Post-Mauryan Period

Post-Mauryan Period – Ancient History Notes


The Post-Mauryan Period in Indian history refers to the time period after the decline of the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BCE. This period saw the emergence of several important kingdoms and dynasties in different parts of India, each with their own distinct cultural and political identity.

The decline of the Mauryan Empire was primarily caused by internal and external factors, such as weak successors, administrative and economic problems, and external invasions. The death of Emperor Ashoka in 232 BCE marked the beginning of the decline of the Mauryan Empire. His successors were unable to maintain the same level of control and stability as Ashoka, and the empire gradually lost its grip over its vast territories.

In addition to internal problems, external factors also contributed to the decline of the Mauryan Empire. The invasion of the Bactrian Greeks in northwestern India weakened the empire’s hold over its western regions, and led to the emergence of regional kingdoms such as the Indo-Greeks. The rise of other external powers such as the Shakas, Parthians, Kushanas, and Indo-Sassanians also had a significant impact on the political and social dynamics of the Post-Mauryan period.

  • The Bactrian Greeks, who invaded northwestern India in the 2nd century BCE, established the Indo-Greek kingdom, which lasted for over two centuries. The Indo-Greek rulers, such as Menander I, adopted elements of Indian culture, such as Buddhism and Indian-style coinage, while also maintaining their own Greek traditions. (Read more about Indo-Greek Kingdom)
  • The Shakas, who were originally a nomadic Central Asian tribe, established their rule over northwestern India in the 2nd century BCE. They were known for their cavalry-based military tactics and their patronage of Buddhism. (Read more about Shakas)
  • The Kushanas, who emerged in Central Asia in the 1st century CE, conquered northwestern India and established a powerful empire that lasted for over three centuries. They are known for their contributions to Indian art, such as the Gandhara school of art, which combined Greek and Indian artistic elements. (Read more about Kushanas)
  • The Indo-Sassanian kingdom was established in the 3rd century CE, when the Sassanian Persians conquered parts of northwestern India. The Indo-Sassanian rulers, such as Hormizd I, maintained close ties with the Sassanian Empire while also adopting Indian cultural practices and religious beliefs. (Read more about Indo-Sassanian)
  • The Shunga Dynasty ruled over northern India from around 185 BCE to 73 BCE and were known for their patronage of Buddhism. (Read more about Shunga)
  • The Satavahanas ruled over the Deccan region from the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE and were known for their patronage of Hinduism. (Read more about Satvahanas)
  • Several powerful regional kingdoms emerged during this period, including the Kalinga Kingdom in eastern India, the Chola Dynasty in southern India, and the Gupta Empire in northern India.
  • The Gupta Empire, which ruled from the 4th century CE to the 6th century CE, is often considered a golden age of Indian civilization.
  • The Gupta Empire was known for its advancements in science, mathematics, and literature.
  • The Post-Mauryan Period was a time of significant political, cultural, and religious change in India.
  • Numerous monumental structures were built during this period, including the Bharhut Stupa, Sanchi Stupa, Amaravati Stupa, and Mahakuta group of temples.

Establishment of Regional Kingdoms in India


The Indo-Greek Kingdom refers to a Hellenistic state that was established in the northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent, mainly present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, after the conquest of Alexander the Great. The Indo-Greek Kingdom emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Mauryan Empire and lasted for about two centuries, from 180 BCE to 10 CE.

History in India

The Indo-Greeks were initially led by the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius who invaded and established control over the Indian territories of the Mauryan Empire. The Indo-Greek Kingdom reached its peak under the reign of Menander I, also known as Milinda, who extended the kingdom’s influence over a large area, including Punjab, Sindh, and parts of northern India. Menander I was also known for his conversion to Buddhism, which helped in spreading the religion to the Greeks and other westerners.


The Indo-Greeks adopted Buddhism as their main religion, as evidenced by the many Buddhist symbols and relics found on their coins and other artifacts. Some of the most notable examples include the famous Buddhist stupa at Taxila and the Mathura lion capital, which features Buddhist symbols such as the wheel of dharma and the lotus.

Art and Architecture

The Indo-Greek period is considered an important time for the development of Indian art and architecture, particularly the Gandhara school of art. The Gandhara style was characterized by the fusion of Greek and Indian artistic styles and motifs, such as the use of classical Greco-Roman styles in the portrayal of Buddha and other Buddhist figures.


The Indo-Greeks had a mixed economy that was based on agriculture, trade, and mining. The region was known for its rich mineral resources, including gold, silver, and copper, which were used to mint coins. The Indo-Greeks were also known for their trade relationships with other cultures, particularly the Silk Road trade routes.

Political Structure

The Indo-Greek Kingdom was characterized by a centralized monarchy with a complex bureaucracy that managed taxation, trade, and public works projects such as the construction of roads and water management systems. The Greeks also introduced a system of coinage that was widely used throughout the region and helped to facilitate trade and commerce.

Examples that highlight the Indo-Greek’s influence in India

  • The Gandhara School of Art: One of the most notable examples of the Indo-Greek’s artistic influence in India is the Gandhara school of art. It was characterized by the fusion of Greek and Indian artistic styles and motifs, and is known for its exquisite sculptures and reliefs. The Gandhara school was prevalent during the 1st to 5th centuries CE, and its influence can still be seen in the region’s art and architecture today.
  • The Mathura Lion Capital: The Mathura Lion Capital is another example of the Indo-Greek’s artistic influence in India. It is a sculpture that features Buddhist symbols such as the wheel of dharma and the lotus, and is considered one of the finest examples of the Gandhara school of art. It was discovered in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, and is currently housed at the National Museum in New Delhi.
  • The Taxila Stupa: The Taxila Stupa is a Buddhist stupa that was constructed during the Indo-Greek period in what is now Pakistan. It is an important example of the Indo-Greek’s religious influence in the region, and is considered one of the finest examples of ancient Buddhist architecture in the world.
  • Indo-Greek Coins: The Indo-Greeks were known for their extensive use of coins, which were used for trade and commerce throughout the region. These coins were characterized by their Hellenistic designs and were widely circulated throughout the Indian subcontinent. Some of the most notable examples include the Menander I Silver Drachm, which features an image of the king on the obverse and Athena on the reverse.
  • Trade and Commerce: The Indo-Greeks were known for their trade and commerce with other parts of the world. They established trade routes with Rome and Central Asia, which helped to boost the economy of the region. They also introduced new technologies and techniques such as coinage and the use of elephants in warfare.
  • Religion: The Indo-Greeks followed a mix of Greek and Indian religious traditions. They were known to have patronized Buddhism and also built several Buddhist monasteries and stupas. However, they also continued to follow their own religious traditions and worshipped the Greek gods.
  • Language: The Indo-Greeks were known to have spoken Greek and used it as their official language. However, they also adopted the local Indian languages and scripts and used them for official purposes.
  • Political Structure: The Indo-Greek kingdoms were ruled by a monarch who held absolute power. They were known to have a centralized administrative system and were divided into several provinces or satrapies, each governed by a satrap or governor.
  • Decline and Legacy: The Indo-Greek rule in India came to an end in the 1st century BCE due to internal conflicts and external invasions. However, their influence on Indian art, culture, and religion continued to be felt for centuries to come. The Gandhara School of Art, in particular, continued to flourish long after the Indo-Greek rule came to an end and has left a lasting impact on the region’s artistic traditions.



The Shakas were a group of Indo-Scythians who migrated into parts of Central Asia and north-western South Asia, from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 4th century CE. They were primarily pastoralists and skilled horsemen. Their nomadic lifestyle often led them to attack settled societies, seeking grazing land and livestock.

After the death of Alexander the Great, the Shakas infiltrated the lands and created their own states in Bactria and Parthia. They overran the Parthians, who were also known as the Pahlavas or Indo-Parthians, and forced some of their people into India. This migration was a part of a larger series of incursions and migrations from Central Asia into India during this period.


  • The first Shaka King in India was Maues or Moga, who established his power in Gandhara and expanded his rule to almost all regions of Northwest India.
  • He defeated the Indo-Greek territories in modern-day Pakistan and established his governance as far as the River Jhelum.
  • Maues was succeeded by Vonones (75-65 BC), who ruled along with his brother. The brother was succeeded in turn by his son, Spalagadames (50 BC), who ruled areas between Central Asia and South Asia.
  • Spalagadamessuccessor, Azes (57-35 BC), increased his importance by capturing the kingdom of the last great Indo-Greek king, Hippostratus. Azes was succeeded by several other Shakas, including Vijayamitra and Rudradaman, who ruled in different parts of India.
  • The Shakas had a significant impact on Indian art and culture. Their rule saw the development of the Gandhara school of art, which combined Indian and Greek styles. Buddhism also flourished under Shaka rule, with many Buddhist monasteries and stupas built during their reign.
  • The Shakas had a decentralized political structure, with several rulers governing different regions. However, they maintained a uniform currency system throughout their territories. Their economy was based on agriculture, trade, and crafts. The Shakas also contributed to the growth of trade between India and the Roman Empire, with Indian spices and textiles being highly sought after in the Mediterranean world.

Sakas extent in India

  • The Sakas established their rule over the north-west frontier, as well as in regions such as Punjab, Sindh, Kashmir, western Uttar Pradesh, Saurashtra, Kathiawar, Rajputana, Malwa, and the north Konkan belt of Maharashtra.
  • They engaged in battles against the Satvahanas and eventually formed matrimonial alliances with them, which helped in their integration into Indian society.
  • The Sakas also benefited from their earlier interactions with the Greeks, and the Saka kings implemented the Greek system of governance by appointing kshatrapas (satraps or governors) to oversee each region.
  • However, the Sakas were later overpowered by the Kushans, who took control from them.
  • The Sakas were forced to accept the Kushans’ suzerainty but, after the Kushans themselves faded, the Sakas were finally defeated as a regional power by the Gupta dynasty.

Coinage in Sakas

  • The artistic quality of Indo-Scythian coinage is generally high, although it deteriorates towards the end of Indo-Scythian rule around AD 20.
  • Indo-Scythian coins display a realistic style, which is somewhere between Indo-Greek and Kushan coinage.
  • They followed the Indo-Greek tradition of using the Greek language on the obverse and Kharoshthi language on the reverse. Interestingly, the portrait of the king is not depicted on the coins.
  • Instead, images of the king on horseback or sitting cross-legged on a cushion are featured, sometimes even on a camel.
  • The reverse side of their coins commonly depicts Greek deities, while Buddhist symbolism can also be found throughout Indo-Scythian coinage.

Sakas Art

  • In the art of Gandhara, Indo-Scythian soldiers dressed in military attire are often portrayed in Buddhist friezes.
  • These soldiers are depicted wearing tunics with trousers, and wielding heavy straight swords.
  • Buddhist stupas in Gandhara were adorned with such friezes, which were used as decorations on their pedestals.
  • The stone palettes discovered in Gandhara are significant examples of Indo-Scythian art.
  • These palettes exhibit a blend of Greek and Iranian styles and are frequently designed in an uncomplicated, archaic manner.
  • Mostly, the palettes depict individuals dressed in Greek attire in mythological settings, a handful in Parthian garb, and a few in Indo-Scythian dress.
  • Among these, a notable palette found in Sirkap, currently housed in the New Delhi Museum, portrays a winged Indo-Scythian horseman on a winged deer being attacked by a lion.

The Indo-Scythians and Buddhism

  • Buddhism was likely a prominent religion among the Indo-Scythians, with their practices showing continuity from those of the Indo-Greeks.
  • Italian archaeologists have discovered Buddhist sculptures at the Butkara Stupa in Swat, Pakistan, believed to be from the Indo-Scythian era.
  • The Mathura lion capital, which references many Indo-Scythian rulers including Maues, mentions a dedication of a Buddha relic at a stupa.

Indo-Scythians in Indian literature

  • In India, the Indo-Scythians were commonly referred to as “Shaka,” an extension of the name “Saka” used by Persians to identify Scythians.
  • Shaka finds several mentions in Indian literature such as the Puranas, Manusmriti, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Mahabhasiya of Patanjali, Brhat Samhita of Vraha Mihira, and more.

Decline of Saka

The decline of the Saka Empire began with their defeat by the Satavahana Emperor Gautamiputra Satakarni, and it continued until their rule in northwest India and Pakistan ended after the death of Azes II (12 BC) and the region was taken over by the Kushanas.



  • The cultural peak of the Kushan Empire, which lasted from the first to the third centuries CE, was around 105-250 CE.
  • Stretching from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and into the Ganges River valley in northern India, it was established by the Kushan tribe of the Yuezhi confederation, thought to be Indo-European people from the eastern Tarim Basin in China, who may be related to the Tocharians.
  • They were the easternmost Indo-European speakers.
  • During the first century AD, the emergence of the vast Kushan Empire led to the political unification of much of Central Asia, from present-day India and Pakistan to the Iranian borders, until it declined in the third century.


  • The flourishing cultural exchanges facilitated the development of Greco-Buddhism, which was a blend of Hellenistic and Buddhist cultural elements.
  • This fusion of cultures expanded into central and northern Asia and became known as Mahayana Buddhism.
  • Kanishka, a notable figure in Buddhist tradition, is recognized for convening a significant Buddhist council in Kashmir in 72 A.D.
  • Additionally, he had the original Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Buddhist texts translated into Sanskrit.


  • The artistic and cultural heritage of Gandhara, situated at the intersection of the Kushan Empire, provides the most well-known examples of Kushan artistic influence to Western audiences.
  • Numerous depictions of Kushan individuals from Gandhara have been uncovered, wearing tunics, belts, and trousers, and depicted as devout followers of the Buddha, as well as the Bodhisattva and future Buddha Maitreya.
  • The style of these reliefs that incorporate Kushan worshippers, although heavily Indianized, is notably distinct from earlier Hellenistic portrayals of the Buddha.


  • The vast and diverse Kushan Empire, spanning from Central Asia to Bihar and Kashmir to Sind, governed a variety of peoples with different backgrounds through an organized administrative system that operated at three levels: central, provincial, and local.
  • The Kushans adopted the practice of appointing ksatrapas and mahaksatrapas, as had been done by the earlier Indo-Greeks and Parthians, to govern different regions of the empire.
  • Feudal elements were also prevalent, as evidenced by the appointment of officials known as ‘dandanayaka‘ and ‘mahadandanayaka‘ who performed both civil and military functions.
  • In addition, inscriptions refer to ‘gramika‘ and ‘padrapala‘, who were village headmen responsible for collecting the king’s dues and enforcing the law in their areas.


  • The Kushan monarchs were responsible for introducing both gold and copper coins, many of which have survived to the present day.
  • The first Indian gold coins were introduced by Vima Kadaphises, a Kushan emperor.
  • During the Kushan period, the most commonly issued coins were those featuring deities on one side and the king on the other, with designs heavily influenced by the Hellenistic styles of the preceding Greco-Bactrian rulers.
  • Towards the end of the Kushan rule, the Gupta Empire’s initial coinage was modeled on that of the Kushan Empire.


  • The Kushan rulers and regions under their control produced inscriptions in various languages and scripts, including Bactrian written in Greek script, and Prakrit written in Brāhmī or Kharoṣṭhī script.
  • Among these, the Rabatak Inscription is particularly significant as it established Kanishka’s ancestry, identifying Kujula Kadphises, Vima Takto (or Takha), and Vima Kadphises as his direct predecessors.


  • After Vasudeva I’s death in 225 A.D., the Kushan Empire divided into western and eastern halves.
  • The Western Kushans (in Afghanistan) were soon conquered by the Persian Sassanid Empire, resulting in the loss of Bactria and other territories.
  • In 248 A.D., the Persians defeated the Western dynasty again, replacing them with Persian vassals known as the Kushanshas (or Indo-Sassanids).
  • Meanwhile, the Eastern Kushan kingdom was based in the Punjab. However, around 270, their territories on the Gangetic plain gained independence under local dynasties such as the Yaudheyas.
  • The Gupta Empire under Samudragupta subjugated them in the mid-fourth century.
  • Finally, the remnants of the Kushan Empire were ultimately wiped out by the invasions of the White Huns in the fifth century and later the expansion of Islam.



  • The Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom, also known as Kushanshahs or Indo-Sasanians, is a term used by modern scholars to describe a group of Sasanian Persians who established their rule in Bactria during the 3rd and 4th centuries CE, replacing the declining Kushans.
  • After overthrowing the Parthians, Sasanian king Ardashir I marched east and invaded Bactria around 230 AD.
  • With the help of his son Shapur I, the western part of the Kushan empire was lost, and the Bactrian and Gandharan provinces came under the control of Sasanian nobles known as Kushanshahs.
  • By 325 AD, Shapur II had taken direct control of the southern part of the region.

Religious Life

  • The Kushano-Sasanians demonstrated a strong inclination towards the Zoroastrian faith, as indicated by the imagery of fire altars on their coins.
  • Nonetheless, Buddhist missionaries continued to exert a significant influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  • During this period, Buddhism underwent a transformation in its practices, ideology, and rituals, adopting new concepts and imagery such as the acceptance of Buddha’s image and the expansion of Buddhist monasteries.
  • As a result, the educational character of the sangha changed significantly.
  • Additionally, the presence of coins suggests that the worship of Shiva and Nandi had become widely popular among the people.


  • The Sassanid rulers titled themselves as shahanshah or King of Kings, becoming the central overlords of the empire and assuming the guardianship of the sacred fire, the symbol of the national religion.
  • Petty rulers from noble families, known as Shahrdar, also governed smaller territories, overseen by the shahanshah.
  • Each district of the provinces was ruled by a shahrab and a mowbed (chief priest).
  • Sasanian rule was characterized by centralized governance, urban planning, agricultural development, and technological advancements.
  • A powerful bureaucracy conducted much of the government’s affairs below the king.


  • The coinage of the Kushano-Sassanids was extensive and featured legends in Brahmi, Pahlavi, or Bactrian, sometimes inspired by Kushan coinage.
  • The obverse side of the coin usually depicts the ruler wearing an elaborate headdress, while the reverse side depicts either a Zoroastrian fire altar or Shiva with the bull Nandi.

Economy, Society & Trade

  • The Kushano-Sasanian economy can be deduced from their coinage.
  • While gold and silver coins were issued by several Kushano-Sasanian rulers, it was the copper coins that were most commonly used to meet local demands.
  • Trade along the Silk Route persisted during this period.


  • In the Kushanshahs state, Middle Persian was written in the Pahlavi script by both officials and native Iranians who were marginally literate.
  • Some of the Kushano-Sasanian coins had Middle Persian inscriptions in the Pahlavi script.
  • Termez was the main source of inscriptions from the Kushan and Kushano-Sasanian periods, particularly from the Buddhist monasteries of Kara-tepe and Fayaz-tepe.
  • These inscriptions were written in the Kharosthi and Brahmi scripts.


  • Kara-tepe, located in present-day Uzbekistan, exemplifies the syncretistic nature of Kushano-Sasanian cultural material.
  • Excavations at Kara-tepe uncovered various artifacts such as wall paintings, stonework, sculpture, pottery, and coins, as well as inscriptions on pottery and graffiti on cave walls.
  • The structures at Kara-tepe consist of a complex of caves, a courtyard, and grand buildings.
  • Other cities and settlements in Bactria also developed during the Kushano-Sasanian period, such as the Yavan site in southern Tajikistan, which revealed a section of a small street with solid house blocks.
  • Buddhist art during this time drew from the traditions of Gandhara and incorporated local features, while non-Buddhist art displayed a fusion of local and Sasanian traditions, as seen in the sculptures and wall-paintings from Dilberjin.


  • Sassanid culture’s strength lay in its ability to interact and synthesize with other cultures it came in contact with.
  • After the fall of the Sassanid Empire, Zoroastrians became a persecuted minority due to the rise of Islam.
  • Some Zoroastrian refugees migrated to present-day Gujarat, where they were allowed to practice their customs and preserve their faith.
  • These refugees and their descendants, now known as Parsis, went on to play a significant role in the development of India.


  • The downfall of the Mauryan dynasty in 187 BCE paved the way for the emergence of various powers in the Indian subcontinent.
  • This period, spanning from the decline of the Mauryas to the rise of the Guptas (2nd century BCE to 3rd century CE), is referred to as the post-Mauryan period in Indian history.
  • The Sunga Empire, a Magadha dynasty that took control of North-central and Eastern India as well as some parts of the northwest (now Pakistan) from around 185 to 73 BCE, was established after the decline of the Mauryan Empire.
  • The capital of the Sungas was located in Pataliputra.


  • The Sunga Empire originated in 185 B.C.E., approximately 50 years after the passing of Ashoka, when the Mauryan king Brhadrata, the last of his dynasty, was murdered by the commander-in-chief of the Mauryan army, Pusyamitra Sunga.
  • The latter became the ruler of Magadha and its neighboring lands and governed for 36 years (187-151 B.C.E.), succeeded by his son Agnimitra.
  • The Kanva dynasty replaced the Sungas about 73 B.C.E. During Pushyamitra’s reign, the kingdom stretched to the south up to the Narmada River and held power over Jalandhar and Sialkot in the Punjab in the northwest, as well as the central Indian city of Ujjain.
  • According to the Puranas, the Sunga regime governed India for 112 years, with Magadha as its epicenter. The final Sunga king was Devabhuti (83-73 B.C.E.), who was murdered by his minister Vasudeva Kanva, leading to the ascension of the Kanvas.


  • The Sunga rule was marked by various conflicts and sacrifices, as mentioned in several historical and literary sources.
  • According to Patanjali’s Mahabhasya, Greek incursions occurred during the Sunga dynasty.
  • The Yuga Purana, a Hindu text, prophesied the attack of the Indo-Greeks on the capital city of Pataliputra.
  • The Malavikagnimitra refers to the conflict between Pushyamitra and Yajnasena, the King of Vidarbha, and the eventual victory of the Shungas.
  • Patanjali also mentions the sacrifices performed for Pushyamitra.
  • Additionally, the Malavikagnimitra narrates a military encounter between Prince Vasumitra and the Yavana army on the banks of the Sindhu river.
  • Pushyamitra sent his grandson Vasumitra to escort the sacrificial horse during its travels before the Asvamedha yajya.
  • Vasumitra defeated the Yavanas on the banks of the Sindhu river, and the sacrifice was performed after Vasumitra returned victorious with the horse.


  • Following Ashoka’s embrace of Buddhism, the Sungas shifted towards Brahmanical orthodoxy, as per historical records. Buddhist sources mention that Pushyamitra Sunga was hostile towards Buddhism and persecuted Buddhists.
  • The Divyavadana shares tales of Pushyamitra’s brutality and animosity towards Buddhism.
  • However, the subsequent Sunga kings were more receptive to Buddhism and reportedly supported the construction of the stupa at Bharhut.


  • The Sunga dynasty made significant cultural contributions, although there is still much discussion about their religious policies.
  • The period saw a flourishing of art, education, philosophy, and other forms of learning. The famous texts of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and Mahabhasya were composed during this era.
  • Additionally, the romantic story of Malavika and King Agnimitra, set against a backdrop of court intrigue, was depicted in Kalidasa‘s work Malavikaagnimitra in the later Gupta period, further immortalizing the Sunga era.
  • Although there is uncertainty about the Sungas’ religious tolerance, there is evidence of Buddhist activity surviving in central India, as indicated by some architectural expansions at the stupas of Sanchi and Barhut, originally built by King Ashoka.
  • It is unclear whether these works resulted from the Sungas’ weakness in controlling these areas or their tolerance.


  • The Sunga dynasty employed a script that was a modified version of Brahmi, which was utilized for writing the Sanskrit language.
  • This script is believed to be a bridge between the Maurya and Kalinga Brahmi scripts.


  • During a significant period in Hindu thought, the Sunga Empire emerged as a pivotal patron of Indian culture.
  • Their legacy played a crucial role in shaping the rich spiritual tradition of India that has benefited the entire world.
  • Their reign established a tradition of supporting learning and art among the royalty that would be carried forward by successive dynasties, ensuring the continuity and vitality of Indian culture.



  • The Kanva dynasty, known also as the Kanvayanas, succeeded the Shungas in ruling the kingdom of Magadha in northern India from approximately 72-28 BCE.
  • According to Puranic literature, the Kanvas ruled from the former capital of the Shunga Empire in Pataliputra, located in eastern India.
  • The dynasty’s coins are primarily discovered in and around Vidisha, which was the capital of later Shunga rulers in central India.


  • The Kanva dynasty came into being in 73 BCE under the leadership of Vasudeva Kanva, who was a minister of the Shunga Emperor Devabhuti.
  • Devabhuti was assassinated by Vasudeva, who then usurped the throne.
  • Bhumimitra, Vasudeva’s son, succeeded him and ruled for fourteen years.
  • Narayana, Bhumimitra’s son, followed him and was eventually succeeded by Susharman, the last king of the Kanva dynasty.
  • The Puranas state that Balipuccha killed the last king of the Kanva dynasty and established the Andhra dynasty.
  • The Kanva dynasty’s territory was limited to the regions under the Sunga rule.



  • The Satavahana dynasty is an Indian dynasty believed by some interpretations based on the Puranas to belong to the Andhra jati (a tribe) and was the first Deccanese dynasty to establish an empire in Daksinapatha, the southern region of India.
  • At their zenith, the Satavahanas held sway over remote areas of western and central India.
  • The beginnings of Satavahana dominance can be traced back to the late 1st century BCE, according to Puranic evidence, although some authorities date the dynasty as early as the 3rd century BCE.
  • The Satavahanas rose to prominence during the post-Mauryan era, and much of our knowledge about the dynasty comes from inscriptional and numismatic evidence discovered in regions such as Nasik and Nanaghat.

Political History

  • The Satavahana dynasty rose to power after the decline of the Mauryan Empire in the first half of the 2nd century BCE, and their influence extended throughout western and central India.
  • According to Puranic records, Simuka became the first king around 230 BCE, while the Sakas of Seistan remained a consistent threat.
  • However, Gotami-putra Satakarni revitalized the dynasty after assuming power in 106 AD, defeating the Sakas, Pahlavas, and Yavanas.
  • His reign extended from Malwa and Saurashtra in the North to the Krishna in the South, and from Berar in the east to Konkan in the west.
  • His son Vaishishtiputra Pulumavi succeeded him and ruled from AD 130-159, followed by Yajnashri Satakarni.
  • However, the dynasty’s decline began after his reign, possibly due to the inability of later rulers to control their feudatories, who grew stronger.
  • The Satavahana empire came to an end in the mid-3rd century BCE and was followed by various regional dynasties, including the Abhiras, Kadambas, Vakatakas, Bruhatpalayanas, Vishnukundins, and Chalukyas.


  • The Satavahana administration was highly decentralized, with local administration entrusted to feudatories who were subject to the control of royal officials.
  • The king held the highest position in the administrative hierarchy and was responsible for maintaining the established social order.
  • The feudatories were classified into three grades: Rajas, who minted coins in their names, Mahanhojas and Maharathis, who were skilled in warfare and held significant power in the administrative setup.
  • The state was divided into aharas, each of which was governed by a minister called Amatya. The villages were subordinate to these administrative divisions and were headed by a gramika.
  • The Satavahanas placed great importance on trade, with trading outposts in Sopara and Bharuch for importing luxury items such as wine, cloth, unguents, glass, and sweet clover.
  • They exported common cloth, cornelian, muslin, and mallow cloth. Specialized traders were organized into guilds, each of which had a Sethi.


  • The Satavahana dynasty played a vital role in the economic development of the Indian subcontinent, primarily through increased agricultural production, trade, and the emergence of large settlements along major rivers.
  • During their reign, there was a significant expansion of agricultural land, resulting in increased production of various commodities.
  • Moreover, they also engaged in trade within and outside the subcontinent, with the Roman Empire being their major trading partner.
  • The Satavahanas had control over the Indian coastline, and their dominance in trade is evident from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which mentions important Satavahana trade centers such as Pratishthana and Tagara.
  • In addition to these, other urban centers like Kondapur, Banavasi, and Madhavpur also emerged as important economic hubs during this period.

Culture and Religion

  • The Satavahanas left a significant mark on Indian culture and religion.
  • They were the first kings to grant land to both Brahmins and Buddhists. Historians suggest that the Satavahanas belonged to a lower caste originally, but as they consolidated their power over the Deccan, they established their Brahminical credentials.
  • A Nasik inscription shows that Gotami-putra Satkarni, one of their kings, gave himself the title of Kshatriyadarpa Mardana (Destroyer of the Pride of Kshatriyas) to assert his Brahminical status.
  • Hala, another Satavahana ruler, composed the treatise Saptasati, which begins with an adoration of Shiva and mentions the construction of temples for Gauri, as well as vratas of fire and water. Inscriptions and Puranas show that the Satavahanas made significant efforts to revive Vedic Brahmanism in the Deccan.
  • Sage Vidnyaneshwar wrote a commentary on the Yadnyavalkya Smriti during this period.
  • The most intriguing practice instituted by the Satavahanas was metronymics, where the names of emperors were derived from their female lineage.
  • This is evident in names like Gautami-putra and Vaishishti-putra. Although it would be an oversimplification to conclude that Satavahana society was matriarchal or matrilineal, it sheds light on the status of women in India, which may have been far superior to other parts of the country and the world.
  • Sculptures depict women participating in Buddhist ceremonies, attending assemblies, and entertaining guests with their husbands. Many women also granted land to monks, indicating that they had significant agency in society.


  • The language used in the majority of Satavahana inscriptions and coin legends is a Middle Indo-Aryan language.
  • Although some modern scholars have referred to this language as “Prakrit,” there is still debate surrounding its classification. Sanskrit was also used in political inscriptions by the Satavahanas, albeit infrequently.
  • Additionally, the Satavahanas issued bilingual coins that displayed Middle Indo-Aryan language on one side and Tamil language on the other.


  • The Satavahanas were the first rulers in India to mint their own coins bearing the portraits of their rulers.
  • This practice began with King Gautamiputra Satakarni, who adopted it from the Western Kshatrapas whom he defeated.
  • Thousands of Satavahana coins made of lead and copper have been unearthed in the Deccan region, with a few gold and silver coins also found.


  • The Satavahanas left an indelible mark on Indian architecture, as evidenced by their Buddhist stupas and cave paintings.
  • The Amaravati Stupa is a prime example of the artistic and architectural achievements of the Satavahanas, standing at an impressive height of 95 feet.
  • In addition to Amaravati, the Satavahanas built numerous other stupas at Goli, Jaggiahpeta, Gantasala, Amravati Bhattiprolu, and Shri Parvatam.
  • They also patronized the creation of the famous Ajanta paintings found in caves IX and X.
  • The Satavahanas expanded upon the earlier Ashokan stupas, replacing the bricks and woodwork with stone and creating monumental structures such as the Amravati Stupa and Nagarjunakonda Stupa.


  • The Ajanta Caves house the earliest surviving paintings in India, attributed to the Satavahana period, excluding prehistoric rock art.
  • However, due to natural factors and some damage caused by vandalism, only a limited number of fragments associated with the Satavahanas have survived.
  • These fragments are found in Caves No. 9 and 10, which are chaitya-grihas (prayer halls) with stupas.


  • The Satavahanas bequeathed a valuable inheritance that was passed down to numerous other lineages during the Ancient and Early Medieval periods.
  • As demonstrated above, they revitalized Vedic Brahmanism and the associated ceremonies, such as the Ashvamedha yajna.
  • Their incorporation of various beliefs, military might, and commercial expertise established them as one of the most significant empires in the history of the Deccan region and, more broadly, Bharatavarsha.

Foreign Invasions in Post-Mauryan Age and their Effects on Indian Society

The Post-Mauryan Age in India witnessed several foreign invasions, which had far-reaching impacts on Indian society. Here is a detailed note on foreign invasions in the Post-Mauryan Age and their effects on Indian society with relevant examples.

  1. Indo-Greek Invasions (c. 180 BCE – 10 CE): The Indo-Greek invasions resulted in the introduction of Hellenistic culture to India. The Greeks introduced new ideas in philosophy, science, and art, which had a lasting impact on Indian culture. The Greeks also introduced new styles of architecture, such as the use of pillars and Corinthian columns, which later influenced the development of Indian architecture. The Greeks also introduced new religious practices, such as the worship of Dionysus and Heracles.
  2. Shakas Invasions (c. 2nd century BCE – 4th century CE): The Shakas were a nomadic tribe from Central Asia who invaded India and established the Western Kshatrapa dynasty. The Shakas introduced new ideas in architecture, such as the construction of rock-cut caves, which had a lasting impact on Indian architecture. The Shakas also introduced new religious practices, such as the worship of the Sun God, which later influenced the development of the cult of Surya.
  3. Kushan Invasions (c. 1st century – 3rd century CE): The Kushans were a Central Asian tribe who invaded India and established the Kushan Empire. The Kushans introduced new ideas in art, such as the use of Greco-Roman motifs in Buddhist art, which had a lasting impact on Indian art. The Kushans also introduced new religious practices, such as the worship of Bodhisattvas, which later influenced the development of the Mahayana school of Buddhism.
  4. Hun Invasions (c. 5th century CE): The Huns were a Central Asian tribe who invaded India and established the Hunnic Empire. The Huns introduced new military tactics, such as the use of cavalry, which had a lasting impact on Indian warfare. The Huns also introduced new religious practices, such as the worship of the Sky God.
  5. Satavahanas: The Satavahanas were a dynasty that ruled over the Deccan region of India from the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE. The Satavahanas had a significant impact on Indian society, particularly in the areas of art, architecture, and religion. The Satavahanas were great patrons of the arts and were responsible for the development of the Satavahana school of art, which was known for its exquisite sculptures and paintings. The Satavahanas also introduced new architectural styles, such as the use of chaitya halls and viharas, which had a lasting impact on Indian architecture. The Satavahanas were also responsible for the spread of Buddhism and the development of the Mahayana school of Buddhism in India.
  6. Kanvas : The Kanvas were a dynasty that ruled over the Magadha region of India from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century BCE. The Kanvas had a significant impact on Indian society, particularly in the areas of literature and art. The Kanvas were great patrons of the arts and were responsible for the development of the Kanvas school of art, which was known for its exquisite sculptures and paintings. The Kanvas were also responsible for the development of the Sanskrit language and the production of some of the most significant Sanskrit texts, such as the Kamasutra and the Arthashastra.

Socio-Cultural Developments in the Post-Mauryan Age

The Post-Mauryan Age is a significant period in Indian history, marked by important socio-cultural developments. Here are some of the most notable developments of this era:

Rise of Buddhism and Jainism

The Post-Mauryan Age witnessed the spread of Buddhism and Jainism in India. Both these religions gained popularity among the masses, leading to the establishment of several monasteries and the construction of stupas and temples. The teachings of Buddha and Mahavira also had a significant impact on Indian society, inspiring people to adopt a more ethical and moral way of life.

Development of Art and Architecture

The Post-Mauryan Age saw the emergence of various schools of art, such as the Gandhara, Mathura, and Amravati schools. The Gandhara school of art, which was influenced by Greek and Roman art, is known for its realistic depiction of Buddha and other religious figures. The Mathura school of art is characterized by its use of local materials and its focus on Hindu deities. The Amravati school of art is known for its intricate carvings and its depiction of scenes from Buddha’s life.

The Post-Mauryan Age also saw the development of various architectural styles, such as the rock-cut caves, chaityas, and viharas. The rock-cut caves, such as those at Ajanta and Ellora, are known for their elaborate carvings and paintings. The chaityas and viharas were used as places of worship and meditation by Buddhist monks.

Literature and Language

The Post-Mauryan Age saw the development of several Indian languages, such as Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Pali. Sanskrit became the language of the elite, while Prakrit and Pali were used by the common people. The Post-Mauryan Age also saw the production of several important texts, such as the Arthashastra, the Kamasutra, and the Jataka tales.

Society and Governance

The Post-Mauryan Age saw the emergence of various kingdoms and dynasties, such as the Shakas, Satavahanas, and Kanvas. These kingdoms had their own administrative systems and laws, which were influenced by the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira. The society was divided into various castes, and the caste system became more rigid during this period. The concept of dharma, or duty, also gained prominence during this period, emphasizing the importance of fulfilling one’s social and moral obligations.

Decline of the Post-Mauryan Age and its Impact on Indian History

The Post-Mauryan Age, which followed the Mauryan Empire, was marked by several socio-cultural developments and the rise of new dynasties. However, the period also saw a decline, which had a significant impact on Indian history. Here are some of the factors that led to the decline of the Post-Mauryan Age:

  1. Weak Rulers and Political Instability: The decline of the Mauryan Empire had left a power vacuum, which was filled by new kingdoms and dynasties. However, many of these kingdoms were ruled by weak and ineffective rulers who were unable to maintain order and stability. As a result, there was frequent conflict and political instability, which weakened the social and economic fabric of the society.
    • After the Mauryan Empire, the Sunga dynasty emerged in North India. However, the later Sunga kings were weak and unable to maintain order, which led to their decline. For example, Devabhuti, the last Sunga king, was overthrown by his minister Vasudeva Kanva, who established the Kanva dynasty. The Kanva dynasty was also short-lived and was overthrown by the Satavahanas.
  2. Foreign Invasions: The Post-Mauryan Age saw several foreign invasions, such as those by the Greeks, Shakas, and Kushans. These invasions led to the destruction of many urban centers and disrupted the trade and commerce of the region. The foreign invasions also brought about a cultural and linguistic fusion, as foreign ideas and practices were assimilated into Indian culture.
  3. Economic Decline: The decline of trade and commerce, coupled with the weak rulers and political instability, led to an economic decline in the Post-Mauryan Age. This had a ripple effect on the society, as the people were unable to sustain themselves and their families.
  4. Social and Religious Movements: The Post-Mauryan Age saw the emergence of various social and religious movements, such as the Bhagavatism and the Ajivikas. These movements challenged the existing social and religious norms, which further weakened the societal fabric.

The decline of the Post-Mauryan Age led to a period of instability and uncertainty in Indian history. The rise of new kingdoms, such as the Gupta Empire, brought about a new era of prosperity and cultural flowering. However, the lessons learned from this period played a crucial role in shaping the future of Indian civilization.

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