Humanities › History & Culture Ancient India and the Indian Subcontinent Share Flipboard Email Print Ancient Khajuraho temples in India. Alex Lapuerta / Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Asia Figures & Events Ancient Languages Greece Egypt Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated August 04, 2018 The Indian subcontinent is a diverse and fertile region with monsoons, droughts, plains, mountains, deserts, and especially rivers, along which early cities developed in the third millennium B.C. Along with Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica, the ancient Indian subcontinent was one of the few places in the world to develop its own system of writing. Its early literature was written in Sanskrit. The Aryan Invasion The Aryan Invasion is a theory about Indo-Aryan nomads migrating from the area of modern Iran into the Indus Valley, over-running it and becoming the dominant group. Ashoka was the third king of the Mauryan Dynasty, ruling from c. 270 B.C. until his death in 232. He was known for his cruelty early on, but also his great acts following his conversion to Buddhism after he waged a bloody war in c. 265. The Caste System Most societies have social hierarchies. The caste system of the Indian subcontinent was strictly defined and based on colors that may or may not correlate directly with skin color. Early Sources for the History of Ancient India Early, yes, but not very. Unfortunately, although we now have historical data that go back a millennium before the Muslim invasion of India, we don't know as much about ancient India as we do about other ancient civilizations. Ancient Historians on Ancient India Besides the occasional literary and archaeological record, there are historians from antiquity that wrote about ancient India from around the time of Alexander the Great. The River Ganges The Ganges (or Ganga in Hindi) is a holy river for Hindus located in the plains of northern India and Bangladesh, running from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. Its length is 1,560 miles (2,510 km). Gupta Dynasty Chandra-Gupta I (r. A.D. 320 - c.330) was the founder of the imperial Gupta Dynasty. The dynasty lasted until the late 6th century (although starting in the 5th century, the Huns started breaking it apart), and produced scientific/mathematical advances. Harappan Culture Harappa is one of the very ancient urban areas of the Indian subcontinent. Its cities were laid out on grids and it built sanitation systems. Part of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, Harappa was located in what is modern Pakistan. Indus Valley Civilization When 19th-century explorers and 20th-century archaeologists rediscovered the ancient Indus Valley civilization, the history of the Indian sub-continent had to be rewritten. Many questions remain unanswered. The Indus Valley civilization flourished in the third millennium B.C. and suddenly disappeared, after a millennium. The Kama Sutra The Kama Sutra was written in Sanskrit during the Gupta Dynasty (A.D. 280 - 550), attributed to a sage named Vatsyayana, although it was a revision of earlier writing. The Kama Sutra is a manual on the art of love. Languages of the Indus Valley The people of the Indian subcontinent used at least four different languages, some with limited purposes. Sanskrit is probably the best known of these and it was used to help show a connection among the Indo-European languages, which also include Latin and English. Mahajanapadas and the Mauryan Empire Between 1500 and 500 B.C. 16 city-states known as Mahajanapadas emerged in the Indian subcontinent. The Mauryan Empire, which lasted from c.321 - 185 B.C., unified most of India from east to west. The dynasty ended with an assassination. Mound of the Dead Me Along with Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro ("Mound of the Dead Men") was one of the Bronze Age civilizations of the Indus River Valley from before the time when the Aryan Invasions might have occurred. See Harappan Culture for more on Mohenjo-Daro as well as Harappa. Porus and the Punjab Region Porus was the king in the Indian subcontinent whom Alexander the Great defeated with great difficulty in 326 B.C. This is the earliest firm date in the history of India. Punjab Punjab is a region of India and Pakistan that lies around tributaries of the Indus River: the Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Chenab, and Jhelum (Greek, Hydaspes) rivers. The 3 Main Religions There are 3 main religions that came from ancient India: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Hinduism was the first, although Brahmanism was an early form of Hinduism. Many believe Hinduism is the oldest extant religion, although it has only been called Hinduism since the 19th century. The other two were originally developed by practitioners of Hinduism. Vedas The Vedas are spiritual writing valued especially by the Hindi. The Rgveda is thought to have been written, in Sanskrit (as are the others), between 1200 and 800 B.C.