Early Middle Kingdoms — The Golden Age
The middle period was a time of cultural development. The Satavahana dynasty, also known as the Andhras, ruled in southern and central India after around 230 BCE. Satakarni, the sixth ruler of the Satvahana dynasty, defeated the Sunga Empire of north India. Afterwards, Kharavela, the warrior king of Kalinga, ruled a vast empire and was responsible for the propagation of Jainism in the Indian subcontinent.The Kharavelan Jain empire included a maritime empire with trading routes linking it to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Borneo, Bali, Sumatra, and Java. Colonists from Kalinga settled in Sri Lanka, Burma, as well as the Maldives and Maritime Southeast Asia. The Kuninda Kingdom was a small Himalayan state that survived from around the 2nd century BCE to the 3rd century CE. The Kushanas migrated from Central Asia into northwestern India in the middle of the 1st century CE and founded an empire that stretched from Tajikistan to the middle Ganges. The Western Satraps (35-405 CE) were Saka rulers of the western and central part of India. They were the successors of the Indo-Scythians and contemporaries of the Kushans who ruled the northern part of the Indian subcontinent and the Satavahana (Andhra) who ruled in central and southern India. Different dynasties such as the Pandyans, Cholas, Cheras, Kadambas, Western Gangas, Pallavas, and Chalukyas, dominated the southern part of the Indian peninsula at different periods of time. Several southern kingdoms formed overseas empires that stretched into Southeast Asia. The kingdoms warred with each other and the Deccan states for domination of the south. The Kalabras, a Buddhist dynasty, briefly interrupted the usual domination of the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas in the south.
Northwestern hybrid cultures
he northwestern hybrid cultures of the subcontinent included the Indo-Greeks, the Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Parthians, and the Indo-Sassinids. The first of these, the Indo-Greek Kingdom, was founded when the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius invaded the region in 180 BCE, extending his rule over various parts of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lasting for almost two centuries, the kingdom was ruled by a succession of more than 30 Greek kings, who were often in conflict with each other. The Indo-Scythians were a branch of the Indo-European Sakas (Scythians) who migrated from southern Siberia, first into Bactria, subsequently into Sogdiana, Kashmir, Arachosia, and Gandhara, and finally into India. Their kingdom lasted from the middle of the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century BCE. Yet another kingdom, the Indo-Parthians (also known as the Pahlavas), came to control most of present-day Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, after fighting many local rulers such as the Kushan ruler Kujula Kadphises, in the Gandhara region. The Sassanid empire of Persia, who was contemporaneous with the Gupta Empire, expanded into the region of present-day Balochistan in Pakistan, where the mingling of Indian culture and the culture of Iran gave birth to a hybrid culture under the Indo-Sassanids.
The Kushan Empire expanded out of what is now Afghanistan into the northwest of the subcontinent under the leadership of their first emperor, Kujula Kadphises, about the middle of the 1st century CE. By the time of his grandson, Kanishka, (whose era is thought to have begun c. 127 CE), they had conquered most of northern India, at least as far as Saketa and Pataliputra, in the middle Ganges Valley, and probably as far as the Bay of Bengal. They played an important role in the establishment of Buddhism in India and its spread to Central Asia and China. By the 3rd century, their empire in India was disintegrating; their last known great emperor being Vasudeva I (c. 190-225 CE).
Roman trade with India
Roman trade with India started around 1 CE, during the reign of Augustus and following his conquest of Egypt, which had been India’s biggest trade partner in the West.
The trade started by Eudoxus of Cyzicus in 130 BCE kept increasing, and according to Strabo , by the time of Augustus, up to 120 ships set sail every year from Myos Hormos on the Red Sea to India. So much gold was used for this trade, and apparently recycled by the Kushans for their own coinage, that Pliny the Elder (NH VI.101) complained about the drain of specie to India:
“India, China and the Arabian peninsula take one hundred million sesterces from our empire per annum at a conservative estimate: that is what our luxuries and women cost us. For what percentage of these imports is intended for sacrifices to the gods or the spirits of the dead?”—Pliny,
The maritime (but not the overland) trade routes, harbours, and trade items are described in detail in the 1st century CE Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
The Classical Age refers to the period when much of the Indian subcontinent was reunited under the Gupta Empire (c. 320–550 CE). This period has been called the Golden Age of India and was marked by extensive achievements in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy that crystallized the elements of what is generally known as Hindu culture. The decimal numeral system, including the concept of zero, was invented in India during this period. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors in India.
The high points of this cultural creativity are magnificent architecture, sculpture, and painting. The Gupta period produced scholars such as Kalidasa, Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma, and Vatsyayana who made great advancements in many academic fields. Science and political administration reached new heights during the Gupta era. Strong trade ties also made the region an important cultural center and established it as a base that would influence nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, Maritime Southeast Asia, and Indochina.
The Gupta period marked a watershed of Indian culture: the Guptas performed Vedic sacrifices to legitimize their rule, but they also patronized Buddhism, which continued to provide an alternative to Brahmanical orthodoxy. The military exploits of the first three rulers—Chandragupta I (c. 319–335), Samudragupta (c. 335–376), and Chandragupta II (c. 376–415) —brought much of India under their leadership. They successfully resisted the northwestern kingdoms until the arrival of the Hunas, who established themselves in Afghanistan by the first half of the 5th century, with their capital at Bamiyan. However, much of the Deccan and southern India were largely unaffected by these events in the north.