Magadha Empire


The emergence of Magadha Empire in 4th century BC carried the process of politico- administration evolution to its climax. It was the first empire in Indian subcontinent. It covered an extensive territory beginning from Hindukush Mountain in North-West & to Bengal in East Kashmir Valley in North to Karnataka in South. Magadha was one of the 16 Mahajanpada in 600 BC. It could expand rapidly and could get transformed into an extensive empire while other Mahajanapadas disappeared from scene. This success of Magadha was outcome of number of factors among these factors Magadha favorable Geographical location was most important. The role of Magadha rulers was also quite critical.

Role of Favorable Geographical location in rise of Magadha

The favorable geographical location of Magadha imparted it great economic strength. Magadha agriculture, industries & craft as well as trade & commerce were most developed. Magadha was located in heart of an extensive fertile alluvial plain. A number of Perennial Rivers flowed through Magadha. The water resources were available in plenty.

The climate of Magadha region was also suitable for agriculture. As result of these favorable factors agriculture was brightly developed in Magadha region. Huge amount of agriculture surplus was available with peasants. The Magadha could huge resources through taxes and this strong material foundation paved the way for emergence of powerful empire.

Magadha arts & crafts were also in highly developed stated because of availability of iron mines in Magadha region and huge demand of manufacture good. Magadha trade & commerce was also in developed state because huge internal demand, as well as control over routs of external trade.

Uttarapatha – most important route of mountain trade passed through Magadha region.

Tamralipti the most important part for external trade was also under control of Magadha rulers. The favorable geographical location of Magadha allowed Magadha rulers to tax not only on its own trade & commerce but also trade & commerce of other because imparted land as well as river routes of North Indian trades passed through in control over Tamralipti also helped Magadha rulers to tax on other.

This remarkable economic progress facilitated by favorable geographical location prepared a solid material foundation for emergence of Magadha Empire. Such extensive resource were absent with other contemporary state because of that they could not compete with Magadha. It was this strength of economic that Transformed Magadha imperialism into a invincible force as result of which the process of rise of Magadha could continue unabatedly.

Favorable Geography, Political & Military strength of Magadha

The favorable geographical location of Magadha imparted great political-military strength as well. The Magadha capital enjoyed natural defense. Early capital Rajgraha was surrounded by 5 hills & the later capital Patliputra was surrounded by 3 rivers (Ganga, Sone, Punpun) Patliputra was famously known as “Jaldurga”.

This natural safety enjoyed by Magadha capital allowed Magadha Rulers to concentrate more effectively on aggressive territorial expansion. As result Magadha imperialism was far more effective than other contemporary kingdoms. The local availability of iron mine allows Magadha Rulers to use iron weapons freely. As result of this Magadha army was far stronger when compared with other contemporary state.

Elephants were available only in forest of East India at that time because of this Magadha Rulers could raise a powerful element force. This elephant force was the main difference between armies of Magadha and other state. The enemies used to run away by hearing sound of elephant force.

Timber was also available in plenty in Magadha region. As result of this Magadha ruler erect defensive wall & could use chant during wars & battle on large scale. According to Mayastheus the city of Patliputra surrounded by wooden palisade. The remains of this wooden wall have been found at Bulandi Bagh and Gosai Khanda (Both located near Patna).

Favorable Geographical Location, Social & Cultural strength

Magadha was located outside pale of holy Aryawrata. As result of this the Brahmical ideas such as Varna, Ashram, and Dharma system weren’t (duties & responsibilities) being followed regidily. This socio-cultural liberalism allowed Magadha rulers to recent members of all the 4 members in armed forces.

According to Arthashastra, Brahma, Kshatriya, Vaisya as well as Shudras were recruited in army. Because of this Magadha rulers could raise large army & this military strength allowed Magadha Rulers to pursue the policy of territorial expansion successfully.

Since Magadha region located outside holy Aryawrata Magadha people where pragmatic & materialistic in their outlook. They invested their time & energy in progress of their eco-act rather than coming about other worldly complex philosophy. Because of flexibility of socio-cultural outlook in Magadha region, social stress & strain prevailing in Aryavrata was absent. This social stability also played important role in emergence of powerful Magadha Empire.

Role of Rulers

The Magadha rulers like Bimbisara, Ajatshatru, Shishunag, Mahapadmananda, Chandragupta Maurya, and Ashoka also contributed immensely to success of Magadha imperialism & emergence of extensive Magadha Empire. Bimbisara was founder of Harayanka dynasty. He used policy of matrimonial alliances as well as wars & battle to carry out territorial expansion of Magadha.

Bimbisara married with Lichahhvis, Kosala, Matsya (Jaipur-Viratnagar) & Modra dynasty. He received village Kashi in dowry from Kosala. This village provided revenue of 1 lac Pana / annum. Bimbisara conquered Anga region. As result of which Tamralipti port came under Magadha control.

Ajatshatru fought war against Kosala & Vajji confederacy. Vajji’s defeated by him after 16 long year struggle. Shishunag successful completed conquest of Avanti. The war with Avanti was going on since last 100 years was brought to end successfully.

Mahapadmananda was great conqueror. He exterminated number of republic kingdom located in central India and East India. Kalinga was conquered by him as informed by Hatim Gumpha (cave) inscription of King Kharvela. He extended the boundaries of Magadha up to Punjab in west.

These military conquests of Mahapadmananda transformed Magadha into empire. Chandragupta Maurya extended frontier of Magadha to up to Hindu Kush Mountain & Makran coast in North West Kashmir valley in North & Karnataka in South. This process of rise of Magadha carried to its climax by Ashoka through conquest of Kallinga & by adopting policy of Dhammaghosha, Ashoka consolidated Magadha Empire successfully. As result of which prestige of Magadha reached to Kingdoms located far away from India.

Magadha Dynasties

Dynasties: Brihadratha Dynasty, Pradyota Dynasty, Śiśunāga Dynasty (c. 684-424 B.C.E.), Nanda Dynasty, Maurya Dynasty, Sunga Dynasty, Kanva Dynasty, Gupta Dynasty. Among the sixteen Mahajanapadas, Magadha rose to prominence under a number of dynasties that peaked with the reign of Asoka Maurya, one of India’s most legendary and famous emperors.

Brihadratha Dynasty: According to the Puranas, the Brihadratha Dynasty, the sixth in line from Emperor Kuru of the Bharata dynasty through his eldest son established the Magadha Empire. Emperor Brihadratha stood as the first prominent Emperor of the Magadha branch of Bharathas.

Pradyota Dynasty: The Pradyotas, who according to the Vayu Purana ruled for 138 years, succeeded the Brihadrathas. One of the Pradyota traditions was for the prince to kill his father to become king. During that time, high crimes reportedly took place in Magadha. The people rose up and elected Shishunag to become the new king, which destroyed the power of the Pradyotas and created the Shishunag dynasty.

Haryanka Dynasty: The Haryanka dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 684 BC, whose capital was Rajagriha, later Pataliputra. This dynasty was succeeded by the Shishunaga dynasty.

The Mahajanapadas of Anga, Kashi, Kosala, Chedi, Vatsa, Matsya, Shursen, Ashmak, Avanti, Gandhar and Magadha were ruled by kings or monarchs. The kings in these states had the supreme authority. The Mahajanapadas of Vrijji, Malla, Kuru, Panchal and Kamboj were republican states and so were other smaller states like Lichhavi, Shakya, Koliya, Bhagga, Moriya. These republican states had a ‘Gana-parishad’ or an Assembly of senior and responsible citizens. This, Gana-parishad had the supreme authority in the state. All the administrative decisions were taken by this Parishad. Of all these states, Kosala, Vatsa, Avanti and Magadha were the most important ones.


Bimbisara (558-491 B.C.), the greatest patron of Gautama Buddha, was one of the early kings of the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha. He extended his kingdom up to Anga in the East and this expansion is considered to have laid the foundation for the vast expansion of the Maurya Empire in the future. He was only fifteen when he became the king and he ruled for fifty-two years.

His wife was a princess of Kosala, who brought Bimbisara the village of Kashi as dowry and also bore him his son Ajathshatru. Among his other wives there were Khema, Silava, Jayasena and Chellana. The latter was a Lichchavi princess from Vaishali. It is evident that Bimbisara used marriage alliances to strengthen his position. He had another son, Vimala Kondanna, by the famous courtesan, Ambapali.

In the Pabbaja Sutta of the Sutta Nipatta Atthakatha it is stated that he saw Goutam Budhha for the first time through his palace window, under the Pandava Pabbata. Bimbisara invited him to visit his court but Budhha refused as he was in search for Enlightenment. The king wished him luck and requested him to visit Rajgir as soon as he would receive Enlightenment. Later Budhha visited Rajgir to fulfill the promise he made to Bimbisara.

Bimbisara became a serious disciple of Goutam Budhha and continued to patronized Budhhism for the rest of his life.


He was the son of Bimbisara. It is believed that he had killed his father to seize the throne. Ajatshatru was a great king, the first Emperor of Northern India who had defeated most of his neighboring states. He is also credited for innovation in military technology in warfare against the Licchavis. Although he was harsh towards his father, he is said to be humble towards his subjects (citizens). He was a great warrior as well as a notable scholar.

But the most important thing is that Ajatshatru has been provided a special place in all important religions of Ancient India, be it Hinduism or Buddhism or Jainism. An extremely rare position, which no king or emperor enjoyed afterwards. In the Buddhist texts, he is shown as a Buddhist; in Jain texts, he seems to be a Jain and in the Brihadaranyak Upnishad, he is portrayed as a Vedic follower. Ajatshatru was a great scholar and a secular king.


King Udayin was a ruler of the Haryanka dynasty who ruled over Magadha from 460 BCE to 440 BCE. He was the son of Ajatashatru and grandson of King Bimbisara. Udayin laid the foundation of the city of Pataliputra at the confluence of the two rivers, the Son and the Ganges. He shifted his capital from Rajgriha to Patliputra because of the latter’s central location in Magadha empire.

Shishunag Dynasty

According to tradition, the Shishunag dynasty founded the Magadha Empire in 684 B.C.E., with its capital in Rajagriha, later Patliputra, near the present day Patna. That dynasty lasted till 424 B.C.E., when the Nanda dynasty overthrew it. That period saw the development of two of India’s major religions that started from Magadha. Gautama Buddha in the sixth or fifth century B.C.E. founded Buddhism, which later spread to East Asia and South-East Asia, while Mahavira revived and propagated the ancient sramanic religion of Jainism.


Shishunaga founded his dynasty in 413 BCE with its capital in Rajgir and later Patliputra. Buddhist sources indicate that he had a secondary capital at Vaishali, formerly the capital of Vajji, until it was conquered by Magadha. The Shishunaga dynasty ruled one of the largest empires in the Indian subcontinent. Most important achievement of Shishunaga was destruction of the Pradyota dynasty of Avanti. This brought to an end the hundred year old rivalry between Magadha and Avanti .From then Avanti became a part of Magadha rule


According to the Puranas, Shishunaga was succeeded by his son Kalashoka and according to the Sinhala chronicles by his son Kalashoka. On the basis of the evidence of the Ashokavadana, Hermann Jacobi, Wilhelm Geiger and Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar concluded that both are the same. During Shishunaga’s reign, he was the governor of Varanasi. The two most significant events of his reign are the Second Buddhist council at Vaishali in 383 BC and the final transfer of the capital to Pataliputra. According to the Harshacharita, he was killed by a dagger thrust into his throat in the vicinity of his capital. According to Buddhist tradition, he had nine or ten sons, who were ousted by Ugrasena Nanda.

Nanda Dynasty

The Nanda dynasty was established by an illegitimate son of the king Mahanandin of the previous Shishunag dynasty. Mahapadma Nanda died at the age of 88, ruling the bulk of this 100-year dynasty. The Nandas were followed by the Maurya dynasty.

Maurya Dynasty

In 321 B.C.E., exiled general Chandragupta Maurya founded the Maurya dynasty after overthrowing the reigning Nanda king Dhana Nanda to establish the Maurya Empire. During that time, most of the subcontinent united under a single government for the first time. Capitalizing on the destabilization of northern India by the Persian and Greek incursions, the Mauryan Empire under Chandragupta not only conquered most of the Indian subcontinent, but also pushed its boundaries into Persia and Central Asia, conquering the Gandhara region. Chandragupta was succeeded by his son Bindusara, who expanded the kingdom over most of present day India, barring the extreme south and east.

Only present day Tamil Nadu and Kerala (a Tamil kingdom then) fell outside the rule of the Mauryans. References exist in one of the oldest Tamil Sangam literature, Purananuru that a unified Tamil army under the leadership of Ilanchetchenni, a Chola King drove out a Mauryan army. According to one of his inscriptions, King Kharavela, a Kallinga ruler, defeated that unified Tamil force. His son, Ashoka the Great, who initially sought to expand the kingdom, inherited the kingdom.

In the aftermath of the carnage caused in the invasion of Kalinga, he renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of non-violence or ahimsa after converting to Buddhism. The Edicts of Ashoka constitute the oldest preserved historical documents of India, and from Ashoka’s time, approximate dating of dynasties became possible. The Mauryan dynasty under Ashoka spread Buddhist ideals across the whole of East Asia and South-East Asia, fundamentally altering the history and development of Asia as a whole. Ashoka the Great has been described as one of the greatest rulers the world has seen.

Sunga Dynasty

The Sunga dynasty was established in 185 B.C.E. about fifty years after Asoka’s death. The commander-in-chief of the Mauryan armed forces, Pushymitra Sunga, assassinated king Brihadratha, the last of the Mauryan rulers, while he took the Guard of Honor of his forces. Pushymitra Sunga then ascended the throne.

Kanva Dynasty

The Kanva dynasty replaced the Sunga dynasty, and ruled in the eastern part of India from 71 B.C.E. to 26 B.C.E. Vasudeva of the Kanva dynasty overthrew the last ruler of the Sunga dynasty in 75 B.C.E. The Kanva ruler allowed the kings of the Sunga dynasty to continue to rule in obscurity in a corner of their former dominions. Four Kanva rulers ruled Magadha. In 30 B.C.E., the southern power swept away both the Kanvas and Sungas absorbing the province of Eastern Malwa. Following the collapse of the Kanva dynasty, the Satavahana dynasty of the Andhra kingdom replaced the Magadhan kingdom as the most powerful Indian state.

Gupta Dynasty

The Gupta dynasty, ruling from 240 to 550 C.E., had been one of the largest political and military empires in ancient India. Most historians refer to the Gupta age as the Classical age of India. The time of the Gupta Empire proved an Indian “Golden Age” in science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy.

They had their capital at Patliputra. The Gupta and Mauryan administrative structure differed. In the Mauryan administration power centralized while in the Gupta administration, power decentralized. The king occupied a powerful and important position and often took titles to assert his supremacy. A council of ministers and some officials helped him. The empire divided into provinces, with the provinces further divided into districts. Villages represented the smallest units. The kingdom covered Gujarat, North-east India, south-eastern Pakistan, Orissa, northern Madhya Pradesh, and eastern India.

Art and architecture flourished during the Gupta age. People, mostly Vaishnavas, built temples devoted to Shiva and Vishnu during that period. Early temples had a large room where the statue of the god stood. Today those exist in Deogarh in Jhansi. Temples were mostly made of brick or stone. The doorways were very decorative. Wall murals flourished during that age. These can be seen in Ajanta caves which are about 100 kilometers from Aurangabad. Those murals depict the life of Buddha. Brahmins performed Yajna. All forms of worship were carried out in Sanskrit. Astronomy and mathematics made rapid strides, led by Aryabhatta and Varahamihira. Aryabhatta stated that the earth moved round the sun and rotated on its own Axis.

The Iron Pillar near Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi provides proof. Ayurveda was known to the people of Gupta age. Prosperity and contentment had been the order of the day. Most people lived in villages and led a simple life. Rest houses and hospitals were set up. Laws were simple and punishments lenient. A serious flaw existed. They were made to live outside the city, even their shadows considered polluting. Kalidasa’s works (that is, Raghuvamsa, Meghdoot, Malavikagnimitram, and Abhinjnana Shakuntalam), works of Fa-hein, the Chinese Buddhist scholar, Allahabad pillar inscription called Prayag Prashasti, and books by Harisena constitute The sources for knowledge during that era.