Chandragupta's rule was effective but harsh. A brutal secret police force reported on corruption, crime, and dissent—ideas that opposed those of the government. Fearful of his many enemies, Chandragupta had specially trained women warriors guard his palace. Servants tasted his food to protect him from poisoning. Secret passages in the palace let him move about, unseen.

Asoka Governs by Example

The most honored Maurya emperor was Chandragupta's grandson, Asoka (uh SOH kuh). A few years after becoming emperor in 268 B.C., Asoka fought a long, bloody war to conquer the Deccan region of Kalinga.

Painting of a man in a headdress seated in the lotus pose and giving Buddhist hand gestures. His clothing is extravagant and the background is celestial.

The Maurya emperor Asoka went from warrior to Buddhist, and then ruled by moral example instead of excessive force.

Then, horrified at the slaughter—more than 100,000 people are said to have died—Asoka turned his back on further conquests. He converted to Buddhism, rejected violence, and resolved to rule by moral example.

True to the Buddhist principle of respect for all life, Asoka stopped eating most meats and limited animal sacrifices. He sent missionaries, or people sent on a religious mission, to spread Buddhism across India and to Sri Lanka. By doing so, he paved the way for the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. Although Asoka promoted Buddhism, he also preached tolerance for other religions.

Asoka had stone pillars set up across India, announcing laws and promising a just government. He then took steps to improve life across his empire. He built hospitals, roads, and rest houses for travelers. “I have had banyan trees planted on the roads to give shade to people and animals,” he noted. “I have planted mango groves, and I have had [wells] dug and shelters erected along the roads.”

Division and Unity

Asoka's rule brought peace and prosperity and helped unite the diverse peoples within his empire. After his death, however, Maurya power declined. By 185 B.C., rival princes again battled for power across the northern plain.

During its history, India seldom remained united for long. In ancient times, as today, the subcontinent was home to many peoples and cultures. Although the Aryan north shared a common civilization, fierce local rivalries kept it divided. In the Deccan south, other cultures flourished, adding to the divisions.

Photo of ancient obelisk in a desert area, lined by a modern fence.

Asoka had stone pillars erected throughout India. Writing on the pillars provides moral advice and Asoka's promise of a just government for all.

Contributing to the turmoil, foreign invaders frequently pushed through mountain passes into northern India. Some came to plunder rich Indian cities, but stayed to rule. The divided northern kingdoms were often unable to resist these conquerors. Still, the Maurya rulers had shown that a well-organized government could unite a vast empire.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments