Post-Mauryan India – Sungas/Satavahanas/Foreign Invasions from Northwest India

Post-Mauryan India - Sungas Satavahanas Foreign Invasions from Northwest India

Post-Mauryan India – Sungas

• With the downfall of the Mauryan Empire, the political disintegration of India set in and in second century BC the sub-continent divided into a number of political regions, each with its own ambition.
• The northwest India slipped out of the control of the Mauryas and a series of foreign invasions affected this region.
• Kalinga declared its independence and in the further south, the Satavahanas established their independent rule.
• The Mauryan rule was confined to the Gangetic valley and it was soon replaced by the Sunga dynasty.
• For the period immediately succeeding the overthrow of the Mauryas, scraps of information are found in texts such as the GargiSamhita, the Mahabhashya of Patanjali, the Divyavadana, the Malavikagnimitra of Kalidasa and the Harshacharita of Bana.


• The founder of the Sunga dynasty was PushyamitraSunga, who was the commander-in-chief under the Mauryas. He assassinated the last Mauryan ruler and usurped the throne.
• The most important challenge to the Sunga rule was to protect north India against the invasions of the Bactrian Greeks from the northwest who advanced up to Pataliputra and occupied it for some time.
• Pushyamitra succeeded in regaining the lost territory.
• Pushyamitra also fought a campaign against Kharavela of Kalinga who invaded north India.

• Pushyamitra was a staunch follower of Brahmanism. He performed two asvamedha sacrifices.
• Buddhist sources refer him as a persecutor of Buddhism, but there is enough evidence to show that Pushyamitrapatronised Buddhist art.
• During his reign the Buddhist monuments at Bharhut and Sanchi were renovated and further improved.
• After the death of Pushyamitra, his son Agnimitra became the ruler.
• The last Sunga ruler was Devabhuti, who was murdered by his minister VasudevaKanva, the founder of the Kanva dynasty.
• The Kanva dynasty ruled for 45 years. After the fall of the Kanvas, the history of Magatha was a blank until the establishment of the Gupta dynasty.
• The rule of the Sungas was important because they defended the Gangetic valley from foreign invasions.
• In the cultural sphere, the Sungas revived Brahmanism and horse sacrifice.
• They also promoted the growth of Vaishnavism and the Sanskrit language.
• It can be assumed that the Sunga rule was a brilliant anticipation of the golden age of the Guptas.


• In the Deccan, the Satavahanas established their independent rule after the decline of the Mauryas and their rule lasted for about 450 years.
• They were also known as the Andhras.
• The Puranas and inscriptions remain important sources for the history of Satavahanas.
• Among the inscriptions, the Nasik and Nanaghad inscriptions throw much light on the reign of Gautamiputra Satakarni.
• The coins issued by the Satavahanas are also helpful in knowing the economic conditions of that period.
• The founder of the Satavahana dynasty was Simuka and was succeeded by Krishna, who extended the kingdom up to Nasik in the west.
• The third king was Sri Satakarni. He conquered western Malwa and Berar. He also performed asvamedha sacrifices.
• The seventeenth king of the Satavahana dynasty was Hala. He reigned for a period of five years. Hala became famous for his book Gathasaptasati, also called Sattasai. It contains 700 verses in Prakrit language.
• The greatest ruler of the Satavahana dynasty was Gautamiputra Satakarni. He ruled for a period of 24 years from 106 to 130 A.D. His achievements were recorded in the Nasik inscription by his mother Gautami Balasri. Gautamiputra Satakarni captured the whole of Deccan and expanded his empire. His victory over Nagapana, the ruler of Malwa was remarkable. He patronized Brahmanism. Yet, he also gave donations to Buddhists.

• Gautamiputra Satakarni was succeeded by his son Vashishtaputra Pulamayi. He extended the Satavahana power up to the mouth of the Krishna river. He issued coins on which the image of ships was inscribed. They reveal the naval power and maritime trade of the Satavahanas.
• The last great ruler of Satavahanas was Yajna Sri Satakarni.


• Administration under the Satavahanas was much simpler than under the Mauryas.
• Inscriptions refer to ministers who were in charge of various functions. Among other things, they served as treasury officers and maintained land records. The exact number of ministers is not known.
• These ministers were appointed directly by the king and the post of a minister does not seem to have been hereditary. They were perhaps paid in money from the revenue collected by the state.
• The state collected taxes both from agriculture and trade.
• An important beginning under the Satavahanas in the first century AD was the donation of revenue of a village to either a Brahmana or the Buddhist sangha, which became much more widespread under the Gupta rulers.
• The importance of land revenue for the king can be judged from the elaborate procedure that was used to record donations of land. These donations were first proclaimed in an assembly or nigama-sabha. It was then written down either on a copper-plate or cloth by an officer or minister and thus, detailed account of these donations were maintained.
• The social structure of the Deccan under the Satavahanas shows many features which are different from those prescribed in the Sanskrit texts such as the Manurmriti.
• Many inscriptions of the Satavahana rulers mention the names of their mothers rather than those of their fathers, such as Gautamiputra Satakarni or Satakarni, son of Gautami. This is not in keeping with the Dharmasastras which state that in the approved forms of marriage, the bride acquires the gotra of her husband and loses that of the father.
• In the inscriptions the Satavahanas refer to themselves as unique Brahmanas who crushed the pride of the Kshatriyas (according to the Brahmanical texts it was only the Kshatriyas who had the right to rule).
• The inscriptions are also useful as they record donations by a cross-section of the population and from this the prosperity of certain sections of the society can be judged.
• Traders and merchants figure prominently as donors, but also important are blacksmiths, gardeners and fishermen.
• The artisans and craftsmen benefited from the increased long-distance trade.
• The artisans mention their occupations with their names and not their castes.
• Buddhist texts of the period prescribe a somewhat different division of society as compared to the Brahmanical texts. Here, the distinction was based on work and craft and in most case people were known by their occupations rather than their castes.
• Another important development of the period was the frequent mention of the yavanas or foreigners as the donors.
• The terms yavana originally denoted an Ionian Greek, but around the Christian era it was used indiscriminately for any foreigner.
• Many of the yavanas adopted Prakrit names and made donations to Buddhist monasteries.
• Women frequently made gifts either on their own or sometimes with their husbands or sons.
• One of the Satavahana queens named Nayanika also performed Vedic sacrifices and made large donations to the Brahmana and Buddhist monks.
• It is clear from various sources that the society was not governed by rules laid down by the Brahmanical texts and Buddhist traditions might have had some sway on society.
• Gradually, the influence and membership of the Buddhist sangha increased.
• The Satavahana kings donated large sums of money and land to the Buddhist monasteries and this added to the wealth of the sangha.
• It is also at this time that references to donations made by Buddhist monks and nuns themselves are found.

Economic Condition

• There was a remarkable progress in the fields of trade and industry during the Satavahana rule. Merchants organized guilds to increase their activities.
• The craft guilds organized by different craftsmen such as potters, weavers and oil pressers also came into existence.
• Silver coins called Karshapanas were used for trade.
• The Satavahana period also witnessed overseas commercial activity.
• Ptolemy mentions many ports in the Deccan.
• The greatest port of the Satavahanas was Kalyani on the west Deccan.
• Gandakasela and Ganjam on the east coast were the other important seaports.

Cultural Contributions

• The Satavahanas patronized Buddhism and Brahmanism and built chaityas and viharas.
• The Satavahanas also made grants of villages and lands to Buddhist monks.
• Vashishtaputra Pulamayi repaired the old Amaravathi stupa.
• Brahmanism was revived by the Satavahanas along with the performance of asvamedha and rajasuya sacrifices.
• The Satavahanas also patronized the Prakrit language and literature. Hala’s Sattasai is an excellent piece of Prakrit literature.

Foreign Invasions from Northwest India


• Bactria and Parthia became independent from the Syrian empire in the middle of the third century B.C. Demetrius, the Greek ruler of Bactria invaded Afghanistan and Punjab and occupied them.
• From Taxila, Demetrius sent two of his commanders, Appolodotus and Menander for further conquests.
• Appolodotus conquered the Sindh and marched up to Ujjain.
• Menander extended his rule up to Mathura and from there he made attempts to capture Pataliputra. But he was stopped by the army of Vasumitra, the grandson of Pushyamitra.
• Menander was also known as Milinda and the capital of his kingdom was Sakala (Sialcot). He evinced much interest in Buddhism and his dialogues with the Buddhist monk Nagasena was compiled in the Pali work, Milindapanho (Questions of Milinda). He also embraced Buddhism.
• A Greek ambassador Heliodorus became a Vaishnavite and erected the Garuda Pillar at Besnagar. The Greek influence in India lasted for more than a century after the death Menander.


• The Sakas or the Scythians attacked Bactria and Parthia and captured them from the Greek rulers.
• Following the footsteps of the Greeks, the Sakas gradually extended their rule over northwestern India.
• There were two different groups of Sakas the Northern Satraps ruling from Taxila and the Western satraps ruling over Maharashtra.
• The founder the Saka rule in India in the first century B.C. was Maues.
• Son and successor of Maueswas Azes I, who was considered to be the founder of the Vikrama era.
• Sakas rulers of Taxila were overthrown by the Parthians.

The Kushanas

• The Kushanas succeeded the Parthians in the extreme north- west and spread themselves in successive stages in the regions of northern India.
• The Kushanas are also referred to as Yueh-chis or Tocharians.
• The Kushanasbelonged to one of the five clans’of the Yueh-chi nomadic tribe living in the vicinity of China.
• The Kushanaswere responsible for ousting the Sakas in Bactria and also the Parthians in the Gandhara region.
• The Kushanas first consolidated their territories beyond the Indian border on the north- west frontier and gradually, their authority in India expanded and came to extend to over the lower Indus basin and most of the Gangetic plain down to Varanasi.
• Like the Sakas and Pahlawas, the Kushanastoo are mentioned in Epic, Puranic and other lilterature.
• The Kushana rule is particularly significant because under them, civilisations of the Mediterranean world, Western Asia, Central Asia, China and India got assimilated.
• The coins, inscriptions and other sources provide evidence about two successive dynasties of the Kushanas.
• The first line was started by KujulaKadphises in 45, who is believed to have united the five tribes of the Yueh-chi and made successful inroads into India, establishing himself in Kabul and Kashmir.
• KujulaKadphises minted different types of coins in copper and one type of his coins has a Roman-style male bust on it. Kujula
• Kadphises was succeeded by VimaKadphises who introduced a new phase of coinage in India.
• The practice of issuing gold coins by Indian rulers regularly started with VimaKadphises who minted different types of gold coins which broadly followed the weight system of Roman gold coins.


• The Kadphises rulers were succeeded by Kanishka.
• The relationship between the first two kings (Kadphises) and Kanishka is shrouded in mystery, but it is for sure that he too was of central Asian origin, although he may not have teen directly related to the first two kings.
• Kanishka is the most popular Kushana ruler, particularly because of his association with Buddhism. The Kushanas reached the zenith of their power under Kanishka.
• The accession of Kanishka to the throne has been dated to 78 AD which is popularly known as the Saka era.
• This period is historically significant for general cultural development in northern India as well as the intermingling of peoples of different geographical regions.
• The first capital of Kanishka was at Purushapura near modern Peshawar, where he erected a monastery’ and a huge stupa. Mathura appears to have been the second capital.
• The successors of Kanishka continued to rule for over a century, but Kushana power gradually declined.
• Some of the rulers used very Indian names such as Vasudeva.
• The Kushanaempire in Afghanistan and in the region west of the Indus was superseded in the mid-third century AD by the Sassanian power which began in Iran.
• Peshwar and Taxila were lost to the Sassanians and the Kushanas were reduced to the position of subordinates of these rulers.

Kanishka’s Conquests

• At the time of his accession his empire included Afghanistan, Gandhara, Sind and Punjab.
• Subsequently Kanishka conquered Magadha and extended his power as far as Pataliputra and Bodh Gaya.
• According to Kalhana, Kanishka invaded Kashmir and occupied it.
• Kanishka coins are found in many places like Mathura, Sravasti, Kausambi and Benares and therefore, he must have conquered the greater part of the Gangetic plain.
• Kanishka also fought against the Chinese and acquired some territories from them.
• During the first expedition Kanishka was defeated by the Chinese general Pancho. Kanishka undertook a second expedition in which he was successful and he scored a victory over Panyang, the son of Pancho.
• Kanishka annexed the territories of Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan into his empire.
• The empire of Kanishka was a vast one extending from Gandhara in the west to Benares in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to Malwa in the south.
• His capital was Purushapura or modern day Peshawar. Mathura was another important city in his empire Kanishka and Buddhism
• Kanishka embraced Buddhism in the early part of his reign.
• However, Kanishka’s coins exhibit the images of not only Buddha but also Greek and Hindu gods. It reflects the Kanishka’s toleration towards other religions.
• In the age of Kanishka the Mahayana Buddhism came into vogue. It is different in many respects from the religion taught by the Buddha and propagated by Asoka. The Buddha came to be worshipped with flowers, garments, perfumes and lamps. Thus image worship and rituals developed in Mahayana Buddhism. Kanishka was also a patron of art and Sanskrit literature.
• Kanishka also sent missionaries to Central Asia and China for the propagation of the new faith. Buddhist chaityas and viharas were built in different places.
• Kanishkapatronised Buddhist scholars like Vasumitra, Asvagosha and Nagarjuna.
• Kanishka also convened the Fourth Buddhist Council to discuss matters relating to Buddhist theology and doctrine. It was held at the Kundalavana monastery near Srinagar in Kashmir under the presidentship of Vasumitra. About 500 monks attended the Council.
• The Council prepared an authoritative commentary on the Tripitakas and the Mahayana doctrine was given final shape.
• Asvagosha was a great philosopher, poet and dramatist. He was the author of Buddhacharita.
• Nagarjuna from south India adorned the court of Kanishka.
• The famous physician of ancient India Charaka was also patronized by Kanishka.

Trade and Urbanisations

• The process of urbanization which began in the pre-Mauryan period (came to be known as the “second urbanisation”) got accelerated in the post-Mauryan period.
• The number of cities increased and these now combined with political and commercial functions.
• There was a greater use of brick, both for residential structures as well as for fortifications and public buildings.
• It is also at this time that imposing religious monuments were built and embellished.
• Similary, trade activities were carried out primarily in essential commodities such as salt, metals, etc. The early trade routes gained more importance.
• There were many reasons for this increase:

– Firstly, agriculture was now generating enough surplus. It had created such social classes which required varieties of items that could be acquired only through trade. Agricultural produce was itself now an item of trade because the majority of people living in cities did not produce their own food.
– Secondly, both Buddhism and Jainism which had a large following by now encouraged the accumulation and reinvestment of wealth and trade was one of the occupations held in high regard. Hence, a close relationship between the traders and the Buddhist sangha and Buddhist monastic establishments located at important points along trade routes is found.
– Thirdly, the expansion of urban centres meant that there was a growing class of qonsumers for subsistence as well as luxury goods.

• Together with these internal factors there was an increased demand from outside for various Indian goods. Two major empires that arose at this time were the Roman Empire in the west and the later Han empire in China.
• Within the Roman empire there was greater demand for products of the east such as spices, aromatic woods, etc.
• Similarly the rulers of the later Han empire adopted an encouraging approach towards merchants and this resulted in an acceleration of contacts between India, Central Asia and China.
• A large number of inscriptions have been found at Buddhist sites all over the country. These inscriptions record donations and gifts made to the Buddhist sangha but at the same time, they also indicate the prosperity of certain professions and occupational groups.
• Traders were organised into guilds; others traded with their own money; while still others were only financiers and provided the money to trade with.
• The terms used for these different type of merchants also varied. A vanik was primarily a general trader, while a sethi was a financier and a sarthavaha was a leader of a caravan which transported good over long distances.
• A good indicator of trade transactions is the coinage system. In the Mauryan period, silver punch-marked coins were in use together with uninscribed cast copper coins. In the post-Mauryan period, the variety, number and types of coins being minted increased rapidly.
• Inscriptions were introduced on coins and the technique of minting coins showed great improvement.
• The Indo-Greek kings in the north- west introduced a splendid series of portrait-coinage-a type that was followed in India for several centuries.
• These coins in silver and copper carried bilingual inscriptions, written on one side in the Greek language and script and on the other in Prakrit and generally in Kharosti script.
• In west India, the coins of the Kshatrapas are important because these show the earliest use of the Saka era which henceforth, provides a firm basis for dating. Another remarkable coin series of the early centuries AD is that of the Kushanas.
• In addition to those in copper, the Kushanas minted a large number of gold coins and these depict a variety of Indian, Greek and Iranian deities.
• This abundance of coin types and coinage systems indicates the extensive use of money.
• Together with the indigenous coins, foreign coins, especially Roman coins also came into the country by way of trade.
• Very few Roman coins have been found in the north, though imitations of these in clay known as ‘bullae’ occur widely at the excavated sites.

External Trade

• Maritime trade started in India during the Mauryan period and the early links flourished and expanded in the early centuries of the Christian era.
• One reasons for this was the demand from the two major empires that arose at the beginning of the Christian era. In the west was the mighty Roman empire while in the east, was the Han empire in China. Information about the period is thus available in many foreign sources.
• One of the works that tells a great deal about early maritime trade is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. This Greek text was written by an anonymous sailor in the first century and contains an account of the ports that he visited during his. travels between the Red Sea and India.
• The two major ports to which trade goods were sent from the centres of north India were those of Barbarikon at the mouth of the Indus and Bharuch at the mouth of the Narmada.
• The Indus connected Barbarikon with Punjab and Gandhara. Bharuch or Barygaza as the Greeks called it was linked to Ujjain, Mathura and the Ganga plains. In the east, Tamluk was an important outlet for coastal trade with Andhra and Tamil coasts.
• The Periplus tells us that the imports in the north included brocades, coral, frankincense, glass vessels, money and some wine.
• The Romans were famous for the technological improvements that they made in the manufacture of glass. As a result, the different varieties of glass objects made by them were highly valued in many countries including India and China.
• Grankincense, a gum-resin produced by a tree indigenous to Arabia. It was used as an incense and also for medicinal purposes.
• So far, very few gold and silver Roman coins have been found in north India, although, as you will read in the next block, a large number of them have been found in peninsular India. This led some scholars to suggest that these imported coins were melted and re-used by the Kushanas and the Kshatrapas to mint their own currency.
• In exchange for these, the exports from India were spices, precious stones like turquoise, lapis lazuli and carnelian and Chinese silk and yarn.
• The reason for Chinese silk traded through India rather than being sent directly was the political situation. The Parthians were powerful rulers along the north- western boundary of the Indian subcontinent. There was constant hostility between them and the Roman Empire and as a result, overland routes between China and the west were disrupted. Many of the products from China were hence traded along the land route to India.
• Information about early contacts between India, central Asia and China is to be found in Chinese histories written at this time.
• It is generally accepted that together with merchants, Buddhism also spread to central Asia and China around the first century first century A.D. A series of Buddhist caves were made along the northern route to central Asia from the first century AD onwards and from the third century AD many Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese.
• Bactria in the Oxtri valley in north Afghanistan was the main centre for international trade with central Asia and China. From this city, a route ran through Kapisa and the Kabul valley to the core region of the Kushanaempire.
• Within the Indian sub-continent, there were two major routes mentioned in the different sources. The uttarapatha or northern route connected the major centres of the north while the Dakshinapatha linked the centres of peninsular India.
• The uttarapatha originated at Pushkalavati or modern Charsada and went via Taxila, Mathura, Kausambi and Varanasi to Pataliputra and from there onwards to Champa and Chandraketugarh. This ancient route was already in existence under the Mauryas and references to it occur in Greek writings.
• From Mathura, another route branched off westward to Sindh and Awes along this route that horses were brought to the north.
• Mathura was also connected to Ujjain and the port of Bharuch at the mouth of the Narmada.
• A third route ran to the river Indus and connected Taxila to Patiala at the mouth of the river.
• The major route followed the channel of the Ganges and there are many references to the transportation of commodities by boat along the river. This major route was linked to several minor routes, one of them going past Vaisali and Sravasti to Nepal.

Successors of Kanishka and end of Kushana Rule

• The successors of Kanishka ruled for another one hundred and fifty years.
• Huvishka was the son of Kanishka and he kept the empire intact.
• Mathura became an important city under his rule. Like Kanishka he was also a patron of Buddhism.
• The last important Kushana ruler was Vasudeva. The Kushanaempire was very much reduced in his rule. Most of his inscriptions are found in and around Mathura. Vasudeva wasworshipper of Siva.
• After Vasudeva, petty Kushan princes ruled for sometime in northwestern India and later the rule declined by the rise of the Gupta empire.