Hansen/Curtis, Voyages in
World History, 1e, Ch03
Between 2600 BCE and 100 C.E. South Asia was usually not unified
politically. During rare intervals of unity, such as the period of the Mauryan
Empire, rule was decentralized. However,
political fragmentation did not result in cultural disunity. Cultural elements, particularly Vedic [VAY-dick] religion
and Buddhism [BOOD-iz-um], bound together people living under various rulers in
• What evidence survives
of social stratification at the Indus Valley Society sites? How did the Indo-Aryans [ARE-yunz] describe the social stratification in their society?
People of the Indus Valley
Society (2600-1700 B.C.E.) lived in enormous, socially stratified cities. The wealthy built bigger houses and more
lavish graves than the poor. Because their writing system remains undeciphered,
we do not know exactly how they understood these social differences.
Between 1500 and
1000, the Indo-Aryans entered north India and created a forerunner of the
modern caste system. The late hymns of
the Rig Veda [RIG VAY-duh] equate
four social groups, called varna, with parts of a mythic body: at the top,
Brahmins [BRAH-minz] form
the mouth, warriors, the arms, farmers and merchants, the thighs, and servants,
the feet. Different people, even within South Asia, understood this system in
various ways, and it evolved over time.
• What were the main teachings of the Buddha?
The Buddha's teachings
challenged the Vedic religious and social system. According to the Buddha, one could escape
suffering through the Four Noble Truths.
Buddhism welcomed members of all social groups. Merchants often embraced
the religion because they could make large donations to the Buddhist order and
thus improve their social position.
° Why did Ashoka [uh-SHO-kuh] believe that supporting Buddhism would strengthen the Mauryan [MORE-ee-ahn] state?
Ashoka made extensive
donations to the Buddhist order because he wanted to realize the Buddhist ideal
ruler. Presiding over a ceremonial state, Ashoka sponsored religious observances
and building programs to encourage his subjects to support his dynasty. His
approach influenced numerous subsequent rulers who hoped to lead by example.
• Who were the main actors in the Indian Ocean trade? What
type of ships did they use? along which routes? to trade which commodities?
Although high mountains
separated India from the rest of Eurasia in ancient times, people, goods,
and ideas flowed into it. Carnelian [kar-NELL-ee-uhn]
and lapis lazuli [LAP-iss LAZ-you-lee] from South Asia have been found in Mesopotamia
and Egypt, suggesting active trade networks linking South Asia to the outside
world in at least 2600 B.C.E. The trade continued long after the Mauryan
collapse at the end of the second century B.C.E. Traders, both foreign and Indian, sailed to Indian Ocean ports in dhows and purchased
a wide range of goods. Few traveled
beyond India to China.
Unlike any South Asian ruler
before or since, Ashoka erected stone pillars bearing his inscriptions all over
his empire. Some forty years later, the
founder of the Qin° [CHIN ] dynasty in China also carved pronouncements
on gigantic rocks, as we shall see in the next chapter.