The Indus Valley, Greek Invasion, and Early Empires

The ruins of Mohanjodaro

In the 1920s, archeologists found the remains of stable communities in Harappa and Mohanjodaro. These sites are in Northern India and Pakistan. For about 1000 years, the Indus Valley civilizations grew here, with planned cities, brick houses, and paved streets. There were sophisticated sewage and drainage systems, public baths and grain storage. This civilization used copper, tin, lead, and clay for tools and decorations as well.

People in the Indus Valley were able to domesticate animals such as buffalo, goats, and camels. They even traded with other settlements as far away as the Middle East and maintained a strong economy. The Harappan group had specific professions, with each person providing a certain type of labor for the community.

Archeologists discovered that people of the Indus Valley were also interested in the arts. They found remains of decorative pottery, glazed and fired much as we would do today. There were also many small seals and carvings, made by a well trained artisan class.

It is not clear why these civilizations died out. Some suggestions include a natural disasters, such as heavy floods or droughts. Other researchers think a new group of invaders or settlers overtook the people of the Indus Valley and conquered them.

New Invaders (circa 518 BCE to 320 BCE)

In about 518 BCE, the Persians invaded India. They were led by King Darius I, who conquered the Indus Valley and the area that is now the state of Punjab. Darius I was successful in maintaining power, and his desendants continued to rule the area when he died. Darius I also began to collect a tribute tax, and spread news of India’s many natural resources to Europe.

But in 327 BCE, Alexander the Great overthrew Darius III. Alexander was from Macedonia and had a strong, loyal army that tried to take over most of Northern India. He crossed the Indus and the Beas rivers, but soon found too much resistance. Alexander’s army had to retreat and leave India completely. Like that of Darius I, this conquest also raised European interest in India and opened new land and sea trade routes.

Indian Dynasties and Empires (circa 322 BCE to 184 BCE)

The first emperor of the Maurya dynasty was Chandragupta, who began to expand an existing empire after Alexander’s defeat in 322 BCE. Chandragupta warred with the Macedonian empire, defeating it and adding its territory to his own rule. By 250 BCE, his descendants had conquered most of the Indian subcontinent.

The Maurya empire lasted for about 140 years. During that time, they raised a army, collected taxes, and formed a permanent government. Their economy was mostly agrarian, with large farms supported by slave labor. But they also had industrial jobs, such as the manufacture of weapons and farm tools as well as weaving and other crafts.

The greatest of the Maurya emperors was Ashoka. He was the grandson of Chandragupta and ruled India for about 37 years. Ashoka supressed several rebellions and conquered new territory, but he was upset by the killing he saw during war. After his conquest, he adopted many Buddhist ideas and tried to spread his belief in peace and rebirth to his subjects. Ashoka was able to maintain good relations with the many different groups and traditions within India. When he died, the Mauryan empire began to fall apart. By 184 BCE, it had collapsed completely.

Another Empire Rises (319 CE to 550 CE)
The Gupta era ended a time of foreign invasions and fractured kingdoms. Chandragupta I was able to consolidate hundreds of tiny kingdoms into one empire, starting a dynasty that would rule India for over 200 years.

Samudragupta, the son of Chandragupta I, encouraged the growth of arts and sciences. The Gupta era is often considered the peak of early Indian history for this reason. Samudragupta created universities that taught science, astronomy, and math–drawing students from all over India. Classes used algebra and the modern numerical system. Even at this early point in history, Gupta scientists were able to prove that the earth is round and rotates on its axis. Literature also developed, with long works of poetry and drama written by trained authors. There was experimentation with new styles of painting and carving that can still be found today.

Vikramaditya was the grandson of Chandragupta I. He continued to expand the empire by military conquest. Vikramaditya’s descendants were able to maintain the strength of the Gupta empire and force the Huns back, but by the 6th century CE, these outside invadors took over northern India. The Gupta empire broke apart and divided into small princely states.

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