Why did Indian emperors not often show ambition to conquer whole of subcontinent

Nov 2012
3,851
#1
Why did Indian emperors not show the same kind of ambition as Chinese ones to conquer the entire subcontinent? There were ofcourse a few cases like Chandragupta, Ashoka and Samudragupta (please lets consider only pre Islamic native Indian emperors for this). Why did they not look to conquer and capture the whole of historic India.

Also often the cases where such conquests happened the centralizing authority never worked and it tended to get decentralized. Why did China despite a much larger area (and also before assimilation in recent times also pretty diverse area) manage to acheive this. Both India and China have complex and diverse societies and both had a multitude of geographies (Mongol mountains, Gobi desert, marshy river basins etc.) But that somehow never stopped China from persuing conquests also keeping a centralized toehold. Somehow Indian kingdoms were unable to achieve this. If the whole of India were under one or at max 2-3 rulers (Kannauj Triangle era) then there is no way a foreign power could enter. To me the Kannauj Triangle era was the right balance I guess of large territories with a reasonable centralizing toehold of the ruling power in all of them.

Comments or thoughts?
 

SSDD

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
3,900
India
#3
Apart from Chinese Bureaucracy being better, to establish firm control one needs to be patron of certain language. In China as Central empires expanded there was process of Sinicization, in India it was Indo-Aryanization. But Indo-Aryanization is different, it did not wipe out native traditions or languages but influenced them. Various local regional religious traditions were assimilated. Language was influenced not replaced. That's why it was very hard to create strong central Government.
 

Baldtastic

Ad Honorem
Aug 2009
5,349
Londinium
#4
Apart from Chinese Bureaucracy being better, to establish firm control one needs to be patron of certain language. In China as Central empires expanded there was process of Sinicization, in India it was Indo-Aryanization. But Indo-Aryanization is different, it did not wipe out native traditions or languages but influenced them. Various local regional religious traditions were assimilated. Language was influenced not replaced. That's why it was very hard to create strong central Government.
But other empires have managed it, why didn't an Indian empire arise in the same manner? For example, the Roman Empire didn’t wipe out Greek culture and nor did the Ottomans, both alien cultures to the Greeks but their culture, traditions and language was allowed to continue.

@ OP
As another way of asking the question could be, which power extended the most over the sub-continent and what stopped them from continuing to expand? Did any other ruler have a religious experience like Ashoka? Normally there is an external influence, internal power struggle or some type of natural disaster which diverts the leaders attention from further expansion.
 

Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,487
India
#5
Chinese Bureaucracy was better.
China was too usually disintegrated throughout history except few kingdoms. Two dynasties can be credited to keep China united first the Ming who kept all Han people under a single Empire and second Qing (the Manchus) who expanded the the territories of Mings and quashed the plan of a native Han nobleman to breakup Southern China from Northern China into a separate kingdom which was continued to the Republic of China founded by Kuomintang.
 

Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,487
India
#6
But other empires have managed it, why didn't an Indian empire arise in the same manner? For example, the Roman Empire didn’t wipe out Greek culture and nor did the Ottomans, both alien cultures to the Greeks but their culture, traditions and language was allowed to continue.

@ OP
As another way of asking the question could be, which power extended the most over the sub-continent and what stopped them from continuing to expand? Did any other ruler have a religious experience like Ashoka? Normally there is an external influence, internal power struggle or some type of natural disaster which diverts the leaders attention from further expansion.
The Romans did indulge in cultural genocide in Iberia and Gaul, the native languages were wiped in favour of forcing Latin on them. The Dacians in Romania had similar fate. Apart from that their mistreatment of Germanic tribes in North is also well known and Germanic tribes were always rebellious against the Romans. In Romans records, Druids of Ireland were mainly maligned as a uncivilized people.
 
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Devdas

Ad Honorem
Apr 2015
4,487
India
#7
Why did Indian emperors not show the same kind of ambition as Chinese ones to conquer the entire subcontinent? There were ofcourse a few cases like Chandragupta, Ashoka and Samudragupta (please lets consider only pre Islamic native Indian emperors for this). Why did they not look to conquer and capture the whole of historic India.

Also often the cases where such conquests happened the centralizing authority never worked and it tended to get decentralized. Why did China despite a much larger area (and also before assimilation in recent times also pretty diverse area) manage to acheive this. Both India and China have complex and diverse societies and both had a multitude of geographies (Mongol mountains, Gobi desert, marshy river basins etc.) But that somehow never stopped China from persuing conquests also keeping a centralized toehold. Somehow Indian kingdoms were unable to achieve this. If the whole of India were under one or at max 2-3 rulers (Kannauj Triangle era) then there is no way a foreign power could enter. To me the Kannauj Triangle era was the right balance I guess of large territories with a reasonable centralizing toehold of the ruling power in all of them.

Comments or thoughts?
Simply because there were lots of competing regional powers. The kingdoms in Deccan also had the geographical advantages.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#9
Why did Indian emperors not show the same kind of ambition as Chinese ones to conquer the entire subcontinent? There were ofcourse a few cases like Chandragupta, Ashoka and Samudragupta (please lets consider only pre Islamic native Indian emperors for this). Why did they not look to conquer and capture the whole of historic India.

Also often the cases where such conquests happened the centralizing authority never worked and it tended to get decentralized. Why did China despite a much larger area (and also before assimilation in recent times also pretty diverse area) manage to acheive this. Both India and China have complex and diverse societies and both had a multitude of geographies (Mongol mountains, Gobi desert, marshy river basins etc.) But that somehow never stopped China from persuing conquests also keeping a centralized toehold. Somehow Indian kingdoms were unable to achieve this. If the whole of India were under one or at max 2-3 rulers (Kannauj Triangle era) then there is no way a foreign power could enter. To me the Kannauj Triangle era was the right balance I guess of large territories with a reasonable centralizing toehold of the ruling power in all of them.

Comments or thoughts?
For one thing, the "Han" Chinese, the core of China, were more advanced and numerous than the other ethnic groups in China, so when the Chinese conquered a new area, like southern China, the natives adopted and became absorbed in the Han Chinese identity, which strengthened the Chinese hold on an area.

In India, the various ethnics more equal, and the Dravidian areas in the south were more comparable in level of civilization to the Indo-European speaking areas in the north. While the south may have adopted the Hindu religion, they retained more of their own language and culture, making it harder to forge a common identity.

The other things is that Chinese dynasties were more ruthless - when they conquered other Chinese states, they tended to exterminate the native dynasties more than Indians did. When an India empire fell apart, the pre-existing states tended to re-emerge, imply that the empire hadn't fully eliminated them. When a Chinese dynasty like the Han or Tang fell apart, the separate states that emerged did not rise again, but new independent states arose, with little relationship to the previous states. After the consolation from the Warring state period, you don't see the old Warring states rise again when the Han empire broke apart.
 
Nov 2009
8,402
Canada
#10
The answer is pretty simple:

India, due to its linguistic & political diversity, often had major zones of kingdom/empires springing up, relying on local manpower for their military machine.
As such, we only see major pre-muslim dynasties that are stable (ie, overlordship extends beyond first couple of generations) to be emanating from central Maharashtra-Karnataka region (center of Vakataka,Satavahana, Chalukya, Rashtrakuta empires), the Ganges valley region of Bihar-Bengal (center of Magadha , Gupta and Pala empire) and the Tamil country.

All other empires reached a certain size and chose matrimonial alliances and overlordships to maintain political power, as the prime focus of Indian governance, if one reads the books about India's extremely advanced economic systems, was to keep the corporations (Srenis) happy and free-flowing.

Given that India was massively wealthy, relied on expensive produce (jute, spices, cotton, rice, etc) to gain its wealth; the fact that Indian corporations as early as 400s BC were sophisticated equivalent to 19th century American/British corporations and often there being political fragmentation in the subcontinent, there would've been an overriding need to maintain peace.
Therefore, vassalage- a less costly military affair (as opposed to annihilation) would've been the preferred norm.
We see this in the south as well, where vassal kingdoms are rarely annihilated and instead form power bases from the ruins of their overlords and the cycle repeats itself.

My speculation is, given how advanced their economic systems were, they'd have likely seen a similar corporate pressure towards war (either in terms of provoking or bringing to a premature end) as we see in the Ango-American world for the last 150-200 years.