The Nanda Empire

Jan 2019
20
Tallahassee, Florida
#1
Hello everyone, today I am doing something slightly different. Rather than making a thread about the history of a specific region, I am going to make a thread about the history of the Nanda Empire
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The Nanda empire was as empire that arose in the Gangetic plains during the 4th century bc in Magadh right after the fall of the Sishunaga dynasty. A direct predecessor to the Mauryan empire, the Nanda Empire was the first major power in Northern India and rose to prominence during a period of renaissance of urbanization along the Gangetic Plain. As the largest city in the region at the time, Magadh soon became one of the most powerful cities in South Asia and arguably, Asia as a whole.

The Nanda Empire was founded by Mahapadma Nanda,also known as Ugrasena around 364 bc. Supposedly of Shudra background, he usurped the rulers of other kingdoms such as the Kashis, Panchalas, and Kalingas. At its height, the Nanda empire stretched from Bihar to the Punjab as far south as Kalinga and the Vindhya mountains. The Hathigumpha inscription in Odisha mentions a king named Nanda conquering portions of Kalinga and building canals and other projects. The Nanda's were well known for their wealth they mainly obtained from control over northenr and Central india's iron ore reserves. Patiliputra, which became the capital under the Nandas, soon became one of the most prosperous cities in India. The development begun under the Nandas provided a solid foundation for their successors, the Mauryans.


Coins of King Mahapadma Nanda dating back to 345 bc.

The full extent of the Nanda empire


Map of Eurasia in 323 BC, around the same time Alexander began expanding into South Asia.

In addition to its wealth and prosperity, the Nanda empire was also famous for its military prowess, with armed forces that consisted of 200,000 infantry, 20000 cavalry, 2000 chariots, and 3000 elephants, with estimates by the Greek historian Plutarch being even higher. The Nandas were able to conquer larege amounts of South Asia that was unprecedented for any South Asian empire and kingdom at the time. They were also successful at repelling inaders. After defeating King Porus of Punjab(Pakistan) in a bloody battle, Alexander was determined to continue his conquests into the fertile, resource rich plains of the Ganges. However, his soldiers had heard about the mighty forces of the Nandas along the Gangetic plains, with their mighty infantry, cavalry, and elephant force. Considering that Alesander's forces had struggled with Porus's elephants, it would have been unlikely that King Alexander would have been able to conquer the Ganges region considering elephants are native to that region. Hence, it can be said that the Nandas successfully repelled alexander's empire, which was at that time one of the strongest empires in the world. Although it is debatable as to the outcome had Alexander attempted to subdue the Nanda's, his successor Seleucus Nikator attempted to the same with the Mauryan Empire but was defeated.

Despite the Nanda Empire's success, they became resented in many parts of the subcontinent due to their heavy taxation and more restrictive rule. Around 320 BC, the Nandas were overthrown in an uprising led by a man named Chandragupta Maurya and his mentor, Chanakya.
Nanda Empire - Wikipedia
https://books.google.com/books?id=P...ce=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false



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May 2013
1,721
The abode of the lord of the north
#2
More I read about it, it so seems that the first Nanda, whose name was Ugrasena, assumed the title of Mahapadmapati (The lord of the great lotus). Lotus probably had something to do with Pataliputra. That city was often associated with Lotuses (Kusumapura/ Kusumadhwaja).

All authorities say Nandas were powerful and were overlords of a vast portion of land. Mahapadma laid waste to many Kshatriya clans (Kshatriya ruled kingdoms?) for which he came to be known later as the second Parashurama. We don't know if Nandas had to Annex kasi, kosala and all. They were all annexed by Ajathashatru some 100+ years back, and we don't know if they ever moved out of control of Magadha.
 
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Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,324
India
#3
Its often said, the fear of thousands of elephants in Nanda's Army instigated fear among Macedonian soldiers to revolt forcing Alexander to retreat from the banks of Beas river in Punjab.
 
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Apr 2018
57
Ayodhya
#4
Nice post. I just have a couple of objections to your last sentence...

Around 320 BC, the Nandas were overthrown in an uprising led by a man named Chandragupta Maurya and his mentor, Chanakya.
If we look at the (Greek) classical sources, then the invasion of the Nandas by Chandragupta Maurya could only have occurred after Chandragupta's war with Seleucus. As suggested by Justin, Chandragupta's military campaign began in the Northwest, reconquering the territories that Alexander had invaded. Since Eudemos was in that area (the Punjab) till 316 BC, Chandragupta's conquest of the Northwest could not have been complete until after 316 BC. Jain records suggest that Chandragupta obtained a throne around 312 BC. That seems to be a more realistic date for when Chandragupta completely conquered the Northwest.

We know for a fact that Chandragupta did not invade Eastwards into Magadha until after he encountered Seleucus, because Appian writes that when Seleucus approached the Indus, Sandrocottus (Chandragupta) was residing on the banks of the Indus. After Magadha was conquered, Chandragupta shifted his capital there, but since his capital was near the banks of the Indus in 305 BC (when the Mauryan-Seleucus wars happened), it implies that at that time he did not capture Magadha, nor did he defeat the Nandas. Plutarch states that Sandrocottus conquered India (i.e. Magadha) with an army of 600,000, only after the encounter with Seleucus. Justin suggests that this conquest took place sometime between the Mauryan-Seleucus wars (in 305 BC) and the Battle of Ipsus (301 BC). So, only during that period did Chandragupta turn to the East and conquer the Nandas. Shortly after that, he shifted his capital to Magadha, and soon after Megasthenes came there as ambassador.

Another point I have objection to is the existence of Chanakya. The (Greek) classical sources don't make mention of him, and even Justin's narration of how Chandragupta acquired his throne does not mention Chanakya or the presence of any brahmin-mentor that helped Sandrocottus (Chandragupta). The Arthashastra is a post-Mauryan composition, and most likely was created in the Gupta period. So, the Kautilya of the Arthashastra is likely not the Chanakya that is reputed to have helped Chandragupta in defeating the Nandas. The Arthashastra, as we know, makes no mention of Chandragupta or the Mauryans. So, since the references to Chanakya are all from late Puranic/Jain/Buddhist sources, composed a few centuries well into the common era, they are far from being contemporary to Chandragupta Maurya, and thus cannot be accepted in the absence of contemporary sources that make mention of Chanakya. In all likeliness, Chanakya is a creation of brahmins to take credit for the accomplishments of a brave, young Vaishya man, Chandragupta. Unlike what brahmanic propaganda might wish to force down our throats, Chandragupta was not a kshatriya. According to Justin, he was of mean origin, and the Rudradaman Inscription (150 CE) suggests that he was a Vaishya.
 
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Oct 2015
1,013
India
#5
Hi @Cobra Arbok

Want to add two things:

Nandas are mentioned in Sangam literature of Tamil Nadu and so are the Mauryans.

Magadha is name of the kingdom / country. Its capital must have been Patliputra. This fortress was begun by Ajatshatru, a contemporary of Buddha for about 8 years, and he shifted his capital / capital of Magadh there.

Happy to see that you also consider nanda Empire to be the first in Indian history. My view is also the same. Not only he was the first emperor in modern terms but he also came from a mixed caste.
 
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Oct 2015
1,013
India
#6
Hi @Raghavendra

Purana Dynastic Lists:

We know about Nandas and Mauryas thru dynastic lists in Puranas, not Greek sources which hardly mention 2 names. Inscriptions have confirmed Ashoka and 1 or 2 others.

More often than not, dynastic lists of Puranas have been found to be correct. For example, names of Shungas kings have also been confirmed by inscriptions. Most importantly, names of Andhra / Satavahana kings have been attested in inscriptions and coins.

So we need to consider Puranic sources, along with Buddhist and Jaina; because they alone allow fuller re-construction of history. Whatever, additional names the Greeks provide are okay. Fact is that western historians have also re-constructed chronology partly based on inputs from Purana dynastic lists, though they don't acknowledge much.

Chanakya:

All Puranas are unanimous that Chanakya was the mentor of Chandragupta. They have never either before of later given credit to a brahmin - it is only Chankaya. Why should one suspect even a single mention?
 
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tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,380
India
#7
I don't know if I'd accept the Nandas as the first "empire" in India. While they did rule an empire, I'd argue that it was one that they inherited and expanded upon. What Ajatshatru ruled was also, IMO, an empire, and he may arguably have been the first "Emperor" depending on how finely you segregate fact from legend, and where you draw the line on what constitutes an empire in your mind.
 
Oct 2015
1,013
India
#8
What territories did Ajatshatru rule? I am not well-educated about him.

For purposes of precision, we can define an emperor for the time as a king who ruled territories covering say three linguistic states of today.
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,380
India
#9
What territories did Ajatshatru rule? I am not well-educated about him.

For purposes of precision, we can define an emperor for the time as a king who ruled territories covering say three linguistic states of today.
Ajatashatru - Wikipedia
You can get a basic overview here, and if you'd like greater detail, as always Singh's "History of Ancient and Early Medieval India" is an excellent starter.
He was the ruler who appears to have established historical Magadha's regional preeminence, conquering and subjugating states such as Vaishali and Kosala. My understanding of this, is that this was a disruption to the prevailing geopolitics of the era, which was a little more formalized and ritualized involving symbolic vassalage and tributes upon defeat. It is why, till his rise, there appears to have been relative continuity to the Janpada and Mahajanpada state polities for atleast a couple of centuries. You see referencing to this form of Geopolitics in epic literature such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

My personal view (I've written a paper on this about locating historical narratives in our Epics - I'd be happy to share if you'd like) is that Ajatshatru, in disrupting this geopolitics, eventually laid down the process which saw the emergence of Imperial states, the first of which was Magadha, culminating in the Mauryan Empire, but also saw later Imperial polities in Ancient India. I believe that Ajatshatru may infact have been the inspiration for Jarasandha's politics that we see in the Rajasuya section of the Mahabharata. My point here being not to go into whether Jarasandha was real or not, rather that in writing and rewriting the traditions, the Magadha state's policies which upset the prevailing gepolitics (as embodied by the "dharmic" version practiced by Yudhistara which did not involve outright conquest) was the source of condemnation by the then authors and composers of the Mahabharata. Ofcourse, it is only a theory that this is Ajatshatru, and as I acknowledge in my paper, it could arguably be any Magadhan ruler from him to Ashoka. I believe it unlikely to be a post Mauryan ruler, since by then such Imperialized geopolitics had become the norm, so it seems unlikely that the criticism of this model would be the dominant narrative in the Mahabahrata. To me, this suggests that the ossification of this part of the story had already happened by the time the Mauryan Empire collapsed.
 
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