Mighty Magadha Empire and Great Kings

Ancient Empires

As we have studied that in Rigvedic Period the political structure was tribal, but Later Vedic Period gradually saw the political system with the Monarch. In Later Vedic Period, as we have read there was a proper Taxation system because of which the Monarch was able to have a standing army.

But in the age of Second Urbanisation, the big cities came into existence and it saw the emergence of Mahajanapadas. There were four important Mahajanapadas Koshala, Vatsa, Avanti and Magadha. Out of these four, the Magadha was the most prosperous kingdom. There are many reasons why was the Magadha Empire so Prosperous? Let us have a look at those reasons.

Mighty Magadha Empire

Magadha Empire
Magadha Empire

Causes of Magadha Empire’s Success

The main reason for the prosperity of Magadha Empire was its geographical position. Magadha, (present day Bihar) in the Iron Age was having Iron deposits nearby to its capital Rajgir. The region was in the proximity of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau, which is rich in all kind of mineral resources. The other reason was that the fertile plains of river Ganges. The river Ganges provided the most fertile land to the people of Magadha Empire.

So, with the agricultural work, the people of Magadha Kingdom produced a surplus of grains. That was the reason the Kingdom was having a proper taxation system. So, because of this, the treasury of the Magadha Empire was always full.

The other factor for the success of the Magadha Empire was the ambitious leaders like Bimbisara, Ajatshatru and Mahapadmananda etc. So, these rulers employed all means fair or foul to enlarge their kingdoms.

Magadha Empire: Important Dynasties

Haryanka Dynasty

Magadha Empire Under Bimbisara

Bimbisara (544-492 BCE), the Ruler of Haryanka Dynasty laid the foundation of the Magadha Empire. The capital of the Magadha was Rajgir during his reign. He did three marriage alliances to empower his political status.

  • His first wife was the daughter of the king Koshala and sister of the Prasenjit.
  • The 2nd wife was from the Lichchhavi Dynasty of Vaishali (Nepal). She was Chellana and gave birth to the Ajatshatru. Ajatshatru was the successor of the Bimbisara.
  • Bimbisara also had a wife from the Madra clan of Punjab.

So, all these matrimonial alliances gave the way to the expansion of the Magadha Empire. The only rival Mahajanpada was Avanti. Bimbisara did a friendship treaty with Chanda Pradyota Mahasena, King of Avanti. So, by this friendship treaty, he actually pacified the Avanti.


Ajatshatru was the successor of the Bimbisara. Though his mother was a Lichchhavi princess still he fought with the Lichchhavi republic and won great success over it. He then fortified the Pataligrama or Pataliputra. He once met Gautama Buddha, mentioned in Barhut Sculptures.

We have read that Ajatshatru was associated with the First Buddhist Council at Rajgir. According to Mahavamsha the Buddhist Text, he constructed many Chaityas and Viharas. Here Chaityas mean, the prayer halls and Viharas mean residential area of Buddhist Monks. So, in this way, the reign of Ajatshatru was very important in the Magadha Empire.


Udayin was the successor of Ajatshatru. The most important work of Udayin was that he shifted the Capital of Magadha Empire from Rajgir to Pataliputra. During the reign of the Udayin, the commander-in-chief of the Haryanka Dynasty Shishunaga assassinated the ruler and captured the throne.

Shishunagas Dynasty

After the Shishu naga’s accession to the throne, Magadha came under the rule of Shishunaga Dynasty. The greatest achievement of the Shishunagas was that they destructed the power of Avanti and ended the 100 years old rival of the Magadha.

The Successor of Shishunaga was Kalashoka. His reign was important because of the Second Buddhist Council at Vaishali. The next and the most powerful dynasty of the Magadha was the Nanda Dynasty.

Nanda Dynasty

Nanda Dynasty was the great and the most prosperous dynasty of the Magadha. Mahanadin was the founder of this Dynasty. But, some historians believe that the Mahapadma Nanda was the founder of this Dynasty. However, there is not any duality in the fact that Mahapadma Nanda was the Great Ruler of Nanda Dynasty.

Under the reign of Mahapadma Nanda Kalinga was annexed in Magadha. Purana speaks extensive conquests of Mahapadma Nanda. Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela of Kalinga refers to the conquest of Kalinga by Nanda. Soon, the grace of the Nanda Dynasty turned into the dark under the reign of Dhanananda.

Dhanananda was the last and the most monster ruler of the Nanda dynasty. His oppressive way of tax collection resented by his subjects. So, Chandragupta Maurya under the guidance of the Guru Chanakya took the advantage of this situation. Soon, after defeating Dhanananda, Chandragupta established the Mauryan Empire in the Magadha Region.

We will discuss Mauryan Empire and its great rulers in the next coming post.

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