Kautilya sits with Chandragupta Maurya in this watercolor and gouache painting.

After Alexander the Great’s death, this Indian empire filled the vacuum

Backed by a strong family dynasty, the Mauryan Empire came to rule most of the Indian subcontinent.

Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan Empire, sits with his mentor Kautilya in this watercolor and gouache painting. Chandragupta's grandson Ashoka would expand the Mauryan Empire to its greatest size.
Image courtesy of Indian School/Private Collection/Dinodia/Bridgeman Images

While history books are full of tales about the Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, and China’s various dynasties, there’s precious few details about one of the world’s earliest empires—and one of history’s largest. The vast Mauryan Empire, established in 321 B.C., covered most of the Indian subcontinent, spanning central and northern India, as well as parts of modern-day Iran. Reigning as India’s first pan-Indian empire, it lasted for 150 years at the helm of two crafty, (eventually) peace-loving men, who also happened to be grandfather and grandson.

As a bold young man, Chandragupta Maurya, the future king of the Mauryan Empire, allegedly offered some brash advice to Alexander the Great, who had crossed the Indus River—the farthest frontier of the old Persian empire— with his armies sometime around 325 B.C. The older soldier did not take a liking to the younger one—the story goes he was angered by the upstart—yet Chandragupta was impressed by Alexander’s ruling style, and even mimicked it in his own trajectory to power.

Alexander’s armies retreated at the advice of his generals, and Chandragupta pounced upon the power vacuum left behind. Within the next four years, he allied with local leaders in Punjab, in the north of present-day India, to overthrow the last king of the Nanda rulers of the prominent state of Magadha, which had ruled a large part of the northern region during the fourth century B.C. He occupied their capital in 321 B.C. and assumed the throne, marking the start of the Mauryan Empire.

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