Ancient Indian Empires

From 321 BCE, a series of great empires arose in the Indian subcontinent (modern-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). The era also saw the rise of a new world religion, Buddhism, promoted by Mauryan emperors. The religion continued to thrive under the later Guptas, though they were Hindus. The Gupta period is considered to be India’s Classical Age, when the arts and sciences flourished.

Maurya Empire (321 BCE)

Inspired by Alexander the Great’s invasion of the Indian subcontinent, Chandragupta Maurya conquers the Nanda Empire of northern India. He establishes the Maurya Empire, whose capital is Pataliputra.

Elephant exchange (305-303 BCE)

Chandragupta defeats an invading Macedonian army, led by King Seleucus. In a peace treaty, Seleucus gives Chandragupta the Punjab (in modern-day northern India and Pakistan) in exchange for 500 war elephants.

Mauryan expansion (297-273 BCE)

Bindusara, the second Mauryan king, expands the empire into southern India. He is also known as Amitraghata, which means "destroyer of enemies". Bindusara maintains good diplomatic relations with the Greeks and enjoys the sweet wine and figs they bring.

Ashoka the Great (268 BCE)

Following Bindusara’s death, civil war breaks out. The victor is Ashoka the Great. He converts to Buddhism and promotes the religion by sending missionary monks to Sri Lanka and Central Asia and building many stupas (mounds holding relics of the Buddha and other holy leaders).

Peace pillars (260 BCE)

After conquering Kalinga in eastern India, Ashoka decides to stop waging war. He sets up pillars across the empire, topped by sculptures of lions, elephants, and bulls. The pillars are inscribed with apologies for his previous actions. He also warns those who will rule after him not to conquer new territory.

Shunga Empire (185 BCE)

Brihadratha, the last Mauryan king, is assassinated by Pushyamitra Shunga, the chief of his guard. Shunga founds an empire in his own name that covers the central area of the Maurya Empire.

Kushan Empire (30 CE)

The Kushans, a nomadic people from Central Asia, conquer northwest India and modern-day Afghanistan. They follow a new form of Buddhism called Mahayana (meaning "great vehicle"), which spreads to Central and East Asia.

Buddha statues (75 CE)

Art flourishes under the Kushans. Inspired by Greek art, sculptors in Gandhara make statues of the Buddha, who in previous times had been represented only by symbols such as the dharma wheel.

Southern trade (103-130 CE)

The Satavahana Dynasty reaches its height under Gautamiputra Satakarni. It controls the Deccan plateau of southern India and trades by sea with the Roman Empire, exchanging spices and exotic animals for Roman gold.

Gupta Empire (320 CE)

Chandra Gupta I conquers the Ganges Valley in northern India, founding the Gupta Empire. The Guptas are Hindus who build the first stone temples to Hindu gods, such as Vishnu, Shiva, and the elephant-headed Ganesha.

Gupta expansion (330-380 CE)

Samudra Gupta expands the empire, conquering more than 20 kingdoms. The defeated kings are allowed to continue ruling, but must send tribute to Gupta. On his inscriptions, he boasts that he is "invincible".

Classical Age (380-415 CE)

The Gupta Empire is at its peak under Chandra Gupta II, a patron of art, literature, and science. It is thought that Kalidasa, the greatest poet and playwright in the Sanskrit language, may have been one of the court poets.

Math and astronomy (499 CE)

Aryabhata, the mathematician-astronomer, writes the Aryabhatiya, the earliest-surviving Indian book about mathematics. He correctly argues that Earth is a rotating sphere, and that the Moon and planets shine because of reflected sunlight.