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A brief history of the Maurya Empire, the first political power to unite the disparate kingdoms of the Indian subcontinent.

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Stemming from a curious chapter in Old World history, when the empire of Alexander the Great reached from Greece into the Indus Valley, making its way to the doorstep of modern India the  

Who Are the Maurya Empire?

Spanning from the fourth to the second centuries BCE, the Mauryan Empire claimed India back from the grasp of Alexander the Great and established an enforced hierarchy.

The Mauryan Empire was one of the greatest dynasties to rule the Indian subcontinent. It is regarded as one of the most crucial historical empires in Indian history due to the leadership of emperors Chandragupta, Bindusara, and Ashoka.

The period of the Mauryan Empire was defined by advances in trade relations, military power, and artistic contributions. To learn more about this unique and influential empire, read on.

Origins of the Maurya Empire

The Mauryan Empire was founded by an Indian man named Chandragupta Maurya, who conquered the northernmost parts of India after the death of Alexander the Great, who had ruled over that part of the world at the time. This occurred in 323 BCE. After conquering over a neighboring people group, Chandragupta became a national power.

Chandragupta worked his way south throughout the upper portion of the Indian subcontinent. Chandragupta’s rule encompassed almost the entire country, and he eventually was succeeded by his son Bindusara. The latter conquered all the way to the area now known as Karnataka State, the second-southernmost state in modern India.

Maurya Empire Name Origins

The Mauryan Empire was named after its first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta Maurya and his son Bindusara took over almost the entire Indian subcontinent, so the name Maurya reflected Chandragupta’s immense power and organization.

After Chandragupta, Bindusara took control of the empire, keeping it under his father’s name. The leader who followed Bindusara was one of his sons, Ashoka. Ashoka is remembered as a historically successful leader of the Mauryan Empire, the name of which he kept in honor of his grandfather. 

Culture and Beliefs of the Maurya Empire

The Mauryan Empire was an ancient Indian civilization ruled by highly respected leaders. The Mauryan Empire became one of the largest empires to encompass almost the entire Indian subcontinent, which includes what is now known as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. They ruled from 321 to 185 BCE.

The Maurya Empire was led by Indian rulers who organized their empire strategically and efficiently. A strict hierarchy and rule by bureaucrats created a society where order was enforced, and people adhered to their social roles.

Economics of the Maurya Empire

Trade was an especially important part of life in the Mauryan Empire. The empire was set up with strict guidelines for who could trade and where, and people were established in their social spheres as tradespeople, market workers, farmers, and more, with the majority of Mauryan people being farmers.

In terms of trade and ownership of goods, the state owned the majority of tradable goods, including coal, silver, arms, and naval manufacturing. Along with this economic prosperity, the avenues of travel throughout the empire were well-taken care of, and the Ganges River was used as a major form of transportation throughout the empire.

Religion of the Maurya Empire

Much like modern-day India, the Mauryan Empire was a blend of a few different religions. The major religion that occupied the Mauryan Empire was Hinduism, the indigenous religion to the Indian subcontinent, and thought to be the oldest religion in the world today.

Another religion that was present at the time of the Mauryan Empire was Jainism, which holds similar ethical guidelines to Hinduism but is more monotheistic in nature. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Chandragupta was Hindu until he gave the throne to Bindusara and became a Jain monk.

Finally, Buddhist – a spiritual practice that developed from Hinduism – became one of the biggest religions in the Maurya Empire, especially during the reign of Ashoka, who was a Buddhist, and who majorly supported the development of Buddhist studies and places of worship.

History of the Maurya Empire

The Mauryan Empire was a vastly successful empire that covered the majority of the Indian subcontinent. It was started by a military leader named Chandragupta Maurya, who soon became the first emperor in a hundred-fifty year dynasty. He was succeeded by his son Bindusara and then by his grandson Ashoka.

Under Bindusara, the Mauryan Empire saw great southern expansion, which brought their rule almost to the southernmost parts of the subcontinent. Under Ashoka, the country was ruled peacefully, led by Buddhist philosophy.

To this day, the legacies of the Mauryan leaders remain strong. Their empire is an important part of Indian history, particularly because the era was so well-recorded and heavily documented.

Emergence of the Maurya Empire

The rise of the Maurya Empire was a time of cultural revival for the Indian subcontinent. When Chandragupta Maurya claimed northern India – particularly the Punjab region – back from the rule of the recently deceased Alexander the Great, he brought the region back into the hands of Indian people.

With his rule, Chandragupta brought a sense of order to the country and passed this same philosophy onto his son, Bindusara. With the rule of Bindusara came even more expansion. His military claimed land all the way to South India, just before the modern-day Indian state of Karnataka.

Decline of the Maurya Empire

The Mauryan Empire arguably reached its peak when Ashoka, Chandragupta’s grandson, came to power. He was a peaceful king who chose not to follow his father’s and grandfather’s path in terms of their militaristic leadership styles. Rather, he chose to rule the country peacefully and instituted national Buddhist legislation.

Under Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire saw a boom in economic stability, positive trade relations, and artistic craftsmanship. However, after his passing, the empire began to dissolve. Much like other empires after the passing of a great leader, the Mauryan Empire faced internal weaknesses and external conflict.

The final king of the Mauryan Empire, Brihadratha, was killed by one of his right-hand men, bringing about the complete end of the Mauryan Empire. His murderer, Pushyamitra, became the leader of the Shunga Dynasty, which succeeded the Mauryan Empire.

Geography of Maurya Empire

Maurya Empire in Northern India

The Mauryan Empire was founded in the modern-day state of Punjab, which rests in the northwestern portion of the country. Chandragupta began his reign in the Northernmost part of India, which gave him a military advantage – his troops only needed to travel in one direction to conquer the rest of the country.

Because of his beginnings in the northern region of the country, Chandragupta established the capital of his empire in the northeastern city of Pataliputra. This is where the remaining Mauryan emperors would reign from, and where the economic center of the empire would rest.

Maurya Empire in Southern India

The Mauryan Empire extended almost entirely throughout the Indian subcontinent, except for the southernmost areas that now constitute the modern-day states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

This lack of southern expansion was likely because of the encounters with the ruling people groups of those regions. It is thought that the Mauryan leadership had good relationships with the southern rulers and didn’t want to take their land from them.

What Happened to the Maurya Empire?

The Maurya Empire was dissolved around 185 BCE when Brihadratha was killed by his commander-in-chief Pushyamitra. This led to the end of a dynasty started by Chandragupta Maurya around one hundred fifty years earlier.

The legacy of the Maurya Empire still remains in modern-day India. The cultural impact and pride that was left behind by the leadership of Chandragupta, as well as Ashoka, remains an important part of Indian history. They are both still seen as influential Indian leaders of ancient history.

Cities of the Maurya Empire

Pataliputra (modern Patna)
Bihar, India
GPS: 25.61487, 85.16072

Bodhgaya
Bihar, India
GPS:

Taxila 
Punjab, Pakistan
GPS: 33.74249, 72.8183

Ujjain 
Madya Pradesh, India
GPS: 23.17467, 75.78915

Tosali
Odisha, India
GPS: 20.22663, 85.85305

Sarnath
Uttar Pradesh, India
GPS: 25.37146, 83.02509

Monuments of the Maurya Empire

Great Stupa of Sanchi
Madhya Pradesh, India
GPS: 23.47942, 77.73929

Barabar Caves
Bihar, India
GPS: 25.00569, 85.06373

Diamond Throne
Bihar, India
GPS: 24.69588, 84.99112

Dhamek Stupa
Uttar Pradesh, India
GPS: 25.38085, 83.02451

Fast Facts

Name: Maurya Empire
Origin: Military conquest by the King Chandragupta united most of the Indian subcontinent.
Language: Magadhi Prakrit
Religion: Multiple religions, predominantly Hinduism, Jainism, with a stong focus on Buuddhism during king Ashoka’s reign.
Era: 321 – 185 BCE
Location: Northern India
Capital: Pataliputra (modern Patna)
Decline: Remote territories began to break away following the death of King Brihadratha in 185 BCE.

Glossary

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Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi all, my name is Ben. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in archaeology and writing, pursuing a career in the latter. However, I never quite lost that fascination for archaeological theory. For the past 9 years, I’ve been living and travelling in Asia, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at PathsUnwritten.com.

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