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These punch-marked silver coins might befrom the time of Chandragupta I

These punch-marked silver coins might be from the time of Chandragupta I, in Mauryan India.

Chandragupta I

Alexander went back to Babylon in 324 BC. Then a man named Chandragupta overthrew the old Vedic kingdom of Nanda. Then he formed a big new empire. He ruled all of northern India and north-east into Afghanistan.

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Greek historians said that Chandragupta got the idea to build an empire from Alexander. But it seems more likely that, like Alexander, the Indians got the idea of forming empires from the Iranians. Or maybe Chandragupta got the idea from earlier Vedic empire-builders in India.

Chandragupta conquered the Indus valley back from the Greeks. As part of the peace treaty he married the daughter of Seleucus, who had taken over when Alexander died. Chandragupta gave Seleucus 200 elephants as a present at the wedding.

Who was Seleucus?

A coin from the time of Ashoka


The Mauryan Empire

There was a lot going on in the Mauryan Empire. The Silk Road was getting started. Indian traders sold cotton cloth, pearls, medicine, pepper and cinnamon to their northern neighbors, the Sogdians and the Greeks. They bought fast horses and silver.

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Indian cotton cloth
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Where was the alphabet from?

These traders brought the new alphabet back to India. People used their version of that alphabet to write down their stories and poetry. So now for the first time, people wrote down the Rig Veda, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata.

Sanchi stupa, 250 BC

Sanchi stupa, 250 BC

Buddhism and inventions

As India got richer from trade, the Mauryan kings built the first Buddhist stupas. Then they carved Buddhist temples into the cliffs at Ajanta. They needed Buddhist temples because Buddhism was also growing rapidly under Mauryan rule. People in India invented water wheels for irrigation.

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They began to make steel to sell on the Silk Road. Even Hinduism changed: apparently new ideas about karma and dharma came into the faith, possibly from China. Old Hindu gods like Indra became less popular. New gods like Shiva and Vishnu took their place.

What is karma?
And dharma?

Bindusara and Ashoka

Chandragupta died in 298 BC. Then his son Bindusara took over. Soon Bindusara’s son – Chandragupta’s grandson – Ashoka made the Mauryan Empire even stronger. He ruled some of southern India as well as the north.

But Ashoka’s victories at Orissa were so bloody and awful, that he couldn’t go on. People say that after that battle he gave up warfare for the rest of his life. Ashoka converted from traditional Indian Hinduism to the new faith of Buddhism. Then he used his power to convince millions of other people to convert to Buddhism too, all over Central Asia.

The Mauryan Empire collapses

After Ashoka died in 231 BC, though, his sons and grandsons were not as strong rulers as he was. The Mauryan Empire gradually fell apart into a bunch of smaller kingdoms.

Learn by doing: check out a Buddhist temple
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Bibliography and further reading about the Mauryan Empire:

Note: The first of these is a comic book, but it’s a good story!

Mauryan architecture
Post-Mauryan India
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