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AN02c_The Mauryan and Gupta Empires of India

AN02c_The Mauryan and Gupta Empires of India

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Published by Anthony Valentin

The Mauryas and the Guptas established empires, but neither unified India permanently. The diversity of peoples, cultures, beliefs, and languages in India continues to pose challenges to Indian unity today. Compounding these challenges are mountains and deserts to the North-east, mountains to the north, and large bodies of water on all the other sides of this land mass. As formidable as the topography appears, history presents a long list of invaders that worked their way into the region. Some came as empire builders, others as permanent residents. All left their influence, which later contributed to 'fresh' expressions of an ancient culture.

The Mauryas and the Guptas established empires, but neither unified India permanently. The diversity of peoples, cultures, beliefs, and languages in India continues to pose challenges to Indian unity today. Compounding these challenges are mountains and deserts to the North-east, mountains to the north, and large bodies of water on all the other sides of this land mass. As formidable as the topography appears, history presents a long list of invaders that worked their way into the region. Some came as empire builders, others as permanent residents. All left their influence, which later contributed to 'fresh' expressions of an ancient culture.

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AN02c Unit02: New Directions in Government and Society Ch.

07
Timeline: 5th C. BCE - 6th C. CE
FS: Unique topography and an infusion of new cultures contribute to India's first native empires-
The Mauryan Empire and Gupta Empire.

Main Idea: The Mauryas and the Guptas established empires, but neither unified India
permanently. The diversity of peoples, cultures, beliefs, and languages in India continues to
pose challenges to Indian unity today. Compounding these challenges are mountains and
deserts to the North-east, mountains to the north, and large bodies of water on all the other
sides of this land mass. As formidable as the topography appears, history presents a long list of
invaders that worked their way into the region. Some came as empire builders, others as
permanent residents. All left their influence, which later contributed to 'fresh' expressions of an
ancient culture.
CCSS…
I. Mountain Passes
Despite the mountainous terrain in the northwest, the Indian subcontinent has had a
history full of foreigners entering through this sector. Facilitating that advance are mountain
passes. These passes are gaps that act as corridors within the mountain range. One well-
known pass is called the "Khyber Pass".
Then, as now, these passes have permitted mountain herders and armies to move
between the Asian continent and the Indian subcontinent.

II. Foreign Invasions and Migrations
The list of foreigners entering the Indian subcontinent reads like a list of "Who's Who of
the Ancient World". Among these, we would include:
A. Aryans: An Indo-European peoples.
B. Persians: The armies of Darius I enter the subcontinent in the 6th C. BCE. They remain
in control of the northwest sector for ~200 years.
C. Macedonians: In the late 4th C. BCE, the combined Macedonian-Greek armies of
Alexander the Great enter the subcontinent. Unlike the Persians, who Alexander
conquers, the Macedonians move further East within the Indo-Gangetic plain. 'Western'
contact with peoples of the northern plain lays contributes to the rise of an Indian empire
that succeeds the Macedonians after Alexander's death.
The invaders, in the long term, were expelled and/or assimilated into the general Indian
population. The foreign presence contributed, via cultural diffusion, to the societies they
encountered. The invasion experience and the resulting diffusion of culture had both beneficial
and detrimental affects on the local populations.

III. Indian Empires
A. Mauryan Empire: In 322 BCE, Chandragupta Maurya seized power over a kingdom that
had been centered on the city of Pataliputra, in the Eastern sector of the Indo-Gangetic
plain (lower Ganges River). He proceeded, with energy and forcefulness, to expand his
realm and entrench his family as a ruling dynasty- The Mauryan Dynasty. The empire he
built is referred to as the Mauryan Empire. The speed of his conquests and the methods
to sustain it were partially the result of counsel he received from Kautilya, an advisor
who shared a few traits with Niccolo Macchiavelli (1500 years into the future in
Renaissance Europe).

AN02c Unit02: New Directions in Government and Society Ch.07
B. Asoka, grandson of Chandrgupta, elevated the empire to it's height in the 3rd C. BCE.
Among the many noteworthy moments of his reign, I would like to highlight the following:
1. His conversion to Buddhism and a 'anti-violence' pledge.
2. Issuance of a law code which came to be known as 'Asoka's Rock Edicts'. The
edicts were chiseled on stone monuments (stelae) in various locations
throughout the empire. Such an act, as discussed for other historical figures,
contributed to the equal administration of justice.
3. He sent Buddhist missionaries to distant locations within and out of the
subcontinent. Thus, the ground-work for elevating Buddhism to a global faith was
being laid.
Successors to the throne of the Mauryan empire were not as adept in building
or maintaining an empire as Asoka. By ~180 BCE, the empire had collapsed and an era of
continual incursions (via the mountain passes) contributed to a politically fractured period in the
Indo-Gangetic plain.
C. Gupta Empire: In 320 CE, 500 years after the collapse of the Mauryan Dynasty, a Hindu
prince is crowned king of a kingdom straddling the Ganges river, near the ancient cities
of Pataliputra and Nalanda. His name was Chandra Gupta (not related to Chandragupta
Maurya) and he was to lead the Indogangetic Plain and northern India into an 'Indian
Golden Age'. The empire lasted until the 7th C. CE. In the intervening 300-year period,
accounts of their achievements were being preserved in the Hindu oral traditions and in
the writings of visiting monks (Ex. A Chinese Buddhist, Fa-Hsien). Among these
achievements we would include:
1. Education
-
University established in Nalanda to study philosophy (attracted students from
distant lands).
2. Math & Science
-
Indian doctors were the first to use injections. These were administered in hospitals
that did not charge for health care.
-
Pioneered surgery techniques like instrument sterilization and setting broken bones.
-
Understood the concept of '0' (zero).
-
Developed a 'base 10' system of numbers (Muslim traders from Arabia introduced
these numbers to Europe and thus were erroneously called "Arabic Numerals").
3. Drama
-
India's vibrant movie industry today had a rich precedent in the dramas of Kalidasa.
In the artistic realm, Kalidasa's genius has been compared to that of Shakespeare.
Like the Mauryans, the Gupta never conquer the Tamil-speaking peoples of the
southern-tip of the subcontinent. The Tamil develop a culture that today is widely evident in
Southern India and the island-nation of Sri Lanka. Additionally, the Gupta succumb to the forces
of human movements driving through the subcontinent. This time, the Huns sweep into the
subcontinent in the 5th C. and deal a heavy blow to the empire. In less than two centuries the
Gupta Empire fades into history. However, it lays a foundation for succeeding societies.
Materials/Sources: Refer to the course calendar for additional assignments and pertinent due dates.
! Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 6 Dec. 07
! Course Website Video Channel
! World History: Patterns of Interaction
! For more on the Rock Edicts of Asoka, take a look at Urban Dharma.

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