NCERT Textbook - Kings, Farmers and Town Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

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 Page 1


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 28
THEME TWO
There were several developments in different parts of the
subcontinent during the long span of 1,500 years following
the end of the Harappan civilisation. This was also the
period during which the Rigveda was composed by people
living along the Indus and its tributaries. Agricultural
settlements emerged in many parts of the
subcontinent, including north India, the
Deccan Plateau, and parts of Karnataka.
Besides, there is evidence of pastoral
populations in the Deccan and further
south. New modes of disposal of the dead,
including the making of elaborate stone
structures known as megaliths, emerged in
central and south India from the first
millennium BCE. In many cases, the dead
were buried with a rich range of iron tools
and weapons.
From c. sixth century BCE, there is
evidence that there were other trends as well. Perhaps
the most visible was the emergence of early states, empires
and kingdoms. Underlying these political processes were
other changes, evident in the ways in which agricultural
production was organised. Simultaneously, new towns
appeared almost throughout the subcontinent.
Historians attempt to understand these developments
by drawing on a range of sources – inscriptions, texts,
coins and visual material. As we will see, this is a complex
process. You will also notice that these sources do not
tell the entire story.
Kings, Farmers and Towns
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly S y S y S y S y St t t t tat at at at ates and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies
( ( ( ( (c. c. c. c. c. 600  600  600  600  600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
Epigraphy is the study of
inscriptions.
1. Prinsep and Piyadassi
Some of the most momentous developments in Indian
epigraphy took place in the 1830s. This was when
James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East
India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi,
two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and
coins. He found that most of these mentioned a king
referred to as Piyadassi – meaning “pleasant to
behold”; there were a few inscriptions which also
THEME
TWO
Fig. 2.1
An inscription, Sanchi
(Madhya Pradesh),
c. second century BCE
2020-21
Page 2


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 28
THEME TWO
There were several developments in different parts of the
subcontinent during the long span of 1,500 years following
the end of the Harappan civilisation. This was also the
period during which the Rigveda was composed by people
living along the Indus and its tributaries. Agricultural
settlements emerged in many parts of the
subcontinent, including north India, the
Deccan Plateau, and parts of Karnataka.
Besides, there is evidence of pastoral
populations in the Deccan and further
south. New modes of disposal of the dead,
including the making of elaborate stone
structures known as megaliths, emerged in
central and south India from the first
millennium BCE. In many cases, the dead
were buried with a rich range of iron tools
and weapons.
From c. sixth century BCE, there is
evidence that there were other trends as well. Perhaps
the most visible was the emergence of early states, empires
and kingdoms. Underlying these political processes were
other changes, evident in the ways in which agricultural
production was organised. Simultaneously, new towns
appeared almost throughout the subcontinent.
Historians attempt to understand these developments
by drawing on a range of sources – inscriptions, texts,
coins and visual material. As we will see, this is a complex
process. You will also notice that these sources do not
tell the entire story.
Kings, Farmers and Towns
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly S y S y S y S y St t t t tat at at at ates and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies
( ( ( ( (c. c. c. c. c. 600  600  600  600  600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
Epigraphy is the study of
inscriptions.
1. Prinsep and Piyadassi
Some of the most momentous developments in Indian
epigraphy took place in the 1830s. This was when
James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East
India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi,
two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and
coins. He found that most of these mentioned a king
referred to as Piyadassi – meaning “pleasant to
behold”; there were a few inscriptions which also
THEME
TWO
Fig. 2.1
An inscription, Sanchi
(Madhya Pradesh),
c. second century BCE
2020-21
29
referred to the king as Asoka, one of the most famous
rulers known from Buddhist texts.
This gave a new direction to investigations into
early Indian political history as European and
Indian scholars used inscriptions and texts
composed in a variety of languages to reconstruct
the lineages of major dynasties that had ruled the
subcontinent. As a result, the broad contours of
political history were in place by the early decades
of the twentieth century.
Subsequently, scholars began to shift their focus
to the context of political history, investigating
whether there were connections between political
changes and economic and social developments. It
was soon realised that while there were links, these
were not always simple or direct.
2. The Earliest States
2.1 The sixteen mahajanapadas
The sixth century BCE is often regarded as a major
turning point in early Indian history. It is an era
associated with early states, cities, the growing
use of iron, the development of coinage, etc. It
also witnessed the growth of diverse systems of
thought, including Buddhism and Jainism. Early
Buddhist and Jaina texts (see also Chapter 4)
mention, amongst other things, sixteen states
known as mahajanapadas. Although the lists vary,
some names such as Vajji, Magadha, Koshala,
Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur
frequently. Clearly, these were amongst the most
important mahajanapadas.
While most mahajanapadas were ruled by kings,
some, known as ganas or sanghas, were oligarchies
(p. 30), where power was shared by a number of
men, often collectively called rajas. Both Mahavira
and the Buddha (Chapter 4) belonged to such ganas.
In some instances, as in the case of the Vajji sangha,
the rajas probably controlled resources such as land
collectively. Although their histories are often difficult
to reconstruct due to the lack of sources, some of
these states lasted for nearly a thousand years.
Each mahajanapada had a capital city, which was
often fortified. Maintaining these fortified cities as
well as providing for incipient armies and
bureaucracies required resources. From c. sixth
Inscriptions
Inscriptions are writings
engraved on hard surfaces
such as stone, metal or
pottery. They usually record
the achievements, activities
or ideas of those who
commissioned them and
include the exploits of kings,
or donations made by
women and men to religious
institutions. Inscriptions are
virtually permanent records,
some of which carry dates.
Others are dated on the
basis of palaeography or
styles of writing, with a fair
amount of precision. For
instance, in c. 250 BCE
the  letter “a” was written like
this: . By c. 500 CE, it was
written like this:  .
The earliest inscriptions
were in Prakrit, a name for
languages used by ordinary
people. Names of rulers such
as Ajatasattu and Asoka,
known from Prakrit texts and
inscriptions, have been spelt in
their Prakrit forms in this
chapter. You will also find
terms in languages such as Pali,
Tamil and Sanskrit, which
too were used to write
inscriptions and texts. It is
possible that people spoke in
other languages as well, even
though these were not used
for writing.
Janapada means the land
where a jana (a people, clan or
tribe) sets its foot or settles. It
is a word used in both Prakrit
and Sanskrit.
KINGS, FARMERS AND TOWNS
2020-21
Page 3


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 28
THEME TWO
There were several developments in different parts of the
subcontinent during the long span of 1,500 years following
the end of the Harappan civilisation. This was also the
period during which the Rigveda was composed by people
living along the Indus and its tributaries. Agricultural
settlements emerged in many parts of the
subcontinent, including north India, the
Deccan Plateau, and parts of Karnataka.
Besides, there is evidence of pastoral
populations in the Deccan and further
south. New modes of disposal of the dead,
including the making of elaborate stone
structures known as megaliths, emerged in
central and south India from the first
millennium BCE. In many cases, the dead
were buried with a rich range of iron tools
and weapons.
From c. sixth century BCE, there is
evidence that there were other trends as well. Perhaps
the most visible was the emergence of early states, empires
and kingdoms. Underlying these political processes were
other changes, evident in the ways in which agricultural
production was organised. Simultaneously, new towns
appeared almost throughout the subcontinent.
Historians attempt to understand these developments
by drawing on a range of sources – inscriptions, texts,
coins and visual material. As we will see, this is a complex
process. You will also notice that these sources do not
tell the entire story.
Kings, Farmers and Towns
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly S y S y S y S y St t t t tat at at at ates and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies
( ( ( ( (c. c. c. c. c. 600  600  600  600  600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
Epigraphy is the study of
inscriptions.
1. Prinsep and Piyadassi
Some of the most momentous developments in Indian
epigraphy took place in the 1830s. This was when
James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East
India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi,
two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and
coins. He found that most of these mentioned a king
referred to as Piyadassi – meaning “pleasant to
behold”; there were a few inscriptions which also
THEME
TWO
Fig. 2.1
An inscription, Sanchi
(Madhya Pradesh),
c. second century BCE
2020-21
29
referred to the king as Asoka, one of the most famous
rulers known from Buddhist texts.
This gave a new direction to investigations into
early Indian political history as European and
Indian scholars used inscriptions and texts
composed in a variety of languages to reconstruct
the lineages of major dynasties that had ruled the
subcontinent. As a result, the broad contours of
political history were in place by the early decades
of the twentieth century.
Subsequently, scholars began to shift their focus
to the context of political history, investigating
whether there were connections between political
changes and economic and social developments. It
was soon realised that while there were links, these
were not always simple or direct.
2. The Earliest States
2.1 The sixteen mahajanapadas
The sixth century BCE is often regarded as a major
turning point in early Indian history. It is an era
associated with early states, cities, the growing
use of iron, the development of coinage, etc. It
also witnessed the growth of diverse systems of
thought, including Buddhism and Jainism. Early
Buddhist and Jaina texts (see also Chapter 4)
mention, amongst other things, sixteen states
known as mahajanapadas. Although the lists vary,
some names such as Vajji, Magadha, Koshala,
Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur
frequently. Clearly, these were amongst the most
important mahajanapadas.
While most mahajanapadas were ruled by kings,
some, known as ganas or sanghas, were oligarchies
(p. 30), where power was shared by a number of
men, often collectively called rajas. Both Mahavira
and the Buddha (Chapter 4) belonged to such ganas.
In some instances, as in the case of the Vajji sangha,
the rajas probably controlled resources such as land
collectively. Although their histories are often difficult
to reconstruct due to the lack of sources, some of
these states lasted for nearly a thousand years.
Each mahajanapada had a capital city, which was
often fortified. Maintaining these fortified cities as
well as providing for incipient armies and
bureaucracies required resources. From c. sixth
Inscriptions
Inscriptions are writings
engraved on hard surfaces
such as stone, metal or
pottery. They usually record
the achievements, activities
or ideas of those who
commissioned them and
include the exploits of kings,
or donations made by
women and men to religious
institutions. Inscriptions are
virtually permanent records,
some of which carry dates.
Others are dated on the
basis of palaeography or
styles of writing, with a fair
amount of precision. For
instance, in c. 250 BCE
the  letter “a” was written like
this: . By c. 500 CE, it was
written like this:  .
The earliest inscriptions
were in Prakrit, a name for
languages used by ordinary
people. Names of rulers such
as Ajatasattu and Asoka,
known from Prakrit texts and
inscriptions, have been spelt in
their Prakrit forms in this
chapter. You will also find
terms in languages such as Pali,
Tamil and Sanskrit, which
too were used to write
inscriptions and texts. It is
possible that people spoke in
other languages as well, even
though these were not used
for writing.
Janapada means the land
where a jana (a people, clan or
tribe) sets its foot or settles. It
is a word used in both Prakrit
and Sanskrit.
KINGS, FARMERS AND TOWNS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 30
Map 1
Early states and their capitals
Arabian Sea
Bay of Bengal
KAMBOJA
GANDHARA
Pushkalavati
Taxila
SHURASENA
Mathura
MATSYA
Indraprastha
Ahichchhatra
KURU
PANCHALA
Kaushambi
CHEDI
AVANTI
Ujjayini
ASHMAKA
VATSA
Shravasti
VANGA
Champa
ANGA
Rajgir
MAGADHA
Vaishali
VAJJI (VRIJJI)
Kusinagara
MALLA
Varanasi
KASHI
KOSHALA
Sketch map not to scale
century BCE onwards, Brahmanas began composing
Sanskrit texts known as the Dharmasutras. These
laid down norms for rulers (as well as for other
social categories), who were ideally expected to be
Kshatriyas (see also Chapter 3). Rulers were advised
to collect taxes and tribute from cultivators, traders
and artisans. Were resources also procured
from pastoralists and forest peoples? We do not
really know. What we do know is that raids on
neighbouring states were recognised as a legitimate
means of acquiring wealth. Gradually, some states
acquired standing armies and maintained regular
bureaucracies. Others continued to depend on
militia, recruited, more often than not, from the
peasantry.
Oligarchy refers to a form of
government where power is
exercised by a group of men.
The Roman Republic, about
which you read last year, was
an oligarchy in spite of its name.
Ü Which were the areas
where states and cities were
most densely clustered?
2020-21
Page 4


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 28
THEME TWO
There were several developments in different parts of the
subcontinent during the long span of 1,500 years following
the end of the Harappan civilisation. This was also the
period during which the Rigveda was composed by people
living along the Indus and its tributaries. Agricultural
settlements emerged in many parts of the
subcontinent, including north India, the
Deccan Plateau, and parts of Karnataka.
Besides, there is evidence of pastoral
populations in the Deccan and further
south. New modes of disposal of the dead,
including the making of elaborate stone
structures known as megaliths, emerged in
central and south India from the first
millennium BCE. In many cases, the dead
were buried with a rich range of iron tools
and weapons.
From c. sixth century BCE, there is
evidence that there were other trends as well. Perhaps
the most visible was the emergence of early states, empires
and kingdoms. Underlying these political processes were
other changes, evident in the ways in which agricultural
production was organised. Simultaneously, new towns
appeared almost throughout the subcontinent.
Historians attempt to understand these developments
by drawing on a range of sources – inscriptions, texts,
coins and visual material. As we will see, this is a complex
process. You will also notice that these sources do not
tell the entire story.
Kings, Farmers and Towns
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly S y S y S y S y St t t t tat at at at ates and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies
( ( ( ( (c. c. c. c. c. 600  600  600  600  600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
Epigraphy is the study of
inscriptions.
1. Prinsep and Piyadassi
Some of the most momentous developments in Indian
epigraphy took place in the 1830s. This was when
James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East
India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi,
two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and
coins. He found that most of these mentioned a king
referred to as Piyadassi – meaning “pleasant to
behold”; there were a few inscriptions which also
THEME
TWO
Fig. 2.1
An inscription, Sanchi
(Madhya Pradesh),
c. second century BCE
2020-21
29
referred to the king as Asoka, one of the most famous
rulers known from Buddhist texts.
This gave a new direction to investigations into
early Indian political history as European and
Indian scholars used inscriptions and texts
composed in a variety of languages to reconstruct
the lineages of major dynasties that had ruled the
subcontinent. As a result, the broad contours of
political history were in place by the early decades
of the twentieth century.
Subsequently, scholars began to shift their focus
to the context of political history, investigating
whether there were connections between political
changes and economic and social developments. It
was soon realised that while there were links, these
were not always simple or direct.
2. The Earliest States
2.1 The sixteen mahajanapadas
The sixth century BCE is often regarded as a major
turning point in early Indian history. It is an era
associated with early states, cities, the growing
use of iron, the development of coinage, etc. It
also witnessed the growth of diverse systems of
thought, including Buddhism and Jainism. Early
Buddhist and Jaina texts (see also Chapter 4)
mention, amongst other things, sixteen states
known as mahajanapadas. Although the lists vary,
some names such as Vajji, Magadha, Koshala,
Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur
frequently. Clearly, these were amongst the most
important mahajanapadas.
While most mahajanapadas were ruled by kings,
some, known as ganas or sanghas, were oligarchies
(p. 30), where power was shared by a number of
men, often collectively called rajas. Both Mahavira
and the Buddha (Chapter 4) belonged to such ganas.
In some instances, as in the case of the Vajji sangha,
the rajas probably controlled resources such as land
collectively. Although their histories are often difficult
to reconstruct due to the lack of sources, some of
these states lasted for nearly a thousand years.
Each mahajanapada had a capital city, which was
often fortified. Maintaining these fortified cities as
well as providing for incipient armies and
bureaucracies required resources. From c. sixth
Inscriptions
Inscriptions are writings
engraved on hard surfaces
such as stone, metal or
pottery. They usually record
the achievements, activities
or ideas of those who
commissioned them and
include the exploits of kings,
or donations made by
women and men to religious
institutions. Inscriptions are
virtually permanent records,
some of which carry dates.
Others are dated on the
basis of palaeography or
styles of writing, with a fair
amount of precision. For
instance, in c. 250 BCE
the  letter “a” was written like
this: . By c. 500 CE, it was
written like this:  .
The earliest inscriptions
were in Prakrit, a name for
languages used by ordinary
people. Names of rulers such
as Ajatasattu and Asoka,
known from Prakrit texts and
inscriptions, have been spelt in
their Prakrit forms in this
chapter. You will also find
terms in languages such as Pali,
Tamil and Sanskrit, which
too were used to write
inscriptions and texts. It is
possible that people spoke in
other languages as well, even
though these were not used
for writing.
Janapada means the land
where a jana (a people, clan or
tribe) sets its foot or settles. It
is a word used in both Prakrit
and Sanskrit.
KINGS, FARMERS AND TOWNS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 30
Map 1
Early states and their capitals
Arabian Sea
Bay of Bengal
KAMBOJA
GANDHARA
Pushkalavati
Taxila
SHURASENA
Mathura
MATSYA
Indraprastha
Ahichchhatra
KURU
PANCHALA
Kaushambi
CHEDI
AVANTI
Ujjayini
ASHMAKA
VATSA
Shravasti
VANGA
Champa
ANGA
Rajgir
MAGADHA
Vaishali
VAJJI (VRIJJI)
Kusinagara
MALLA
Varanasi
KASHI
KOSHALA
Sketch map not to scale
century BCE onwards, Brahmanas began composing
Sanskrit texts known as the Dharmasutras. These
laid down norms for rulers (as well as for other
social categories), who were ideally expected to be
Kshatriyas (see also Chapter 3). Rulers were advised
to collect taxes and tribute from cultivators, traders
and artisans. Were resources also procured
from pastoralists and forest peoples? We do not
really know. What we do know is that raids on
neighbouring states were recognised as a legitimate
means of acquiring wealth. Gradually, some states
acquired standing armies and maintained regular
bureaucracies. Others continued to depend on
militia, recruited, more often than not, from the
peasantry.
Oligarchy refers to a form of
government where power is
exercised by a group of men.
The Roman Republic, about
which you read last year, was
an oligarchy in spite of its name.
Ü Which were the areas
where states and cities were
most densely clustered?
2020-21
31
2.2 First amongst the sixteen: Magadha
Between the sixth and the fourth centuries BCE,
Magadha (in present-day Bihar) became the most
powerful mahajanapada. Modern historians explain
this development in a variety of ways: Magadha was
a region where agriculture was especially productive.
Besides, iron mines (in present-day Jharkhand) were
accessible and provided resources for tools and
weapons. Elephants, an important component of the
army, were found in forests in the region. Also, the
Ganga and its tributaries provided a means of cheap
and convenient communication. However, early
Buddhist and Jaina writers who wrote about
Magadha attributed its power to the policies of
individuals: ruthlessly ambitious kings of whom
Bimbisara, Ajatasattu and Mahapadma Nanda are
the best known, and their ministers, who helped
implement their policies.
Initially, Rajagaha (the Prakrit name for present-
day Rajgir in Bihar) was the capital of Magadha.
Interestingly, the old name means “house of the
king”. Rajagaha was a fortified settlement, located
amongst hills. Later, in the fourth century BCE, the
capital was shifted to Pataliputra, present-day
Patna, commanding routes of communication along
the Ganga.
Ü Discuss...
What are the different
explanations offered by early
writers and present-day
historians for the growth of
Magadhan power?
KINGS, FARMERS AND TOWNS
Fig. 2.2
Fortification walls at Rajgir
Ü Why were these walls built?
2020-21
Page 5


 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 28
THEME TWO
There were several developments in different parts of the
subcontinent during the long span of 1,500 years following
the end of the Harappan civilisation. This was also the
period during which the Rigveda was composed by people
living along the Indus and its tributaries. Agricultural
settlements emerged in many parts of the
subcontinent, including north India, the
Deccan Plateau, and parts of Karnataka.
Besides, there is evidence of pastoral
populations in the Deccan and further
south. New modes of disposal of the dead,
including the making of elaborate stone
structures known as megaliths, emerged in
central and south India from the first
millennium BCE. In many cases, the dead
were buried with a rich range of iron tools
and weapons.
From c. sixth century BCE, there is
evidence that there were other trends as well. Perhaps
the most visible was the emergence of early states, empires
and kingdoms. Underlying these political processes were
other changes, evident in the ways in which agricultural
production was organised. Simultaneously, new towns
appeared almost throughout the subcontinent.
Historians attempt to understand these developments
by drawing on a range of sources – inscriptions, texts,
coins and visual material. As we will see, this is a complex
process. You will also notice that these sources do not
tell the entire story.
Kings, Farmers and Towns
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly S y S y S y S y St t t t tat at at at ates and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies es and Economies
( ( ( ( (c. c. c. c. c. 600  600  600  600  600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
Epigraphy is the study of
inscriptions.
1. Prinsep and Piyadassi
Some of the most momentous developments in Indian
epigraphy took place in the 1830s. This was when
James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East
India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi,
two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and
coins. He found that most of these mentioned a king
referred to as Piyadassi – meaning “pleasant to
behold”; there were a few inscriptions which also
THEME
TWO
Fig. 2.1
An inscription, Sanchi
(Madhya Pradesh),
c. second century BCE
2020-21
29
referred to the king as Asoka, one of the most famous
rulers known from Buddhist texts.
This gave a new direction to investigations into
early Indian political history as European and
Indian scholars used inscriptions and texts
composed in a variety of languages to reconstruct
the lineages of major dynasties that had ruled the
subcontinent. As a result, the broad contours of
political history were in place by the early decades
of the twentieth century.
Subsequently, scholars began to shift their focus
to the context of political history, investigating
whether there were connections between political
changes and economic and social developments. It
was soon realised that while there were links, these
were not always simple or direct.
2. The Earliest States
2.1 The sixteen mahajanapadas
The sixth century BCE is often regarded as a major
turning point in early Indian history. It is an era
associated with early states, cities, the growing
use of iron, the development of coinage, etc. It
also witnessed the growth of diverse systems of
thought, including Buddhism and Jainism. Early
Buddhist and Jaina texts (see also Chapter 4)
mention, amongst other things, sixteen states
known as mahajanapadas. Although the lists vary,
some names such as Vajji, Magadha, Koshala,
Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occur
frequently. Clearly, these were amongst the most
important mahajanapadas.
While most mahajanapadas were ruled by kings,
some, known as ganas or sanghas, were oligarchies
(p. 30), where power was shared by a number of
men, often collectively called rajas. Both Mahavira
and the Buddha (Chapter 4) belonged to such ganas.
In some instances, as in the case of the Vajji sangha,
the rajas probably controlled resources such as land
collectively. Although their histories are often difficult
to reconstruct due to the lack of sources, some of
these states lasted for nearly a thousand years.
Each mahajanapada had a capital city, which was
often fortified. Maintaining these fortified cities as
well as providing for incipient armies and
bureaucracies required resources. From c. sixth
Inscriptions
Inscriptions are writings
engraved on hard surfaces
such as stone, metal or
pottery. They usually record
the achievements, activities
or ideas of those who
commissioned them and
include the exploits of kings,
or donations made by
women and men to religious
institutions. Inscriptions are
virtually permanent records,
some of which carry dates.
Others are dated on the
basis of palaeography or
styles of writing, with a fair
amount of precision. For
instance, in c. 250 BCE
the  letter “a” was written like
this: . By c. 500 CE, it was
written like this:  .
The earliest inscriptions
were in Prakrit, a name for
languages used by ordinary
people. Names of rulers such
as Ajatasattu and Asoka,
known from Prakrit texts and
inscriptions, have been spelt in
their Prakrit forms in this
chapter. You will also find
terms in languages such as Pali,
Tamil and Sanskrit, which
too were used to write
inscriptions and texts. It is
possible that people spoke in
other languages as well, even
though these were not used
for writing.
Janapada means the land
where a jana (a people, clan or
tribe) sets its foot or settles. It
is a word used in both Prakrit
and Sanskrit.
KINGS, FARMERS AND TOWNS
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 30
Map 1
Early states and their capitals
Arabian Sea
Bay of Bengal
KAMBOJA
GANDHARA
Pushkalavati
Taxila
SHURASENA
Mathura
MATSYA
Indraprastha
Ahichchhatra
KURU
PANCHALA
Kaushambi
CHEDI
AVANTI
Ujjayini
ASHMAKA
VATSA
Shravasti
VANGA
Champa
ANGA
Rajgir
MAGADHA
Vaishali
VAJJI (VRIJJI)
Kusinagara
MALLA
Varanasi
KASHI
KOSHALA
Sketch map not to scale
century BCE onwards, Brahmanas began composing
Sanskrit texts known as the Dharmasutras. These
laid down norms for rulers (as well as for other
social categories), who were ideally expected to be
Kshatriyas (see also Chapter 3). Rulers were advised
to collect taxes and tribute from cultivators, traders
and artisans. Were resources also procured
from pastoralists and forest peoples? We do not
really know. What we do know is that raids on
neighbouring states were recognised as a legitimate
means of acquiring wealth. Gradually, some states
acquired standing armies and maintained regular
bureaucracies. Others continued to depend on
militia, recruited, more often than not, from the
peasantry.
Oligarchy refers to a form of
government where power is
exercised by a group of men.
The Roman Republic, about
which you read last year, was
an oligarchy in spite of its name.
Ü Which were the areas
where states and cities were
most densely clustered?
2020-21
31
2.2 First amongst the sixteen: Magadha
Between the sixth and the fourth centuries BCE,
Magadha (in present-day Bihar) became the most
powerful mahajanapada. Modern historians explain
this development in a variety of ways: Magadha was
a region where agriculture was especially productive.
Besides, iron mines (in present-day Jharkhand) were
accessible and provided resources for tools and
weapons. Elephants, an important component of the
army, were found in forests in the region. Also, the
Ganga and its tributaries provided a means of cheap
and convenient communication. However, early
Buddhist and Jaina writers who wrote about
Magadha attributed its power to the policies of
individuals: ruthlessly ambitious kings of whom
Bimbisara, Ajatasattu and Mahapadma Nanda are
the best known, and their ministers, who helped
implement their policies.
Initially, Rajagaha (the Prakrit name for present-
day Rajgir in Bihar) was the capital of Magadha.
Interestingly, the old name means “house of the
king”. Rajagaha was a fortified settlement, located
amongst hills. Later, in the fourth century BCE, the
capital was shifted to Pataliputra, present-day
Patna, commanding routes of communication along
the Ganga.
Ü Discuss...
What are the different
explanations offered by early
writers and present-day
historians for the growth of
Magadhan power?
KINGS, FARMERS AND TOWNS
Fig. 2.2
Fortification walls at Rajgir
Ü Why were these walls built?
2020-21
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 32
3. An Early Empire
The growth of Magadha culminated in the emergence
of the Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta Maurya, who
founded the empire (c. 321 BCE), extended control as
far northwest as Afghanistan and Baluchistan, and
his grandson Asoka, arguably the most famous ruler
of early India, conquered Kalinga (present-day
coastal Orissa).
3.1 Finding out about the Mauryas
Historians have used a variety of sources to
reconstruct the history of the Mauryan Empire.
These include archaeological finds, especially
sculpture. Also valuable are contemporary works,
such as the account of Megasthenes (a Greek
ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya),
which survives in fragments. Another source that
is often used is the Arthashastra, parts of which
were probably composed by Kautilya or Chanakya,
traditionally believed to be the minister of
Chandragupta. Besides, the Mauryas are mentioned
in later Buddhist, Jaina and Puranic literature, as
well as in Sanskrit literary works. While these are
useful, the inscriptions of Asoka (c. 272/268-231
BCE) on rocks and pillars are often regarded as
amongst the most valuable sources.
Asoka was the first ruler who inscribed his
messages to his subjects and officials on stone
surfaces – natural rocks as well as polished pillars.
He used the inscriptions to proclaim what he
understood to be dhamma. This included respect
towards elders, generosity towards Brahmanas and
those who renounced worldly life, treating slaves
and servants kindly, and respect for religions and
traditions other than one’s own.
3.2 Administering the empire
There were five major political centres in the
empire – the capital Pataliputra and the provincial
centres of Taxila, Ujjayini, Tosali and Suvarnagiri,
all mentioned in Asokan inscriptions. If we
examine the content of these inscriptions, we find
virtually the same message engraved everywhere
– from the present-day North West Frontier
Provinces of Pakistan, to Andhra Pradesh, Orissa
and Uttarakhand in India. Could this vast empire
have had a uniform administrative system?
Historians have increasingly come to realise that
Languages and scripts
Most Asokan inscriptions were in
the Prakrit language while
those in the northwest of
the subcontinet were in Aramaic
and Greek. Most Prakrit
inscriptions were written in the
Brahmi script; however, some, in
the northwest, were written in
Kharosthi. The Aramaic and
Greek scripts were used for
inscriptions in Afghanistan.
Fig. 2.3
The lion capital
Ü Why is the lion capital
considered important today?
2020-21
Read More
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