The rise of the Maurya Empire 322BCE-232BCE

As part of this month’s challenge to write about a period or place that is out of our comfort zone, I have chosen to write about the rise of the Maurya Empire in ancient India. As I predominantly write about British or American history, the researching and writing of this post was something completely new to me. Therefore, I hope that you enjoy this post and that it gives you an insight into a fascinating period of history.

The Maurya Empire (322BCE-185BCE) began under the Maurya dynasty and would in a time, cover modern-day India and parts of modern-day Pakistan and modern-day Afghanistan. Also, apart from the extreme south, the Maurya Empire was the first empire to unite India under a single dynasty, thereby making this a very important period when looking at the history of India. Rising soon after the withdrawal of Alexander the Great’s troops from the Indus Valley in 325BCE, the small kingdom of Magadha in north-eastern India (modern-day Bihar and Bengal) was a part of the much larger Nanda Empire to the west. The first ruler of the Maurya Empire was Chandragupta Maurya, who from 322/1BCE waged guerrilla war against the Nanda Empire. The Nanda Empire ranged from north-east India at Pundravardhana to Bharkaccha on the north-west coast, essentially the northern part of India reaching the Himalayan mountain range. The Nanda Empire ended with the capture of the Nanda capital at Pataliputra in 321BCE and the succession of Chandragupta Maurya after the submission of the king of Nanda, Dhana.

The next phase of the empire’s rise was the conflict between the newly formed Maurya Empire and the Greek kingdoms/empires left by Alexander the Great. In 317BCE Maurya conquered Taxila, the capital of Punjab from the satrap of Media, Piethon, bringing him to the attention of other Greek generals further west. The next test for the Maurya Empire was the stable Greek kingdom under General Seleucus I as he tried to re-conquer the territory that Alexander had held west of the Indus Valley. The brief war in 305-303/2BCE ended in a peace treaty between the two powers, though Chandragupta Maurya was able to gain large areas of territory in what is now modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Maurya also married a Greek general’s daughter as a sign of the alliance. This peace treaty allowed Chandragupta to unite the Indus Valley and Ganges Valley under the Maurya dynasty.

The conquest of central of India would be left to Chandragupta’s son and grandson. Bindusara inherited his father’s empire in 298BCE and set about conquering central India, expanding as far south as Karnataka. Bindusara’s son Ashoka continued the expansion with the addition of Kalinga in 261BCE and put down many of the revolts that had started under Bindusara. Whilst the reigns of Chandragupta and Bindusara had been about conquest and expansion, (Ashoka reign was also partially filled with some of the worst fighting and civilian deaths at Kalinga 262-261BCE) Ashako’s reign ushered in 40 years of peace. Therefore, the conquest of India was complete and the empire survived until the long decline after Ashako’s death in 232BCE.

Whilst it would appear that the Maurya Empire was formed by conquest and destruction, the empire also ushered in many changes for Indian history. Firstly, Buddhism flourished under the reign of the Maurya dynasty, particularly under Ashoka and missionaries were sent to the regions in south India and across ancient Asia. Trade routes within India also improved and agriculture became the main economic factor in the wealth of the Maurya administration. Furthermore, the empire built an effective military and civil administration under Chanakya, the tutor and prime minister of Chandragupta and unified India under one dynasty. Therefore, the Maurya Empire has a prominent place in the history of India and is still part of the cultural traditions of modern-day India today.

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