Harappa: Capital City of the Ancient Indus Civilization

Growth and Settlement of a Harappan Capital in Pakistan

Harappa, Pakistan of the Indus Valley civilization
Harappa, Pakistan of the Indus Valley civilizations: View of brick and rammed earth homes and streets. Atif Gulzar

Harappa is the name of the ruins of an immense capital city of the Indus Civilization, and one of the best-known sites in Pakistan, located on the bank of the Ravi River in central Punjab Province. At the height of the Indus civilization, between 2600–1900 BC, Harappa was one of a handful of central places for thousands of cities and towns covering a million square kilometers (about 385,000 square miles) of territory in South Asia.

Other central places include Mohenjo-daro, Rakhigarhi, and Dholavira, all with areas over 100 hectares (250 acres) in their heyday.

Harappa was occupied between about 3800 and 1500 BCE: and, in fact, still is: the modern city of Harappa is built atop some of its ruins. At its height, it covered an area of at least 100 ha (250 ac) and may have been about twice that, given that much of the site has been buried by the alluvial floods of the Ravi river. Intact structural remains include those of a citadel/fortress, a massive monumental building once called the granary, and at least three cemeteries. Many of the adobe bricks were robbed in antiquity from the significant architectural remains.


  • Period 5: Late Harappa Phase, also known as the Localization phase or Late declining phase, 1900–1300 BCE
  • Period 4: Transitional to Late Harappa, 1900-1800 BC
  • Period 3: Harappa Phase (aka Mature Phase or Integration era, major urban center of 150 ha and between 60,000–80,000 people), 2600–1900 BCE
  • Period 3C: Harappa Phase C, 2200–1900 BCE
  • Period 3B: Harappa Phase B, 2450–2200 BCE
  • Period 3A: Harappa Phase A, 2600–2450 BCE
  • Period 2: Kot Diji Phase (Early Harappan, incipient urbanization, ca 25 hectares), 2800–2600 BCE
  • Period 1: pre-Harappan Ravi aspect of the Hakra phase, 3800–2800 BCE

The earliest Indus phase occupation at Harappa is called the Ravi aspect, where people first lived at least as early as 3800 BCE.

At its beginnings, Harappa was a small settlement with a collection of workshops, where craft specialists made agate beads. Some evidence suggests that people from older Ravi phase sites in the adjacent hills were the migrants who first settled Harappa.

Kot Diji Phase

During the Kot Diji phase (2800–2500 BC), the Harappans used standardized sun-baked adobe bricks to build city walls and domestic architecture. The settlement was laid out along gridded streets tracing the cardinal directions and wheeled carts pulled by bulls for transporting heavy commodities into Harappa. There are organized cemeteries and some of the burials are richer than others, indicating the first evidence for social, economic, and political ranking.

Also during the Kot Diji phase is the first evidence for writing in the region, consisting of a piece of pottery with a possible early Indus script). Commerce is also in evidence: a cubical limestone weight that conforms to the later Harappan weight system. Square stamp seals were used to mark clay seals on bundles of goods. These technologies likely reflect some sort of interaction with Mesopotamia. Long carnelian beads found at the Mesopotamian capital city of Ur were made either by craftsmen in the Indus region or by others living in Mesopotamia using Indus raw materials and technology.

Mature Harappan Phase

During the Mature Harappan phase (also known as the Integration Era) [2600–1900 BCE], Harappa may have directly controlled the communities surrounding their city walls. Unlike in Mesopotamia, there is no evidence for hereditary monarchies; instead, the city was ruled by influential elites, who were likely merchants, landowners, and religious leaders.

Four major mounds (AB, E, ET, and F) used during the Integration period represent combined sun-dried mudbrick and baked brick buildings. Baked brick is first used in quantity during this phase, especially in walls and floors exposed to water. Architecture from this period includes multiple walled sectors, gateways, drains, wells, and fired brick buildings.

Also during the Harappa phase, a faience and steatite bead production workshop blossomed, identified by several layers of 'faience slag', chert blades, lumps of sawn steatite, bone tools, terracotta cakes and large masses of vitrified faience slag.

Also discovered in the workshop were an abundant number of broken and complete tablets and beads, many with incised scripts.

Late Harappan

During the Localization period, all of the major cities including Harappa began to lose their power. This was likely a result of shifting river patterns that made the abandonment of many cities necessary. People migrated out of the cities on the river banks and up into smaller cities the higher reaches of the Indus, Gujarat and Ganga-Yamuna valleys.

In addition to large-scale deurbanization, the Late Harappan period was also characterized by a shift to drought-resistant small-grained millets and an increase in interpersonal violence. The reasons for these changes may be attributed to climate change: there was a decline in the predictability of the SW monsoon during this period. Earlier scholars have suggested catastrophic flood or disease, trade declinee, and a now-discredited "Aryan invasion."

Society and Economy

Harappan food economy was based on a combination of agriculture, pastoralism, and fishing and hunting. Harappans farmed domesticated wheat and barley, pulses and millets, sesame, peas and other vegetables. Animal husbandry included humped (Bos indicus) and non-humped (Bos bubalis) cattle and, to a lesser degree, sheep and goats. The people hunted elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and wild ass.

Trade for raw materials began as early as the Ravi phase, including marine resources, wood, stone, and metal from the coastal regions, as well as neighboring regions in Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the Himalayas.

 Trade networks and migration of people into and out of Harappa were established by then as well, but the city truly became cosmopolitan during the Integration era.

Unlike Mespotamia's royal burials there are no huge monuments or obvious rulers in any of the burials, although there is some evidence for some differential elite access to luxury goods. Some of the skeletons also show injuries, suggesting that interpersonal violence was a fact of life for some of the city's residents, but not all. Part of the population had less access to elite goods and a higher risk for violence.

Archaeology at Harappa

Harappa was discovered in 1826 and first excavated in 1920 and 1921 by the Archaeological Survey of India, led by Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, as described later by M.S. Vats. Over 25 field seasons have occurred since the first excavations. Other archaeologists associated with Harappa include Mortimer Wheeler, George Dales, Richard Meadow, and J. Mark Kenoyer.

An excellent source for information about Harappa (with lots of photographs) comes from the highly recommended Harappa.com website.


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Hirst, K. Kris. "Harappa: Capital City of the Ancient Indus Civilization." ThoughtCo, Dec. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/harappa-pakistan-capital-city-171278. Hirst, K. Kris. (2017, December 26). Harappa: Capital City of the Ancient Indus Civilization. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/harappa-pakistan-capital-city-171278 Hirst, K. Kris. "Harappa: Capital City of the Ancient Indus Civilization." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/harappa-pakistan-capital-city-171278 (accessed February 20, 2018).