The Maurya Empire in India

Many rulers throughout ancient history are best known for unifying regions into one empire. Chandragupta is credited for unifying the Northern Indian region, creating the first and largest empire in the Indian subcontinent during its time.

Around the time period of 700 BCE to 350 BCE, hundreds of kingdoms existed in Northern India. These kingdoms were highly fragmented and would often wage war against each other. That changed in 326 BCE when the Macedonian general Alexander the Great seized control over this region for a brief period.

When Alexander the Great withdrew from the region, many kingdoms again wanted to control the land. The powerful Kingdom of Magdha eventually seized control over the Indus Valley. In 321 BCE, Chandragupta rose to power and claimed the throne in the Kingdom of Magdha. This began the Mauryan Empire, which ruled the region from 322-185 BCE.

From the Maurya capital city of Pataliputra, Chandragupta expanded the Mauryan empire. He took control over the kingdoms that were previously disrupted by Alexander the Great’s armies. To win his wars of conquest, Chandragupta raised a vast army of 600,000 foot soldiers and 300,000 on horseback along with 9,000 elephants. To clothe, feed, and pay these troops, the government levied high taxes.

The government that Chandragupta formed provided a stable and unified state in India. Under his reign, the Mauryan empire established a single currency that allowed internal trade to thrive. The empire enacted regional governors that provided justice and security along trade routes. Chandragupta created a vast spy network for security inside and outside of the empire.

Chandragupta relied on an adviser named Kautilya (also known as Chanakya). Kautilya assited Chandragupta in his rise to power and then served as the chief advisor to both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara.

 Chandragupta reigned from 322-298 BCE and voluntarily retired giving the throne Bindusara. When Bindusara died, he was succeeded by his son Ashoka. Ashoka would become the most important emperor in Indian history.

Ashoka ruled from 269 to 232 BCE. He was an aggressive monarch and brilliant military commander and pushed for expansion of the empire in southern and western India. However, after an extremely bloody battle, Ashoka renounced war and violence. He converted to Buddhism and declared that he would rule in peace.

Even though Asoka wanted to be a loving, peaceful ruler, he had to control a massive empire. He attempted to strike a balance between keeping power and Buddha’s urgings to be unselfish. Instead of spies, he employed officials to look out for his subjects’ welfare. Asoka had extensive roads built so that he could visit the far corners of India. He also improved conditions along these roads to make travel easier for his officials and to improve communication in the vast empire.