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c. 321-c. 297 BC


Chandragupta Maurya was the first emperor of the Mauryan empire. Chandragupta came to rule much of North India. He rose to power under the influence of a minister named Chanakya, and, with his assistance, overthrew the last of the Nanda kings and captured their capital city of Pataliputa. He then turned his attention to northwestern India where a power vacuum had been left by the departure of Alexander the Great. The way in which he carried himself and the way he ruled seems like a mirror image of the Macedonian conqueror. He took over the lands east of the Indus and then, moving south, much of what is now Central India.

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The year 305 BC. saw him back in the Northwest, where Seleucus Nicator, the Macedonian satrap of Babylonia, was threatening fresh invasions. Chandragupta not only stopped his advance but pushed the frontier farther west into what is now Afghanistan. This showed how powerful Chandragupta really was. Apparently, a settlement was reached between the two monarchs. It included a matrimonial alliance of some kind between Chandragupta and Seleucus and the latter's dispatch of an ambassador, Megasthenes, to the Maury court at Pataliputra. Toward the end of his life, Chandragupta renounced his throne and became an ascetic under the Jain saint Bhadrabahn, ending his days in self-starvation [1].

The Mauryan empire, which Chandragupta founded, owes its name to the house of the Mauryas, under whose rule the Indian subcontinent saw, for the first time in history, a considerable degree of political unity.  The empire lasted until 187 BC. The Mauryan empire was very strong and independent because it had some kind of political unity. Everything starts at the Mauryan capital. The Mauryan capital was at Pataliputra (present day Patna), the chief city of the old kingdom of Magadha. The economy, in all its important aspects, was controlled by the state, and mines, forests, large farms, munitions, and spinning industries were state owned and managed.  The people were divided into seven endogamous groups--"philosophers", peasants, herdsmen, traders, soldiers, government officials, and councilors. The army was composed of the four traditional Indian divisions: forces mounted on elephants, on chariots, cavalry, and infantry, and tended to be large (Chandragupta's forces reputedly numbered 600,000 men).  The religious life of the empire may perhaps best be characterized as pluralistic. Brahamanism, Buddhism, Jainism, the Ajivikas, and wandering mendicants of other types all seem to have coexisted side by side. The general religious policy of the Mauryas was to encourage tolerance. In modern times the Maurya Empire is remembered as one of the golden ages of Indian history, a time when the country was united and independent. [2] Harappan Civilization


[1] Encyclopedia of Asian History, p.247-248.

[2] Encyclopedia of Asian History, p.513-514.


Encyclopedia of Asian History, Ed. Ainslie T. Embree, Vol. 1

Encyclopedia of Asian History, Ed. Ainslie T. Embree, Vol. 2 

Edited by: Sit Chanthavong
Researched by: Tim Ganczewski
Written by: Rick Alspach
16 September 1998

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