UPSC Notes: Magadha Empire

Magadha Empire ruled from 6th century BC to the 4th century BC.

In the age of the Buddha, there were 16 large states called ‘Mahajanpadas’.

Of these states, Magadha, Kosala, Vatsa and Avanti were powerful states.

Magadha grew to be the leading state of the time.

Magadha is situated in modern Bihar


Bimbisara (544 BC to 492 BC)

The earliest important ruler of Magadh was the king Bimbisara.

Bimbisara belonged to the Haryanka Dynasty.

He ruled for 52 years from 544 BC to 492 BC. 

He pursued a three-pronged policy, namely, matrimonial alliances, friendship with strong rulers and conquest of weak neighbours to expand the empire.

Under the policy of matrimonial alliances, he married the sister of Prasenjit, the king of Kosala. She brought in dowry the territory of Kashi, which yielded a revenue of 1,00,000 coins.

His second wife was Lichchhavi princess from Vaishali and his third wife was the daughter of the chief of the Madra clan of Punjab.

Marriage relations with the different families gave enormous diplomatic prestige and paved the way for the expansion of Magadha westward and northward.

The earliest capital of Magadha was at Rajgir which was called Girivraja at that time.

He also conquered Anga by defeating its ruler Brahmadatta.

Anga and especially its capital Champa were important for the inland and maritime trade.

He was a contemporary of both Buddha and Mahavira and paid equal respect to them.


Ajatshatru (492 – 460 BC)

Ajatshatru killed his father and seized throne for himself.

He pursued an aggressive policy of expansion.

He destroyed Lichchhavis independence by invading their territory and by defeating them in battle.

Ajatshatru not only retained Kasi but also added Vaishali to Magadh.


Udayin (460-444 BC)

Ajatasatru was succeeded by Udayin.

His main contribution was building a fort on the confluence of river Ganga and river Son at Pataliputra or Patna.

It was strategically a significant step as this site was not only centrally located but also allowed easy movement of merchant and soldiers.

He convened the First Buddhist Council at Rajagriha just after the death of Buddha in 483 BC.

Udayin temporarily shifted the capital to Vaishali.

This brought to an end the 100-year old rivalry between Magadha and Avanti.

Avanti became a part of the Magadhan empire and continued to be so till the end of the Maurya rule.




Udayin was succeeded by the dynasty of Shishunaga.

The most important achievement of Shishunaga was to defeat Avanti(Malwa) and make it a part of Magadh.



The successor of Sisunaga was his son Kalashoka.

The second Buddhist council was held during his rule.




The Shisunaga dynasty was succeeded by the kings of the Nanda dynasty.

Nandas were the most powerful rulers of the Magadha.

Mahapadma Nanda was its most important ruler.

He added Kalinga to his empire.

The last Nanda king was Dhannanand.

He is believed to be an arrogant and oppressive ruler who imposed heavy taxes on the common man.

It made them quite unpopular among the masses and ultimately Chandragupta took advantage of this public resentment and uprooted the Nanda rule and set up the Mauryan Empire.


Causes of Magadha’s success

Ambitious rulers such as Bimbisara, Ajatshatru and Mahapadma Nanda.

Magadha had a strong standing army.

Magadha enjoyed an advantageous geographical position in the age of iron.

The richest iron deposits were situated near Rajgir, the earliest capital of Magadha.

This enabled Magadhan princes to equip with effective weapons, which were not easily available to their rivals.

The two capitals of Magadha, the first at Rajgir and the second at Pataliputra, were situated at very strategic points.

Rajgir was surrounded by a group of five hills, and so it was rendered impregnable.

Pataliputra was situated at the confluence of the Ganga, the Gandak and the Son. It was a true water fort.

Magadha lay at the center of the middle Gangetic plain. The plain was immensely fertile.

The princes of Magadha also benefited from the rise of towns and the use of coins.

Princes could levy tolls on the sale of commodities in northeast India.

Magadha enjoyed a special advantage in military organizations. It was Magadha which used elephants on a large scale in its wars against its neighbours.

The eastern part of the country could supply elephants to the princes of the Magadha.

On account of all these reasons, Magadha succeeded in defeating the other kingdoms in founding the first empire of in India.

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