Ancient History Notes for UPSC [Part 8] Post Mauryan

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post mauryan period upsc

In this post we will study about the Post- Mauryan Invasions after 2nd Century BCE.


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  • The Greeks were present in Iran and surrounding areas from Achaemenid times. These Greeks had intermingled with the Iranians and were called Hellenistic Greeks.
  • After Alexander’s invasions, Seleucid empire spread in north-western India and the regions near the Oxus were called Bactria.
  • They established their Bactrian kingdom in transoxiana region and had relations with Indians as seen from Besnagar pillar inscription of ambassador Heliodorus.
  • By 2nd century BCE, the king there was overthrown by Euthydemus whose son was Demetrius I, then II.
  • They and the Parthian were repeatedly pushed eastward by the Scythian tribes who had been blocked to enter China by the Great Wall.
  • He invaded India at the beginning of 2nd century BC and conquered areas up to Rajasthan. It is controversial about his conquest of Pataliputra as told by Hathigumpha caves.

Two parallel dynasties were running in north-west india. One was of Menander (165 BCE – ~ 130 BCE) or Milinda. He was converted to Buddhism by Nagarjuna.

His questions to Nagarjuna are compiled in the book Milinda Panha. Milinda tried to invade the Ganga-Yamuna doab. His capital was Sakala (Sialkot).

Greek Impact on India

Greek Impact on India
  • The effect of this renewed contact was about the introduction of Greek and Armaic scripts,
  • Gandhara School of art was influenced
  • The introduction of gold coins which were king specific unlike the Mauryan times. They were made of gold, silver, copper. Royal portraits, monogram and religious gods like Zeus, Appollo, Athena found. Al Khanoum coin having Balarama and Krishna. Main hoards found at Mir Zakah, Qunduz and Al Khanoum.
  • After Menander ruled Strato. But overall, the presence of Hellenistic Greeks was marked after the Achaemenid empire disintegrated.
  • Cities like Ai-Khanoum were well planned cities according to Greek architecture. Excavations have also been done near Taxila, Antioch and in the regions of Bactria and Margiana. Recent excavations at Barikot in Swat valley have yielded an Indo-Greek city.


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  • They ruled for a considerably larger time than the Greeks. They were the original residents of the Aral Sea. But consequent movements of tribes in central asia resulted in them being displaced by the Yueh-Chi (Kushan) tribes.
  • All this movement was triggered by China’s building of the Great Wall in the middle of 3rd century BCE
  • The earliest records say that a Chinese traveler recorded that in 128 BCE, Aral Sea was cleared of Shakas and was being inhabited by Yueh-Chih.
  • This led to the Shakas crossing over Iran, invading the Pahalvis and reaching India.
  • They had 5 branches – one in Afghanistan, one in Punjab with Taxila as the capital, one in Mathura, one in Malwa region and the last one in upper Deccan plateau. From Shaka inscriptions and coins, it is told that Shaka king
  • Moga first captured Gandhara in 80 BC.

The famous of the Shaka kingdom was that of Malwa region. The Shakas were defeated by a king called Vikramaditya of Ujjain in 58 BCE and a calendar started on his name.

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  • Shakas ruled through governors called Kshatrapas or Mahakshatrapas who later declared independence like Kshatrapa Rajuvula of Mathura. Two main dynasties- Kshaharta and Kardamaka
  • Kshaharta king Nahapana (119-125 CE) had captured Satavahana areas in Nashik. His coins called him Kshatrapa, Mahakhsatrapa or simply Rajan. He had his capital at Minnagara or today’s Doha in MP. But was repulsed by Gautamiputra Satkarni (100-130 CE) from Maharashtra. He killed Nahapana bringing to end the Kshaharta line.
  • Kardamaka line grew then under Chashtana.
  • Junagarh inscriotion talks of the most famous Shaka king was his grandson Rudradaman I (130-150 AD) who conquered many parts of Satvahana empire in Maharashtra, Malwa and Gujarat by repulsing Satkarni in spite of Satkarni’s son king Vasishthiputra Pulamavi being his son-in-law.
  • He is also known for the repairs of Sudarshan lake in Kathiawar. He was a connoisseur of Sanskrit in spite of being a foreigner.
  • His rock edict at Junagadh has been famous for the start of the literary form called Prashasti. There are speculations that he gave deliberate patronage to Sanskrit to gain acceptance among the orthodox sections.
  • His descendents slowly began to lose out to Malavas and Abhiras in 3rd century CE.


parthians in india upsc

Parthian were a small group of people also called as Pahalvis ruling a part of Iran. They had established a small kingdom in north-west India. The most famous king Gondophernes allowed St Thomas to preach Christianity in India in 1st century AD.


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  • They were nomadic people belonging to Yueh-chi tribe from the central asian steppes who slowly pushed in India after the Shakas and Parthians.
  • They slowly captured Bactria, and then moved from Gandhara to the Indus basin through Hindukush.
  • At one time, their rule spread from Oxus to Ganga.
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Early Kushans had 2 kings called Kadphises I and II around 50 AD in the Hindukush and Indus region. Then they were replaced by Kanishka. (either 78CE or 127-163 CE)

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  • Kanishka claims to be related to the earlier kings by an inscription in Afghanistan. He also mentions conquering Hindo (India) till Champa. He ruled almost entire north India and Pakistan and some parts of Afghanistan.
  • His capital was Purushpura or Peshawar and second capital was Mathura.
  • He has built pillars at Shravasti, Kaushambi, Mathura, Varanasi, etc.
  • He started extensive use of gold coins which was unmatched by even the Gupta empire.
  • He started the Shaka calendar in 78 AD which we use even today.
  • The successors of Kanishka ruled north india till 230 AD and later on the kingdom receded towards Afghanistan where the Kushans continued to rule till 3-4th century.
  • The Kushanas declined due to the activities in Iran. The Sassanians conquered Iran and made Kushana kings their feudatories in 3rd century AD.
Kingdom of Kanishka
  • The kingdom of Kanishka was truly an empire. It spread from Central Asia to northwest india.
  • There have been inscriptions found in Kalchayan that are in Brahmi even when Kharoshthi was used.
  • This indicates the spread of Indian influence. There are inscriptions of Prakrit in Bactria but not any Bactrian ones in india.
  • The current Karakoram Highway was found to be coinciding with an ancient route which has been said to be a part of the Silk Route.
  • Kanishka presided over the fourth council of Buddhism which dealt with new Buddhist cults and also about missionary activities in new areas.
  • Kanishka took up titles like Daivaputra. The Kushanas had that craze of taking up titles that would create an awe around their empire. Titles like Maharajadhiraja, Daivaputra, Kaisara(Caesar) were used.
  • Kanishka shows attitude of religious tolerance and acceptance of the variety in his population. His coins have Buddha and Shiva in them. It also contains Persian gods like Atash and Mithra. Greek gods like Helios and Selene.

His Rabatak inscription in Afghanistan praises the Bactrian goddess Nana.

Effects of Foreign Invasions

  • Assimilation– the Shakas, Greeks, Parthians, Hunas, Kushans were all foreigners but with no indigenous culture and language to impose except the Greeks. This made them assimilate in India very quickly as ‘degraded’ kshatriyas (As mentioned in Manu Smriti). Recent DNA mapping of different castes in north India and Pakistan also show a large inclination to a Scythian lineage proving that many of these tribes settled there.
  • Coins– Coins with the faces of Greek kings are a peculiar sign. However, such kind of coins never gained traction in India in any region. The Greek coins show superb intermixing of India and Greece. The figures of Yakshi appear sometimes in place of Greek gods. As also, the pillar erected in the name of Vasudeva by Heliodorus in Besnagar is a reminder that Greeks were open to accepting Hinduism and Buddhism. Kushana coins carried images of Zoroastrian deities sometimes. 2nd century BCE Indo-Greek coins found at Al-Khanoum have Samkarshana and Vasudeva Krishna on them. Gandhara school of art and Herakles shown
  • Trade and technology- they introduced horses to a large extent and also the supplementary things used by horsemen like saddles, reins, etc. Kushan love for horses is visible from terracotta artifacts from Begram in Afghanistan. Apart from that, they introduced armory for the military men like helmets, boots, chest armors, etc. This helped them to win wars throughout. These were adopted by Indian princes who later used them against the Kushans themselves. Kushans brought gold to India from Altai Mountains, the main reason for exclusive gold coins in usage. They brought clothes like Sherwani, turbans, etc to India. Kushans earned huge revenue from the tolls for traders on the Silk Route which they controlled through Afghanistan.
  • Polity- The Shakas and Kushans ruled as absolute monarchs and also stressed on the divine origins of kings which was the tradition in ancient India. There were instances of dividing the kingdom into satrapies. There was also a curious custom of two kings at the same time like a father and son to decentralize powers. Sometimes, joint coins were issued by the king and one of his satraps thus indicating the willingness of the king to associate with the lowers. Overall, the system was monarchial and no new changes were brought by the invaders. We also find embassies being sent to Roman Emperor Augustus in 27 AD and also Trajan in 110-120 AD.
  • Religion – Most converted to Hinduism and Buddhism. Heliodorus, a Greek Ambassador erected a pillar in honor of Vishnu at Vidisha. Menander converted to Buddhism. Kushan kings were Shiva and Buddha believers. Many kushans were also Vishnu devotees, one king even had the name Vasudeva. Buddhism came to be divided into two sects. The sect which worshipped Buddha as a god and savior and made his idols is called Mahayana (grand wheel). Kanishka was its patron and he won an entire council in Kashmir. The other sect came to known as Hinayana (lesser wheel).
  • Culture– Apart from the Hellenistic art and culture, Panchatantra went to west and appeared as a part of Aesop’s fables. Game of Chess called Chaturanga was popularized. Till these times, Megasthenes’ Indika served the sole source. New texts like Diodorus’s Library of History, Strabo’s Geography, Arrian’s Indika, Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, the Periplus Maris Erythraei, and Ptolemy’s Geography came up. It has been argued that the Indian traditions travelled westward that influenced some aspects of Judeo-Christian tradition. Buddhist traditions spread to many central Asian cities like Tashkent, Miran, Qarashehr, etc which served as a stopping point to enter China. The Dharmaguptaka school of Buddhism is said to have travelled with it’s Gandhari Prakrit language to central Asia. Scrolls of it have been found in Gandhara region. Cultural spread in the south-east was initiated by the Kalingas who travelled up to Irrawaddy. It is said that Kaundinya had married a Cambodian princess that led to spreading of Indian culture to Cambodia.
  • Literature– Greek astronomy of using zodiac was assimilated in India. Texts like Sphujidhvaja were translated from Greek to Sanskrit. New avenues of Ayurveda were thrown open by research in medicinal sciences. These methods reached the Greeks and Romans too as mentioned in the treatise History of Plants. A change in Buddhist literature was seen when Ashvaghosha wrote his Buddhacharita in Sanskrit and not Pali/Prakrit. Fragments of a play by Ashvaghosha were found in a monetary in central Asia showing interest for Indian literature. Same trend was followed by Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna. Bhasha’s Swapnavasavdattam is an excellent play in Sanskrit.
  • Science- The most important one was that of Horoscopes and planetary movements. Horoscope is originally called Horashastra in India. The Greeks benefitted more in terms of science and technology from India. Greek India exchange?
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Crafts – 2nd century BCE to 2nd century CE

  • Crafts – Digha Nikaya, Mahavastu mention many types of artisans. The most detailed description comes in Milinda Panho where 75 such artisans are mentioned. Different types of artisans flourished in this age. Entire villages of such craftsmen have been found in Karimnagar and Nalagonda district in AP. We find reference of donation to Buddhist monks from artisans like goldsmiths, ivory makers, perfumers, jewelers, sculptors, fishermen, etc in Tamil Nadu.
  • Mines and Metallurgy – artisans for gold, silver, brass, lead, copper, tin, lead, iron, etc are mentioned. Even zinc and antimony are mentioned which shows the advance in metallurgy. Iron became the most commonly used metal with different ploughshares, sickles, hoes, axes, etc being found in the Kushan and Satavahana layers in AP. Apart from that, Indian steel and iron exports existed with the Abyssinian ports. The bed of river Kshipra in Ujjain contain agate, jasper and carnelian which made this city an important destination since 200 BC.
  • Cloth – cotton and silk cloths became very famous. Dyeing became profitable professions. Dyeing structures have been found at Uraiyur and Arikamedu in 1st-3rd century AD.
  • Ivory – Ivory and beads made up the luxury items which are excavated at Kushan complexes. These products are also found in Afghanistan and Rome. Several Satavahana sites also show export of ivory took place from Deccan. Art of glass making gained entry into India. Roman glass artifacts are found in Taxila and Afghanistan. Bead making also became an important craft in post-mauryan age.
  • Coin minting– Minting of gold, silver, lead, tin, copper took place. At some Satavahana sites, coin moulds have been found which could mint half a dozen coins at a go. In south, lead and copper coins were more in use because of the lead mine in AP. In the north, Kushans did issue gold coins due to availability of gold from Sindh. Kushans got gold from central Asia also. KUshans used the roman weight standards so that trade could be facilitated in the areas of Roman influence. But most of the times, copper and silver coins were in use. Copper coins were also used by various north Indian kingdoms like Yaudheyas of Rajasthan, Nagas of central India and Mitras of western UP. Roman coincs have been found on a large scale in south india, more than that of north. Whenever the coin minting started, it brought a wide variety of goods under one system of measurement. This made long distance trade as also eased accounting. Coins could be accumulated as capital and also be lent. This gave a whole new economic perspective to ancient India.
  • Terracotta– They retained their place as luxury items. Terracotta artifacts have been discovered at Yelleshwaram in Nalgonda district of AP and Kondapur near Hyderabad. However, after Gupta age, terracotta went out of fashion.
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Growth of Market towns– Periplus mentions towns like Sopara, Bharoch, Kalyana, etc. Sangam litrerature mentions florishing markets in Puhar and Madurai. Trade along Uttarapatha and Dakshinapatha developed. Port cities like Arikamedu, Puhar, Nagapattinam, Korkai, Muchiri, Tampralipti.

Growth of Merchant Guilds

In Corporate Life in Ancient India, RC Majumdar traces the development of guilds. He refers to creation of Vaishyas by Gods in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where they are called Ganasha or guilds. He thus concludes that Vaishyas were not formed for individual trade but to do business as guilds. He thus traces their development well beyond 6th century BC.

Guilds were of 2 types- Merchant Guilds and Craft Guilds.

Evidence of existence of guilds-

  • Janudapana Jataka, early reflection of 6th-7th C BC society also mentions guilds. Vinaya Pitaka also mentions guilds that donated to Sangha in Shravasti.
  • Numismatic evidence- UN Ghoshal’s study shows guild seals have been found at Basarh (Vaishali) and Bhita mound with names like Nigama or Shreni-Sarthavaha-Kuilka-Nigama showing common identification.


  • Collective procurement ensured bargaining power.
  • The prices were decided collectively based on the quality of the goods produced.
  • The economic affairs were strictly audited.
  • Since these Shrenis were later related to only particular Jatis, the son used to carry on the business of the father.
  • The merchants who bought the goods from the guilds were called as Vanij or Bania. Sarthavaha, Shreni Bala.
  • Often the workers were not enough and guilds had to hire workers known as Karmakaras and Bhratakas. They were even mentioned in Mauryan edicts.
  • Deals of Shrenis done with local industrialists appear with the name Sthitipatras. Organization of Guilds-
  • Jataka stories mention General Assemblies of guilds with 100,500, 1000 members. These assemblies might have taken collective decisions. There are evidences of internal bickering from Nahapana’s Nashik inscription.
  • The head of Shrenis was called Jetthaka or Shresthi. No clue exists whether he as elected or hereditary. But Jataka stories reveal he had considerable influence.
  • Yajnavalkya Smriti talks of appointing executive officers for day-to-day functioning.
  • Gautama Dharmashastra says guilds have their own rules and king should consult the heads to dispense justice.

Role of government

  • Arthashastra – special ministers were appointed to oversee guilds, tax from guilds became an important source of revenue, plans for ideal cities had a special place for guilds and workmen.
  • Yajnavalkya Smriti talks of qualifications of guild officers. Manu smriti talks of banishment of a guild member if he broke the rules. Thus, guilds were a source of wealth as well as a danger.
  • Brihaspati and Katyayana Smritis say that any guild member who broke the rules of common interest was to be presented in front of the king and punished.
  • Yajnavalkya asks the kings to settle internal disputes

Role of guilds

Wealth generation for the economy.

  • Romila Thapar says the guilds ensured social mobility due to the wealth generated.
  • The artisans made themselves into guilds which acted as a pressure group and lobby in those times.
  • Due to uniformity, they helped in standardization of products thus increasing their quality.
  • These guilds used to donate large time. Weaver Guilds in Maharashtra are mentioned to have donated to a Buddhist shrine according to the inscription in a cave at Nashik. Similar mention is of flour guilds donating in Mathura. Even in south- Mangulam inscription mentions a guild of merchants at Vellarai.
  • The kings found it profitable to invest in the guild due to large returns and on the other side, the guilds developed no political ambitions due to royal patronage.
  • The guilds were mainly from professions that were practiced by Shudras. Thus, it can be argued that the Shudras then might be having good amount of money.
  • Bankers and money lenders developed. Sea trade loans had higher interest rates due to large risks. Nashik inscription of Nahapana’s son-in-law who invested 3000 karshapanas in a wearer’s guild at rate of 1% interest.