Chandragupta Maurya

The Rise of Chandragupta Maurya, and the Golden Age of the Mauryan Empire

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Having conquered the mighty Achaemenid Empire, Alexander the Great set his sights on the north western region of the Indian subcontinent. Thus, in 327 B.C., the Macedonian king began his campaign by invading the valley of the river Kabul. Whilst Alexander won some spectacular battles, his Indian campaign was ultimately a failure. Alexander’s battle against King Porus was to be his last major victory, as the Macedonian army’s refusal to go further east meant that the Macedonian king had to relinquish his dreams of conquering the entire known world. Yet, Alexander’s campaign in India would have important consequences for the subcontinent and its people. One of them is the founding of a new Indian Empire – the Mauryan Empire, which would eventually unify the whole of India.

The founder of the Mauryan Empire was a man by the name of Chandragupta Maurya. Chandragupta is said to have been born in about 340 B.C. Little is known about Chandragupta’s ancestry and his early years. According to some later sources, both of Chandragupta’s parents belonged to the Ksyatria (warrior) caste. Other sources, however, state that his father was a king, whilst his mother was from the Sudra (servant) caste. It has also been claimed that Chandragupta was the son of a Nanda prince (the dominant power in northern India during the 4 th century B.C.). Regardless of the various accounts, we can be fairly sure that Chandragupta was of humble birth, as the details of his life before becoming an emperor were not recorded by contemporary writers.

A statue of Chandragupta Maurya

A statue of Chandragupta Maurya. ( Wikipedia)

It is said that the young Chandragupta displayed the qualities of a natural leader – courage and charisma. As a result, he caught the attention of the famous Brahmin scholar, Chanakya, the ‘Indian Machiavelli’. The scholar began training the young Chandragupta to become a great king. With the help of this tactician, Chandragupta managed to raise an army and wage war against the Nanda Empire. Although Chandragupta’s army was initially defeated by the Nandas, he did not give up, and continued fighting them. By 321 B.C., Chandragupta Maurya laid siege to and captured the capital of the Nanda Empire, Pataliputra. Thus, the Mauryan Empire was established.

Coin of the Maurya Empire

Coin of the Maurya Empire, with wheel and elephant symbols. ( Wikipedia)

Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. was another opportunity for Chandragupta to extend his empire. The division of Alexander’s empire into satrapies meant that the empire was no longer a unified entity. Thus, by about 316 B.C., Chandragupta was able to defeat and absorb all the Greek satrapies in the mountains of Central Asia. As a result, the western border of the Mauryan Empire was extended to the edge of modern day Iran, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 305 B.C., Chandragupta sought to further expand his empire into eastern Persia. This region belonged to the Seleucid Empire, and was ruled at that time by its founder, Seleucus I Nicator, a formidable general of Alexander the Great. Whilst the resulting conflict was inconclusive, the peace treaty struck between Seleucus and Chandragupta seems to have favored the latter. Seleucus ceded the areas in eastern Persia conquered by Chandragupta. In addition, one of Seleucus’ daughters was given to the Mauryan emperor. In return, Chandragupta gave Seleucus 500 war elephants.

The Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan Empire in its largest extent ( Creative Commons )

According to Jain tradition, Chandragupta decided to abdicate when he was 42 years old, and became an ascetic. Jain tradition also reports that Chandragupta ended his life by sallekhana – meditation without eating or drinking until the person dies of starvation. He was succeeded by his son, Bindusara. It was Chandragupta’s grandson, the emperor Ashoka, however, who ushered in the golden age of the Mauryan Empire. Nevertheless, Chandragupta is perhaps best remembered today as the king who unified India.

Illustraion of Chandragupta Maurya

Illustraion of Chandragupta Maurya . ( HistoryDiscussion)

Featured image: Detail of s tatue of Chandragupta Maurya, right . ( Source) Background, India ( Source)

By Ḏḥwty


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Violatti, C., 2014. Chandragupta. [Online]
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Wikipedia, 2014. Chandragupta Maurya. [Online]
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Wikipedia, 2014. Indian Campaign of Alexander the Great. [Online]
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angieblackmon's picture

Fascinating and definately something I’d like to learn more about!



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