Asoka the Great & the Empires of India

Essential Questions

Was Asoka A Ruthless Conqueror or Enlightened Ruler?

How did King Asoka make life better for his people?

The Mauryan Empire

In the 320s BC a military leader named Chandragupta Maurya (kuhn-druh-GOOP-tuh MOUR-yuh) seized control of the entire northern part of India. By doing so, he founded the Mauryan Empire. Mauryan rule lasted for about 150 years.

Chandragupta Maurya ruled his empire with the help of a complex government. It included a network of spies and a huge army of some 600,000 soldiers. The army also had thousands of war elephants and thousands of chariots. In return for the army's protection, farmers paid a heavy tax to the government.

In 301 BC Chandragupta decided to become a jainist monk. To do so, he had to give up his throne. He passed the throne to his son, who continued to expand the empire. Before long, the Mauryas ruled all of northern India and much of central India as well.

Around 270 BC Chandragupta's grandson Asoka (uh-SOH-kuh) became king. Asoka was a strong ruler, the strongest of all the Mauryan emperors. He extended Mauryan rule over most of India. In conquering other kingdoms, Asoka made his own empire both stronger and richer. For many years, Asoka watched his armies fight bloody battles against other peoples. A few years into his rule, however, Asoka converted to Buddhism. When he did, he swore that he would not launch any more wars of conquest. After converting to Buddhism, Asoka had the time and resources to improve the lives of his people. He had wells dug and roads built throughout the empire. Along these roads, workers planted shade trees and built rest houses for weary travelers. He also encouraged the spread of Buddhism in India and the rest of Asia. As you read in the previous section, he sent missionaries to lands all over Asia.

Asoka died in 233 BC, and the empire began to fall apart soon afterward. His sons fought each other for power, and invaders threatened the empire. In 184 BC the last Mauryan king was killed by one of his own generals. India divided into smaller states once again.

Activity 1: Mini Q: Asoka: Ruthless Conqueror or Enlightened Ruler?

Mini Q-Asoka_ Ruthless Conqueror or Enlightened Ruler_.pdf

Activity 2: How would you classify the reasons Asoka was a ruthless conqueror and the reasons Asoka was an enlightened ruler?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Discussion Questions

  • Was Asoka a Ruthless Conqueror or an Enlightened Ruler?

  • What evidence can you use to prove that?

Activity 3: Outline

Use the information from the DBQ to complete an outline that answers: Asoka: Ruthless Conqueror or Enlightened Ruler?

Essay Outline

The Gupta Empire

After the collapse of the Mauryan Empire, India remained divided for about 500 years. During that time, Buddhism continued to prosper and spread in India, and so the popularity of Hinduism declined.

Eventually, however, a new dynasty was established in India. It was the Gupta ( GOOP-tuh) Dynasty, which took over India around AD 320. Under the Guptas, India was once again united, and it once again became prosperous.

The first Gupta emperor was Chandragupta I. Although their names are similar, he was not related to Chandragupta Maurya. From his base in northern India, Chandragupta's armies invaded and conquered neighboring lands. Eventually he brought much of the northern part of India under his control. Indian civilization flourished under the Gupta rulers.

In 3 7 5 Emperor Chandragupta II took the throne in India. Gupta society reached its high point during his rule. Under Chandragupta II, the empire continued to grow, eventually stretching all the way across northern India. At the same time, the empire's economy strengthened, and people prospered. They created fine works of art and literature. Outsiders admired the empire's wealth and beauty.

Gupta rule remained strong in India until the late 400s. At that time the Huns, a group from Central Asia, invaded India from the northwest. Their fierce attacks drained the Gupta Empire of its power and wealth. As the Hun armies marched farther into India, the Guptas lost hope. By the middle of the SOOs, Gupta rule had ended, and India had divided into small kingdoms yet again.

Extension Activities

Newsela: Ashoka eschewed violence, became a humane ruler in early Indian history