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Mauryan Empire: Origin, Sources and Decline

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The Mauryan Empire was established in 322 B.C. by the great king Chandragupta Maurya. The era of the Mauryas is a milestone throughout the entire existence of Ancient India. The Mauryan Empire was broad and the most powerful in the realm of old Indian history in the ruling from 322 BC to 185 BC. The Mauryan Empire was not just about the vast extension of its geographical territories. It gave the Indian subcontinent a strong centrally-controlled administration. During this period, even trade, commerce, and agriculture flourished. This led to overall economic development in the region. 

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Mauryan Empire: Origin

Before the Mauryan Empire was founded, a major part of the Indian Subcontinent was under the rule of the Nanda dynasty. The capital of the Nanda Empire was Pataliputra in the Magadh region. People in the Nanda Kingdom were unhappy with the oppressive tactics used by its ruler Dhana Nanda. 

Kautilya also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta had an old enmity with the Nanda Dynasty. He had mentored Chandragupta Maurya since his young days and had trained him to develop his administrative skills, governing skills as well as military skills. 

On the advice of Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya started preparations of gathering troops and resources for the battle to attack Magadh. Chandragupta Maurya planned a unique strategy to conquer the Nanda Empire. 

On one hand, he kept the soldiers of Dhana Nanda busy on the battlefield fighting with his forces. On the other hand, he conspired with the corrupt military generals within the Nanda Kingdom to initiate a civil war. 

In this commotion, the heir to the throne of the Nanda Empire died. The reigning king Dhana Nanda was heartbroken by this incident and decided to step down. Then he handed over his powers to Chandragupta Maurya. Thus, the rule of the Nanda Dynasty came to an end and the Mauryan Empire was founded in the year 322 B.C.

Mauryan Empire: Expansion Phase

After establishing the Mauryan Empire in Pataliputra, Chandragupta Maurya took up the task of geographical extension of its territory. He focused on expansion of its northwest frontiers in between 317–316 BCE. First, he took control over those Greek satraps which were left behind by Alexander.

When Alexander died, Chandragupta Maurya forced Alexander’s army to move away from the west bank of the Indus River. Thus, entire northwest India came under the control of the Mauryan Empire. 

There was Seleucid–Mauryan war (305–303 B.C.) between Chandragupta Maurya and Seleucus I Nicator, founder of the Seleucid Empire. At the end of a 2-year long war, Chandragupta acquired the territory of the Indus Valley region and part of Afghanistan. 

The Mauryan empire was ruled by Chandragupta’s son Bindusara during the period of 298–269 B.C.

Bindusara focused on the Southern parts of India and had annexed the territory in the Deccan region. 

Bindusara’s son was Ashoka who is considered the greatest ruler of the Mauryan Empire. The Mauryan Empire reached its highest glory under his reign between 269 and 232 B.C. He continued with the expansion of the Mauryan Empire. 

His greatest achievement was defeating the Kalingas in the deadly Kalinga War fought in 262–261 B.C. Thus, Kalinga which was located on the east coast of India came under the Mauryan Empire. 

Mauryan Empire Decline: Causes

Ashoka was devastated to see the huge loss of lives during the Kalinga War and decided to put an end to all expansion campaigns. Later, he embraced Buddhism and started spreading messages of peace and non-violence.

The Mauryan Empire began to decline after the death of Ashoka. There were constant internal conflicts on who would rule the Mauryan Empire next. Moreover, certain policy matters adopted by Ashoka weakened the Mauryan Empire and led to its downfall. Those policies were:

  • Highly centralized administration
  • Total apathy towards war and violence
  • Neglect of the North-West frontier led to several attempts of invasion from outside
  • Suppressive action over the provinces
  • Local provincial leaders were unhappy as they were not given sufficient power
  • When the central rule became weak, they started revolting

The last king of the Mauryan dynasty was Brihadratha who was unfortunately killed by his own commander-in-chief Pushyamitra. The Mauryan Empire declined in 185 B.C. Later, Pushyamitra established the Shunga dynasty and mostly ruled in the central part of India.

Mauryan Sources 

There are two authentic sources from which we have learned about the history of the Mauryan Empire. These are – 

  • Literary evidences – 

a) The Arthashastra by Kautilya – As we know, Kautilya or Chanakya was Chandragupta’s mentor and advisor. This book has detailed information on administrative functions and state policies of the Mauryan empire during Chandragupta’s time. 

b) Indica by Megasthenes – The author of this book, Megasthenes, shared a good relationship with Chandragupta. Actually, he was a Greek Ambassador but was impressed with the administrative functions of the Mauryas which he mentioned in his book. 

c) The Puranas – In Vishnu Purana, it is mentioned that the Nanda Dynasty was destroyed by Chandragupta. 

d) Buddhist Literature – Texts on Buddhism like Jatakas, Dighanikaya and Sumangalavilasini provide sufficient information about the history of the Mauryan Empire. 

e) Jain Literature – The Jaina Parishishta Parvan was written by Hemchandra describing details of various aspects of Chandragupta’s life including his embrace of Jainism. Jaina Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu captured the Mauryan history. 

  • Archaeological Sources-

a) The archaeological remains of the Mauryan palace in Patliputra were found in Kumrahar, present-day Patna. 

b) The structural remains excavated in Kaushambi provide evidence of the robust defence system of the Mauryas.

c) There are other prominent sites where archaeological remains were found are Taxila, Mathura, and Bhita.

d) The stupas constructed by Ashoka still exist in different parts of India – Sanchi, Amaravati, Dhauli, Bodhgaya, etc. 

e) Various forms of Ashoka’s Inscriptions. Ashoka’s edicts were written on rocks, pillars and slab stones and can still be found in different locations. Examples – Fourteen Major Rock Edicts, Six Pillar Edicts and Two Minor Rock Edicts.


Summing up the topic – Mauryan Empire-Origin, Sources and Decline here are the 4 important points to remember:

    1. Mauryan Empire was established in 322 B.C. with its capital in Pataliputra which is now known as Patna.
    2. Mauryan Empire is believed to be the largest empire ever established in India.
    3. After the demise of Ashoka, bad governance led to the decline of the Mauryan Empire in 185 B.C.
    4. The historical evidence which authenticates the power and vastness of the Mauryan Empire are the literary works based on that era and the Mauryan art and architecture.