Study Notes on the Earliest Cities

By Neha Joshi|Updated : April 1st, 2020

New cities and kingdoms

Many innovations in different parts of the Indian subcontinent were formed along the Indus and its tributaries in the long period of 1500 following the end of Harappan Civilization:-Rigveda was established along the Indus and its tributaries.

  • In several parts of the subcontinent, agricultural settlements emerged.
  • A new method of eliminating the dead like making megaliths.
  • New cities and kingdoms started growing by 600 BCE.
  • 600 BCE was a significant turning point in the early history of India.
  • Growth of 17 Mahajanapadas. Kings ruled many of them.
  • Those known as ganas or sanghas were oligarchies.

The emergence of the Mauryan Empire:

  • The Magadha became the most potent Mahajanapada between 600 BCE and 400 BCE.
  • Under the leadership of founder Chandragupta Maurya, the empire extended control over Afghanistan and Baluchistan.
  • Kalinga was conquered by his grandson Ashoka, the most famous ruler.

Archaeological finds, particularly sculpture, Ashoka's inscriptions, literary sources such as Indica account, are some of the references to reconstruct the history of the Mauryan Empire.

New Notions of Kingship

  • By C 200 BCE, in several parts of the subcontinent, new chiefdoms and kingdoms emerged.
  • They are known from Sangam's text, Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas in Tamilakam.
  • Most of these states influenced long-distance trade networks, including Satavahanas and Shakas.
  • Kushanas (1st Century BCE) ruled over a vast kingdom from Central Asia to northwest India.

Reconstruction of Guptas History:

  • A history was reconstructed from inscriptions, coins, and sculptures that convey a sense of kingship notions.
  • The Guptas History (4th century CE) was reconstructed from literature, coins, and inscriptions, including Prashastis.

Rise of the kingdom: Agriculture and Trade:

  • Strategies to increase the use of ploughs with iron ploughshares in agricultural production, implementation of transplantation and use of irrigation by wells, dams, less common canals.
  • Land grants to religious institutions or Brahmanas, extending farming to new areas or winning allies through land grants.
  • Urban centers such as Pataliputra, Ujjayani, Puhar, Mathura etc. have arisen.
  • Different types of people used to live in the cities, including washing women, weavers, scribes, carpenters, potters, religious teachers, traders, rulers.
  • In the guild or shrines, artisans and traders organised themselves.
  • Trade with East and North Africa, West Asia, South East Asia, China, as well as the subcontinent.
  • India used to export medicinal plants, spices, delicate pearls, ivory, silk cloth.

The coinage was introduced to promote transactions. Silver and copper punched coins were among the first to be minted and used. The Kushanas issued the first gold coins.

Prinsep and Piyadassi:

In the 1830s, two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and coins were deciphered by James Prinsep, an officer in the East India Company mint, Brahmi and Kharosthi. He found that most of these referred to a king called Piyadassi, which means "pleasant to behold."

Some inscriptions also referred to the king as Asoka, one of Buddhist texts ' most famous rulers.

The Earliest States:

The sixteen mahajanapadas: the sixth century BCE is an era associated with early states, cities, increasing iron use, coinage development, etc.

Sixteen states known as mahajanapadas are mentioned in early Buddhist and Jaina texts, among other things. Although the lists differ, there are often names as discussed below:

  1. Vajji
  2. Magadha
  3. Koshala
  4. Kuru
  5. Panchala
  6. Gandhara
  7. Avanti.

These were obviously among the essential mahajanapadas.

While kings ruled most mahajanapadas, some were oligarchies, known as ganas or sanghas, where several men shared power, often collectively called rajas.

  • Each mahajanapada had a fortified capital city.
  • From here, Brahmanas started to write Sanskrit texts known as the Dharmasutras in the sixth century BCE. 
  • These set standards for rulers (as well as other categories of society), who were ideally expected to be Kshatriyas.
  • Some states have acquired standing armies and regular bureaucracies. Others were still relying on the militia, recruited from the peasantry.

First among the sixteen: Magadha

  • Magadha (now Bihar) became the most potent mahajanapada between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.
  • It was a region that was particularly productive in agriculture.
  • Also, it was too rich in natural resources and could be procured from the region's forest spreads from animals like elephants, which was an essential part of the army.
  • Ganga and its tributaries provided a means of communication that was both cheap and convenient.
  • Magadha attributed his power to individual policies: ruthlessly ambitious kings, the best known of whom are
    1. Bimbisara
    2. Ajatasattu
    3. Mahapadma Nanda, and their ministers, who helped to implement their systems.

Initially, Rajagaha (the name of Prakrit for Rajgir in Bihar today) was the capital of Magadha. The capital was transferred to Pataliputra, Patna, in the fourth century BCE.

Rest of the article will be posted in the Part-II. 

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