Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/The Mauryan Age
The Rise of the Mauryans
Scholars are unsure as to the direct causes of the demise of the civilization in the Indus River valley, one of the first civilizations, around 1500 BCE. By 600 CE, a second wave of civilization appeared. This civilization was concentrated along the Ganges River in northern India. It was marked by individual towns, regional states, and cultural and ethnic diversity. Lacking political unity, this civilization was nevertheless united by religious traditions of Hinduism and a shared social organization. Beginning in 321 BCE, the Mauryans brought political unity to this civilization and established the Mauryan dynasty and India's first empire (321-185 BCE). The Mauryan emperors maintained a large military of infantry, cavalry, chariots, and elephants with the aid of a thorough taxation system, a large civilian bureaucracy, and state-direction of key industries of weaving, weaponry, ship-building, and mining.
Despite the efforts of the emperors, the Mauryan empire began to dissolve not long after the death of its most famous emperor, Ashoka. Hundreds of years later, a second attempt at empire was made by the Gupta. By 303 CE, Chandragupta Maurya had gained control of a vast swath of the Indian subcontinent running from Bengal in the east to Afghanistan in the west, and pushing south about halfway down the peninsula. The success of Chandragupta Maurya is accredited to his prime minister and mentor, the shrewd tactician Kautilya. Chandragupta's son, Bindusara, would further extend the empire in the south and the central regions of India, but it would be the next emperor who would truly be remembered as extraordinary. The Gupta empire (320-550 CE) saw a flourishing of trade between India and China and trade with the Roman world.
The Emperor Ashoka
The Emperor Ashoka (r. 273-232 CE) is one of the most famous rulers in Indian history. His conversion to Buddhism gave the religion a seal of legitimacy much in the same way the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity would do the same for that faith. Nevertheless, he governed according to the moral precepts of both Hinduism and Buddhism. He began by ordering that his edicts be carved into stones and caves around the empire. Years later, he began ordering that his edicts be carved into large sandstone pillars topped with statues of lions. These edicts address medical treatment, including the ordering of healing herbs planted, a mandate requiring royal officers to take a leave every five years to spend with family, conduct personal business, and seek learning, prescriptions for proper behavior toward relatives, and a provision for religious tolerance. Ashoka also was responsible for the erection of over eighty thousand buddhist stupas to house the relics of Buddhism.