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Maurya and Gupta
“The Maurya family dynasty succeeded to the throne of Magadha in 324 B.C.E. Its
founder, Chandragupta Maurya (r. c. 321-c. 297 B.C.E.) may have first imagined an Indiawide empire from a possible meeting with Alexander the Great, and he conquered much of
northern India between 321 and 297 B.C.E. His son, Bindusara (r. c. 297-c. 272 B.C.E.)
expanded still further the empire that his father created, and Bindusara’s son, Asoka (r. c.
265-238 B.C.E.) brought the empire of the Mauryas to its greatest extent, ruling from
modern Afghanistan in the northwest to the Bay of Bengal in the east and well into the
Deccan peninsula in the south. With so many responsibilities for regulating the interests of
conflicting groups internally, and recognizing the need to remain constantly vigilant
against powerful neighbors, Chandragupta Maurya and his son Bindusara attempted to
build a highly centralized administration with a group of well-paid central ministers and
bureaucrats, a powerful military, and an efficient system of spies dispersed throughout the
At first Asoka followed similar policies, and he was especially effective at enlarging the
empire through military force, but nine years into his administration, he abruptly changed
course. In 260 B.C.E. Asoka defeated Kalinga (now Orissa), incorporating this eastern
kingdom into his empire. The killing and chaos required to win the victory soured his
heart, and he determined to become a different person and a different ruler. He converted
to Buddhism, a religion firmly committed to nonviolence, and began to dispatch
missionaries throughout his realm as well as to parts of south India beyond his own
borders, and to Syria, Greece, Egypt, and probably, Southeast Asia. He sent his own son
on a mission to Sri Lanka and the island kingdom permanently converted to Buddhism.
Following Asoka’s death in 238 B.C.E., no emperor was strong enough to maintain
centralized power, and the Mauryan Empire went into a half century of decline. One of his
military commanders assassinated the last Maurya king in 184 B.C.E. The Mauryan
dynasty came to an end and with it the unity of India.” ~ The World’s History
Significant Facts about the Mauryan Empire:
The Transformation of Asoka and His Impact on World History:
Reasons for the Decline of the Mauryan Empire:
Key Words
I. Harappan Civilization or Indus Valley Civilization
A. Flourished the largest of early civilizations (Cities of Harappa and
Mohenjo-Daro had evidence of urban planning – every brick was the
same size and a grid pattern for streets)
B. But little evidence of any central political authority
C. At its demise (1500 BCE), new civilization developed by Ganges River
D. Scholars debate the role of the Aryans: whether they invaded and
destroyed or were already a part of the Indus Valley population
II. Political Fragmentation and Diversity
A. Collection of towns and cities but no unified empire
B. But Hinduism served as a source of an identity in midst of diversity
III. But Empires Had Been Known
A. Northwestern India had been briefly ruled by Persian Empire and
had been briefly conquered by Alexander the Great
IV. The Mauryan Empire
A. With a population of perhaps 50 million
B. A large military force (reported 600,000 infantry soldiers, 30,000
cavalry, 8,000 chariots and 9,000 elephants)
C. Ashoka (reigned c. 268-232 BCE)
1. Left a record in his edicts carved on rocks - Pillars of Ashoka
2. Reign began in a ruthless fashion of conquest and expansion
3. But a particularly bloody battle, Battle of Kalinga, changed Asoka
a) Disgusted by the violence and carnage, converted to Buddhism
b) Adopted a more peaceful approach to government
c) Encouraged nonviolence and tolerance
d) Abandoned the royal hunts/Ended animal sacrifices in capital
e) Eliminated most meat from the royal menu
f) Generously supported Buddhist monasteries stupas (shrines)
g) Ordered digging of wells and planting of shade trees
h) Built rest stops along major highways (integrating economy)
i) But retained the power to punish wrongdoing
j) After his death, political fragmentation and competing states
V. The Gupta Empire (320 C.E. – 550 C.E.)
A. Another short-lived experiment in empire building in South Asia
B. A golden age of Hindu culture
1. Developed concept of zero, decimal system, and concept of infinity
2. Scientists experimented with vaccinations
3. Artists created beautiful paintings in the caves of Ajanta and great
works of literature in Sanskrit, the holy language of Hinduism
VI. But India was similar to Western Europe after fall of Rome
A. Political fragmentation was more common than unity
B. India’s social system, caste system, increased local loyalties
C. Yet Vibrant Economy - India was focal point of Indian Ocean trade
D. Its cotton textile industry supplied cloth throughout Indian Ocean
1. The man who founded the first Indian
empire was
(A) Chandragupta Maurya.
(B) Chandra Gupta.
(C) Ashoka Maurya.
(D) Alexander of Macedon.
(E) Siddhartha Gautama.
2. Ashoka, the great emperor of the Maurya
(A) Was the only emperor who extended
India beyond the subcontinent.
(B) Wrote a handbook on the principles of
(C) Converted to Buddhism after his bloody
war against Kalinga.
(D) Abdicated his throne and led a life so
ascetic that he starved himself to death.
(E) none of the above
3. Compared with the Maurya empire, the
Gupta empire was
(A) Smaller in size.
(B) Less powerful and stable.
(C) Less centralized.
(D) Longer-lived.
(E) all of the above
4. Which of the following is an accurate
statement about the Indian caste system?
(A) Its top stratum was the untouchables.
(B) Its top stratum was the Sikhs.
(C) People enjoyed social mobility.
(D) All Aryans were in the untouchable
(E) There was virtually no social mobility.
5. Which is NOT a significant continuity
Buddhism carried over from its Hindu
(A) Endorsement of caste stratification
(B) Belief in an afterlife
(C) Concern with and reverence of beauty in
(D) Ornate temple architecture
(E)Centrality of ritual in worship
6. Which of the following is true with
respect to the position of women in classical
(A) women frequently served as soldiers
during time of war
(B) women were accorded a socially inferior
position, but came to dominate the economic
(C) women were seen as weak-willed and
emotional creatures
(D) women tended to marry younger men
(E) all of the above
7. Which of the following statements do not
apply to Ashoka’s support of Buddhism?
(A) He banned animal sacrifices and
(B) He built Buddhist monasteries and
(C) He rewarded Buddhists with grants of
(D) He sent Buddhist missionaries to foreign
(E) He abdicated his throne, abandoned his
imperial family, lived in a Buddhist
monastery, and finally attained nirvana.
8. Which answer best describes Asoka and
what he did?
(A) A brutal ruler that switched to
Buddhism after slaughtering 100,000
Kalingans; he spread Buddhism throughout
India and protected wildlife.
(B) A brutal ruler; he converted to
Buddhism after the Conquest of Kalinga,
but eventually switched to Hinduism.
(C) A savage ruler that converted to
Buddhism and forced all to follow; he
burned books and buried protestors alive.
(D) A religious teacher; he spread Hinduism
throughout India.
Questions 9 – 11 refer to the following selections from Ashoka’s edicts:
Dharma is good, but what constitutes Dharma? (It includes) little evil, much good,
kindness, generosity, truthfulness and purity. Pilar Edict Nb2 (S. Dharmika)
And noble deeds of Dharma and the practice of Dharma consist of having kindness,
generosity, truthfulness, purity, gentleness and goodness increase among the people. Rock
Pilar Nb7 (S. Dharmika)
Contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines
professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be welllearned in the good doctrines of other religions. Rock Edict Nb12 (S. Dhammika)
9. Ashoka was a(n):
(A) Charismatic Hindu warrior of the Gupta Dynasty
(B) Mauryan king who converted and spread his new belief by erecting pillars
(C) Monk who established monasteries in wide areas to promote his beliefs
(D) Indian Ocean merchant who taught as he traveled
10. Ashoka played an important role in the spread of:
(A) Hinduism
(B) Islam
(C) Zoroastrianism
(D) Buddhism
11. Which of the following conclusions could most reasonably be drawn from the evidence
(A) This belief system spread in part because doctrines it expressed were similar to
some of the ideas in the pre-existing religion.
(B) This belief system was attractive to a diverse population because it claims a
single truth that all must follow.
(C) Strict rules and clearly defined punishments made this belief system attractive in
a chaotic world.
(D) This belief system focuses on political doctrine.
From the 2006 Change Over Time Essay from the World History AP Examination:
Analyze the cultural and political changes and continuities in ONE of the following
civilizations during the last centuries of the classical era.
Chinese, 100 C.E. to 600 C.E.
Roman, 100 C.E. to 600 C.E.
Indian, 300 C.E. to 600 C.E.
Identify one cultural change in the Indian subcontinent from 300 – 600 C.E.
Identify one political change in the Indian subcontinent from 300 – 600 C.E.
Identify one cultural continuity in the Indian subcontinent from 300 – 600 C.E.
Identify one political continuity in the Indian subcontinent from 300 – 600 C.E.
Thesis Statement: