kilkanakku or the Eighteen Works was composed. The twin epics - Silappathigaram and Manimegalai - also belonged to the post- Sangam period. All these literature help us to know the society, economy and culture of the ancient Tamils.


The archaeological sources for the sangam period are limited. They may be classified into

(a) Epigraphy
(b) Excavations and
(c) Coins.


Epigraphical information for the Sangam period is scanty. The Asokan Edicts refer to the Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms. The Hathikumba Inscriptions of the Kalinga king , Kharavela also mentions the three Tamil Kingdoms. The Kalugumalai inscriptions help us to know about ancient Tamil scripts called Tamil Brahms. The Tirukkovalur inscriptions refer to the local chieftains and the tragic end of the Tamil Poet, Kapilar. The inscriptions at Thirupparankundrum mention the gift of cave beds to the Jam monks. The inscriptions found at Arnattar hills, near Pugalur belonged to the First Century A.D. and these inscriptions furnish information regarding the Chera kings.


Several monuments of this period have been brought to light by the excavations conducted at various places in Tamil Nadu. Robert Bruce Foote conducted excavations at Adhichanallur where he had found a large number of articles made of iron, bronze and gold. They depict the life of the ancient Tamils. Dubreuil and Mortimer Wheeler also made excavations at Arikkamedu near Pondicherry. Roman pottery, glass howls, gems and coins have been found there. These findings confirm the commercial contacts between the Roman Empire and Tamil country during the Sangam Age. A Buddhist Vihara was found at Kilaivur near kaveripoompattinam. It belonged to the post-Sangam period. Other Important sites of excavations are Uraiyur, Kanchipuram and Kodumanal.
The under-water archaeology has also developed recently and excavations have been made under the sea near Poompuhar. A shipwreck has been found there. These findings focus much light on the history of the Sangam period.


The study of coins is called numismatics, We get useful historical information from the study of ancient coins. The Tamil Kings of the Sangam period issued gold and silver coins but they are not found in large numbers. However, Roman coins made of gold and silver are found all over Tamil Nadu. These coins further confirm the trade relations between Tamil country and Rome during the Sangam Age.

Foreign Accounts

In addition to the Sangam literature, foreign literary accounts remain useful sources for the study of the Sangam Age. Greek and Roman writers had mentioned about the society and economy of the Sangam Tamils in their accounts. Megasthanes in his book Indica also referred to the three Tamil Kingdoms. Other authors such as Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy provide valuable information regarding the Sangam Age. The Ceylonese books - Mahavamsa and Dipavamsa - help us to fix the date of the Sangam.

Chronology of the Sangam Age

Chronology means the arranging of the historical events on the basis of the date of happenings. It remains very difficult to find out the exact date of the Sangam period. There are different opinions in fixing the date of the Sangam. It is believed that there existed three Sangams. The First Sangam had flourished at Then Madurai and the Second Sangam at Kapadapuram. Since these two places were eroded into the Indian Ocean, the Pandyan kings had established the Third Sangam at Madurai. Many scholars did not believe the existence of Three Sangams. However, the Sangam literature, which we possess now, might have been composed during the period of the Third Sangam. Hence, the Sangam Age that we come to know denotes only the Third Sangam. Based on the literary, epigraphic and archaeological sources, it is established by scholars that the Sangam Age flourished from Third Century B.C. to Third Century A.D.