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The Great Empire of MAGADH

The Mauryan Sources of Historical Studies of this Era

1.    I. Archeological Sources 

a.       Epigraphy

b.      Numismatics

c.       Art Remains

d.      Material Remains

2.       II. Literary Sources

I. Epigraphy

1.       A. Maurya

          a. Ashokan

    i.      Rock Edicts- 10 Rock Edicts (RE) at 10 sites. 3 minor RE & 2 Kalinga Edicts 

    ii.      Pillar Edicts- 7 PE at 6 different sites, 3 minor PE.

    iii.      Cave Edicts- 3 CE at Barabari Hills

    b. Non-Ashokan- Sohgaura copper Plate inscription, 2 Mahasthangarh, Dashratha Cave inscription

2.       B. Non-Mauryan- Rudradaman’s Junagarh Edicts  

II. Numismatics

1.       Silver Panas (a measure of weight)

2.       Copper Coins

III. Art Remains

i. Courts- Made by Court

1.       Pillars

2.       Stupas

3.       Caves

4.       Palaces

ii. Popular Arts- Made by People

1.       Sculpture

2.       Terra Cotta images

IV. Material Remains

1.       i. Northern Black Polish Ware

2.       ii. Iron Objects 

Learning by Side

Megasthenes- Book- INDICA- Court of Chandragupta Maurya in Patliputra

Seleucus Nicator- Greek General- Marriage alliance

Sandrocottus- Greek Name of Chandragupta Maurya

Bindusara: Greek sources refer to him as Amitrochates, Greek for the Sanskrit Amitraghata (“destroyer  of foes”). The name perhaps reflects his successful campaign in the Deccan.

First king writing on the wall- King Hammurabi of Babylonia. He started the trend of inscription.

Literary Sources

1.    Secular Literature

       a. Indigenous Sources- Arthashastra 

       b. Foreign Sources- Indica

2.    Religious Sources

        a. Buddhist

         i. Indigenous- Jataka Tales (Allegory-Symbolic), Dighnayaka, Vamsathapakasini

         ii. Foreign- Deepvamsha, Mahavamsha

                                          b. Jain- Parishisht Parv

                                          c. Brahminical- Puranas 

Approximate dates of Mauryan Dynasty:

Chandragupta Maurya                   (322-298 BCE)

Bindusar                                              (297-272 BCE)

Ashoka- The Great                          (268-232 BCE)




Dev Varman


Vrihadratha                                        (187-185 BCE)

The two important pre-Mauryan dynasties were Haryankas and Nandas.

The two important kings of Haryankas were Bimbisaar (547-495 BCE) and Ajatshatru (495-462 BCE).

Shishunag- the last king of Haryanka was killed by Mahapadmanand, who later founded the Nanda dynasty.

In the later part of Nanda's rule, there was Persian and Greek invasion which weakened the Empire. This failure to protect was the main reason behind the decline of the Nanda Empire.

Chandragupta Maurya took complete advantage of the declining popularity of the Nandas.

Mauryan-Seleucid War (321 BCE)

In 321 BCE, Chandragupt Maurya became the king of Magadh and established the Maurya dynasty. In the next 11 years, he established himself in the Indo Gangetic plain. When Alexander retired to Macedonia, he put his general in command of territory captured by him. After his death in 322 BC, war of succession has started amongst his generals. In the Eastern territory, Seleucus Nicator was creating the beginning of Seleucid Empire.

The emerging and expanding Mauryan Empire came into conflict with Seleucid Empire. The main area of conflict was the Indus river.

Very few details about this war are known. A peace treaty was signed between the two in 303 BCE. The reason behind this Peace treaty could have been- Seleucus was under a lot of pressure from the Western front and alliance with Chandragupta Maurya wanted peace in one area. The person who was challenging the supremacy of Seleucus was Antigonus I Monophthalmus (one of Alexander’s General). According to the term of the treaty, Seleucus gave Chandragupta the area of northern Afghanistan, Balochistan and the western part of the Indus.

Chandragupta Maurya gave a gift of 500 elephants to Seleucus. These Elephants proved decisive in the battle of Alexander’s legacy. The Seleucid Empire lasted till 64 BCE.

Under this compromise, there also was marital Alliance. The daughter of Selecus got married to Chandragupta Maurya. During his final year, Chandragupta came under the influence of Jain Muni Bhadrabahu and he took up Jainism. He died in the traditional Jain way by fasting himself to death (Santhara).

A Peace treaty, 330 BCE- Chandragupta Maurya and Seleucus Nicator.

Now he contains- Bihar, Orissa, a major portion of Bengal, the Deccan region, Western & North-Western India leaving Kerala, Tamilnadu, and parts of North-East India.

*Mahaamatya of Nanda was- Rakshsa: Equal to chanakya. Assassinated. Chanakya method to weaken the enemy- Assassination.

*Battle of Hydapsis- Alexander vs Porus.

Chandragupta established a system of administration. The main principle was- King’s Happiness lies in the happiness of his subject. The empire was divided into provinces and provinces into smaller units. A major feature of Chandragupta was a huge Army that had six parts:

Army, Cavalry, Elephants, Chariot, Navy, Transport

(That time around 25-30% population was in Army)- Was has been a major source of employment since ancient times.

Financial Base:

Toll on commodities entering the town.

Brought New Land under cultivation

Tax on Agriculture- (Tax 1/4th to 1/6th)

Monopoly on mining

Sale of liquor

Manufacturing of arms

Mauryans were very centralized authorized, government interference in everything.

Bindusara extended the Mauryan Empire into the South and the stage is set for Asoka- The Great.

In 1837, James Princep deciphered an inscription in Brahmi script in which there was mention of King Devanampiyapiyadasi. In 1915, another edict was found which mentions a king called Ashok Piyadasi.

After Bindusar there was a power struggle for four years and Ashoka after the struggle of succession became the KING.

Samraat Ashok

After the death of Bindusara, there was a power struggle for 4 years and Ashoka became king after this battle. Earlier. Ashoka was just one of the King mentioned in Puranas. In 1837 CE James Princep deciphered an inscription in Brahmi script. This referred to a king called Devanampiya Piyadashi, however actually who this King was a matter of speculation. In 1915 another inscription was found which talked about a king called Ashoka Piyadashi. This led to the conclusion that both the kings were the same and Ashoka became Ashoka- the Great.

There were various phases of Ashoka's life. The first phase is known as “Kamashoka” according to some sources the name Ashoka means without sorrow.

Ashoka was appointed as the general Mauryan Army and uprising happened in the city of Taxila. Ashoka was sent to quell the rebellion. Taxila was located in the Northwest part of the Empire. The Greeks formed a substantial percentage of the population. When Ashoka reached Taxila, all the leaders welcomed him and the rebellion ended peacefully.

After Ashoka was sent into exile by Bindusar, Ashoka spent two years in Kalinga. However, there was a revolt in Ujjain. Ashoka was called back to curb the rebellion. Though Ashoka was injured in the battle, the rebellion was quelled. In Ujjain, he married a girl of the Buddhist religion. After Bindusara death, there was an intense struggle for the throne and Ashoka finally came to Power.   


After becoming a King, Ashoka followed the policy of forceful acquisition. The greatest expansion in Mauryan Empire took place under him. Even today there is no match for this. Before the Kalinga War, from the boundary of modern-day Bangladesh to the boundary of Iran, from Himalayas to Extreme south.

The Kalinga War

Both Chandragupta Maurya and Bindusara had tried to conquer Kalinga but had not been successful. Kalinga was important due to many reasons. Earlier Kalinga was a part of the Nanda Empire, but after the fall of the Nanda Empire, Kalinga had declared Independence. It had expanded its military power and had a lot of material prosperity also. Kalinga had established trade relations with Java, Malaya and Ceylon.

The main cause of the Kalinga war was- Ashoka was informed that one of his brothers has been given official refuge by Kalinga King. He was advised that he should attack Kaling. Ashoka first asked them to submit.

Kalinga King Upagupta refused his proposal. This led to the first attack on Kalinga. However, the Mauryans were defeated (routed). Ashoka responded with a huge invasion. Historian says that this was the biggest ever invasion till that time. At that time Ashoka’s Army consisted of 6 lakh infantry, thirty thousand cavalries, 9,000 war elephants. The Kalinga army consisted of 60,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and 700 elephants. The army and the people of Kalinga offered stiff resistance to the Mauryas. However, in front of Ashoka’s military might and greater number, Kalinga finally lost the War.

According to historians, 1 Lakh people died on the side of Kalinga 1.5 lakh were taken as Prisoners. On the Mauryan side also 1 Lakh soldier died, prisoners became slaves of the Mauryan Empire, but Megasthenes told no salary, but it was before Ashoka.

The Kalinga War prompted Ashoka to devote the rest of his life to non-violence, he became a follower of Buddhism, ended military expansion and thus Kalinga war was his last war.


Ashoka was the first person who tried to establish the Buddhist polity. He tried to develop the code of conduct based on Buddhist teaching. This was called Dhamma. Some principles of Dhamma were:

1. No living beings are to be slaughtered or sacrificed and no resources be spent on the festive gathering and symbolism.

2. Medical treatment should be given to men and animals.

3. Should be liberal towards Brahmins and Shramanas. Parents should be respected.

4. Dhamma Mahamatta would be appointed. These people would look after the welfare of religion and also spread the message of Dhamma.

5. There should be tolerance amongst all sects.

6. The Emperor would constantly undertake Dhamma Yatra, this would help King to remain in contact directly with his people.

7. The various ceremony performed before birth, death, during marriage and going before the journey was discouraged.

8. Dhamma Ghosa instead of Bheri Ghosa

All these teachings are mentioned in various rock edict

KAMASHOKA- Pursuit of pleasure
CHANDSHOKA- Extreme weakedness
DHAMMASHOKA (Sound of Peace) - will replace Bherighosa/Sound of war drums

Principle of Dhamma: Ashoka gave 7 principles

The 3rd Buddhist Council was held during the time of Ashoka. Missionaries were sent to South India and Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism. He appointed Dhamma Mahamatras to propagate the message of Buddhism amongst various social groups. He was against rituals and forbade killing birds and animals and completely prohibited the the killing of animals in the capital. His philosophy of Dhammaghosa also found success.

Economic conditions under the Mauryas:

It is estimated that the total population of the Gangetic plain may not have been more than 6.50 million. There were 27 Superintendents to regulate the economic activities of the state. The government used to provide irrigation facilities to the farmers.

Regarding slavery Indica and Arthashastra present different views. According to Indica, slavery was not present at that time. However, Arthashastra mentions that slaves were employed in Agriculture activity. According to historians that 1.5 lakh prisoners of War taken during Kalinga war, they were used as slaves in the future.

Patliputra was also an important geographical area. Arthashastra mentions many taxes that were collected from peasants, traders and Artisans. It seems that silver coins formed the currency of the Empire. Remarkable contributions were made in the field of art and architecture. Urban life was very progressive.

Steel was produced in large quantities & Iron also, which was later used to manufacture tools to clear land for agriculture etc.

The city of Patliputra was very important from the perspective of natural resources. It was the location for many deposits of iron ore. This gave them the basic raw material to develop the weapons.

Arthshastra mentions many taxes which was collected. The currency of the Empire was made up of silver coins. Remarkable contributions were made in the field of art and architecture.

Causes of decline of Mauryan Empire

Financial crisis due to donation to Buddha Architectures. After the death of Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire had tilted towards religion and was less focused on  administration. The Mauryan had centralized administration which means greater cost. When the regulation of economic activities was loosened the economic cost became a burden. The Kingdom came under various attacks from the Northwest side by Indo-Greek tribes. Because  military expenditure had been reduced the later king could not defend the border properly. Due to conversion to Buddhism the Brahmin felt discriminated and they revolted.

In 185 BCE Pushyamitra Sunga (Brahmin General) of Emperor Brihadrath assassinated and  established his dynasty. After Maurya, Sunga ruled in Patliputra and central India. This period marked a return to Brahminism.  

This is also said that the Buddhists were persecuted a lot. The Sunga was succeeded by Kanwas and they were also Brahmins

(Brahmins-Buddhist Civil War- Assassination might have been its outcome.)

Play: Mattavilaasprahasan

Ashoka’s wife name:-

1. Asandhimitata= Tissarakha=Kauravaki

2. Padmavati

Basics of Arthashastra

1.    i. In the the happiness of his subject lies the happiness of the king

2.    ii. Ethics form and important role in the behavior of every individual

3.    iii. Ahimsa first ethical value

4.    iv. Satyam second ethical value- truthfulness

5.    v. Cleanliness (Suchita)

6.    vi. Freedom from malice

7.    vii. Compassion

8.    viii. Tolerance

Possibly one of the first pieces of literature that talks about calculating interest as a percentage. Ends are more important than means. The three constituents of power- intellectual, military, enthusiasm & moral. The root of wealth is economic activity. Lack of wealth results in distress.

If the economic activity is not fruitful then both present and future are endangered. The taxing power of states should be limited. Kautilya knew, it is easy for a government official to be corrupted, however, he prescribed severe punishment for the corrupt.

One should try everything to win over the enemy before any military conquest.

The ideal qualities of a ruler are:

Administration of Justice. The Ideal rulers should conquer the Earth.

In a fight, time and location are very important. In the daytime the crow kills the Owl, In the night owl kills the Crow. On land, a dog can drag the crocodile, in the water a crocodile can drag the dog. One more important aspect is- who gains from the war? If a dog and a pig fight, the person who is benefited the most, who ends up getting the meat to eat.



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