Early Indian history

Ancient era and the Middle ages

The first Indian civilization appeared about 5000 years ago. Through the ages, Indian culture has impacted on other strong civilizations - the Persians, the Greeks and the Turks.

After two or three thousand years of development, in 2500 BC the first Indian civilization was born. It was settled in the Indus valley in the territory of today’s Pakistan and Northern India.

The twin cities of Mohenjo Daro (or Mohenjodaro) and Harappa emerged as centers of this civilization. The cities were ruled by priests who laid the building blocks of Hinduism. Farming was still the main occupation outside of the cities. However, the culture that ruled in Mohenjo Daro is believed to have had advanced knowledge in town planning. Also, this culture had its own script language which is yet to be deciphered.

The Indus valley civilization had its peak years between 2500 and 1700 BC. After 1700 BC, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, the culture started declining and soon disappeared. It was rediscovered in the 1920’s.

In 1500 BC the Aryans invaded the Indus valley from the north and settled there. Through the years the nomadic Aryans evolved into a more settled civilization. They built their own cities, cultivated different crops. Aryans learned how to use iron and contributed to the development of Hinduism. By 600 BC Indian society had developed into a highly civilized culture.

Even though there were numerous clashes between Persians and Greeks in the north between 400 and 317 BC, they did not significantly affect the Aryan civilization, even though some territories were lost to Alexander the Great in the east.

In 322 BC the eastern territories were reclaimed by Chandragupta Maurya who also became the founder of the Mauryan empire.

The greatest ruler of the empire was Ashoka (Asoka) who reigned between 269 and 232 BC. He converted to Buddhism and was committed to pacifying and unifying the empire.
The Mauryan empire influenced cultures in Southern India. Farming became more advanced and kingdoms with organized trade systems emerged.

The last ruler of the Mauryan empire was killed in 185 BC by a general who founded the Shunga dynasty which was replaced by the Kanva dynasty in 73 BC. The Kanva dynasty saw its fall in 28 BC.

In around 120 BC the Kushan tribe from Central Asia moved towards Northern India and settled the Kushan empire. During the reign of King Kanishka of the Kushan empire, Northern India did a lot of trade with the Roman Empire. After Kanishka’s death in 114 AD the empire was broken up and split into small states.

India in the Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages India saw different dynasties come and go in different parts of the country.

The North was invaded by the Turks in the 10th century. They established the Delhi Sultanate which existed for over three centuries - from the 12th to the 15th century AD.

In the South the Chola Empire emerged in the late ninth century. It expanded through the greater part of the Indian peninsula and also took over parts of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Under the Chola dynasty the region saw great improvement. The end of this empire came with the invasion of Malik Kafur in the early 14th century.

A memorable period for the history of medieval India was the time of the Mughal Empire. It was founded around 1483 and existed until 1739 when it was overtaken by the Persians. The Mughal dynasty is responsible for significant changes such as the development of an efficient civil service. Shah Jahan of the Mughal dynasty built the Taj Mahal and under his reign the empire prospered. The downfall of the Mughal Empire began in the early 18th century and saw its end with the Persian invasion.


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