The Fortunes of Empire in
Classical India
State, Society, & the Quest for
Salvation
Do Now: Read TWEDY on India’s Geography
And evaluate its role on Classical India
Idea of empire was less prominent
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Fall of Indus Valley
civilization by 1500 BCE
Creation of new
civilization along Ganges
River
Debate continues over
role of Aryan invaders
1500-500 BCE: Sanskrit
language, earliest
literature; caste system:
nobles, priests, poets,
warriors, workers
Foundation of Classical
Civilization by 600 BCE
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Enormous political, ethnic, cultural and
linguistic diversity
Indian civilization as a whole shaped by
political fragmentation and cultural
diversity
Identity provided by distinctive religious
tradition and social organization:
Hinduism and the caste system
"The genius of India consists of
synthesis"
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It is the combination of parts into a new whole.
India's early language, Sanskrit, is the basis for
many of modern languages such as Russian,
Slavic, Indian, Farsi, Greek, Latin and all the
Romance languages, Germanic, Scandinavian,
English.
Its Vedic mythology is the basis for Greek and
Roman myths.
India's language was exported to the West while
part of its religious philosophy, Buddhism, was
exported to East Asia (China, Japan, SE Asia).
India Before the Mauryan Dynasty
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563 - 463 BCE : Gautama Buddha
520 BCE Persian Emperor Darius conquers north-west
India
Introduces Persian ruling pattern
327 BCE Alexander of the Great destroys Persian
Empire in India
Troops mutiny, depart after two years , political power
vacuum
New government will be influenced by Persian and
Greek penetration of northwest through Khyber Pass of
Hindu Kush Mountains
Chronology of Indian History
 400
- 100 BCE: Mauryan Age:
Emperor Asoka patronizes
Buddhism
 320 - 450 CE: Gupta Dynasty
- Golden Age of Indian
Civilization
 450 CE: White Hun invasions
State, Society, & the Quest for Salvation in India
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The Fortunes of Empire in Classical India
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The Mauryan Dynasty & the Temporary Unification of India
The Mauryan & Gupta Empires, 321 B.C.E. – 550 C.E.
COT
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Continuities:
Patriarchal
Hinduism predominates
Central trading location ( Maritime and
Overland)
Fragmented geographically
Role of monsoon winds for trade and
agriculture
Caste
Decentralized political structure due to
geography
Dowry/child brides
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Changes:
Kautilya advises Chandragupta Mauryan
Buddhism state sponsored under Asoka Mauryan
Greek influence on statuary and literature(Silk
Routes)
Increase in trade under Classical leadership
Rock pillar edicts establish Pax Mauryan
Division of Buddhism into Theravada and
Mahayana
Buddhist and Hindu monumental architecture
Gupta Golden Age: Mathematics, decimal system,
surgery techniques, treaties on smallpox,
Hindu epic literature: Mahabharata, Ramayana (
Baghavad Gita)
Code of Manu- Hindu laws including Sati ( Window
immolation)
Kalidassa’s poetry
Mauryan
Empire
326 BCE – 184 BCE
The Mauryan Dynasty & the
Temporary Unification of India
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Ruled all but southern tip of India
Population of about 50 million
people
Large military and civilian
bureaucracy: the administration of a
government chiefly through bureaus
or departments staffed with
nonelected officials
State-operated industries
Asoka (304 – 232 BCE)
§ Religious conversion to
Buddhism after the
gruesome battle of
Kalinga in 262 BCE.
§ Dedicated his life to
Buddhism.
§ Built extensive roads.
§ Conflict: How to balance
Kautilya’s methods of keeping
power and Buddha’s demands to
become a selfless person?
Buddhist Doctrine: The Dharma
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The Four Noble Truths
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all life is suffering
there is an end to suffering
removing desire removes suffering
this may be done through the eight-fold path
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(right views, intention, speech, action,
livelihood, effort, mindfulness,
concentration)
Appeal of Buddhism
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Less dependence on Brahmins for ritual
activities
No recognition of caste, jati status
Philosophy of moderate consumption
Public service through lay teaching
Use of vernacular, not Sanskrit
Asoka
’s
Empir
e,
r. 268 -
Asoka’s law code
§ Edicts scattered in
more than 30 places
in India, Nepal,
Pakistan, & Afghanistan.
§ Written mostly in Sanskrit,
but one was in Greek and
Aramaic.
§ 10 rock edicts.
§ Each pillar [stupa] is 40’-50’ high.
§ Buddhist principles dominate his laws
as he makes an effort to develop a moral code for his
empire. Religious tolerance, remorse for aggression
(Ahimsa), conquest through teaching, welfare for all
Decline of the Mauryan Empire
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Economic crisis follows death of Ashoka
High costs of bureaucracy,
military not supported
by tax revenue
Regions begin to abandon
Mauryan Empire
 Disappears by 185 BCE
Ashoka Lion Capital ~ Legacy
Regional Kingdom: Bactria
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Northwestern India
Ruled by Greek-speaking descendants of
Alexander’s campaigns
Intense cultural activity accompanies active
trade
Turmoil & a Power Vacuum:
220 BCE – 320 CE
The Mauryan Empire is divided into many kingdoms.
The Gupta Dynasty
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Based in Magadha
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Founded by Chandra Gupta (no relation to
Chandragupta Maurya), c. 320 CE
Slightly smaller than Mauryan Empire
Highly decentralized leadership
Gupta Decline
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Frequent invasions of White Huns, 5th c. CE
Gupta Dynasty disintegrates along regional fault lines
Smaller local kingdoms dominate until Mughal Empire
founded in 16th c.
Gupta Empire:
CE
320 CE – 647
Society & Economy
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Gender Relations
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Patriarchy entrenched
Child marriage common (8 year old girls married to
men in 20s)
Women encouraged to remain in private sphere
Castes & Guilds
Wealth & the Social Order
Economy: Towns & Manufacturing
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Manufactured goods in big demand
Developed in dense network of small workshops
Trade intense, capitalizes on trade routes across
India
Gupta Rulers
§ Chandra Gupta I
v
r. 320 – 335 CE
“Great King of
Kings”
v
§ Chandra Gupta II
v
r. 375 - 415 CE
Profitable trade
with the
Mediterranean world
v
§ Hindu revival
§ Huns invade – 450 CE
Fa-Hsien: Life in Gupta India
 Chinese Buddhist monk traveled along the
Silk Road and visited India in the 5th century.
 He was following the path
of the Buddha.
 He reported the people to
be happy, relatively free of
government oppression, and
inclined towards courtesy and
charity. Other references in
the journal, however, indicate
that the caste system was
rapidly assuming its basic features, including
"untouchability," the social isolation of a lowest
class that is doomed to menial labor.
Extensive Trade
4th century
spices
gold & ivory
International Trade Routes
during the Guptas
500 healing
plants identified
1000 diseases
classified
Printed
medicinal guides
Plastic
Surgery
Gupta
Achievemen
Kalidasa
ts
Literature
Medicine
Inoculations
C-sections
performed
Decimal
System
Gupta
India
Mathematics
Concept
of Zero
PI = 3.1416
Solar
Calendar
Astronomy
The earth
is round
The Decline of the
 Invasion of the White Huns from Central Asia in
Guptas
the 4th century signaled
the end of the Gupta
Golden Age, even though at first, the Gupta
defeated them.
 After the decline of the Gupta empire, north
India broke into a number of separate Hindu
kingdoms and was not really unified again until
the coming of the Muslims in the 7th century.
 Great cultural diversity
Caste system encouraged local loyalties
 QUESTION:
Is the best literature and art written as
the civilization is on the rise, at its
height, or in its decline?
Indian trade flourished despite lack of unity
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Merchants and artisans patronized public
buildings and festivals
Hinduism & Buddhism spread through much of
Asia; Indian mathematics & astronomy as well
Trade along the Silk Roads
Trade in the Indian Ocean Basin
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Seasonal sea trade expands
 Spring/winter winds blow from south-west,
fall/winter winds blow from north-west
Trade from Asia to Persian Gulf and Red Sea,
Mediterranean
Classical India COT
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Classical India’s caste system regulated social order despite the fact
that it would have to compete with Buddhism in the Mauryan
Empire, patriarchy through Hinduism minimized women’s roles, but
eventually the increasingly decentralized Gupta Empire would be
toppled by Huns
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