Kings, Farmers and Towns (Early States and Economies)
Developments between 1900 BCE and 600BCE
- During the period between 1900 BCE and 600BCE the Rigveda was composed by people living along the Indus and its tributaries.
- During this period 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.
- During this period 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.
Sources to understand early Indian history(600 BCE to 600 BCE)
- Historians attempt to understand early Indian history (600 BCE to 600 BCE) by drawing on a range of sources – inscriptions, texts, coins and visual material.
- These include fine pottery bowls and dishes, with a glossy finish, known as Northern Black Polished Ware, probably used by rich people, and ornaments, tools, weapons, vessels, figurines, made of a wide range of materials – gold, silver, copper, bronze, ivory, glass, shell and terracotta.
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.
- It is an era associated with the growing use of iron.
- It is an era associated with the development of coinage.
- It is witnessed the growth of diverse systems of thought (Religions) including Buddhism and Jainism.
- It is also associated with emergence of Sixteen Mahajanapadas.
What were the important Mahajanapadas?
Vajji, Magadha, Koshala, Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti were amongst the most important mahajanapadas.
Explain the main features of sixteen mahajanapadas
- While most mahajanapadas were ruled by kings some were oligarchies which were known as ganas or sanghas, where power was shared by a number of men, often collectively called rajas.
- Each mahajanapada had a capital city, which was often fortified.
- Each mahajanapada had a well maintained standing army and regular bureaucracies for administration.
- Dharmasutras, written by Brahmans laid down norms for rulers. Rulers were ideally expected to be Kshatriyas.
- Rulers were advised to collect taxes and tribute from cultivators, traders and artisans. They were allowed to raid on neighbouring states which were recognised as a legitimate means of acquiring wealth.
How did Magadha become the most powerful mahajanapada?OR (What are the different explanations offered by early writers and present-day historians for the growth of Magadhan power?)
- Magadha was a region where agriculture was especially productive.
- In Magadha iron mines were accessible and provided resources for tools and weapons.
- Elephants, an important component of the army, were found in forests in the region.
- The Ganga and its tributaries provided a means of cheap and convenient communication.
- Buddhist and Jaina writers who wrote about Magadha attributed its power to the policies of individuals.
- The ambitious kings of whom Bimbisara, Ajatasattu and Mahapadma Nanda are the best known, and their ministers, who helped implement their policies.
Sources to understand Mauryan Empire
- Historians have used a variety of sources to reconstruct the history of the Mauryan Empire. These include archaeological finds, especially sculpture, buildings, monasteries etc
- Contemporary works, such as the account of Megasthenes- (a Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya), called Indica , 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.
- The inscriptions of Asoka (c. 272/268-231BCE) on rocks and pillars are often regarded as amongst the most valuable sources.
What was the extend of 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).
Explain Administration of Maurian 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.
- It is likely that administrative control was strongest in areas around the capital and the provincial centres. These centres were carefully chosen, both Taxila and Ujjayini being situated on important long-distance trade routes.
- Communication along both land and riverine routes was vital for the existence of the empire. Journeys from the centre to the provinces could have taken and arranging for provisions as well as protection for those who were on the move by the army.
- Megasthenes mentions a committee with six subcommittees for coordinating military activity. Of these, one subcommittee looked after the navy, the second managed transport and provisions, the third was responsible for foot-soldiers, the fourth for horses, the fifth for chariots and the sixth for elephants
- Asoka also tried to hold his empire together by propagating dhamma, the principles which were simple and virtually universally applicable. This would ensure the well-being of people in this world and the next. Special officers, known as the dhamma mahamatta, were appointed to spread the message of dhamma.
- Dhamma Policy included 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.
How important was the Mauriyan Empire? (OR) (The emergence of the Mauryan Empire was regarded as a major landmark in early Indian history-Why?)
- When historians began reconstructing early Indian history in the nineteenth century, the emergence of the Mauryan Empire was regarded as a major landmark. Mauryan Empire ruled India for about 150 years. It extended control as far northwest as Afghanistan and Baluchistan and in the south up to Andhra Pradesh.
- India was then under colonial rule, and was part of the British Empire. Nineteenth and early twentieth century Indian historians found the emergence of the Mauryan Empire in early India was both challenging and exciting.
- Some of the archaeological finds associated with the Mauryas, including stone sculpture, were considered to be examples of the spectacular art typical of empires.
- Many of these historians found the message on Asokan inscriptions very different from that of most other rulers, suggesting that Asoka was more powerful, industrious and humble than later rulers who adopted grandiose titles.
- So the nationalist leaders in the twentieth century regarded Asoka as an inspiring figure.
New Notions of Kingship in Early Indian History.
- The new kingdoms that emerged in the south, including the chiefdoms of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas in Tamilakam proved to be stable and prosperous under the control of chiefs, who performed special rituals, leadership in warfare, and arbitrating disputes.
- Many chiefs and kings, including the Satavahanas who ruled over parts of western and central India and the Shakas, a people of Central Asian origin who established kingdoms in the north-western and western parts of the subcontinent claimed social status in a variety of ways such as religious rituals and marriage alliances.
- The Kushanas who ruled over a vast kingdom extending from Central Asia to northwest India. Colossal statues of Kushana rulers have been found installed in a shrine at Mat near Mathura. Some historians feel this indicates that the Kushanas considered themselves godlike. Many Kushana rulers also adopted the title devaputra, or “son of god”.
- Rulers of the Gupta Empire depended on samantas, men who maintained land and army and they offered homage and provided military support to rulers.
- Gupta encouraged poets to compose poems in praise of them. While historians often attempt to draw factual information from such compositions, they found that rulers were compared as equal to Gods.In the Allahabad Pillar inscription ( composed in Sanskrit by Harishena, the court poet of Samudragupta) Samudragupta was compared with Gods.
Changing Countryside or condition of villages in the Early Historic period
1. Popular perceptions of kings
a) Historians have tried to reconstruct life in the country side with the help of the Jatakas and the Panchatantra. Many of these stories probably originated as popular oral tales that were later committed to writing. One story known as the Gandatindu Jataka describes the plight of the subjects of a wicked king.
b) When the king went in disguise to find out what his subjects thought about him, each one of them cursed him for their miseries, complaining that they were attacked by robbers at night and by tax collectors during the day. To escape from this situation, people abandoned their village and went to live in the forest.
c) As this story indicates the relationship between a king and his subjects, especially the rural population, could often be strained – kings frequently tried to fill their coffers by demanding high taxes, and peasants particularly found such demands oppressive.
2. Strategies for increasing agricultural production
a) One such strategy to increase agricultural production was the shift to plough agriculture, which spread in fertile alluvial river valleys such as those of the Ganga and the Kaveri from c. sixth century BCE.
b) The iron-tipped ploughshare was used to turn the alluvial soil in areas which had high rainfall.
c) In some parts of the Ganga valley, production of paddy was dramatically increased by the introduction of transplantation, although this meant back-breaking work for the producer.
d) Areas which were semi-arid, such as parts of Punjab and Rajasthan and those living in hilly tracts in the northeastern and central parts of the subcontinent practiced hoe agriculture, which was much better suited to the terrain.
e) Another strategy adopted to increase agricultural production was the use of irrigation, through wells and tanks, and less commonly, canals, which were constructed by kings and communities.
3. Differences in rural society
a) There was a growing differentiation amongst people engaged in agriculture were based on differential access to land, labour and some of the new technologies.
b) In the country side of Northern India people were divided into three groups - landless agricultural labourers, small peasants, as well as large landholders.
c) The term gahapati was often used in Pali texts to designate the second and third categories.
d) Early Sangam texts also mention different categories of people engaged in agriculture were based on differential access to land, labour and some of the new technologies.
e) In south India people who were divided into three groups– large landowners or vellalar, ploughmen or uzhavar and slaves or adimai.
4. Land grants and new rural elites
- The land grants were made to religious institutions, Brahmanas, samantas and landless peasants.
- Prabhavati Gupta was the daughter of Chandragupta II, one of the most important rulers in early Indian history,According to Sanskrit legal texts, women were not supposed to have independent access to resources such as land.
- However, the inscription indicates that Prabhavati had access to land, which she then granted. This may have been because she was a queen and her situation was therefore exceptional.
- There were regional variations in the sizes of land donated – ranging from small plots to vast stretches of uncultivated land to donees (the recipients of the grant).
- Some Historians feel that land grants were part of a strategy adopted by ruling lineages to extend agriculture to new areas. Others suggest that when kings were losing control over their samantas, they tried to win allies by donating lands to people.
Towns and Trade in early Historic period
1. New cities
- Many urban centres emerged in several parts of the subcontinent from c. sixth century BCE. As we have seen, many of these were capitals of mahajanapadas.
- Virtually many major towns were located along routes of trade and communication.
- Some of the cities were located on riverine routes, others were along land routes and yet others were near the coast.
- Many cities like Mathura were bustling centres of commercial, cultural and political activities.
2. Urban populations
- Kings and ruling elites lived in fortified cities. People who lived in towns were washing folk, weavers, scribes, carpenters, potters, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, officials, religious teachers, merchants etc.
- Inscriptions mention about guilds or shrenis, organisations of craft producers and merchants. These guilds probably procured raw materials, regulated production, and marketed the finished products.
2. Trade in the subcontinent and beyond
- From the sixth century BCE, land and riverine routes extended in various directions which connected all the parts of India.
- Rulers often attempted to control these routes, possibly by offering protection for a price (by collecting tax). Those who used these routes included peddlers who probably travelled on foot and merchants who travelled with caravans of bullock carts and pack-animals.
- Sea routes connected across the Arabian Sea to Central Asia, North Africa, West Asia and beyond. Sea routes also connected Southeast Asia and China through the Bay of Bengal.
- Also, there were seafarers, whose ventures were risky but highly profitable. Successful merchants of south India, designated as masattuvan in Tamil and setthis and satthavahas in Prakrit, could become enormously rich(some times more richer than kings)
- A wide range of goods were carried from one place to another – salt, grain, cloth, metal ores, finished products, stone, timber, medicinal plants, spices, especially pepper, etc.
4. Coins and kings
- Exchanges were facilitated by the introduction of coinage. Punch-marked coins made of silver and copper (c. sixth century BCE onwards) were amongst the earliest to be minted and used by many dynasties including the Mauryas.
- The first coins to bear the names and images of rulers were issued by the Indo-Greeks, who established control over the north-western part of the subcontinent c. second century BCE.
- The first gold coins were issued in the first century CE by the Kushanas. These were virtually identical in weight with those issued by Roman emperors and the Parthian rulers of Iran.
- Coins were also issued by tribal republics of Punjab and Haryana called the Yaudheyas. Archaeologists have unearthed several thousand copper coins issued by the Yaudheyas.
- Some of the most spectacular gold coins were issued by the Gupta rulers. The earliest coins issued by Guptas were remarkable for their purity. These coins facilitated long-distance transactions from which kings also benefited.
From c. sixth century CE onwards, finds of gold coins taper off. Does this indicate that there was some kind of an economic crisis?
- Historians are divided into two groups on this issue. Some suggest that with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire long-distance trade between India and Rome declined, and this affected the prosperity of India and trading communities.
- Others argue that new towns and networks of trade started emerging around this time with in India.
- Some scholars point out that though finds of coins of were few but coins continue to be mentioned in inscriptions and texts.
- Some historians suggest that people might have recycled the old coins for other purposes.
How were Brahmi and Kharosthi Inscriptions Deciphered?
- 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. This gave a new direction to investigations into early Indian political history.
- From the late eighteenth century, European scholars aided by Indian pundits worked backwards from contemporary Bengali and Devanagari manuscripts, comparing their letters with older specimens. James Princep was able to decipher Asokan Brahmi in 1838.
- Kharosthi, the script used in inscriptions and coins in the northwestern part of India by Indo-Greek kings. Indo-Greek coins contain the names of kings written in Greek and Kharosthi scripts. European scholars who could read the Greek script compared the letters. Prinsep identified the language of the Kharosthi inscriptions as Prakrit and it became possible to read longer inscriptions.
- James Princep found that Brahmi script is older form of Devanagari script. James Princep matched the inscriptions in terms of content, style, language and paleography.
- He also discovered that Asoka is the name of the ruler and devanampiya and piyadassi are titles used for Asoka in many inscriptions. Epigraphists and historians studied Asokan inscriptions more closely. They noted Asoka, devanampiya and piyadassi are different names of the same ruler.
The Limitations of Inscriptional Evidence OR problems faced by Epigraphists
- There are technical limitations in studying the Inscriptions. In some inscriptions letters are very faintly engraved.
- Some inscriptions are damaged and in some inscriptions letters are missing. So reconstructions are uncertain.
- Besides, it is not always easy to be sure about the exact meaning of the words used in inscriptions, some of which may be specific to a particular place or time. This has to be done carefully, to ensure that the intended meaning of the author is not changed.
- Several thousand inscriptions were made but only some hundreds have been discovered in which all are not deciphered, published and translated.
- There is another more fundamental problem. Politically and economically significant matters are recorded in inscriptions but routine agricultural practices and the joys and sorrows of daily existence are not found in inscriptions.
- Historians and Epigraphists have to constantly assess statements made in inscriptions to judge whether they are true, plausible or exaggerations.
Discuss the evidence of craft production in Early Historic cities. In what ways is this different from the evidence from Harappan cities?(Text book question)
a. In Harappa almost all the cities were abandoned so that we have discovered enough evidences to understand craft production but it is difficult to conduct extensive excavations at most sites of Early Historic cities because people live in these areas even today (unlike the Harappan cities)
b. A wide range of artefacts have been recovered from the people of early historic cities such as fine pottery bowls and dishes, with a glossy finish, known as Northern Black Polished Ware, ornaments, tools, weapons, vessels, figurines, made of a wide range of materials – gold, silver, copper, bronze, ivory, glass, shell and terracotta tostudy craft production in Early Historic cities
- Mention the developments that took place between the end of the Harappan civilization and 600 BCE in India.
- Mention the sources to understand the history of early historic period (600BCE to 600 CE)
- Explain any five features of Mahajanapadas.
- Explain any five factors responsible for the growth of Maghada into a most powerful Mahajanapada.
- Explain the sources available to understand Mauryas.
- Explain the message of dHAMMA inscribed in the Mauryan (Asokhan) inscriptions.
- Explain the five features of Mauryan administration.
- Why was Mauryan Empire regarded as a major land mark in Indian history?
- Explain the new notions of kingship developed in the post Mauryan period in India.
- How did Historians reconstruct the lives of ordinary people?
- What were the strategies followed to increase agriculture production?
- How do we understand the differences prevailed in rural society of India from 600BCE to 600 CE?
- How do we understand the changing county side of India from 600 BCE to 600CE?
- How do we understand the development of towns and trade of India from 600 BCE to 600CE?
- How were inscriptions deciphered in India by James Princep?
- What are the limitations of inscriptional evidences? (OR) What are the problems faced by Epigraphists?
- Describe the salient features of mahajanapadas.
- How do historians reconstruct the lives of ordinary people?
- List some of the problems faced by epigraphists.
- Discuss the main features of Mauryan administration. Which of these elements are evident in the Asokan inscriptions that you have studied?
- This is a statement made by one of the best-known epigraphists of the twentieth century, D.C. Sircar,“There is no aspect of life, culture and activities of the Indians that is not reflected in inscriptions.” Discuss.
- Discuss the notions of kingship that developed in the post-Mauryan period.
- To what extent were agricultural practices transformed in the period under consideration?