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6.7: Rise of the Maurya Empire

  • Page ID
    72217
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    Learning Objective

    • Understand the history and significance of the Maurya Empire

    Key Points

    • The Maurya Empire was founded in 322 BCE by Chandragupta Maurya, who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westward across central and western India in order to take advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal by Alexander the Great’s armies.
    • According to legend, the teacher Chanakya convinced his disciple, Chandragupta Maurya, to conquer the the kingdom of Magadha (the Nanda Empire) when he was insulted by its king Dhana Nanda.
    • Chandragupta Maurya expanded the Maurya Empire north and west as he conquered the Macedonian Satrapies and won the Seleucid-Mauryan war.
    • In its time, the Maurya Empire was one of the largest empires of the world.

    Terms

    Takshashila

    An early city in modern-day Pakistan that was believed to be one of the earliest global settings of learning and culture. It is now modern-day Taxila.

    Chanakya

    Maurya’s teacher and loyal advisor during the foundation and expansion of the Maurya Empire.

    Nanda Empire

    The kingdom led by Dhana Nanda; it was conquered by Chandragupta Maurya in 321 BCE.

    Chandragupta Maurya

    The founder of the Maurya Empire; he lived from 340-298 BCE.

    The Maurya Empire was a geographically extensive Iron Age historical power in ancient India, ruled by the Maurya dynasty from 322-185 BCE. Originating from the kingdom of Magadha in the Indo-Gangetic Plain (modern Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh) in the eastern side of the Indian subcontinent, the empire had its capital city at Pataliputra (modern Patna). The empire was the largest to have ever existed in the Indian subcontinent, spanning over 5 million square kilometres at its zenith under Ashoka.

    The Empire was founded in 322 BCE by Chandragupta Maurya, who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty, and rapidly expanded his power,with Chanakya’s help, westward across central and western India. His expansion took advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great’s armies. By 316 BCE, the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander. Chandragupta then defeated the invasion led by Seleucus I, a Macedonian general from Alexander’s army, and gained additional territory west of the Indus River.

    In its time, the Maurya Empire was one of the largest empires of the world. At its greatest extent, the empire stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, to the east into Assam, to the west into Balochistan (southwest Pakistan and southeast Iran) and into the Hindu Kush mountains of what is now Afghanistan. The Empire was expanded into India’s central and southern regions by the emperors Chandragupta and Bindusara, but it excluded a small portion of unexplored tribal and forested regions near Kalinga (modern Odisha), until it was conquered by Ashoka. It declined for about 50 years after Ashoka’s rule ended, and it dissolved in 185 BCE with the foundation of the Shunga Dynasty in Magadha.

    Conquest of Magadha and foundation of the Maurya Empire (c. 321 BCE)

    According to several legends, Chanakya traveled to Magadha, a kingdom that was large and militarily powerful and feared by its neighbors, but was insulted by its king Dhana Nanda, of the Nanda Dynasty. Chanakya swore revenge and vowed to destroy the Nanda Empire.

    The Nanda Empire originated from the region of Magadha in ancient India during the 4th century BCE, and lasted until between 345-321 BCE. At its greatest extent, the empire ruled by the Nanda Dynasty extended from Bengal in the east, to the Punjab region in the west, and as far south as the Vindhya Range. The rulers of this dynasty were famed for the great wealth that they accumulated.

    Chanakya encouraged the young Chandragupta Maurya and his army to take over the throne of Magadha. Using his intelligence network, Chandragupta gathered many young men from across Magadha and other provinces, who were upset over the corrupt and oppressive rule of King Dhana, as well as the resources necessary for his army to fight a long series of battles. These men included the former general of Taxila, accomplished students of Chanakya, the representative of King Porus of Kakayee, his son Malayketu, and the rulers of small states.

    Maurya devised a strategy to invade Pataliputra, the capital of the Nanda Empire. A battle was announced and the Magadhan army was drawn from the city to a distant battlefield in order to engage Maurya’s forces. Meanwhile, Maurya’s general and spies bribed the Nanda’s corrupt general, and created an atmosphere of civil war in the kingdom, which culminated in the death of the heir to the throne.

    Upon the civil unrest in the kingdom, Nanda resigned and disappeared into exile. Chanakya contacted the prime minister, Rakshasa, and convinced him that his loyalty was to Magadha, not to the Nanda Dynasty, and that he should remain in office. Chanakya reiterated that choosing to resist would start a war that would severely affect Magadha and destroy the city. Rakshasa accepted Chanakya’s reasoning, and Chandragupta Maurya was legitimately installed as the new King of Magadha in 321 BCE, at the age of 21. Rakshasa became Chandragupta’s chief advisor, and Chanakya assumed the position of an elder statesman.

    image
    Statue of Chandragupta Maurya at the Birla Mandir Hindu temple, Delhi. Chandragupta Maurya conquered the kingdom of Magadha to found the Maurya Empire in 231 BCE, at the age of 21.

    Northwest Expansion

    With his new seat of power in Magadha, Chandragupta Maurya defeated the remaining Macedonian satraps, and consolidated his reign of the new Maurya Empire. He rapidly expanded his power westward across central and western India, taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great’s Greek armies. By 320 BCE, the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India. Chandragupta Maurya would become the first emperor to unify India into one state, creating one of the world’s largest empires in its time, and the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent.

    image
    The Maurya Empire c. 320 BCE. The Maurya Empire when it was first founded by Chandragupta Maurya c. 320 BCE, after conquering the Nanda Empire when he was only about 20 years old.
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