The Extent of Ashoka's Empire

Apr 2018
21
Ayodhya
#1
The map of Ashoka's empire, that is available from a quick Google Search is the following:

1545494186607.png

For a long time, I have believed that this was the extent of the Mauryan Empire. However, as of late, I am having serious doubts. Let's start with the question of how we determine the extent of Ashoka's empire. Well, the strongest piece of evidence we have are his edicts. Below is a map of all his edicts in India:

1545494325277.png

This map shows the Major/Minor Rock Edicts and the Pillar Edicts erected by Ashoka. The position of these edicts would be places were the Mauryans could exercise their power, and thus part of Ashoka's empire. However, they are not scattered all across India. For example, essentially absent in Rajasthan. From the map of these edicts, the following map (created by me) of the Mauryan empire can be postulated:

1545495313196.png

Historian Audrey Truschke had posted a somewhat similar map on Twitter, a while back:

1545495424133.png

The maps that I have presented above, in my opinion, seem more likely than the first map of the Mauryan Empire extending across the entire subcontinent. Ashoka's Edicts don't suggest that the regions I have left out above, were ever part of his empire. In Asoka's Major Edict 13, he states that the frontiers of his empire extend upto Greek lands in the Northwest (ruled by Antiochus), and the Cholas/Pandyas in the South. This is supported by the maps I provided above. It seems that despite having frontiers upto Greek territory in the Northwest, and upto Chola/Pandya land in the South, a vast portion of India remained unconquered by the Mauryans.

Ashoka's Major Edict 13 also suggests that despite tribal regions existing in the domains of his empire in name, he could never really exert his sway over them. Hence, these regions cannot be said to be part of the Mauryan Empire (excerpt below):

1545496426112.png

In Major Rock Edict 14, Ashoka gives what seems to be a justification for not being able to erect his edicts all across what was nominally his domains. Such a justification would really not be necessary. The presence of such a justification, rather seems to suggest that he knew deep within, that he did not wield enough influence over all regions in his nominal empire, to be able to erect edicts there, and that he was creating excuses to brush off this inability of his:

1545496613688.png

So, that is my opinion, on the extent of Ashoka's Empire. It seems that despite being the nominal ruler of the entire subcontinent, large swathes of territory in the subcontinent, that lay between his Northern and Southern frontiers, remained elusive to him and his Mauryans...

Now my question is... For those that believe that Ashoka ruled the entire subcontinent, what evidence is there for this? Am I missing any vital piece of evidence when providing the above map of Ashoka's empire?
 

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kandal

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,517
USA
#2
Historians have used the presence of Asokan edicts to determine the extend of his empire, and not his real military conquests. There are independent kingdoms who accepted Asoka's peaceful co-existence doctrine, and allowed his edicts with that message to be put up. To my knowledge, these kingdoms didn't pay tribute to Asoka, that would have made them a part of his empire in the traditional sense. So the real Asokan empire was much smaller than what the usual maps show - probably mostly limited to the Indo-Ganges plains plus other kingdoms he really conquered like Kalinga..
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
21
Ayodhya
#3
Oh ok. Thanks for that perspective. But didn't Asoka claim (in his edicts) that his spiritual conquest with dhamma extended to the domains of the Greek kings, and all the way to Sri Lanka? He differentiates his spiritual empire with his actual empire by stating that his actual domains extended to Andhra in the South, whereas his spiritual domains extended far beyond that, to Sri Lanka (Tamraparni):

1545501849209.png
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#4
Historians have used the presence of Asokan edicts to determine the extend of his empire, and not his real military conquests. There are independent kingdoms who accepted Asoka's peaceful co-existence doctrine, and allowed his edicts with that message to be put up. To my knowledge, these kingdoms didn't pay tribute to Asoka, that would have made them a part of his empire in the traditional sense. So the real Asokan empire was much smaller than what the usual maps show - probably mostly limited to the Indo-Ganges plains plus other kingdoms he really conquered like Kalinga..
The location of the pillars is not the best way to determine the extent of Ashoka's real. Pillars can get relocated, as what happened to the famous iron pillar of Dehli. The iron pillar's current location is its original location.

And the presence of the eddicts does not mean necessarily that Ashoka rules their. Religious devotees could have asked and gotten permission to put up edicts in areas outside Ashoka's domain. In most of the eddicts Ashoka is not proclaiming ownership of the area, and maybe followers asked locLs.ifnrhey could put up these inscriptions, perhaps even giving money to do so.

In absence of any other evidence, we must treat cautiously theze inscriptions as the extent of Ashoka's empire.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#6
Ok. That makes sense. How would you map Ashoka's empire? What is the extent of his empire in your opinion?
No, I don't know how big it was. I am thinking that since Buddhism.was popular primarily in the north of India, his effective control.was mostly in the northsrn third of.hald of India, but that is just.speculation.
 
Oct 2012
3,270
Des Moines, Iowa
#8
Ok. That makes sense. How would you map Ashoka's empire? What is the extent of his empire in your opinion?
I have discussed this topic at length in previous posts on this forum. You can search some old threads to find them.

The distribution of Ashoka's edicts give us a clue as to the extent of the Mauryan empire, but as Bart Dale indicated, we cannot assume a direct correlation between the two. Ashoka's edicts are proof of Mauryan presence, not necessarily of Mauryan rule. We can be fairly certain that Ashoka sent out royal agents or officers to all areas with Ashokan edicts, but it doesn't immediately follow from this that Ashoka had any effective rule over those areas. In the case of the south Deccan, where a surprising cluster of Ashokan edicts survives (surprising because they are so distant from Magadha and the Indo-Gangetic plains), I have previously likened the Mauryan presence in that area to the colonial Spanish presence in New Mexico and Arizona. Ashoka seems to have ordered the propagation of the Buddhist dhamma - and with it, the construction of several "mission"-like colonies - in frontier areas that at this point of history were quite removed from the core areas of Indic civilization. The leading Mauryan settlement in this area seems to be one "Suvarnagiri," which I believe has not been identified. However, we have no way of knowing the extent of the influence that these Mauryan colonial settlements had on the surrounding native population.

One possible way that we can gauge the extent of the Mauryan empire under Ashoka is to examine which areas continued to have state structures in the post-Mauryan era. So we can be fairly certain that Kalinga, for example, was part of the Mauryan empire because in addition to the evidence that we have concerning Ashoka's conquest of that country, we also have evidence that Kalinga continued to exist as a state in the post-Mauryan era (under the Mahameghavahanas), albeit no longer under Magadhan domination. In contrast, we have no evidence of any state structure in the interior region of Orissa or in modern-day Chhattisgarh until much later, so it seems that this area was inhabited by autonomous tribes or chiefdoms who rejected integration into any centralized state structure. This is indicated by the map provided in the OP which labels the area as consisting of "unconquered tribal peoples," and this is also indicated by the evidence of the Ashokan edicts themselves, which contains orders to royal officials in Tosali (the capital of Kalinga) to interact with the "unconquered peoples on the frontier (anta)". Obviously, if there was a "frontier" near Kalinga, it almost certainly must be referring to the interior of what we now call Orissa; there is no other possible "frontier zone" near Kalinga. We can also apply this same logic to other areas that lack evidence of state structures in post-Mauryan times, such as the region of Rajasthan that was later called "Marwar," or the part of the southern Deccan that would later be ruled by the Banas.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,099
New Delhi, India
#9
Rather then calling them 'unconquored tribal people', I would use the term 'uncared tribal people'. They lived their own life with their chieftains far away from cities. The cities did not have much contact with them except in buying forest produce and selling them whatever they needed or liked. Their needs of city-goods also were small. It happens regularly even now in India. Tribal people will come to 'hats' (village fairs), exchange their produce with trinkets from the city people, sometimes even without use of currency, just barter.
 
#10
The first map is wrong. But the Mauryans certainly invaded northern parts of the Deccan region as there are several indications. There are several edicts in the Deccan region, the Sangam literature of the Tamil people also mention the Maurya invasion of the Deccan region and the Satavahana Dynasty, which ruled the Deccan region after the collapse of the Maurya Dynasty, used a similar administration as the Mauryas