World History



+- Magadha Empire

Magadha Empire lasted from 684 B.C - 320 B.C in India. The two great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata mention the Magadha Empire. It is said that the Shishunaga dynasty founded the Magadha Empire. Some of the greatest empires and religions of India originated here. The Gupta Empire and Mauryan Empire started here. The great religions, Buddhism and Jainism were founded in Magadha Empire. Read on to know about the history of Magadh Empire.

Magadha Empire gained much power and importance during the rule of King Bimbisara and his son and successor Ajatshatru. Bimbisara is said to have been murdered by his son Ajatshatru. The Magadha Empire in India extended in the modern day Bihar and Patna and some parts of Bengal. Magadha Empire was a part of the 16 Mahajanapadas. The empire extended up to River Ganges and the kingdoms of Kosala and Kashi were annexed. The places that came under the Magadha Empire were mostly republican in nature and the administration was divided into judicial, executive and military functions

The Magadha Empire fought gruesome battles with most of its neighbors. They had advanced forms of weaponry andthe opposed forces did not stand a chance against them. Ajatshatru even built a huge fort at his capital Pataliputra. This was the place that Buddha prophesized would become a popular place of trade and commerce. With an unmatched military force, the Magadha Empire naturally had an upper hand over conquering neighborhood places and spreading the territory. This is what made it a major part of the 16 Mahajanapadas.

However, after the death of King Udayan, the Magadha Empire started to decline very rapidly. Internal disturbances and corruption within the kingdom led to its decline. The Magadha Empire was finally taken over by the powerful Nanda dynasty who then ruled here for a good amount of time before being taken over by the Mauryas.

+- Gupta Empire

The Gupta period marks an important phase in the history of ancient India. The long and efficient rule of the Guptas made a huge impact on the political, social and cultural spheres. Though the Gupta Empire was not as widespread as the Mauryan Empire was in India, yet the Gupta dynasty was successful in creating an empire that is significant in the history of India. The Gupta Period is also popularly known as the Golden Age of India and for the right reasons. The lifestyle and culture of the Gupta dynasty is known through the availability of various ancient coins, scriptures, inscriptions, texts, etc. belonging to that era.

The rulers of the Gupta Empire were efficient administrators who knew how to govern with a firm hand without being despotic. During this age, art and education flourished and many great discoveries were made in these fields. Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, the two great mathematicians contributed much during this period in the field of Vedic Mathematics. Aryabhatta estimated the value of "Pi" to the fourth decimal place. Algebra was developed to a great extent and the concepts of zero and infinity were found. The symbols of numbers 1 to 9 were devised which was a great contribution in mathematics. These symbols came to be known as Hindu Arabic numerals later when the Arabs too adopted them.

The Gupta Age is also known for its advances in astronomy. During the reign of the Gupta rulers, astronomers and philosophers proposed the theory that the earth was not flat but round. The theory of gravity was also propounded during this time. The astronomers made a breakthrough when they found out the different planets and started to make horoscopes based on the planetary positions. The field of medicine also advanced a lot during this time and doctors used to perform operations even during that era. Since so many discoveries and advances were made in arts, medicine, literature and science during Gupta period, it has been called the Golden Age of India.

Main Rulers of Gupta Age

* Chandragupta (319 - 335 A.D): Chandragupta was a very powerful Gupta ruler who waged many battles to attain his title. He married Kumaradevi after which the Gupta dynasty came into eminence. He assumed the title of Maharajadiraja, which means king of kings.

* Samudragupta (335 - 375 A.D): Samudragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta. Samudragupta was popularly known as the "Indian Napoleon" as he conquered many territories without making much of an effort. It is said that after Emperor Ashoka, the empire of Samudragupta was the supreme. The coins found in excavation reveal much information about his empire. He performed the Asvamedha Yagna and gained much fame and power. During his reign, many great discoveries and advancements were made in different fields like astronomy, mathematics, medicine, etc.

* Chandragupta II (375 - 414 A.D): Also known by the name of Vikramaditya, Chandragupta II was chosen by his father as the successor and the future ruler. Chandragupta II was an able ruler and a great conqueror. His conquest of the peninsula of Saurashtra via the Arabian Sea is considered to be one of his greatest military successes. With the annexation of Saurashtra and Malwa, he opened up sea ports to facilitate trade and commerce. His capital city was Pataliputra.

* Kumaragupta I (415 - 455 AD): Kumaragupta ruled for forty years and he was considered to be one of the most powerful rulers of the Gupta Period. He was known by different names such as, Shri Mahendra, Ajita Mahendra, Simha Mahendra, Asvamedha Mahendra, Mahendra Karma, etc. During his reign, the whole of India was united as one single entity. Though it was secular and people had their own thoughts and beliefs, yet they remained united and intact in any adversity. This was proved when the subjects drove out the Hunas from the kingdom after the death of Kumaragupta.

* Skandagupta (455 - 467 A.D): Most historic scripts propound that Skandagupta was the ruler after Kumaragupta, though there are some theories that also mention Purugupta, Kumaragupta - II, etc. Skandagupta was a very powerful conqueror and is considered to be at par with God Indra. His empire included the whole of North India from west to east and the peninsular regions of Gujarat.


+- Southern Kingdoms


The decline of the Gupta Empire led to a period of confusion and political flux in the northern part of India. With the exception of the reign of Harshavardhan, the entire north India witnessed a continuous struggle, as there were a number of small states, each one of them fighting with the others to gain the upper hand. However, the situation in the Deccan and south India was different from that in the north. Unlike the kingdoms that emerged in the north during this period, the kingdoms of South India were large and powerful.

A number of kingdoms emerged in the Deccan and peninsular part of India after the decline of the Satvahana dynasty, which ruled a large part of central India, including the Deccan region and Andhra Pradesh. The important kingdoms of south India between AD 500 and AD 750 were that of the Chalukyas, Pallavas, and the Pandyas. The relationship between most of the kingdoms of the south was not amicable and they constantly fought with each other.


The Chalukyas built their kingdom on the ruins of the Vakataka dynasty who themselves had built up their state on the remains of the Satvahana kingdom. Vatapi (modern Badami) became the capital of the Chalukyan state. The famous Chalukyan ruler Pulakeshin II (AD 609-642) was a contemporary of Harshavardhan. While Harsha wanted to expand his empire to the south, Pulakeshin II wanted to move to the northern parts of the country. As the ambitions of both the rulers collided, they met in a battle on the banks of River Narmada, where Harsha was defeated.

The defeat ended the dreams of Harsha of expanding his empire southwards. On the other hand, the problems of the Chalukyas were far from over, as they had to constantly deal with two adversaries, the Rashtrakutas (from the north) and the Pallavas (from the south). The Rashtrakutas, who ruled a small stretch of area in the north Deccan region, were originally subordinate to the Chalukyas, but in the course of time they began to challenge the power of the Chalukyas. In the 8th century AD, the Rashtrakutas finally defeated the Chalukyas.

During the reign of Pulakeshin II, the Pallavas began to emerge as a powerful force to the south of the Chalukyan kingdom. The struggle between Pallavas and the Chalukyas spanned three hundred years, beginning from the 6th century AD. Pulakeshin II fought a battle against the Pallava ruler Mahendravarman and defeated him in 610 AD. However, after a few years in 642 AD, the Pallava king Narasimhavarman attacked the Chalukyan kingdom, defeated Pulakeshin II and captured Vatapi, the capital of the Chalukyas. After surviving many upheavals, the Chalukyas continued to survive until the 12th century AD, when their rule finally ended.

Vatapi, the capital of the Chalukyan kingdom, was a flourishing city. It had trade with a number of places like Persia (Iran), Arabia, and the ports on the Red Sea, along with a number of kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Pulakeshin II had diplomatic links with the rulers of Persia. The Chalukyan rulers were great patrons of art and provided financial aid for constructing temples and cave shrines through different parts of the Deccan hills. The magnificently carved sculptures in the temples and temple complex built by them are splendid examples of their artistic skills.


On the ruins of the eastern part of the kingdom of the Satvahanas, the Pallava rulers established their kingdom. The Pallava rulers originally worked as officials under the Satvahana rulers and, in the course of time, they established themselves as local rulers. Soon their kingdom spanned parts of southern Andhra Pradesh and northern Tamil Nadu. They established their capital at Kanchi (modern Kanchipuram near Chennai), which gradually became popular and famous for its temples and as center of Vedic learning.

The Pallavas fought many wars with the Chalukyas (to the northwest) and the Pandyas (to the south). Both of these states tried their best to stop the Pallavas from rising, but failed. King Mahendravarman was a contemporary of Pulakeshin II, the Chalukyan ruler. Like other rulers in south India, he was a poet and musician apart from being a good warrior.

The Pallava Empire continued to live on until the 13th century AD. However, after 9th century AD onwards, they succumbed to the combined armies of the Pandyas and the Cholas and from then on remained as a minor feudal state under the Cholas.


The kingdom of the Pandyas was south to that of the Pallavas and emerged during the 6th century AD. They set up their capital at Madurai. Their kingdom was confined to the southernmost and southeastern parts of the Indian peninsula. The kingdom of the Pandyas prospered from the trade with the Romans. Their kingdom continued to exist until the 11th century AD, when the mighty Chola rulers subdued them.


The society of south India was also caste ridden, like that in north India. The Brahmins (priestly class) and Kshatriyas (warrior class) dominated the people belonging to the lower castes. The position of the Brahmins was on the rise as the rulers began to grant land to temples and important priests.

The peasants either tilled land belonging to the ruler or the temples and little remained with them. Religion played an important part in the life of the people in south India. Buddhism was not popular there, and followers of Jain faith were few. Hinduism held sway in these kingdoms and Vedic sacrificial rights were common. The cult of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva became important during this time and Kanchipuram became an important pilgrim center for the Hindu devotees. Kanchipuram, which was the capital of the Pallavas, also became an important center of Tamil and Sanskrit studies.

The temples were not the only places of worship, but they became important cultural and administrative centers where festivals were held. People also gathered in the temples to solve local problems, as the temples governed large areas of land and the people thereof.


The rulers of these southern kingdoms were not only great warriors, but also were great patrons of art and architecture. The Pallava kings built a number of important temples in the seventh and the eighth centuries AD. The large rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram are magnificent examples of the architectural prowess of the artisans of that time. Temple architecture reached its zenith in ancient India when the Kailashnath temple at Ellora was built in the 8th century. Like the Pallavas, the Chalukyas were also great builders. They built a number of temples in Aihole in the 7th century AD. The rock-cut cave temples of Badami and the Virupaksha temple at Pattadakal are good examples of Chalukyan architectural skills. It is even said that the caves of Ajanta, the rock-cut temples of Ellora, and Elephanta have been built by the Chalukyas.


As trade with Rome declined after 6th century AD, towns became redundant and decayed. The beginning of the medieval period (after AD 750) saw the emergence of the great Chola Empire. The Indian subcontinent also began to witness an emergence of cultural units, having their own distinct language, culture, cuisine, etc, which later on laid the foundation of different "states". The early 8th century also saw the migration of large number of people of Iranian origin on the west coast of India, who were later on known as the Parsis.

The period between AD 500 to 750 in south India was not only a time of intense struggle, but also saw the rise in activities pertaining to art, architecture, and religion.

+- Rise of Kingdoms (600-400 Bc)


The end of the Vedic Age (1500 BC-600 BC) was followed by the rise of small kingdoms and republics in the northern parts of India and especially in the Gangetic plains of Bihar. These small states later paved the way for large empires. The entrenchment of the caste system, which divided the society be-tween the rulers and the ruled, also facilitated the rise of these states.


The earlier Aryan societies in India were tribal in context. Tribal chiefs, whose office was not hereditary, ruled these tribes. The criterion of selection was the number of cattle (cows in particular) a person owned. Clans often fought with each other over the control of herds of cattle. As the population of the tribes grew, their needs and aspirations also began to rise. In the course of time, the erstwhile small settlements grew into large settlements and managing large tracts of land became a problem. Soon these societies saw the rise of a ruling class, which belonged to the Kshatriya (warrior class) caste.

The strength of the early Aryan tribes was derived from the Jana (people) and not the Janapada (land). During the latter part of the Later Vedic Age (1000 BC-600 BC), all this changed with the rising influence of the Kshatriya (warrior class) caste and the Brahmin caste (priestly class), which took the reigns of the society in their hands and marginalized the other castes. The Kshatriyas and Brahmins worked in tandem and began to exploit the people belonging to the lower castes.

However, there was also a rift between the Kshatriyas on one hand and the Brahmins on the other hand. The rising influence of the Brahmins began to collide with the rule of the Kshatriyas, who formed the ruling class of each kingdom or republic. The Kshatriyas were alarmed by the rising power of the Brahmins, but they could not do much as they required the services of the Brahmins in all religious rituals and state occasions. The rise of Buddhism and Jainism during this period was a natural outcome to counter the threat of the Brahmanical Hindu order, as the founders of these religions were themselves Kshatriyas or warriors.


In the course of time, small settlements grew into small kingdoms and republics. A republic is that form of government where the power is held by the people or a group of elected people or elected chief. The concept of hereditary kingship is not present in republics. The main ruling class, which held the power of these republics, was the Kshatriya. Non-Kshatriyas were not a part of the ruling class in these republics. In the 6th century BC, 16 small territorial states or Mahajanapadas were formed. Of these 16 states, Magadh, Kosala, Vatsa, and Avanti were powerful. These various states constantly fought with each other for over a century to prove their supremacy.


The state of Magadh gained the upper hand over all other territorial kingdoms under the able leadership of Bimbisara (542 BC-493 BC) and his son Ajatshatru (493 BC-461 BC). The victory of Magadh over other states was predominantly a victory of the monarchical system. The rise of Magadh and the decline of the states with republican form of governance laid the foundation for hereditary system of governance.

The kingdom of Magadh was spread throughout a large area of the Gangetic plains. As this region had large deposits of iron ore, Magadh made ample use of it for making weapons and agricultural implements. Iron weapons strengthened the Magadh kingdom, while agricultural tools were used to extensively clear forests and bring more and more land under the plough. All this added to the material wealth of Magadh. It also took control of large stretches of river Ganga, which was used as a trade route. Ajatshatru was succeeded by his son Udayan (460 BC-444 BC), who established his capital in Pataliputra (present-day Patna). The first archeological evidence about large-scale architectural activities comes from this city.


The position of the king became important during this time. He not only protected the people but also upheld the sacred Law or Dharma. In the Republics, the people elected the ruler. However, in the kingdoms, the Brahmins (priests) sanctified the rule of the king (who was a Kshatriya) and promoted him not as an ordinary human, but God. The Brahmins endowed the king with God-like powers by performing certain religious ceremonies. Thus the people of the upper caste, the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, usurped the power in the Kingdoms and did not allow the people of the lower caste to have their say in the affairs of the state. The king was surrounded by a group of ministers who help him govern the state. The king maintained an army and was responsible for collecting taxes.

With the rise of kingdoms and republics, more and more villages and towns emerged. The economy of the state depended on the taxes collected from the people. Towns like Ujjayini (Malwa), Bhrigukachchha (Gujarat), Tamralipti (Ganga Delta), Shravasti, Kaushambi, Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh), Champa, Vaishali, Pataliputra, Rajagriha (Bihar), and Pratisthana (Deccan) came up during this time. Towns became craft centers and capitals of the early kingdoms and republics. Trade and commerce also helped in the rise of towns and barter system was common. River Ganga became an important trade route.

The society was strictly divided on caste lines: the Kshatriyas (warriors) were rulers, the Brahmins (priests) upheld education and religious activities, the Vaishyas (traders) carried out trade, while the Shudras were laborers and farm workers. A fifth caste-that of the untouchables-also grew, who were looked down upon as they had to perform menial jobs. The people of the upper caste asserted their authority on the others and did not allow them to rise.


After the death of Udayan, the kingdom of Magadh declined rapidly and was replaced by the Shishunaga dynasty, which took over in 413 BC. However, the Shishunaga dynasty did not last for more than 50 years and the Nanda dynasty took over. The Nandas kept a huge army and are described as the first empire builders of India. Chandragupta Maurya, who was the founder of the great Mauryan dynasty, overthrew the Nanda dynasty.