The Magadhan Empire is regarded as the first empire in India. It ruled from 544 B.C to 322 B.C. Before discussing about the Sishunaga and Nanda Dynasty, let us have a short introduction about Magadha empire and it’s dynasties.
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 Dynasties of Magadha
The growth of the Magadhan Empire was seen through three dynasties. The first one was Haryanka dynasty (544 BC to 412 BC). They were succeeded by the Shishunaga dynasty(412 BC to 344 BC). And the third one was the Nanda dynasty(344 BC to 322 BC).
Shishunaga Dynasty(412 BC to 344 BC)
The Shishunaga Dynasty ruled Magadha from 412 BC to 344 BC. The two most popular rulers of Shishunaga dynasty are Shishunaga and Kalasoka.
Shishunaga was the viceroy of Kashi before becoming the king of Magadha. His greatest achievement was that he destroyed the power of Avanti and brought an end to the 100 year rivalry between Avanti and Magadha. Avanti was annexed and it remained part of Magadha through out the magadhan rule. Shisunaga shifted the capital of Magadha to Vaishali.
Sishunaga was succeeded by his son Kalasoka. During Kalasoka’s rule the capital of Magadha was shifted back to Pataliputra. Kalasoka was the last Shishunaga ruler. He was succeeded by Mahapadma Nanda.
Nanda Dynasty(344 BC to 322 BC)
The Nandas were the last rulers of Magadha. During their rule Magadha had reached new heights of power and supremacy. The Nandas were very rich. It is said that they possesed 200,000 infantry, 60,000 cavalry and around 6000 war elephants. They had an effective tax system that helped them to form such a huge army.
Nanda Dynasty was the first non-Kshatriya dynasty of India. Mahapadma Nanda was the first ruler of the Nanda dynasty. He killed Kalasoka to become the king. Mahapadma proved to be the most powerful rulers of Magadha. He extended Magadhan empire by conquering Kalinga. It is said that he captured not only Kalinga but also Koshala. Koshala probably had rebelled against him. He was succeeded by his son Dhana Nanda.
Dhana Nanda was the last Nanda ruler. He was so powerful that even Alexander dared not to move towards Magadha. At that time Alexander was invading North-Western India. But Dhana Nanda had an oppressive way of extorting taxes. His anti-kshatriya policy and shudra origin along with the oppression while collecting taxes made him unpopular. He proved to be weak and finally the rule of Magadha was supplanted by that of the Maurya dynasty. Dhana Nanda was overthrown by Changragupta Maurya. This led to the starting of Maurya rule and culmination of the Magadhan empire.