All About History

India’s Philosopher King

at the start of his long reign, India’s King Ashoka seemed destined to become one of history’s great conquerors. Instead, having spilled much blood to seize and expand his realm, he did something far more remarkable – he disavowed violence.

The move was all the more spectacular considering his lineage. His grandfather, Chandragupta, was a force to be reckoned with. A brilliant warrior, Chandragupta commanded a mercenary band in the service of Alexander the Great, before overthrowing India’s Nanda kingdom and establishing his own dynasty, the Maurya in 322 BCE. He went on to unite the subcontinent’s north and west, kicking the Macedonians out – with an army of 600,000 men, 8,000 elephants and 30,000 cavalry – and ruling over the subcontinent’s greatest empire for a quarter of a century. The Jains say he abdicated the throne to his son, before fasting himself to death.

“Ashoka’s early years were ruled with an iron fist, as he received daily briefings from an elaborate, far-reaching intelligence network of spies”

Indian society was governed by an increasingly rigid caste system, topped by the Brahman class of Vedic priests. Though Chandragupta was born to one of the lower castes, he filled his court with Brahman. His son, Bindusara, went on to subjugate the subcontinent’s south, cutting through the Deccan plateau, into Mysore – earning

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