Objective: To identify India’s history of political fragmentation yet explain impact of Mauryan and Gupta rule

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Empires: Mauryan and Gupta

Objective: To identify India’s history of political fragmentation yet explain impact of Mauryan and Gupta rule.

Do Now: List three achievements of the Golden Age of Sanskrit culture? ________________________________




  1. Overview – India

  1. Empires played a less prominent role in India

  2. In the Indus River valley flourished the largest of the First Civilizations (The cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro – urban planning)

  3. But in the Indus valley  little evidence of any central political authority

  4. At its demise by 1500 BCE, creation of new civilization along Ganges River

  5. Scholars debate the role of the Aryans, a pastoral Indo-European people, and whether they invaded and destroyed or were already a part of the Indus Valley population

  1. Political Fragmentation and Diversity

  1. By 600 BCE, the classical civilization of South Asia began to take shape in northern India

  2. But emerged as a fragmented collection of towns and cities with diverse political structures

  3. Range of ethnic/cultural/linguistic diversity due to endless variety of peoples migrating from Central Asia across mountain passes

  4. The source of an identity in the midst of diversity was a distinctive religion (Hinduism)

  1. But Empires Had Been Known

  1. Northwestern India had been briefly ruled by Persian Empire

  2. Northwestern Indiabriefly conquered by Alexander the Great

  3. Persian and Greek influences encouraged the first and largest of India’s short experiments with empire building

  1. The Mauryan Empire

  1. With a population of perhaps 50 million

  2. A large military force (reported 600,000 infantry soldiers - 30,000 cavalry - 8,000 chariots - and 9,000 elephants)

  3. Civilian bureaucracy with various ministries and spies

  4. State also operated many industries – spinning, weaving, mining, shipbuilding, and armaments

  5. Taxes on trade, herds, land (from which the monarch claimed a quarter or more of the crop)

  6. Ashoka (reigned 268-232 BCE)

  1. Left a record of his activities and thinking in his edicts carved on rocks and pillars (Pillars of Ashoka)




  1. Reign began in a ruthless fashion of conquest and expansion

  2. But a particularly bloody battle, Battle of Kalinga,-turning point

  3. Disgusted by the violence and carnage, converted to Buddhism

  4. Adopted a more peaceful approach to government

  1. Encouraged nonviolence and tolerance

  2. Worked for the happiness and well-being of his subjects

  3. Abandoned the royal hunts/Ended animal sacrifices in capital

  4. Eliminated most meat from the royal menu

  5. Generously supported Buddhist monasteries and building of stupas (shrines which housed relics of important Buddhists)

  6. Ordered digging of wells, planting of shade trees, building of rest stops along major highways (integrating economy)

  7. But still retained the power to punish wrongdoing and the death penalty remained

  8. Attempted to develop a moral code for the diverse empire

  9. After his death, political fragmentation and competing states

  1. The Gupta Empire

  1. Another short-lived experiment in empire building in South Asia

  2. A golden age of Hindu culture

  1. Mathematicians developed the concept of zero, the decimal system, and the concept of infinity

  2. Scientists experimented with vaccinations

  3. Artists created beautiful paintings in the caves of Ajanta and great works of literature in Sanskrit, the holy language of the Hindu religion

  1. But India was similar to Western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire

  1. Political fragmentation was more common than unity

  2. Perhaps India’s tremendous cultural diversity was the reason

  3. Also frequent invasions from Central Asia, which regularly smashed states that might have emerged as empire builders

  4. And India’s social system known as the caste system increased local loyalties

  1. Yet Vibrant Economy

  1. India was a focal point of an extensive network of trade in the Indian Ocean basin

  2. Its cotton textile industry supplied cloth throughout the Afro-Eurasian world

  3. Strong guilds of merchants and artisans provided political leadership in towns and cities

  4. The absence of a consistent imperial unity did not prevent the

the evolution of a lasting civilization


Strayer Question:

  • Why were centralized empires so much less prominent in India than in China?

  • Compare and contrast the process of empire building in India and in China.

  • How did the religious experience shape the political reality in South Asia?

  1. Under Gupta India

  1. Arabic numerals originated in India.

  2. Slavery increased,

  3. Hinduism and Buddhism became the official religions of India.

  4. The government of India became more centralized.

  5. The status of women improved.

  1. Which pair of rulers underwent a religious conversion process that had broad-based impact on the lands under their control?

  1. Julius Caesar and Shi Huangdi

  2. Hammurabi and Julius Caesar

  3. Tutankhamen and Pericles

  4. Ashoka and Constantine

  5. Henry VIII and Justinian

  1. The geographic factors presented here led to the development of which highly complex and distinctive civilization by the year 600 C.E.?

  • Fertile river valleys

  • Isolating mountain ranges

  • Dependable monsoon weather patterns

  1. Indian

  2. Roman

  3. Mayan

  4. Sumerian

  5. Greek

  1. Which major religion lacks a central founding figure?

  1. Christianity

  2. Islam

  3. Judaism

  4. Buddhism

  5. Hinduism

  1. Which important idea is credited to intellectuals of the Gupta Empire?

  1. Invention of the telescope

  2. Development of humanity’s first written script

  3. The concept of zero

  4. Invention of the magnetic compass

  5. Polytheism

  1. Which lasting pattern in the history of the subcontinent can we trace to the period of the rule of the Mauryan and Gupta empires in India?

  1. Strong state sponsorship of Hindu beliefs

  2. Invasion and rule by nomadic invaders

  3. Difficulty in maintaining centralized imperial rule

  4. Long and generally unbroken eras of centralized imperial rule

  5. Coexistence with Islamic rule and culture

Excerpts from Surjit Mansingh, "Historical Setting" in India: A Country Study
Military expansion was called to a halt by Asoka, grandson of Chandragupta, once he had subdued the powerful kingdom of Kalinga in the southeast. Thereafter, Asoka expounded a new theory of social responsibility, or dhamma, as the basis for his empire. Dhamma owed much to Buddhism, which the emperor embraced as his personal religion and which he encouraged through his patronage of the monastic orders and his designation of Buddhist monks as missionaries-cum-ambassadors to feudatories and neighboring states. Asoka's political philosophy and laws were epitomized in his edicts, which were inscribed on pillars and rock surfaces located at the nodal points and outer reaches of his empire. The edicts spelled out moral principles of humanitarianism in conduct, including nonviolence and the tolerance of differences, to which all people could and should subscribe. They also proclaimed the emperor's decision to renounce force and to rule his domains through compassion and dhamma.
Asoka's intentions were noble; they were also realistic in a heterodox empire where fanaticisms could be fatal. But he provided no institutions capable of carrying on a centralized administration. Recruitment of officials was not placed on a meritocratic or examination system, as in China. Loyalty was focused on the emperor's person and was quickly supplanted after his death. Strains on the treasury were heavy, and currency became debased in the later Mauryan times. Within 100 years of his death, Asoka's empire had dwindled back to Magadha.
The political map of the subcontinent again became a mosaic of kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. Yet the same centuries bridging the change of millennium saw enormous growth and syncreticism in intellectual, artistic, and economic life. Organizations of trade guilds, merchant asking houses, and caste tribunals gained privilege, autonomy, and wealth. Undoubtedly, they provided the social stability and institutional continuity that allowed cultural and economic blossoming to take place despite political fragmentation. Moreover, during these centuries interaction with other parts of the world was high and trade correspondingly lucrative. The Hindu social system was flexible enough in practice to accommodate within itself both new immigrants and older tribes without a change of theory.
Inscription on one of the Pillars of Emperor Asoka:
Indeed, Beloved-of-the-Gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But Beloved-of-the-Gods is pained even more by this -- that Brahmans, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees -- that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected (by all this) suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all (as a result of war), and this pains Beloved-of-the-Gods.

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