Indian dynasty in the fourth-third centuries BCE, which unified the
subcontinent for the first time and contributed to the spread of
In the last weeks of 327 BCE, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great invaded the valley of the river Kabul, and in the next months, he conquered Taxila, defeated the Indian king Porus at the river Hydaspes, and reached the eastern border of the Punjab. He wanted to continue to the kingdom of Magadha in the Lower Ganges valley, but his soldiers refused to go any further, and Alexander was forced to go south. Many Indians now resisted the invaders. By the end of 325, the Macedonian king had left the area of what is now Karachi, and his admiral Nearchus was forced out of Patala.
Alexander's conquests had been spectacular, but he had
India. On the contrary. Not even the Punjab and the Indus
valley were safe
possessions of his kingdom. Before Alexander had died in 323, he had
nearly all his troops west of the Indus.
For the first time, he had lost part of his empire. On the other hand,
his invasion changed the course of Indian history. In Taxila, a young
named Chandragupta Maurya had seen the Macedonian army, and - believing
that anything a European could do an Indian could do better - decided to
train an army on a similar footing. In 321, he seized the throne of
The Mauryan empire was born.
When the situation in Alexander's former kingdom had stabilized, one of his successors, Seleucus, tried to reconquer the eastern territories, but the war was inconclusive, and the Macedonian offered a peace treaty to Chandragupta. The latter recognized the Seleucid Empire and gave his new friend 500 elephants; Seleucus recognized the Mauryan empire and gave up the eastern territories, including Gandara and Arachosia (i.e., the country northeast of modern Qandahar). Finally, there was epigamia, which can mean that either the two dynasties intermarried, or the unions of Macedonians/Greeks with Indians were recognized.
Chandragupta had now united the Indus
and Ganges valley - a formidable
empire. There was a secret service, there were inspectors, there was a
large army, and the capital at Patna became a beautiful city. His
Kautilya wrote a guide to statecraft which is known as Arthasastra.
A Greek visitor, Megasthenes, gives a very strange description of the
system (accepting seven instead of the usual four classes of people),
it is likely that he describes an attempted reform. This is certainly
impossible, because Chandragupta turned out to be not deeply attached
orthodox Brahmanism. According to the ancient scriptures of the
the king abdicated at the end of his life (in 297?) in favor of
and converted to the Jaina faith; he died as an ascetic, having fasted
Bindusara had some contacts with the far west, where Antiochus I Soter had succeeded his father Seleucus as king of the Seleucid empire. Bindusara approached him, asking for wine, figs, and a philosopher - the king sending him only the two first products, saying that philosophers were not fit for export. Whatever one thinks about this anecdote, it proves that there were diplomatic contacts. It comes as a surprise, therefore, that Bindusara is called Amitrochates in Greek sources, which simply can not be a rendering of Bindusara's name. A possible explanation is that Bindusara had accepted a throne name Amitragatha, 'destroyer of enemies'. Possible. But why isn't this mentioned in Indian sources? This king remains a mystery.
rock edicts he left behind on several places in his realm, the emperor says:
The beloved of the gods [...] conquered Kalinga eight years after his coronation. One hundred and fifty thousand people were deported, one hundred thousand were killed and many more died from other causes. After the Kalingas had been conquered, the beloved of the gods came to feel a strong inclination towards the dhamma, a love for the dhamma and for instruction in dhamma. Now the beloved of the gods feels deep remorse for having conquered the Kalingas.
Indeed, the beloved of the gods is deeply pained by the killing, dying and deportation that take place when an unconquered country is conquered. But the beloved of the gods is pained even more by this -that Brahmans, ascetics, and householders of different religions who live in those countries, and who are respectful to superiors, to mother and father, to elders, and who behave properly and have strong loyalty towards friends, acquaintances, companions, relatives, servants and employees- that they are injured, killed or separated from their loved ones. Even those who are not affected by all this suffer when they see friends, acquaintances, companions and relatives affected. These misfortunes befall all as a result of war, and this pains the beloved of the gods.
It seems that Ashoka was sincere when he proclaimed his belief in ahimsa (non-violence) and cooperation between religions ("contact between religions is good"). He never conquered the south of India or Sri Lanka, which would have been logical, and instead sent out missionaries -as far away as Cyrenaica- to convert others to the same beliefs, and sent his brother to Sri Lanka. He erected several stupas, founded Buddhist monasteries, softened the harsh laws of Bindusara and Chandragupta, forbade the brutal slaughter of animals, and organized a large Buddhist council at Patna, which had to establish a new canon of sacred texts and repress heresies.
DeclineAfter the death of Ashoka, the Mauryan empire declined. In c.240, the Bactrian leaders -who were of Greek descent- revolted from their Seleucid overlords, and although king Antiochus III the Great restored order in 206, the Bactrian leader Euthydemus declared himself independent within a decade. Not much later, the Graeco-Bactrian kingdom expanded into Drangiana and Gandara.
The invasion of the Punjab, which took place in 184, revitalized the Greek culture in the region south of the Hindu Kush mountain range, where Euthydemus' son Demetrius created a new kingdom, consisting of Gandara, Arachosia, the Punjab and even a part of the Ganges valley. Demetrius died in c.170 and left his kingdom to his sons, who continued to fight against the Mauryan empire. However, they were divided. But when king Menander reunited the Indo-Greek kingdom in c.125, the westerners were able to invade the heartland of the already contracted Mauryan empire, and even captured Patna. Never has a Greek army reached a more eastern point.
Yet, the Indo-Greek kings had to accept the realities created by the Mauryan empire. Buddhism was to be the religion of the future. King Menander converted and became something of a Buddhist saint. One of the holy texts of Buddhism is called Milindapańha, 'Questions of Menander'.
Jona Lendering for
Revision: 26 March 2011