The Magadhan Empire is regarded as the first empire in India. It ruled from 544 B.C to 322 B.C. During the age of Buddha there were sixteen large states called Mahajanapadas. Janapadas means the land where a jana sets its foot and settles. They are the realms, republics and kingdoms of the Vedic period on the Indian subcontinent. Among the great Janapadas or the Mahajanapadas, names such as Vajji, Vatsa, Magadha, Koshala, Kuru, Panchala, Gandhara and Avanti occurs frequently in the pages of History.
These large states were mostly situated north of the Vindyas and extended from the north-west frontier to Bihar. While most of these mahajanapadas were ruled by kings, some known as ganas or sanghas, were oligarchies. In Oligarchies power was shared among a number of men, often collectively known as rajas.
Among the sixteen mahajanapadas, Magadha, Koshala, Vatsa and Avanti seemed to be most powerful. However in the fight of dominance and supremacy Magadha emerged as the most powerful kingdom. The area of Magadha empire embraces the former districts of Patna, Gaya and parts of Shahabad. Initially the capital of Magadhan empire was Rajgir and later it was shifted to Pataliputra.
The Causes of rise of the Magadha Empire
The rise of Magadha as the largest kingdom of that time was a result of continuous effort of several enterprising and ambitious rulers like Bimbisara, Ajatashatru and Mahapadma Nanda. However several other factors can be taken into account for the rapid expansion nof Magadha.
Magadha enjoyed a very advantageous geographical position. Both the capitals, Rajgir and Pataliputra were situated at very strategic points. Rajgir was impregnable as it was surrounded by a group of five hills. Pataliputra was situated at the confluence of the Ganges, the Gandak, and the Son. Their army could move easily towards all direction using the course of these rivers.
The Gangetic plain was very fertile. Immense agricultural activities could be done to become self sufficient. The environment was suitable for agriculture. Given the heavy rain, the areas could be made more productive even without irrigation.
Availability of raw materials
The availability of timber in the Gangetic plain helped them to manufacture as much boat as required for river transportation. This helped them in easy transportation for both trade and defence. The richest iron deposits were located near to their first capital Rajgir.They had enourmous scope to use iron ores to equip their army with effective weapons.
Rise of towns and use of metal money
During the Magadha era, most of the towns developed in the mid-Gangetic plains. As a result there was an increased trade and commerce with north-east India. This helped Magadha to impose toll on the sale of commodities and collect huge amount of wealth. Besides this, the use of metal money helped the Magadhan rulers to collect taxes more easily.
The large army was another factor in the rise of Magadha. It is said that the Nandas possesed 200,000 infantry, 60,000 cavalry and around 6000 war elephants. No other empire would have the courage to look towards Magadha who maintains such a huge armed force. They were the first rulers to use war elephants. The elephants were made available to them from the eastern part of the country. Elephants could be used to storm fortresses and to march across marshy areas or the areas where there were no roads or other means of transportation.
The unorthodox character of the Magadhan society played a role in the rise of Magadha. Magadha was inhabited by the Kiratas and Magadhas. Generally, they were held in low esteem by the orthodox brahmanas. However they underwent a happy ethnic admixture with the Vedic people. As a result of such good relationships, the expansion of the kingdom could be easier than the earlier kingdoms who were under vedic influence.